Posted in Names, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia

Famous surnames (unintentional) in my Russian historicals

When I began my first Russian historical in January ’93, I chose names from a 1965 encyclopedia. This was long before the Internet existed for research (provided sources are properly vetted).

After my Russophilia began developing much more deeply at sixteen, I realised my characters’ names are well-known in Russian history. I also discovered surnames differ by sex; e.g., Konev vs. Koneva, Malenkov vs. Malenkova, Vishinskiy vs. Vishinskaya.

Marshal Georgiy K. Zhukov, 1896–1974

Zhukova, Lyuba’s birth surname. Its root, zhuk, means “beetle.” This is the name of WWII hero Marshal Georgiy Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Malenkov, main antagonist Boris. Georgiy Maksimilianovich Malenkov was an important politician during Stalin’s reign. Its root, malenkiy, means “little; small.”

Konev, Ivan’s family name, which Lyuba gladly takes to get rid of her repulsive blood father’s name. There were two famous bearers, Major General Ivan Nikitich and Ivan Stepanovich, both important WWII commanders. Its root, kon, means “horse.”

Marshal Ivan S. Konev, 1897–1973

Litvinov, heroic friend Pyotr. He double-crosses his father and brothers to get his friends out of the newly-formed USSR and onto a ship to America, and later defects to Sweden with his baby sister. In 1945, he comes to America with his sister, wife, and children. Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov was a diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. Its root, Litvin, means Lithuanian.

Beriya, the creepy secondary antagonist of Part I of the first book. It was such an eerie coincidence how I inadvertently selected the surname of a real-life sexual predator and vile waste of oxygen, Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya.

Vishinskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Nikolas, an inveterate intellectual who began going by the Greek form of his name at age twelve. After arriving in America, he changes the spelling to Vishinsky. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinskiy was an infamous prosecutor in the show trials of the Great Terror.

Marshal Kliment Ye. Voroshilov, 1881–1969

Voroshilova, Lyuba’s rival Anastasiya, who sometimes plays the role of secondary antagonist of sorts. Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov was a high-ranking military officer and politician under Stalin.

Kutuzova, Lyuba’s female best friend Eliisabet. Most Estonians didn’t have official surnames till the 19th century, and many took Russian and German names when the law dictated they adopt surnames. Eliisabet’s ancestors took their name in honour of Prince Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a great military hero.

General Kutuzov, 1745–1813

Golitsyn, a boardinghouse manager who later becomes Ivan’s uncle. The House of Golitsyn is a princely family.

Furtseva, Lyuba’s friend Anya. I got lucky when I chose the surname of a famous women for a female character! Yekaterina Alekseyevna was one of the most important female politicians in the USSR.

Minina, Lyuba’s friend Alya, and Anya’s lesbian partner. Kuzma Minin is a national hero who defended the Motherland against a 17th century Polish invasion.

Shepilov, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s former best friend Aleksandr, who comes through with heroism when push comes to shove. Dmitriy Trofimovich was a reactionary politician who served under Stalin and Khrushchëv.

Tsar Boris Godunov, ca. 1551–1605

Godunov, antagonist cousins in the first book. Though both Misha and Kostya are morally repugnant, Kostya is more buffoonish than evil. He’s great comic relief. I loved using both again in the third book.

Vrangel, Lyuba’s next-best friend Kat. The House of Wrangel is a Baltic–German noble family, with many illustrious members over the centuries.

Nikonova, Anastasiya’s best friend Katrin, later Lyuba’s dear friend as well. Originally, her name was Nikon, taken from Patriarch Nikon. I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little!

Discarded famous names:

Stalina, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s sweetheart Georgiya, whom he later unknowingly fathers a child with during her visit to America for Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding in 1923. I changed it to the similar-sounding Savvina. Does anyone NOT know who Stalin was?!

Trotskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. That namesake is pretty obvious too, which is why I changed it to the similar Tvardovskiy (more on that in Part II).

Herzen, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. The famous bearer was Aleksandr Ivanovich, an important philosopher and writer. I changed it to the similar-sounding Kharzin.

Posted in 1910s, Eliisabet, Historical fiction, Lyuba, Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—Eliisabet’s advice

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, when 17-year-old Lyuba Zhukova privately lamented her ball escort to her friend Eliisabet.

