Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Writing

Day of All Days

To mark the 78th anniversary of D-Day, I decided to post the full text of Chapter 80, “Day of All Days,” of Vol. III of Journey Through a Dark Forest. My sources for researching this chapter included:

World War II Chronicle, David J.A. Stone et al.
World War II Day by Day, Antony Shaw
D-Day: Minute by Minute, Jonathan Mayo
http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent1/?file=dday_main
http://www.americandday.org/
http://normandy.secondworldwar.nl/index.html
The Juno Beach Centre
Juno Beach – The Canadians On D-Day
“No Ambush, No Defeat”
“Canadian Participation in the Operations in North-West Europe, 1944: Part 1”
Valour on Juno Beach, T.R. Fowler
D-Day: Juno Beach, Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny, Lance Goddard

Fedya’s hand is clenched around St. Vladimir so tightly his fingers have turned white, while his other hand rests against one of his prized pictures of his little family of three. On his right, Vasya numbly recites all the most important prayers like a broken record, and on his left, Osyenka stands on his tiptoes and cranes his neck, staring out at the wide expanse of ocean in the dim light. Behind them, Leontiy reads from a pocket-sized prayerbook, softly muttering the Church Slavonic words.

“We’re closer to Dasha and Liivi than we’ve been in years,” Fedya says, his voice shaking. “I hope to God we’re invading in time to save them.”

“You’d better keep low to the ground,” Osyenka says. “You’re taller than most guys, and will probably be a moving target.”

Fedya briefly lets go of the ikon to cross himself, ignoring the odd looks from fellow soldiers. Like his father and little brothers, he’s always crossed himself left-handed. It never made any sense to insist upon the right hand for crossing oneself when it doesn’t come naturally to use that hand. God surely must have better things to do than get upset about what hand people use for praying, particularly since there’s a worldwide war on.

“I hope we’re not gunned down as soon as we start moving towards the shore,” Osyenka continues. “My parents would have several strokes and heart attacks if this is another Tarawa. At least we’re not facing off against the Japanese like those unfortunate Marines.”

“The Germans have no idea we’re coming, as far as we know. The Army, unlike the Marines, knows how to plan a surprise invasion and send out false information. Our people also know more about weather and tides.”

“I’m glad we’re not airborne. I’d panic to death if I had to parachute right into a warzone, no idea what I’d be landing in.”

As they get closer to the shore, the sound of artillery slowly gets louder and louder. Leontiy shoves his prayerbook into his rucksack, while Vasya starts reciting the prayers even louder and faster.

“We had Last Rites yesterday,” Fedya says. “If we’re going to be killed, no amount of prayers in the world can change our fate. But I’d like to think—”

A loud blast tears through the air, and the Higgins boat is knocked slightly off-course. A few minutes later, a second blast reverberates, and the boat is knocked about again. This time, Fedya feels cold water rapidly swirling underfoot. The next thing he knows, the boat has come to a standstill on the sandbar, and the ramp goes down. He has no time to react or say anything before he instinctively begins moving as fast as he can through the knee-deep water, through the sand, and towards the nearby hill. It’s not easy with so much weight strapped to his person, but he makes pace to the best of his ability. Many times, he has to step over dead bodies from the earlier first wave of the invasion. He loses sight of the other three as bullets whiz around him, the sky lit up like the Fourth of July. For the first time, he fires his rifle at real combatants, though the enemy’s too distant for hand-to-hand combat. Most of the gunfire seems to be coming from the looming cliffs. He hopes he’s aiming at the right people and not accidentally shooting his own. He can’t afford to stop or turn away every time someone nearby goes down, though he has to stifle his overwhelming urge to vomit when he sees all the blood, guts, and gore, particularly from exploded body parts. All these guys were so alive and hopeful just moments ago, and suddenly they’re no more. If he were in a different spot, or had been in their position a moment earlier or later, he might’ve been the one blown to smithereens by a mine or shot down like a sitting duck.

“We made it so far,” Vasya whispers to him as they take shelter and assemble their weapons at the foot of the hill, throngs of other soldiers around them. “Let’s hope the landing was the worst part.”

“I knew I’d make it,” Osyenka says as he loads his rifle. “I’m the most special only son and child of old age who ever lived. God wouldn’t give me to my parents if I were meant to be taken away after only twenty years.”

“I don’t think we’re with the right group or in the right place,” Leontiy confesses. “I don’t recognize any of these other guys, and this location doesn’t seem like it matches the place on the map.”

“Join the club,” another G.I. says. “My buddies and I got lost too.”

