WeWriWa—Halloween anniversary

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween excerpts come from the currently-numbered Chapter 122, “Heterogenous Halloween,” of A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, in 1951. The chapter’s second section opens as model Lyudmila poses for Halloween photos taken by her now-agent, primary photographer, and unofficial husband Anton.

Lyudmila’s legal husband Denis gave her three venereal diseases and left her barely any money before he deployed to Korea, and Anton nursed her back to health, paid her hospital bills, got the bank to give her access to Denis’s account, and moved her into his Minneapolis estate. They’re currently in his third home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

Zolotse is a term of endearment meaning “my gold.”

Lyudmila sends a smoldering gaze to Anton as he photographs her in a wizard costume barely meeting the fingertip rule. The studio of their Ditmas Park estate is littered with various Halloween props—crystal balls, brooms, paper moon cutouts, jack-o-lanterns, Tarot cards, stuffed black cats, cauldrons, owls, graves, zombie scarecrows, ravens, witch hats, bats, spiders. Several large trunks of Halloween costumes are off to the side. Musidora, Behemoth, and their five ten-month-old kittens prowl around and consent to being held by Lyudmila for some of the photos. These photographs will go out to clients seeking Halloween pinups, and the usual agents in charge of distributing pinups to GIs. Others are just for Anton’s eyes.

“I bet you know what this is for.” Anton hands her a heavy plastic jack-o-lantern. “You’ll get more treats tonight, but the treats in this are the kind you can keep.” He squeezes her right breast.

The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“Not that I’m complaining about our fleeting treats. Those are a lot more fun than permanent treats, since they’re never the same twice.”

Lyudmila reaches into the jack-o-lantern and closes her hand around what feels like jewelry. She pulls out a long necklace with rough-hewn orange and black crystals first, followed by a strand of tiny, delicate pearls with a black crystal bat charm, a very wide bracelet with orange and black beads, large silver disc French hook earrings with dark blue spiderwebs painted on, and a black Bakelite brooch with nine black cherries suspended from it. At the bottom is a gold-leaf, illuminated manuscript of Rumi’s love poems.

“One year ago today, I met my zolotse and began realizing the greatest happiness of my life,” Anton says. “Little did I know I’d soon feel compelled to possess all of you, not just seduce you and have fun for a little while. I can’t wait till you’re my legal wife.”

WeWriWa—Irina’s latest Halloween costume

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

To mark October, the best of all possible months, I’m once again sharing Halloween excerpts. This year, they’ll come from the currently-numbered Chapter 122, “Heterogenous Halloween,” of A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It’s now 1951, and Lyuba and Ivan’s seventh child Irina, their oldest left at home, has once again designed her own costume.

Irina is now a high school senior, just turned eighteen a few days ago.

Irina rises early on the morning of Halloween and goes to her closet for the costume she thought up months ago. She pulls a short-sleeved, knee-length Lincoln green dress with four layers of pleats over her head, as always one of her own creations. Irina next slips matching gauntlets onto her arms and fastens the brown leather strap cords. She savors the feeling of the brown leather belt going around her waist. This is a man’s belt, not a feminized version meant only for show.

The next costume components are a smart Lincoln green derby with a black feather on the left side, skintight Lincoln green pantalettes, and dark brown knee-high boots. Irina opens her wardrobe and takes out items she knows her father will have a couple of hemorrhages over, a dark brown leather quiver with two dozen arrows. Irina fastens a black leather sheath around her waist and puts a miniature sword inside. With the aid of her full-length mirror, she straps a bow to her back. She picks up a Lincoln green loot bag before going downstairs.

The ten lines end here. The following lines finish this part of the scene:

Ivan almost slices his thumb off instead of a slice of ham when Irina saunters up to the breakfast table. “Irisha, you’ve got to stop wearing such scandalous Halloween costumes! What’s wrong with your sisters’ costumes?” He motions to Sonyechka and Tamara, respectively dressed as a suffragist and Roman princess.

“It’s called having my own sense of style.” Irina pulls out her sword and slices an apple.

“Where did that come from!” Lyuba shrieks. “How did we not know you had that, or the archery equipment?”

“I got the bow and arrows in the sporting section of Golden Rule, and refused to pretend I was buying them for a boy. The sword came from Andryusha’s antiques store. There’s lots of neat stuff there.”

IWSG—September odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

This month’s question is:

If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Mark Twain! He’s long been one of my fave writers, since he was such an astute observer of humans and society, and very funny. We also have a lot of political and social views in common, and both love science and technology. It would be really fun to be his beta partner.

