Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

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.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

How an aborted storyline came together

My original plan for the ending of A Dream Deferred was for Lyuba and Ivan to return to Firebird Fields and farming after graduating from the University of Minnesota. Their youngest children, Sonyechka and Tamara, would resume the small local school.

And then the Konevs went to NYC for their friends Kat and Nikolas’s 30th anniversary, and everything changed.

During that week, Sonyechka and Tamara attend Father Spiridon’s church camp and become friends with Pravdina and Zikatra Mytnik, Oksana Zyuganova’s daughters.

Pravdina and Zikatra attend the radical Walden School, and attended the even more radical Summerhill in London. Sonyechka loves how intellectual, politically aware, cultured, and sophisticated they are.

Sonyechka and Tamara beg their parents for permission to stay an extra week instead of returning to Minnesota. During that week, Sonyechka gets a bug in her ear about the family relocating to NYC so her parents can attend grad school and she can attend Walden.

From that point forward, a chain reaction is set in motion, as one by one everyone in Minnesota begins declaring how they never truly felt at home in farm country and need to return to NYC to accomplish anything with their lives.

Except….

This plot-changing extra week in New York is never depicted! We only hear about it afterwards, when Sonyechka talks about how Pravdina suggested she impersonate her parents in graduate school applications. We also hear several times about how Sonyechka found Ilya’s senior portfolio project while giving Pravdina and Zikatra a tour.

Once Sonyechka comes home, suddenly Stefania Wolicka Academy, a very progressive school which gave her a full scholarship, is the worst school ever, far too freewheeling and not academically rigourous enough. Not that long ago, she lauded it as the best school ever!

Instead of significantly toning down how radical Stefania Wolicka is, I created a storyline about Irina, Sonyechka, and their friends (including the boys at next-door Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Academy) losing their scholarships due to financial difficulties. They’d finish the year at a new Quaker school, and then go on to Walden after the entire Minnesota cast relocated.

This whole storyline was for naught, since Ivan’s prodigal father, in the thick of his latest attempt at repentance, comes to the rescue with full tuition for everyone for the rest of the school year. He follows this up with expensive birthday and Christmas presents, and letters far more good-natured and personal than usual, leading Lyuba and Ivan to wonder just where he’s getting all this money from and why he’s suddenly acting so charitable.

Lyuba and Ivan’s respective advisors strongly recommend grad school, and of course they heavily push for New York schools instead of staying where they already are. Because apparently the University of Minnesota is a no-name school with inferior programs and professors. </extreme sarcasm> Conveniently, they also have connections at Walden who’ll greenlight Sonyechka and Tamara’s acceptance.

It doesn’t take long for Lyuba to jump on this precious opportunity to get a master’s degree from Columbia and finally do something with her intellect. Her advisor thinks she’s brilliant enough for a Ph.D.

Prof. Eduard Novak, the father of Sonyechka’s best friend Kleopatra, also gets a letter from Columbia, inviting him to join their archaeology department thanks to the influence of an old friend. Prof. Novak had a nervous breakdown after surviving the brutal Croatian camp Jasenovac, but now he’s finally ready to return to public life.

In November, there’s a meeting in Firebird Fields, which has suddenly become an unincorporated community instead of a real town. Due to an increasing hemorrhage of population, they need to vote on gaining official town status, becoming a suburb of Duluth (a stone’s throw away), being annexed to Duluth, or remaining on their own.

This is all the push needed for Fedya to decide to apply to Columbia Teachers College to become an art teacher. He only returned to Minnesota out of blind duty and to avoid disappointing his parents, and Novomira never wanted to return.

Tatyana and Nikolay also start making plans to move.

While in New York during winter break, Lyuba’s real estate agent cousin Ginny shows them a former hotel in the West Village, being refurbished into luxury apartments for less by a philanthropist who wants to entice a more moneyed population back to the neighborhood.

This would never have happened during such a severe housing crisis! People would’ve been squatting in that hotel, or it would’ve been split into many SROs since the Depression.

