Posted in Writing

IWSG—2020 writing goals

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
Today is the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2020. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

I’ve been writing since age four, as long as I’ve known how to write. It’s just something I’ve always done, the way other people have a calling to medicine, art, or religious life. Thus, it’s hard for me to relate to people who only began writing in response to certain series surrounded by massive amounts of hype.

My 2020 writing goals:

1. Finally finish A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University already! I’d love to be done by April Camp NaNo.

2. Do a first round of edits on the above. Shortly before NaNo, I outlined the timelines and events of the chapters set around the beginning of academic years, and was relieved I won’t need to do nearly as much frogging as I feared. It’s more a matter of moving some events into other chapters vs. radically rewriting and restructuring everything. Again, I take full blame for not doing my research and assuming U.S. schools always began in early September.

3. Finish second-edition edits on Journey Through a Dark Forest for the print editions of all four volumes. If I continue shaving about 3,000 words off each volume (mostly motivated by needing to tighten up unsightly gaps created by increasing the inside margins), it’ll shrink down to under 850K. It’s already shrunk from 861K to 855K.

4. Resume radical rewriting and restructuring of my Atlantic City books, which I left off in 2015 with the book formerly known as The Very Last. Other projects took precedent, and I was frustrated by finding such a dearth of detailed info on the 1940 World’s Fair in Lisbon and not being in the mood to write about the 1939–40 World’s Fair all over again so soon after featuring it in Dark Forest.

5. One final edit of the books formerly known as The Very First and The Very Next and publish them. I can’t wait to finally reveal the new and improved titles! It’d also be a dream come true if I won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for TVF.

6. Outline and begin writing From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, my fifth Russian historical.

7. Review and approve proof of The Twelfth Time for hardcover edition. Which cover do you prefer?

2020 blogging goals:

1. Finish my GWTW series. I have two more installments planned.

2. Resume my hiatused “A primer on ________________ names” series. I have 25 more topics planned. When this series is complete, I’ll pull all these posts together as a book with expanded commentaries and names lists.

3. More writing guides. Topics include breeching and long pants, wraparound narrative segments, Jewish denominations, menarche, dysmenorrhea, Victorian postmortem photos, and how much of your real life to incorporate into fiction.

4. Review Pete Townshend’s remaining solo albums in May, in honor of his 75th birthday.

5. Book reviews including The Wind Done Gone, The Member of the Wedding, The Winds of War, and My Sergei.

6. Film reviews including Little Caesar, the 1939 remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, All Quiet on the Western Front, the Marx Brothers’ Go West, and director Oscar Michaeux’s Within Our Gates.

7. Album reviews including The Who by Numbers, Live at Leeds, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Plastic Ono Band.

8. A month devoted to pet topics. E.g., fave dog breeds, fave lizard species, dog breeds in my books, pets I’d love to own.

Personal goals:

1. Stay put in my current weight range of 147–53, with an eye towards a 140–45 range. I was close to 220 pounds at the start of June 2017, and am very proud I’ve lost about 70 pounds. My goal was 150, but getting down a bit lower would be a fantastic bonus.

2. Get out of this place I’ve unhappily been stuck in since June 2017. I haven’t abandoned hope of going home to Pittsburgh and resuming graduate school. It might not be my time yet to have a human baby, but I look forward to getting some furry and scaly babies.

Posted in Atlantic City books, Editing, Rewriting, Writing

IWSG—A miraculous relief and future writing plans

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

I found out at the beginning of September that mice got into my storage locker 900 miles away and ate some of the Easter candy in there. From that point on, I became consumed with worry about the fate of my irreplaceable notebooks, my journals from 1989–2008 (most of them in a big black computer bag) and at least 95% of the first draft of my still uncompleted 12-volume magnum opus Cinnimin (from October 1993–September 2010).

For the first week, I could barely sleep, and even began dreaming about my precious notebooks. I saw them in boxes in the storage locker, untouched, but in my waking life, I had visions of them chewed up by mice, decades of dedicated work destroyed, never to be replicated.

Finally, on Monday, my little brother got back to me after I followed up my initial text with well-chosen words to light a fire under him without making it seem like I expect him to be at my beck and call. Baruch Hashem (Thank God), he found both boxes of notebooks and the computer case.