Lyuba’s two best friends, Boris Malenkov and Ivan Konev, have taken turns escorting her to balls since they were gymnasium students, but since Boris acted up in April and was punished with the new-fangled detention, Ivan took his place for their final gymnasium ball before they were expelled. Not only does this mean Boris now gets to escort her to a ball, but Lyuba also promised Boris would have two turns in a row next time.

Lyuba’s friend Eliisabet Kutuzova, always very understanding and full of practical advice, tries to convince her to follow her heart.

“It’s long past time you were honest with both of them. If you really prefer Ivan, it’s dishonest to have them switch turns and pretend you only like both of them as friends. I can see it all over your face. That’s the man you love. If you lead Malenkov on, things might get more complicated than you bargained for. It’s easier to level with someone before things go too far than it is to jilt someone who thinks he’s your beau.”

“Just yesterday we were about to run away to get married and leave for America, but that creep Basil sprung a surprise visit on us and ruined everything. Vanya may have only ever kissed me, but he’s as incredible as a man who’s had a thousand prior girlfriends. I wish I were in his arms right now, doing all the things we used to do during our secret romance in the spring.”

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24):

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a band of friends, and a cousin, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

Posted in 1910s, Eliisabet, Historical fiction, Lyuba, Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—Trapped in two charades

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the 17th anniversary of the date I finally finished the first draft of my first Russian historical, I’m sharing an excerpt from that this week. I’m also happy to finally have a better cover, though it may change slightly.

This excerpt comes from very early in Chapter 3, “Trapped in Two Charades.” Lyuba, her younger cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail), and her friends are going to a ball shortly after the October Revolution, organized by passionate Socialist and Estonian nationalist Katrin (who hasn’t yet become one of Lyuba’s closest friends).

Lyuba and Ivan were about to run away together the other day, after Lyuba finally admitted she still loves him, but their plans were ruined by an unwanted visitor. Now a series of even worse complications are about to begin and keep them away from resuming their romantic relationship.

Lyuba hates the idea of having to be escorted by Boris, and how she let Boris have two turns in a row because their usual arrangement was thrown off in April. Not every man can be as handsome, tall, and strong as Ivan, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be seen on the arm of someone who’s short for a man, chubby, with large eyes, sickly-colored pasty skin, and terrible manners. To try to repulse Boris, she’s worn an ordinary lilac wool dress instead of something fancy like her purple velvet ballgown.

“Do you have to be escorted by Boris?” Eliisabet whispers as the men climb into the sleigh. “I see how you look at Ivan when you think no one else is looking, and I know you had a clandestine romance in the spring.”

“It’s a long-standing arrangement we’ve had since gymnasium,” Lyuba says in resignation. “They always took turns taking me, and since Boris had detention the last time, Ivan took over for him. If Boris hadn’t had detention, Vanya would’ve taken me tonight.”

The full-size image to be used for the complete cover

I wrote this book from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001, and also simultaneously did a lot of editing and expanding starting in 1995. I did some more editing and expansion during 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011, when I finally was able to open and convert all those MacWriteII and ClarisWorks files held hostage on disks. I spent the next three and a half years editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing it.

Just recently, I did some long-overdue light polishing for a new edition, which includes a number of new lines and passages. Most of what I did was just taking out overused words and phrases, and fixing some wording.

All these years later, I can’t believe I was really 13–21 when I wrote the first draft! I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, and also did a lot of significant revisions and deletions of the 1996–97 material (from the second major phase), but I don’t know if I would’ve come up with the underlying story at another time in my life. The first seven chapters were a hot mess, but I somehow radically transformed it into the book I’m proudest of having written.

It began its life on a 128K Mac. Part of my family’s first computer will always live on in this book. One of the dedications is to that long-gone machine that was treated like a member of the family.

Posted in 1920s, Boris, Fonts, Ivan, Russian novel, Tatyana, Writing

Paternity Warfare (Palatino)

Font: My belovèd Palatino, of course!

Created: 1948

Personal experience: Used almost completely exclusively since late September ’93. The ’93 Mac didn’t have Bookman, so I chose what looked like the next-closest thing. It’s been my font soulmate ever since.

Chapter: “Paternity Warfare”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: 1998 or 1999

Computer created on: I think it was the ’96 or ’97 Mac we had.