Sonyechka sends a telegram to Dr. Scholl, suggesting Dr. Persida Kolarov (Kleopatra’s mother) for his new progressive clinic.

On Russian Christmas, Andrey accepts an offer to do his psychology Ph.D. residency at a new Manhattan practice specializing in Shoah survivors, since there are so many in the city.

Dmitriy gets furlough from Korea for Katya’s 26th birthday in March, and of course she gets pregnant. You guessed it, she must leave beautiful, sunny Berkeley to join her family in New York!

For good measure, let’s have the Kahns join the Konevs and Novaks too.

To be continued.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

Why I wanted the Konevs to move back to NYC

During the writing of Part III of my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, I latched onto what I thought was an awesome plot development, the Konevs deciding to leave Minnesota and return to NYC near the end of the book. While it did inject a needed boost of conflict for the last half of the story, it quickly became unfocused and never came together well.

Why did I come up with this idea and hold onto it for so long?

1. Their entire extended family lives in NYC. All these years, they’ve been by themselves in Minnesota.

2. They miss the convenience of living in the same city as so many loved ones. Celebrations either have to be missed or scheduled in chunks.

3. Lyuba’s mother and stepfather, and Ivan’s aunt and uncle whom he feels much closer to than his parents, are now elderly. It would give them comfort to be nearby in these twilight years.

4. Ivan latched onto the daydream of starting a farm in the Midwest not out of genuine passion for that lifestyle and area, but to escape into a remote place where he believed his abusive father would never find him and hurt him again. His true passion has always been art, a love his father beat out of him as a boy and which he only reclaimed at pushing fifty.

5. Lyuba and Ivan also moved to rural Minnesota in 1929 to save their marriage and give their kids a real house to grow up in, with wide-open spaces to play in, sunlight, and fresh air. But had their personal circumstances been less desperate and strained, they would’ve found a more rural location nearby instead of 1,000 miles away.

6. They were raised in cities, and finally belatedly realize rural life isn’t who they are deep down at all. They miss everything cities offer so copiously.

7. Lyuba has often said she misses living in New York. Even before moving, she felt twinges of regret at leaving so many wonderful things behind.

8. Their friends Eliisabet, Aleksey, and Kat, who moved to Minnesota with them, are inspired to go to university in their fifties too, and since they long ago promised to always stay together, they must return to New York too.

9. Nikolas, Kat’s husband, has decided to stay in the city after Katrin’s retrial to start a law firm in the tradition of Clarence Darrow.

10. Tatyana and Nikolay return home to start their own farm after graduating Barnard and Columbia not only because they feel they have to, but as an unrealized overreaction to the drama with Boris. Like their parents, they see Firebird Fields as a safe haven from the ugly real world. Now they’ve keenly grown to miss their friends, and are afraid their kids aren’t being exposed to enough of the outside world.

11. Fedya likewise returns to Minnesota out of blind duty and not wanting to disappoint his parents, and Novomira is severely guilted and pressured into it by her parents. Now they want to take charge of their own lives.

12. Darya’s husband Andrey wants to specialize in psychotherapy for Shoah survivors, veterans, and other people with traumatic wartime experiences. Per capita, there are far more of them in NYC than all of Minnesota.

13. What better city for Lyuba and Ivan to get master’s degrees in and realize their full academic potential?

14. Mr. Konev will be leaving his townhouse in Greenwich Village’s Gold Coast, and everything inside, to Igor, so why shouldn’t Igor and Violetta stay there longterm instead of only while they’re in graduate school?

15. People from upper-middle-class families who went to gymnasium never grow up to live in farm country! They long for the company of other intellectuals besides their three families.

16. Why wouldn’t Ivan and his sons want to live in New York? It’s the country’s largest Mecca of artists.

17. They all feel like they’re wasting their potential in rural Minnesota. Next-youngest child Sonyechka, the most brilliant by far, particularly feels she could do so much more with her brain in New York.