The book formerly known as The Very First released in e-book format on 23 August. I’d hoped to have a simultaneous print and e-book release, but the print edition (which has a different cover) should be ready to go within two weeks.

I’m saving my big release day post until then. It’ll discuss the reason for different covers, last-minute changes to the text, things I considered changing, and more. There’s no point in rushing, particularly since making changes to the text of a print book after the fact isn’t free or easy like it is with e-books.

For that reason, I haven’t yet put buy links on my “Where to find my books and author pages” page.

The hardcover edition of The Twelfth Time is now finally in production. Once I’m done checking the proof of the book formerly known as The Very First one final time, I’ll begin my final checks of the four volumes of Dark Forest.

I’m coming to feel that one of the reasons my progress on Dream Deferred, which seemed to be heading into the homestretch before permanent lockdown began, has ground to a near-complete standstill is that I’ve just been with these characters for too long at one stretch. I need a break from them to regain my passion and momentum.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be starting the fifth book in this saga, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, anytime soon!

As I briefly mentioned in my DDAD post, my 34-year-old little brother disowned me in a fit of rage in early August because of this, my Facebook profile picture. He was quite abusive, hateful, insulting, and misogynistic in DMs, and kept cycling back to emotional language and ideology instead of addressing any of the specific issues I cited or recognising that many people outside his little Woke Stasi bubble share my views.

It really is painful to be treated so cruelly and disrespectfully by my own brother, but at least he mailed me my notebooks from my storage locker before this happened. Now that he’s convinced I’m a horrible bigot with terrible morals, he’ll only consider finish sending me the rest of my stuff for the sake of our parents.

I truly hope his creepy ménage falls apart and that he profusely apologises to our entire family for the awful way he’s treated all of us for a long time. He refers to his emotionally unstable girlfriend and her creepy husband as his “loving family,” while having almost nothing to do with his real family. I’m so angry at them for brainwashing him and turning him against us!

I’m still going back and forth on whether to slightly age up my Atlantic City characters or keep their long-established age, through 60 years’ worth of storylines, as-is. My heart wants to keep them as they’ve always been, since it’ll all even out once they’re in their mid-teens, but my head keeps nagging me about unrealistic cognitive development and things that feel super-sketchy even in over the top satire, like a 9-year-old girl dating a 15-year-old boy or a 6-year-old boy having a room full of pornographic filth of all types.

I think my NaNo project this year might be a resumption of my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, and starting my gut renovation of Almost As an Afterthought: The First Six Months of 1941. I’ll have to figure out my final decision by then!

WeWriWa—The need for peace

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki today, and the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on the sixth, I’m sharing something from my WIP, A Dream Deferred. One of the main storylines is radical journalist Katrin spending eight months in Japan in 1950 investigating the aftermath of the bombings, along with modern Japanese culture and politics. As soon as she returns to New York, she’s arrested by local HUAC officials, and eventually goes through two trials.

Sadly, the fifth anniversary memorials were cancelled by the Allied occupiers, so Katrin and her hosts have to hold a private ceremony.

hibakusha is an atomic bomb survivor. There are at least 165 known njiu hibakusha, people who survived both blasts.

As the clock strikes the fateful hour of remembrance of 8:15, Hidemi, Umina, and Katrin take a hammer in each hand and strike six large bronze meditation bells, on which are embossed messages of love, hope, and peace. Clear, sharp tones ring through the house, followed by higher-pitched, dirge-like reverberations rumbling through the house. The final resonance, as the vibrations slowly ebb away, lasts for a full minute.

As these sounds envelope the air, Katrin closes her eyes and thinks about the countless innocents who lost their lives five years ago at this very moment, throughout the course of that terrible day, and in the days, weeks, and months afterwards. Long after the fire of a million Suns rained down from the sky, that moment of 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945 is frozen in time for eternity, in the phantom shadows all over the city. The eerie spaces throughout Hiroshima also tell the story of the absence of presence and the presence of absence.

After the last vestige of sound has vanished into thin air, Katrin goes to a window with the Nakamuras and looks out at the wounded city. Allied soldiers are walking through the rubble-cluttered streets, alongside hibakusha, children born since the bombing, and native Hiroshimans who were elsewhere at the time of the bombing. Dogs, cats, raccoon dogs, birds, trees, plants, and flowers also occupy the landscape.

“As far as our city has fallen, it’s not in the totally decimated state it was five years ago,” Hidemi says.