File format: ClarisWorks

This is Chapter 15 of my first Russian historical novel, my favorite chapter and also the shortest, in only the upper 4000s. (By my standards, short=lower 4000s/upper 5000s, midrange=7000s/8000s, long=10,000+.) Though I lost all my formatting when I finally was able to open and convert these old files, I still remembered that certain parts of Ivan’s dialogue were in bold italics. He was that livid when Boris popped in on his second illegal visit home, trying to steal Tatyana.

There’s no contest as to Tatyana’s paternity, as Ivan is a virgin till September 1921, when he’s 23 years old, and Tatyana was conceived in April 1918. But Ivan is the man who’s raised her since the night she was born. Boris abandoned Lyuba shortly before she went into active labor, and was beating her constantly during the pregnancy. Tatyana was really the result of a rape, though Lyuba doesn’t like to think of it in those terms since Boris didn’t hold her up at knifepoint and wasn’t a stranger. Off-screen, so to speak, Boris got Lyuba drunk and drugged when it became clear she didn’t want to be intimate, and the next morning she woke up naked next to Boris, with a massive headache and blood running down her legs.

During this chapter, Lyuba is in town working at the Godunov cousins’ brothel, and has left Tatyana in the care of the man she considers her father, Ivan. Ivan isn’t having any of it when Boris shows up in the middle of the night.

The croup remedy Ivan uses to help Tatyana was something I learnt from the Spanish professor I had at community college.

Some highlights:

Eliisabet drops her fork. “Holy Mother of God, I knew there was some secret reason why she kept insisting she couldn’t be with you and had to stay with Borís!  She talked in vague generalities about being afraid of staying with a nice guy, but I never dreamt it was anywhere in that perverted league!  No wonder she feels more familiar with being abused and disrespected by men!”

“I don’t know how to do that!” Iván carries her outside to the outhouse, unpins the diaper, and sets her down on the hole in the ground.

“You don’t need to wear winter gloves.  It’s not like you’ll get Bubonic Plague from changing a diaper!” Kat laughs.

It is all falling apart.  Iván has never gone long without a woman to take care of him.  He suffers through two more diaper changes, three naps, and two more feedings before he sets Tatyana down in the crib for the night, only to be jerked awake at two in the morning by her croup.  Cursing to himself, he grabs her and dashes into the bathroom to turn the shower on.  He’s hardly thrilled when it comes back again the next night.  He sits on the floor with her and cries for two hours.

Iván turns white in fury. “You!  Who gave you permission to enter this house!  You dared to come back here illegally a second time!  This is my child!  You abandoned her before she was born!  Get the hell out!” He sets Tatyana down on the floor as soon as she starts breathing normally again and storms toward Borís, hitting him with the back of his hand.

“This bastard Borís has come back to wreck more havoc in our lives!” Iván gives his former best friend a push backwards down the stairs. “Get the hell out of this house before I kill you, you dryan, you súkin syn, you worthless piece of govnó!”

“You see what you did?” Iván scoops her up and rocks her back and forth. “It’ll all be over soon, my precious little tsarévna.  Just as soon as that man gets out of this house.  He wants to take you away from me, but there’s no way in the world I would ever give my angelic little girl away to anybody!”

By now Iván has grabbed Borís by the throat and is banging his head against the floor, ignoring his gasps for breath.  The other people in the band have come running from their beds by now to see what the noise is all about.

Borís looks at Tatyana with tears in his eyes. “You can always go to bed with Lyuba and get her pregnant, and then you’ll have a child of your own!  Let me have my child!  You can even have five or six kids with her, just give me back my child!”

Blushing, Borís turns away and heads back for the abandoned resort where he’s been staying.  He chokes ahead of time on the stench of beer, wine, vomit, urine, govnó, and blood that’ll be sure to greet him once he enters the old resort where bands of wild children and their older counterparts are staying, stacked up like sardines, and always afraid to leave anything unattended, for fear of it being stolen by an unscrupulous bandmember.

Posted in 1920s, Anastasiya, Birthdays, Eliisabet, Historical fiction, Katrin, Lyuba, Nikolay, Russian novel sequel, Viktoriya, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Nikolay’s Birthday

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from the opening of Chapter 4 of The Twelfth Time, “Seven Years After the October Revolution.” The women gather at Katrin’s Upper West Side penthouse in November 1924 for the seventh birthday party of Nikolay, who was born at only 28 weeks and 2.5 pounds. The female doctor Eliisabet saw the day after his premature birth went to the St. Petersburg State Medical University, Russia’s first women’s medical school, which was founded in 1897.