18. Sonyechka also wants to live near her new friends Pravdina and Zikatra, who encourage her to convince her parents to move. They’re so much more sophisticated, intellectual, political, and exciting than her friend Kleopatra.

19. Nonconformists were safer in big cities in this era.

20. Why would anyone want to live in the Midwest?!

21. An apartment suits them much better than a big ole farmhouse. To sweeten the deal, let’s make it a penthouse Ivan buys with the ample money his father leaves him.

22. Lyuba and Ivan must redo their New York experience “properly.”

23. Katya shouldn’t be alone in California while Dmitriy’s deployed.

24. Youngest child Tamara will have ample opportunities for baking classes.

25. Who wouldn’t want to live in New York?!

And then all my reasons fell apart like a flimsy house of cards. To be continued.

Posted in 1920s, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Emotional reunion

This was originally put together on 10 January 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop, as part of Naina, Katya, and Karla’s story. It differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use accent marks, Katrin’s husband is now called Sandro, and some passive voice is eliminated.

***

This week’s excerpt is the conclusion of Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba’s friend Sonya, who lives in Toronto, comes down to Long Island on the last day of summer vacation to pick up her niece Naina and her best friend’s daughter Katya. Naina and Katya were friends with Lyuba’s youngest stepsisters in the Soviet orphanage system, and were delighted to be reunited several months earlier. Sonya, who’s been away on vacation with her three surrogate daughters all summer, has only recently found out Naina and Katya are not only still alive but safe in North America. (The reader knows what happened to Sonya’s surviving daughter Karla, but Sonya won’t know for several more chapters.)

***

While they’re eating breakfast, the doorbell rings. Mrs. Samson gets up from a game of Mahjong with Mrs. Whitmore and pulls open the door to find Sónya.

Naína looks up from her waffles and dimly recognizes her aunt from the old family pictures she hid under her clothes at the orphanages. Kátya, four years Naína’s senior, only recognizes her a little bit better. Sónya, who hasn’t seen them since they were young girls, can only pick them out because they’re the only people at the table she doesn’t recognize.

Naína runs into her sobbing aunt’s arms, Kátya following and joining the embrace from the side. All three of them are invoking God and proclaiming their love, while the people at the table look away politely. Katrin kicks Anastásiya under the table when she catches her gaping at them.

“We’re going to go right to the depot and get on the next train heading for Toronto. I came here last night and stayed in a hotel, so don’t think I’m going right from one train to another. My dear sister Zinoviya, my brother-in-law Antón, my best friend Yuliana, and her husband Karl have been watching over you the entire time!”

“And I had a gun,” Naína smiles through her tears. “Papa handed me one of his handguns before we were taken away, and I hid it under my dress all through our years in the orphanages. It’s waiting to be packed up in my suitcase now.”

“I brought some thank-you presents for Sándros and Katrin for sponsoring you and putting you up in their home, and for the Konevs, Eliisabet, Kat, and Álla for taking care of you for an entire summer. I won’t hear of your refusing them. I also brought down our anniversary gift for Iván and Lyuba.”

“Do I get anything?” Anastásiya whines.

Everyone around the table laughs.

“Have you taken any active part in taking care of my niece and my best friend’s daughter, or have you just sat around thinking only of yourself as usual?”

“She doesn’t even take care of her own little boy, Tyotya Sónya,” Naína says. “He thinks Katrin is more his mother than she is, and he’s only twenty-one months old.”

“We got you and Iván an anniversary gift, Lyubochka,” Kátya says. “We’ll give it to you before we leave. And we got a little something for Tatyana and Fédya’s baptismal anniversary.”

Sónya goes into her suitcase and hands out the gifts. Anastásiya whines again when Sónya also gives some money to Mrs. Samson, Mrs. Oswald, and Mr. Rhodes, as well as small trinkets to Viktóriya, Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora.