I’ll feel a lot better when they’re back in my physical custody, but for now, it’s enough to know they’re safe.

Part IV of Cinnimin, written autumn 1993

For many years, I’ve been very aware of the fact that Cinnimin needs a lot of work when it’s finally transcribed, esp. the parts I wrote as a teenager. Even as a teen, from age fifteen on, I knew I’d significantly flesh a lot of things out when I had the luxury of a computer file which could be of any length and wasn’t confined by the parameters of a notebook. I deliberately underwrote many things.

Sagas I and II (the Forties and Fifties) need the most radical rewriting, and Sagas III and IV (the Sixties and Seventies) need a fair amount of work too. By the time I got to Saga V, I was an adult, and had developed into a more mature, stronger writer.

I’m also once again having nagging feelings about making my original generation of Atlantic City characters two years older. They’ve always deliberately been written as looking and acting older than they really are, as part of the satire, over the top humor, and je ne sais quoi of WTCOAC (We the Children of Atlantic City, a quasi-religion and secret society sort of like the Masons).

When I resurrected my long-shelved Anne Terrick in 2017, I moved her starting age from ten to almost thirteen, and don’t regret it. If I did the same for my Atlantic City characters, some things would have to be tweaked, but I don’t think the overall stories would suffer if, e.g., they’re in seventh instead of fifth grade when Pearl Harbor is bombed, or seventeen instead of fifteen when the war ends.

Toning down the content even further would destroy the satirical element, but keeping their ages might turn off a lot of people. E.g., Kit’s extremely precocious sexual début and her long list of lovers are a major part of her character, but if she starts at twelve instead of ten, the shock value is retained without coming off as creepy.

My yearly October spotlight on classic horror films kicks off on Friday with Georges Méliès as always. This year will also feature a few D.W. Griffith films, the 1919 German film Unheimliche Geschichten, a couple of lost films, German Expressionist films Waxworks and The Hands of Orlac, the 1939 remakes of The Cat and the Canary and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (also 1939). The series will wrap up with Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.

I also hope to finally finish A Dream Deferred in time for NaNo. I decided to move the subplots about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Marusya and Sima all the way into the future sixth book, when they buy cheap, abandoned, side-by-side Victorian houses in Haight-Ashbury.

If all goes well, I’ll start the fifth book, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, next month. I’m looking forward to outlining it.

Posted in Writing

IWSG—2019 goals

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
Today is the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2019. The IWSG virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

For 2019, my writing goals include:

Finishing A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, my fourth book with my Russian characters. So far, Part II is coming along much faster than Part I did (not least because I haven’t taken any long hiatuses!). It’s set from September 1948–November 1952 in the Minnesota Twin Cities and Duluth areas, NYC, San Francisco/Berkeley, Toronto/Guelph, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo.

Do final polishings of and finally release the books formerly known as The Very First and The Very Next, the chronological first of my Atlantic City books, set in 1938 and 1939. Part II of the second book also includes chapters in Poland, Paris, and Portugal.

Possibly get back to work on my radical rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last, set in 1940.

Make preliminary chapter-by-chapter notes for and begin writing my fifth Russian historical, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, set from March 1953–sometime in 1956. I just came up with a great third major storyline, with the four characters serving with the Navy in the Korean War.

Blogging goals include:

Getting back to doing more writing guides, with topics including:

Writing about Birkat HaChamah (the blessing of the Sun which takes place every 28 years, and which served as the title of a short sci-fi story I wrote)

How much of your real life to incorporate into fiction

When and how to use wraparound narrative segments

When you should split a deliberately saga-length book into multiple volumes (not to be confused with turning it into entirely separate books)

Breeching for boys and long pants for young men in hist-fic

Dealing with accurate lifespans in hist-fic

Writing about the Vietnam draft lottery

I’ll also be doing more book reviews, and continuing to feature films and albums celebrating a landmark anniversary. I haven’t put this year’s list together yet, but I know it’ll include Tommy (1969), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Abbey Road (1969), The Cocoanuts (1929), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and White Heat (1949).