“My surviving company seems to be all here, but this isn’t the place we were told to fight,” a lieutenant agrees. “I don’t think anyone will get in trouble for getting lost, considering almost everyone seems to be very confused and didn’t land in the right places. They’d have to court-martial everyone, and that wouldn’t help us win the war.”

The several commanding officers who’ve landed among this crazy quilt of different units, companies, divisions, and regiments eventually give orders to start up the bluffs. Fedya hates having to go back into the direct line of fire again so soon, but he’ll be off this damned beach and closer to the center of action. From this distance, his rifle can’t reach most of the enemy forces. He keeps as low to the ground as possible as he crawls up the bluff, no time to give thanks when bullets whiz off his helmet instead of striking the unguarded parts of his body. It’s maddening to be unable to see exactly who’s firing at him, and to fire back.

2

“I don’t want to go back to England so soon after I finally got into combat. Just patch me up and send me back out there.”

Yuriy pours saline over the wounded soldier’s shoulder, where a fairly large piece of shrapnel is lodged. “If you insist, we won’t send you to England, but you should rest up for at least a day. You can’t defend Canada very well if you’re too injured to fire a gun or throw a grenade properly.”

Another medic pulls a sheet over a badly maimed soldier. “It’s too bad we can’t save them all. These boys waited so long to get into combat, only to be killed before they could really start fighting.”

“Why aren’t you removing the bullet?” a soldier demands of the third medic. “Do you want to kill me?”

“It’s usually a bad idea to remove anything that punctures the skin unless there’s a real, known emergency, contrary to what the movies show, and what a lot of otherwise intelligent doctors think. It could make the bleeding even worse if you pull out a foreign object. That foreign object could be the only thing keeping you from immediately bleeding out and hemorrhaging.”

Yuriy ties a makeshift tourniquet over the arm of the next wounded soldier carried to him. “Don’t try to move your arm until we know for sure the bleeding stopped.” He injects morphine, and then the soldier is carried to the recovery area.

“You’re lucky you got up here without a scratch,” the next patient says. “Medics should be allowed to carry guns. If you’re wounded, you can’t do much to help us.”

Yuriy pours saline into the patient’s right knee. “I have a pretty penpal to survive for. She could never be more than my friend, but I’m looking forward to seeing her in person again. She writes such nice letters, and is prettier in every picture.”

“What, does she have another fellow?” the second medic asks. “I wouldn’t let my girl exchange letters with another guy, unless he were a lifelong friend who truly didn’t see her as anything more.”

“No, she’s a single co-ed. She’s too young for me. She’ll only be twenty this month, and I’m twenty-five. We met when she was barely eighteen. I’ve never told her I fell for her. Plus, she’s in New York, and just went to live with her father’s family two years ago. I doubt they’d be happy if she left them to live in Toronto after barely having any time to get to know her.”

“That’s not so much younger,” one of the patients says. “This life is so fragile. Why not tell her as soon as you see her again? Maybe she’s meant to be your wife, and you’ll never find a woman you like so much again. We all deserve pretty girls to come home to.”

Yuriy dives to the ground as a loud blast reverberates and shakes the tent. He curses his red hair as orders are given to evacuate and move to a somewhat safer location. These damned snipers probably can’t see his armband from this distance, but they will see that red hair, even under the helmet he’s mercifully been permitted. The wounded soldiers able to walk evacuate with the medics, though they move much slower. Yuriy wonders why he bothered to try to help them when surely at least a few will be killed anyway. If this invasion goes even more badly, there might not be any Allies left alive by the end of the day.

3

From the ditch on top of the bluff, amid continued fire raining down from the cliffs, Fedya can see Omaha Beach laid out like a horrific panorama. The beach and water are littered with dead soldiers; abandoned, destroyed tanks and weapons; Higgins boats and Navy boats, many also blown apart; and fresh waves of soldiers continually coming ashore, only to be met with the same unabated, intense German gunfire. If he makes it to a safe place and there’s enough of a break in hostilities, he’d like to draw this scene and others from memory with the set of seventy-two colored pencils he got from the Derwent company while he was stationed in England. If he has to take several years off from university to fight, he might as well keep his artistic talent nurtured when he can.

“Turn around,” Vasya whispers. “The Germans are up there, not down on the beach.”

Fedya maneuvers his way around and mutely accepts an order to load a machine gun, then goes back to lying low and waiting. When Wehrmacht soldiers approach, he grabs his rifle and aims, while many other soldiers nearby do the same. He smiles when he sees each Wehrmacht man falling to the ground. They surely have families who’ll miss them, but these are the same people who let Darya and Oliivia be taken away. No further Germans approach, and he goes back to blindly firing up at the cliffs, almost numb to the constant barrage of noise.