“We’ll see you again sometime next year,” Sónya says. “As soon as you girls finish breakfast, you can finish packing your things and we’ll go to the depot. I can’t believe my little niece Náyechka carries a gun.”

“It came in handy when I encountered wardens who wanted to steal my necklace. It was the last thing my mother ever gave me, and damned if I’d let some overgrown bully steal it.”

“It belonged to my mother, your grandmother, before you. She gave it to you because citrine is your birthstone too. And look how well it matches your dark blonde hair.”

“My birthstone used to be citrine too,” Lyuba says. “Naína’s corrected birthday is the same day my birthday used to be before we switched to the Gregorian calendar, November twenty-ninth. She’s a fellow Sagittarius.”

“I bought my Lyuba a beautiful citrine bracelet ten years ago,” Iván says as he pours more maple syrup on his plate. “For the life of me I can’t remember what became of it. Someone must’ve stolen it, and it was too late by the time I remembered it and was free to give it to her after she was no longer with Borís and I wasn’t in that phony relationship with Voroshilova.”

“It may still turn up somewhere when you least expect it,” Sónya says encouragingly. “I found my dear sister’s only child and my best friend’s only child after assuming they were lost forever. Don’t give up hope too soon.”

***

At 9:00 at night, Kátya and Naína stagger into their new house with Sónya. After the eight-hour ride from Long Island to Toronto, all they want to do is sleep.

“Are these my new aunts you told me about?” Yuriy asks.

“Yes they are, and they can’t wait to play with you,” Sónya smiles. “But right now, they most want to be shown to their new room so they can sleep.”

Natálya steps forward. “I can’t wait to get to know you and have two new sisters. I’m Natálya Yeltsina and I’m thirteen, and those are my sister Léna, who’ll be twenty-one at the end of the month, her husband of a year, Karl Tsvetkov, also twenty-one, and Léna’s best friend Antonína Petróva, who’s twenty.”

“We’ve met Antonína before, a long time ago,” Kátya says. “We didn’t know her for very long, but we remembered her since she was the one who wrote the paper epitaph for poor little Mikhaíla.”

“I remember you too,” Antonína nods. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you a lot better. I honestly never thought I’d see you again after you left Mrs. Voznesenskaya’s orphanage, and never dreamt I’d end up with Naína’s aunt for my surrogate mother.”

“Follow me,” Léna says. “I’ll take you to your new room. It’s the last available room in this house big enough to be converted into a bedroom. Now we’re up to five bedrooms. When Kárlik, Yura, and I move out within the next few years, we plan to build a house next door so we can always be together.”

Kátya and Naína drop their suitcases as soon as they’re shown into the room, putting Kárla’s little suitcase into the closet. After throwing their travel clothes on the floor and pulling on their new nightgowns Katrin bought to replace their ugly orphanage-regulation ones, they climb into bed and look up at the stars through their window.

“It’s been a long way from Russia to Toronto,” Kátya says. “Perhaps somewhere out there, our Kárlochka is looking up at the same stars and being looked after by decent people.”

“Perhaps. We found Sónya and our old friends the Lebedevas after so many years. I guess some miracles aren’t supposed to happen overnight, since we might not appreciate them as much.”

“We’ll see her again someday. We have to believe that. Even if we’ll never see our parents or other relatives ever again, we know Kárla could be out there somewhere.K It’s only a matter of time till we’re happily reunited with her the same way we were reunited with Sónya.”

*****************************************************

Posted in 1920s, Couples, Ivan, Left-Handedness, Lyuba, Russian novel sequel, Writing

Happy fourth anniversary

This post was originally put together on 6 October 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. Though not part of the batch of twenty posts I created on 24 June 2012, it’s obviously from the same sequence. After I put those posts in my drafts folder, I went back and made a few more with important sequences I’d left out.

This differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use pedantic accent marks, and I discovered there was no “traditional” fourth anniversary gift in 1927. Lyuba and Ivan’s anniversary gifts for non-milestone years remain the same, just without references to them being traditional materials.