The ten lines end here. The scene concludes below:

“In five more years, it may be almost completely rebuilt. Those red canna flowers were the first to bloom after the cataclysm. They gave all Hiroshimans hope, and represented regeneration of new life even in rubble and ashes. No plants had been expected to grow for seventy-five years, yet these beautiful flowers began blooming a month later, and burst into more and more life. The red canna flowers meant so much to us as we began the painful work of rebuilding our city. They reach full bloom around the anniversary, always reminding us of the power of regeneration against all odds. So much of life is like that, even if it’s usually not that extreme. We go through a series of highs and lows, always hoping the lows won’t be too bad or last too long, and that the highs will fill us with joy and remind us of why life is worth living and soldiering through, no matter what.”

Redirecting an aborted storyline

Though I had to abandon the storyline about the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952, creating it wasn’t a complete waste. It helped me to discover the real reasons they settled in rural Minnesota and were so adamant about their kids always living on their isolated, compound-like property. After their traumatic childhoods and the additional trauma of the Civil War, could they really be blamed?

It also brought my attention to a lot of compelling themes, like making peace with letting go of a daydream, establishing independent adult lives in a place of one’s own choosing instead of feeling duty-bound to stay close to family, life being customized instead of standard-issue, letting life take us where it’s meant to instead of adhering to set in stone items on an arbitrary checklist, never being too late to take another fork in the road.

From the ruins of this storyline arose much stronger replacements which truly work with who these characters are:

1. Stefania Wolicka Academy’s radical pedagogy will be significantly toned down. It’ll still use a lot of hands-on, non-traditional learning methods, and students will still be able to choose many of their own classes and assignments, but it won’t be 99% self-teaching and doing whatever they want.

2. Towards that end, Lyuba will be offered a position teaching Russian history and literature to the high school girls.

3. Lyuba will also use her history degree to start an interview archive (both written and recorded) with everyday people.

4. Ivan will take more art classes at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). He unfortunately began the University of Minnesota right when its art program switched focus to the business side of art instead of the fine arts aspect, so his formal art education is a bit lacking.

5. The Konevs will move into an abandoned Victorian estate on St. Paul’s Summit Ave., near the intersection with Mississippi River Blvd. They get the big house of their dreams, with a yard large enough for their horse Branimir, and a gorgeous view of the river.

6. On the same block will be several families of fellow black sheep artists and intellectuals from Greece, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. They also have daughters Sonyechka and Tamara’s ages. It’s high time the Konevs became friends with people outside their immediate family and longtime best friends.

7. The Konevs will meet the Hungarian family on the train back to Minnesota after Igor and Ilya’s New York weddings, and they’ll help Sonyechka to understand not all artists and intellectuals want to live in NYC.

8. Andrey’s psychology Ph.D. residency will be in San Francisco, which absorbed a large population of Shoah survivors. That solves the problem of Katya and her son Rodik being all alone while Dmitriy’s deployed. Who better for her to live with than her favorite sister Darya?

9. Since Fedya is likewise very close to Darya, he and Novomira will also start their new lives in San Francisco. Fedya will study at the San Francisco Art Institute.

10. Tatyana and Nikolay will scale back their farm and join forces with other farmers to start a grocery store like Amherst’s Atkins or Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op.

11. On the initiative of their firstborn Kira, they’ll also become a farm sanctuary by any other name.

12. A suburb will be created near the then-largely rural, undeveloped neighborhood of Duluth Heights, providing a much-needed source of new friends for Tatyana and Nikolay’s family and a financial lifeline for Firebird Fields. The new neighbors will be mostly fellow Russian–Americans, with some Serbians, Ukrainians, and Finns.

13. Aleksey will go full-time with his woodworking business and sell his creations in the arts and crafts section of the new grocery store.

14. Eliisabet will attend Duluth’s College of St. Scholastica for her much-belated bachelor’s degree.

15. Igor and Violetta will fall in love with Denver and eventually move there. It’s such a beautiful city, with so many wonderful things to paint, and a thriving arts scene. Equally-lovely Boulder and Colorado Springs are also nearby.

16. Firebird Fields will transition away from an agricultural focus.

17. I’ll also develop the town in much greater detail. Apart from a scene at the skating rink in Dark Forest, a few graduation scenes at the school, and mentions of local businesses, it never really came alive as a living, breathing, thriving small town.

18. Nikolas will stay in NYC to open a law practice with Andrey Zyuganov and Anahita Sadeghi.

19. His wife Kat will attend Brooklyn College for her much-belated bachelor’s degree.

20. Prof. Novak will join the University of Minnesota’s anthropology department, which was fairly small in this era.