Fedya is too relieved to have the cognizance to erupt into cheers like most of the other soldiers when several American tanks drive by, unscathed from the barrage on the beach. Without waiting for an invitation, he, Vasya, and Osyenka volunteer to ride on one of the tanks, their rifles still at the ready. He feels like a great conquering hero as he climbs up, and infinitely more protected than he was in the ditch or on the beach. Every time he sees a Wehrmacht soldier, he immediately shoots.

“Aren’t we supposed to secure the beach and nearby bridgeheads?” Fedya asks as the tanks start moving again, the rest of the crazy quilt marching in formation alongside them.

“We’re probably not going out of this immediate vicinity,” the soldier commanding the tank says. “It’s easier to sweep through the area like this. Maybe tomorrow we can start going through houses and businesses to root out any Nazis. If only we could swiftly beat a path to Berlin. This war will probably still be on for at least a few more months.”

Osyenka grins from ear to ear as he fires a rifle grenade in the direction of every pillbox he sees, while Leontiy is put to work assembling Bangalore torpedoes and cutting through barbed wire. Fedya and Vasya continue throwing grenades and firing their rifles. Gradually, the cacophony from the cliffs starts to taper off.

“The bastards must be running out of ammo,” Vasya says. “Had to happen sometime. This beachhead will be ours soon.”

Fedya smiles at the sight of dead and wounded Germans littering the ground. “I can’t wait till every single Nazi is dead and cold. I wonder if Dasha and Liivi know such a big invasion has been launched to rescue them.”

“They’re not the only people we’re saving. I bet the French will be really happy to see us, and might help us. Once we root the Nazis out, it might be easy sailing to go from town to town.”

“We’re not taking any POWs, are we?” Osyenka asks. “These Krauts don’t deserve to live after what they’ve done. We should kill them all while we’ve got them in our sights.”

“Not on our watch,” the tank commander says. “Even if they pretend to surrender and want peace, we can’t be sure they’ll keep that promise. I don’t want to find myself and everyone else murdered by Krauts we took pity on.”

Fedya smiles even wider and continues firing at every single pillbox and German in his line of vision. “That’s for kidnapping my sister and her best friend, you worthless wastes of oxygen.”

4

Yuriy’s commander storms into a house pointed out by several teenagers in the French Resistance, while the medics and twelve other soldiers follow him, carting the wounded. The wounded who survived the earlier bombardment in the hospital tent have mostly crawled and been dragged here.

“We have it on good authority this is a Nazi house,” the commander shouts in German. “You’re going to leave right now and give up your beds to the Canadian wounded, or you’re all getting a bullet to the brain.”

The husband begins to babble in German-accented French, which makes the armed soldiers pull their guns on him. One of them paces up to him and rips off his left sleeve, revealing a Gothic A in black ink.

“Imagine that. A dirty Kraut was lying to us. You can’t lie your way out of a damn SS tattoo. Who the hell else gets this kind of tattoo in exactly that spot?”

The commander pulls his trigger, and Yuriy flinches at the sight of the blood and brain fluid splattering out of the maimed head. The three children run screaming, while another soldier shoots the wife.

“Good riddance. If only every Kraut were this easy to dispose of, we could get to Berlin in a month.” The commander kicks the dead man. “I want people posted as snipers and lookouts from every window and door while someone moves these bodies outside. Then we can start moving the wounded inside.”

Yuriy is slightly jealous of the soldiers who get to have guns, while he’s stuck as a medic. Even if he’s training to be a veterinarian and actively volunteered himself as a medic when he enlisted, it’s not as fun and exciting as killing Germans, leading charges, and shouting orders. The soldiers he’s treating are the real heroes, the ones who’ll have the exciting war stories to bring home. He’ll have to make do with telling his family about pouring saline in wounds, injecting morphine, dispensing pain relief pills, tying tourniquets, setting bones, plastering casts, and amputating extremities. But for Inga, he’ll tell the infinitely more exciting story of how he survived the onslaught of carnage at Juno Beach.

After all the wounded are toted inside, Yuriy is assigned to a patient with a gaping, bloody wound in the lower right leg, with bits of shrapnel riddled throughout. He looks off to the side as he pours saline over it.

“Did you already have morphine?”

“Yes, but I’d like some more.”

“I’d love to give you extra pain relief, but we have to be careful about how much we give each man. We have so many wounded, we can’t afford to give extra doses to every single guy.”

The next patient has four fingers on his left hand blown off, the stumps oozing sickening, constant blood. Yuriy is queasy as he ties a miniature tourniquet on each stump. Even after each stump is tied off, he still feels queasy looking at the mutilated hand.