***

This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America.” It’s 6 September 1927, Lyuba and Ivan’s fourth wedding anniversary and the last day of their annual Long Island summer vacation. In spite of their worsening marital and personal problems, they put their issues aside for their anniversary.

***

Lyuba wakes up on the morning of her fourth anniversary to the smell of chocolate waffles and sausage coming from the first floor.  She’s not looking forward to heading home later today, but she intends to savor the last gasp of summer vacation as long as it lasts.

“Happy anniversary, Mrs. Koneva.” Iván reaches under the bed and hands her a wrapped box. “I put a lot of different things in there, but they’re all part of the same present. I went out yesterday and got you something else too. Before you woke up, I snuck downstairs to retrieve it from Katrin’s kitchen. You’ll find it on our kitchen table.”

Lyuba carefully pulls the blue tissue paper off, opens the box, and starts pulling out a series of small decorative bags. “What exactly is this?”

“The traditional fourth anniversary presents are fruit and flowers. Since those aren’t very permanent things, I wanted to get you something as lasting as possible while still being traditional. They’re indoor flowering plants that can live all year. When we have our farm, you can transplant them to the garden and then move them inside during the winter.”

She snuggles her face against the curve of his neck. “You’re a good husband. As many struggles as we’ve had, I’m still glad I chose you. Can you believe we’ve been husband and wife for four years now?”

“Did you get me a present too?”

“Of course I did. You’re getting more and more overeager every year, you bad boy. You used to be able to wait till later in the day to exchange presents. Now you’re giving and demanding them first thing in the morning.” Lyuba puts the seeds back into the box and gets two wrapped parcels out of the closet.

Iván unwraps a transparent glass picture frame with dried flowers pressed between the two layers, and a light green shirt with a subtle floral pattern. “So my sweet little wifey still loves me, after everything I’ve put you through.”

“I will love you till the last breath leaves my body, Ványushka. I want to be with you through all our future lifetimes, till the world comes to an end. But you’d better get a real job once we’re back in the city, or I may have to start nagging you and starting fights with you again. You know I hate having to do that, so you’d better do the right thing.”

Lyuba smiles at the sight of the wildflowers on the vase on the kitchen table after she’s thrown on some clothes and left the bedroom. Iván has always known she’s not the type who goes for flowers, perfume, and chocolates, so the few times he does get her such trinkets, she knows it’s for a very special reason and not just a meaningless gesture he does out of some obligation to be romantic in a certain way. She appreciates how the flowers are just regular wildflowers, the type anyone could buy for cheap at a florist’s, and not some big expensive bouquet of roses or orchids. At least he’s saving his money for more important things now, while still making an effort to buy nice things for her on special occasions.

“Can we go downstairs and eat breakfast now?” Fédya asks.

“You can go right on down, my sweet little pumpkin. Then we’ll have one last day on the beach before we pack up and leave for the train. Just think, on Thursday you’ll have your first day of school!”

“I don’t want to go to school. I’m scared of the teacher hitting my hand.”

“They stop eventually,” Iván says. “After a certain point, they realize they’re not converting you and leave you alone. I must’ve been twelve or thirteen years old by the time they finally stopped hitting my hand, thumping me on the head, and threatening to beat me. You just have to be brave and let everyone know you’re carrying on a family tradition. No one switched me or my Dyadya Ígor, and no one’s going to change you either. Now why don’t we think about nicer things, like breakfast.”

Lyuba holds her son’s left hand tightly as they’re going downstairs to Katrin’s quarters, praying her sweet, sensitive only son is treated nicely in public kindergarten and not subjected to the same fate her husband and late uncle-in-law went through in primary school. Naína and Kátya have told her the policy of the new Soviet Union is right-handed writing in schools, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that majority mold doesn’t have the option of protesting. Right-handed writing is mandatory. Lyuba always figured God made certain people that way for a reason, since an all-powerful being who can do whatever he wants would’ve made everyone right-handed if that were truly the only proper way to be.