Another blogging focus for this year will be resuming my long-running “A Primer on __________________ Names” series, with languages including Armenian, Italian, Greek, Aragonese, Basque, and Anglicization of immigrants’ names. When I’m positive I’m finally finished with this series, I’ll publish it in book form, with expanded commentary and lists.

On a non-writing note, I’d like to be down to 150 pounds by the end of this year. At the start of June 2017, I was close to 220 pounds on a frame just under five feet two inches in bare feet, and within spitting distance of being classified morbidly obese. As of December 2018, I’d gotten down to 164, only a few pounds away from merely being considered overweight.

With my body type, it’s laughable to think I could shrink down to 137, what the BMI claims is the highest “healthy” weight for my height, but I’ll settle for 150. I feel so much healthier after losing over 50 pounds!

P.S.: All my e-books are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and Nook through 5 January! You can find the buy links here.

Posted in Religion, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia

St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

Posted in Religion

The Umileniye ikon

The Umileniye (Tenderness) ikon is extremely unusual in Eastern Orthodoxy, in that it shows Mary alone. Almost all Orthodox Marian ikons depict Mary with Baby Jesus, in contrast to most Catholic images of Mary.

This ikon was very precious to St. Serafim of Sarov, one of the most beloved of all Russian saints. He was very fond of praying before this ikon. The oil from the lamp he kept burning in front of it was used to anoint the sick and bless visitors who came to make confession.

It was the last thing he saw in that lifetime, as he died while in prayer by it. He called this ikon “Joy of All Joys.”

In 1903, the year Serafim was canonized, Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Aleksandra went to the Sarov monastery to desperately pray for a son. Since so many miracles had been attributed to him, they felt he surely would answer their prayers.

They finally got their boy, but not in the way they’d expected. Their prayers were answered differently, more challengingly.

The Umileniye is believed to show Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when she was told she’d have a child and humbly accepted this mission, with the reply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Slavonic words around her halo say, “Rejoice, O Virgin Bride,” which is the refrain of the much-beloved Akathist Hymn.

Though some people think the ikon may have been inspired by Catholic art, it’s very common for the holy doors of an ikonostasis to depict Mary at the moment of Annunciation.

Today, the ikon is housed in the home of Patriarch Kirill of Moskva. A copy was left with the Trinity Cathedral of the Serafim-Diveyevskiy Monastery, a nunnery in the Nizhniy Novgorod district of Diveyevo.

On feast days, the original ikon is often brought out for public veneration.

Near the end of his life, St. Serafim gave the nuns of Diveyo 1,000 rubles to create an appropriate place for this precious ikon. After his death, the abbot of Sarov gave the ikon over to them. Presently, the sisters honored it with a silver riza.

A riza, which means “robe” in Russian, is a covering which protects ikons from damage by candle wax, incense smoke, and oil.

In 1903, after Serafim’s canonization, Tsar Nicholas II donated precious stones to make the ikon even more beautiful.

The Diveyevskiy Monastery has written this prayer to offer before the Umileniye:

My character Inga Savvina is very drawn to the Umileniye (and Theotokos [Mary] of Tolga) when she stays by her best friend and penpal Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov’s family’s summer home on Vancouver Island in the summer of 1947. She’s seen many ikons in her paternal relatives’ homes, but this is new to her.

Klarisa, the older of Yuriy’s two little sisters, tells Inga Mary is everyone’s mother, and that she’s very special to people without mothers. She suggests when Inga misses her real mother (who’s serving twenty years in Siberia), she can talk to Mary.

Though Inga has been raised an atheist, and resisted all religion during her five years in America, her unexplainable pull towards these ikons continues. She sees Mary as a loving, universal mother figure who’ll always support and listen to her, and eventually begins praying to her.

Yuriy performs an emergency baptism of Inga just before she falls unconscious from polio in August, and after she recovers enough to leave the hospital and marry Yuriy, she agrees to be chrismated by a priest.

Inga’s Orthodox conversion isn’t motivated by genuine spiritual awakening or religious belief, but she makes a genuine effort to grow into real belief. Along with her baptismal cross, she always wears a necklace with a miniature of the Umileniye, and continues building her relationship with Mary.