“Am I a pansy for not continuing to fight? I still have one good hand.”

“It depends on the injury and your personality. Some soldiers continue to lead charges and fight after they’re shot several times, but this isn’t a minor flesh wound. Depending upon your prognosis, you might have to go home, or back to England. The Army might be so desperate for guys in uniform they’d still have you, provided you can get along with only one complete hand.”

Once all the wounded have been brought inside and treated, and no further patients seem immediately forthcoming, Yuriy walks around to each one, on all three floors, to check on their progress. Several have since had the ominous white sheet pulled over their faces. Yuriy makes the sign of the cross over each dead man.

“Should I go back out there to help the latest wounded? I don’t want to feel useless just sitting here twiddling my thumbs while more guys are getting wounded.”

“If you’d like. Just remember, lay low to the ground and don’t get too close to the front lines. You’re a combat medic, not an active duty soldier. Let the other guys be heroes fighting the Nazis, while you focus on being their hero by helping them.”

The moment Yuriy crawls outside, the thunderous roar of gunfire becomes even louder. The Germans are finally running out of ammo, so the Allies will soon have control of Normandy. Fifty feet away from the house, he comes across several fresh corpses and one wounded soldier by a Bangalore torpedo. The vicinity is strewn with other dying and dead soldiers, too many of them to do much to help. Yuriy feels the bile rising in his stomach at the sight of bloody, dismembered hands, fingers, arms, feet, and legs. He hopes he never, ever has to see a decapitated head or half a body. He was uncomfortable enough when he saw the movie Freaks at thirteen, though he’d far prefer to be confronted with dwarves, conjoined twins, living torsos, and other sideshow performers than these maimed remains and wounded soldiers. Sideshow performers are otherwise healthy and able-bodied.

“Will the war be over soon?” a soldier asks as Yuriy rips open his shirt to put pressure on a gunshot wound in the stomach.

“After today, I really doubt it.” Yuriy injects morphine, his hand violently trembling. “All we can do is hope the rest of this battle is as swift as possible, and that we won’t be fighting next year at this time.”

5

Lyuba lights five candles in church, then has a seat in one of the relative few chairs available. She misses having a church which used to be Catholic and thus came with plenty of pews.

“Fedka and the rest of our boys have to be fine,” Ivan says numbly, taking the chair next to her. “Fedya was our miracle baby, my first blood child, our firstborn son. God wouldn’t give him to us only to take him away so soon. Mira needs a husband, and Felya needs a father. He has to come home. God wouldn’t have given Vasya to my aunt as her second chance at motherhood only to take him away either, and Osyenka’s one of the most special only sons who ever was created. Lyonya needs to come home to Dora and Olik, and Yura has a lovely family who can’t wait to have him back. All five of them will be fine.”

“You don’t know that! Our beautiful little boy could be lying dead on the beach right now, and Vasya, Osyenka, Lyonya, and Yura along with him! Yura isn’t allowed to have a gun, and can’t defend himself!”

“I should be over there too, being useful,” Nikolay rants as he lights his own candles. “Are you sure my stupid draft deferment can’t be lifted now that the invasion’s finally begun? They’ll need lots of replacements to take the place of all the guys getting killed. Everyone will look at me suspiciously since I wasn’t there.”

“You’re a farmer, not a soldier,” Tatyana reminds him. “We’re helping to feed the military and the people working in war industry jobs. We wouldn’t be expecting our second baby if you’d enlisted.”

“There are plenty of other farmers who can help with providing food. We can have children any time, but the war won’t be on forever.”

“Yes, but we wouldn’t have this particular child. We’d have a different child, just as I wouldn’t be here if Boris hadn’t manipulated and forced my mother into what he did.”

“You’re lucky you’re at home,” Novomira says. “I hate having my husband away at war, never knowing what’s going to happen to him. Maybe this makes me ungrateful and unpatriotic, but I don’t agree with all these people who are so happy and excited to send their husbands and sons off. If he wants to enlist, fine, but I won’t pretend it’s a wonderful, beautiful sacrifice I’m making. If he’s killed, I won’t consider him a martyr and hero. He’ll just be another soldier who was killed, a soldier who happens to be my husband.”

“You know how it is during wars,” Lyuba says. “The jingoistic majority drowns out the people against war, or who don’t paint war as a wonderful, glorious adventure and noble, manly sacrifice. Thank God my Vanya wasn’t taken for the last war when he turned eighteen, since he was still in gymnasium.”

Edik wrinkles his nose. “I can’t believe how unpatriotic and ungrateful you people are. If the war’s still on when Marik and I graduate, we’re enlisting immediately. I can’t live down the shame of my older brother refusing to serve and getting a grotesque deferment to go to university. University can wait, but the war can’t.”