***

“Can you believe today already makes it seven years since the October Revolution and dear little Kólya’s birth?” Eliisabet asks as she and Lyuba enter Katrin’s penthouse suite with their children. “It seems like such a lifetime ago, and yet seven years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things.”

“It’s hard to believe your miracle baby, my darling godson, was born the same day those heartless Bolsheviks took over.  One blessed event and one cursed event share the same anniversary.”

Nikoláy’s eyes light up at the sight of all the brightly colored balloons, streamers, banners, and decorations set up by Katrin’s maid Mrs. Samson.  He rushes to the birthday chair of honor and boosts himself into it.  Eliisabet winces a little at how he’s still a little small for his age, even though he’s not grossly undersized.

“That’s so amazing how he was born out of a hospital, didn’t even have an attending doctor or midwife, and yet turned out perfectly normal.” Viktóriya sits doing a crossword puzzle in lieu of studying the geometry and French homework she brought home for the weekend. “This proves that doctors are not gods and don’t always know everything.  I wonder if any doctor would even treat a baby born at twenty-eight weeks.  I’ve studied the eugenics movement, so I know these things.”

“Lyuba was my midwife,” Eliisabet says. “And the next day, Pyotr brought over a doctor.  She said we’d done the right thing by not cutting off his cord till it stopped pulsating and not rubbing off his vernix, and said we had to make sure to keep him extra-warm, not to let him get wet, and keep him close to the stove for warmth.  And our Grand Duke Dmítriy Pávlovich was born at only seven months too, and he’s perfectly normal.  Little Dárya here was also born seven weeks early.”

Anastásiya falls into a swoon at the mention of her belovèd Prince Dmítriy’s name.  Everyone rolls her eyes.

“Who do you like more lately, Dmítriy or Rudy?” Viktóriya taunts her. “I’d pick the prince over the actor, after that godawful costume drama I had to suffer through.  Who finds a guy handsome when he’s dressed in some powdered wig and seventeenth century outfit?”

“You little brat, you’re going to pay for that!”

Viktóriya laughs as Anastásiya gets up to chase after her and trips over her high heels and long skirts. “You’re probably the only woman in America under thirty who still walks around in clothes our grandmothers wore.”

“First we’re going to have a birthday supper, then games, and finally birthday cake and ice-cream,” Katrin announces. “Nástya, leave Víka alone.  At this point, you’re the guest in my house, not my little sister.”

“Leave her alone?  She was the one who was taunting me!”

Katrin’s cook Mrs. Oswald brings out several platters and bowls.  Eliisabet and Katrin selected the menu, but Nikoláy got to approve it within reason.  He wishes they could only eat cake, candy, pie, and ice-cream, but had to agree with his mother and unofficial aunt that too many sweets aren’t good for anyone.  They ended up selecting corn, tomato, cabbage, and pickle salad, roasted chicken, shashlyk, kisél, hard boiled eggs, spinach quiche, vegetable soup, and blinchiki.  Several pitchers of grape juice are also brought out.

“You trust these kids to drink purple grape juice on a white tablecloth?” Anastásiya pesters.

“Mrs. Samson is a miracle-worker about getting out stains.  She’s gotten out all my postpartum bleeding from my sheets and clothes so far.”

“You’re lucky Ványa isn’t here,” Lyuba laughs. “He said he couldn’t look you in the eyes again after reading your paean to hospital birth.”

“That’s so typical of him.  I never understood how your husband could be so modern and enlightened about some things and so horribly old-fashioned and prudish about others.”

“I have to admit, I was a bit scandalized too,” Eliisabet says. “You really didn’t blush as you wrote some of that?  Now everyone will know what your unmentionables look like!”

“They’re not so unmentionable if I wrote about them in public.  Besides, it’s a very left-wing publication, not some cleaned-up affair like The New York Times or some snooty society publication.”

“You only gave these kids one fork and spoon, Kátya?” Anastásiya demands. “And you’re letting the younger ones eat with their hands!”

“I might have money, but that doesn’t make me a snob.  What’s the point of having twenty different forks and spoons for one meal?  Kids learn to use utensils when they’re ready.  Thank God you’re never reproducing, though I’d love to see what a kid of yours would look like.”