“Keep your voice down,” Kat warns him. “There are other people here who don’t want to hear our personal business, and it’s rude to talk too loudly in church. Andryusha’s doing his part by helping at USO events.”

“How, by serving drinks and cookies, clearing tables, and playing records? The real men, the guys going off to war, must be so disgusted when they find out he’s a pansy who won’t serve. The WACs, SPARS, WASPs, WAVES, and lady Marines are more manly than Andrey.”

Pozhaluysta, watch what you say about Andryusha. He’s always been such a good big brother to you and Marik, and would never dream of speaking so meanly of you, particularly not behind your backs.”

“At least some men in our family are doing the right thing,” Nikolay says. “Those five guys over there are heroes, alive or dead, and the sooner they help to end the war, the sooner Dasha and Liivi can come home. Someone has to fight, unless you like the idea of never seeing Dasha and Liivi again.”

Lyuba crosses herself. “It’s been almost five years since I saw our zaychik, and since Katrin saw her Liivi. If God is just, we won’t have to wait even one more year to see them again.”

6

Darya grips Oliivia’s right hand and Halina’s left hand as the Kumiegas’ secret radio broadcasts the news from the Polish government-in-exile in London. Over the last year with the Kumiegas, she’s picked up a rather serviceable command of Polish. It also doesn’t hurt that Polish is rather similar to Russian.

“The Allies are finally here,” Halina breathes. “They’re on their way to save us. We won’t be Nazi prisoners forever.”

“How long will it take them to get to Berlin?” Maja asks. “I hope they have quick, successful battles in every single town along the way, so the war can be over by autumn. Maybe we can be home for Christmas.”

“We’ve been so lucky so far.” Darya runs a hand through her hair, which has been allowed to grow back since she’s an indoor laborer. “Our luck has to continue to hold long enough for the Americans to get here. I hope the Nazis don’t murder everyone first.”

“I won’t let anyone murder you,” Oliivia declares. “You have to live long enough to go home with me. Maybe they’ll have a cure for tuberculosis in the near future, and you can go to the best American hospital for drugs or surgery.”

“I am cured. When was the last time I showed any symptoms?”

“You’re not cured. All your skin tests show up positive. I’m glad it’s latent instead of active, but don’t kid yourself about being completely better. God knows if it’ll come back eventually, worse than last year.”

“Pani and Pan Kumiega, can we stay at your farm till the war’s over?” Maja asks. “I don’t want the Nazis to get mad about losing the war and take us somewhere else.”

Pani Kumiega crosses herself. “Only God can decide that. We can only hope the occupiers won’t decide to murder everyone as punishment and revenge. If we stay as relatively lucky and safe as we have so far, the war will end well, and we can resume our lives like nothing happened.”

Darya nods. “I’m not telling my parents I had tuberculosis or was in a death camp. They’ll never see the ugly number on my arm if I only wear long sleeves, and if my tuberculosis stops being latent, I can pretend I’m only getting it then.”

“It’s a very long way from Normandy to Poland,” Matviyko says. “So many innocent servicemen will have to die before they get anywhere close to us, and possibly the Soviets will get here before the Americans and British. It’ll be a miracle if anyone’s left alive by the end.”

7

The day after the invasion, Yuriy picks his way among the reeking, disfigured corpses and dying strewn over Juno Beach. It’ll take forever to catalogue and bury all these soldiers who were so alive and hopeful just yesterday morning. The relative few who haven’t succumbed to their wounds yet are probably too far gone to be helped. He smiles each time he sees a German body mixed in among the brave Canadian dead. The entire beach is pervaded by an eerie, unnatural silence, as though yesterday never happened. He still hears gunfire, but it’s slightly farther away. The Allies now have a toehold in occupied Europe.

Copyright Jebulon

“Am I in trouble for not trying to join back up with my company?” one of the wounded asks as Yuriy unwraps a leg tourniquet made from the soldier’s torn trousers fabric. “I was too confused and scared, so I played dead and stopped the bleeding myself.”

“A lot of guys got lost yesterday and ended up with the wrong companies, or in the wrong places. They’d have to court-martial almost everyone. A lot of companies lost so many men, they’ll have to bring in replacements immediately.”

The soldier winces as Yuriy pours saline over the wound. “Is there a way to tell if it’s infected?”

“I assume you had a tetanus shot after you enlisted. The worst is probably avoided. But I’ll give you an ointment just in case, and to help with healing regardless. I’m not looking forward to going back into the line of fire.”

“Are you a doctor from before, or just an Army medic?”

“I’m actually studying to be a veterinarian. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology, and took one year of vet school before I enlisted. My parents wanted me to have at least one year instead of enlisting straight out of university.”

The soldier faintly smiles. “I don’t really care your normal patients are dogs and cats instead of humans. All that matters is you’re helping me.”

“Oh, I had a very nice human patient two years ago.” Yuriy looks up and gazes across the ocean, still swamped with empty Higgins boats and destroyed tanks. “I might not be getting all the glory like you, but I’m fighting to stay alive for her.”

“You need luck more than me. It’s too bad medics can’t carry guns.”

After Yuriy finishes with this soldier and finds several others to treat, he picks his way over to the sandbar and wades in, averting his eyes from a Higgins boat piled with maimed corpses. On one side, an entire ocean separates him from Inga, while on the other side, the Germans are waiting to kill everyone. There’s no easy way to get home from here. Even if he makes it home alive, there’s still the battle to decide whether to let Inga know his real feelings, or keep it secret and watch her marry someone else.

But first things first. First the war has to be won, and that means defeating an enemy refusing to go down easily and peacefully.

Posted in Names, Writing

How to avoid or minimize duplicate names with an ensemble cast

I’ve often seen the suggestion to avoid using the same letter or starting sound for characters, like Amelia and Amber or Jonas and James. This is sound advice, if you’re working with a fairly small cast. When you’re dealing with a large ensemble cast, particularly when it continues growing with the addition of new generations, that advice is no longer practical. However, there are some ways to minimize the risk.

Realistically speaking, you can’t always give a different name to each and every single character. You always want to avoid the extremes of gut-loading your book with current Top 100 names and only using outliers. A book quickly dates if every single character has a name like McMadysynne, Aidanjadenbradencadenmaiden, Ellabella, and CowboyHunter, just as it stands out for the wrong reasons if everyone is named Polyxena, Wolfgang, Ghisolabella, and Demetrius. In real life, social circles are more likely to have a mix of trendy, classic, unusual, foreign, and invented names.

Particularly when we’re dealing with historical characters or characters from traditionally more conservative cultures, it’s not really plausible for everyone to have different names. Let’s be honest, it’s not unusual to find numerous Johns, Marys, Williams, and Sarahs in the same generation of one family tree. During its last century or so of existence, the Russian Imperial Family pretty much used the same dozen or so names over and over again (with some notable exceptions). Even the name Pyotr was only used once after Peter III, on a grand duke born in 1864.

In my Russian historicals, duplicate names include Andrey, Natalya, Aleksandr, and Sofya. The trick is using these names on characters who don’t really appear together because they’re not so closely connected, or using different nicknames. My older Sofya goes by Sonya, and Lyuba and Ivan’s next-youngest child goes by Sonyechka. For now, she’s still young enough to use that nickname. You can also use a name on a major character and on a minor character s/he’ll never share a scene with.

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There’s also the trick of distinguishing characters by titles vs. first names or nicknames. I don’t care how old-fashioned this supposedly has become; I’ll always call my adult or older characters Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss. This way, there’s no confusion between, e.g., a grandfather and grandson who share the same name.

In my Atlantic City books, the wealthy Sewards have an unbroken custom of alternating the names Maxwell Stanley and Stanley Maxwell among firstborn sons. Father and son share their name, and the grandson starts over. So far, I’ve had Great-Great-Grandpa Max, Great-Grandpa Stanley, Grandpa Stan, Mr. Seward, Max, Fudzie, and Stan. The name Fudzie came to Max in a dream when he was eleven, and he was so attached to it, he used it as his son’s nickname. Mr. Seward threatened to cut him out of the will if Max didn’t kowtow to family tradition by naming his son Stanley Maxwell.

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I have a number of Kat- names in my Russian historicals, and I similarly use different nicknames and titles. Lyuba’s mother is Mrs. Lebedeva (formerly Mrs. Zhukova), Katya, Machekha (Stepmother) Katya, Tyotya (Aunt) Katya, or Babushka (Grandma) Katya, depending upon who’s addressing her, but she’s always a Mrs. in the narrative.

Radical Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova is called Katrin in the narrative and by most people, though her husband and sister often call her Kati, and her friends’ children call her Tädi (Aunt) Kati.

Little Katerina Vishinskaya goes by Kittey, a non-Russian nickname I found justification for keeping because of its usage in Anna Karenina. The nicknames Kitty, Dolly, Betsy, and Annie are spelt phonetically, as English, like French, was a fashionable language among the upper-class at that time. I just think the spelling Kittey looks a little more believably Russified than Kitti, Kiti, or Kitty.

Kittey’s sister-in-law Katriyana goes by Kat, which I kept by justifying as her way of standing out from the crowd of 15 sisters and not wanting to be just another Katya. I found out later Katriyana isn’t such a traditional Russian name, but I innocently copied it from Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, trusting those were all real Russian names. I think it works because a number of Kat’s sisters have less-traditional/common names, like Yelikonida, Alisa, and Rozaliya, and by the time you get to your 15th child, you kind of have to think creatively.

Lyuba and Ivan’s fourth-born child (Ivan’s special pet), Yekaterina Koneva, goes by Katya. Her family also calls her ptichka, “little bird.”

When Katya Chernomyrdina appears with Katya Koneva, they’re Older Katya and Younger Katya.

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

Some Russian names are lucky enough to have several base nickname forms, like Anastasiya (Asya, Stasya, Nastya), Nadezhda (Dusya, Nadya), Aleksandr/a (Sasha, Shura, Sanya), Yelena (Lena, Lyolya), Lyubov (Lyuba, Busya), Dmitriy (Dima, Mitya), Georgiy (Zhora, Gosha), Pavel (Pasha, Pavlik), and Vladimir (Vova, Volodya). In English, names with multiple nicknames include William, Elizabeth, Katherine, the Jul- names, John, and the Al- names. Using child vs. adult forms of a nickname is a perfect way to distinguish characters, like Joe and Joey or Lizzie vs. Beth.

You should always try as much as possible to use different names for every character, but sometimes it’s just not feasible.

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, Fonts, Historical fiction, Katrin, Russian novel, Writing

Ellis Island (Euphemia)

Font: Euphemia (wanted Edwardian Script, but it was too hard to read for an extended period, even in 30-point type)

Chapter: “Ellis Island”

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

Written: Spring 1999 or 2000

Computer created on: It was a Mac that must’ve been made in ’96 or ’97, or a new ’99 one.

File format: Word98 (first and only time I wrote any chapters of my first Russian novel in Word!)

This is Chapter 22 of my first Russian historical novel, the first chapter of Part II, “America.” I had so much fun doing the research for this, because I’ve always been fascinated by the history of immigration to the United States, and Ellis Island. More recently, I went back and did some editing on this chapter, after finding out some new information (like how single women and unmarried couples weren’t allowed to leave alone, and how immigrants had to do puzzles to test their mental powers).

Our characters arrive on 3 May 1921, after having left from the port of Tallinn on 15 March. They were very lucky to get in, as restrictions on immigration began tightening that year. In early 1924, it became even more difficult for anyone from Eastern or Southern Europe to immigrate, thanks to all those racist, xenophobic laws. People from Asia couldn’t immigrate even with a miniscule quota (which was never even met in all those years it was on the books). America is made of immigrants, even the Native Americans themselves. These laws severely restricting certain races and ethnic groups from entering are one of the biggest black eyes in our nation’s history. Many people died because they weren’t allowed to leave dangerous situations, like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Rant over.

Lyuba’s party traveled second-class, but they end up having to go through the processing station with steerage, instead of inspected right on the boat like they were promised. Along the way, there are a couple of problems, but eventually everyone is allowed to enter the mainland. I now realize that a large White Russian immigrant community was established uptown in Hamilton Heights, but I’m too used to having them in the Lower East Side to undertake significant rewriting to change the setting. I think the downtown setting works better for the storylines of the first two books than putting them uptown would anyway.

The chapter ends with Kat and Nikolas’s wedding and Nikolay’s baptism at the Kissing Post.

Some highlights:

“The Americans in government now are racists,” Katrin proclaims. “Don’t you remember what Pyotr said?  They’ll send back people with a little birthmark on their neck if it looks like it’s contagious.  I even heard they once sent an old woman back because one of her fingernails was black, even though it wasn’t from disease.”

“Does anybody here have relatives to take them in?” Katrin asks. “I also heard they routinely send people back if they don’t furnish proof of employment or family waiting for them.”

“Time to be checked out by customs,” Katrin’s young suitor tells them after the three hours are up. “Don’t say anything incriminating.  And be warned, single women aren’t allowed to leave the island without male escorts, and they don’t let unmarried couples leave together.”

Anastásiya screams as the eye doctor flips her eyelids back with a buttonhook.  Katrin begins to whimper when her turn comes up.  That indignity, however, is soon overtaken when various jigsaw puzzles are set before everyone.

“I’m twenty, not five,” Katrin huffs. “If you’re giving us these puzzles for us to pass our time, you could at least do to give us puzzles with a hundred or more pieces.”

Anastásiya has switched from crying to her old bad habit of biting her nails since she’s gotten discharged by the doctors.  She’s biting them harder and more desperately than ever before because she’s afraid of spending the night here, on Ellis Island, surrounded by strangers.

Lyuba watches with tears in her eyes as the priest marries Kat and Nikolás.  Kat is wearing a purple silk gown and holding a nosegay of flowers she’s bought from one of the vendors.  Nikolás is wearing the only suit in his possession.  Kittey stands by, wearing a pink velvet dress and holding a second nosegay, serving as the bridesmaid.  For the first time since the Revolution, everyone in the wedding party is able to take Communion.

Posted in 1920s, Kat, Kittey, Lyuba, Russian novel sequel, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—In the General Store

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples also comes from Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. During her visit to Minnesota, Lyuba has been helping her next-best friend Kat and Kat’s sister-in-law Kittey with the general store they’ve started since relocating. After the business day ends, she’s allowed to choose a free gift to take home to her newly-discovered stepsister Lyolya, and a gift for herself. She gets the exact type of necklace I’d love, a spider necklace. (I already have a small jewelry box made to look like a spider’s web, with a red spider on top.)

***

Kat turns the sign on the door around from “Open” to “Closed” at 5:00.  By this time Tatyana and Fédya have gone back next door and Kat’s children have gone to their own house, and only Kat, Kittey, and Lyuba are left in the store.

“Did you notice anything you’d like to buy for your new stepsister?” Kat asks. “She’s the dancer, right?”

“A ballerina.  Praise God, she regained her mobility after those godless Reds almost destroyed her kneecaps.  It’s a miracle she’s able to dance again, well enough to get lead roles.  I assume she has plenty of dance clothes provided for her.”

“Dancers always appreciate pretty hair decorations,” Kittey says. “We have a section of jewelry and hair ornaments, some of them handmade and others we ordered from a catalogue.”

Lyuba goes over to the corner of the store reserved for fancy purses, ladies’ watches, jewelry, and upscale scarves. “I know she’s a fellow Sagittarius, so her birthstone is turquoise or blue zircon.  She might like to get hairpins with those stones.”

“And put them in a pretty little clutch.  That’ll be a nice presentation.”

“I hope she doesn’t think it’s too rude to get a gift from a stranger.  I might be her stepsister, but she’s never met me.  She’s probably more expecting to get gifts from her real sisters.”

“You’ll become her real sister in time,” Kat says. “Matryona, Dinara, and Svéta all appeared some time after we’d come here together, and they don’t see you as just a stepsister.  Maybe you have the most special relationship with Álla because she’s the stepsister you’ve known longest, but your surviving parents are still married.  And you share that adorable little brother.”

Lyuba selects a pair of silver hairpins with heart-shaped blue zircons and a black silk clutch with pink ballet slippers embroidered on it. “How much is this going to be?”

“You can have them for free if you’d like,” Kat says. “We’re not going to charge one of our best friends.  Think of it as a courtesy gift.  We know you’re not going to make a habit of helping yourself to merchandise.  And we’re no longer practically starving, so we can afford to give some stuff away for free.”

“Are you sure you don’t need the money?  I can easily afford it, so long as it’s not hundreds of dollars.”

“It’s our treat,” Kittey repeats. “You should have a nice gift to take back to her next week.  Your kids will make something, but everyone expects kids to give homemade or cheap gifts.  Adults with decent money are supposed to give more upscale presents.”

“If you insist.”

“Save your money for taking care of your remaining business in New York and relocating here,” Kat says. “And you’re going to have a baby in October.  Think about him, and not trying to reimburse us for a small gift.  You can even take a little something for yourself too, if you’d like.  Have anything you’d like, and it’ll be on us.”

“Now that’s just taking advantage of you!”

“We won’t let you leave our store to go home till you get a small gift on us.  How about something purple?”

Lyuba shakes her head in resignation. “Fine, you win.”

Kat pulls out purple wrapping paper for Lyolya’s present and the item Lyuba eventually brings to the front, a necklace with a spider pendant.  Kittey giggles when she sees the necklace.

“I knew you’d see that and want it.  You’re still such a tomboy, even as a married mother.”

“Why not?  I always liked spiders.  They’re such beautiful creatures.  And this isn’t some childish costume necklace.  It looks elegant and refined, as least as far as a spider necklace can look.  I’ll be proud to wear it to work.”

“You and Iván are perfect for each other,” Kat smiles. “You’re both so different from the so-called norms, and don’t mind that about each other.  I think people who are different seek other outcasts out, or are pulled together through some unseen force.  Either way, I’m sure you’ll get back on track beautifully once you’ve permanently resettled.  In spite of all your problems, you still have that deep base in common.”