WeWriWa—The first guest to arrive

If you’re observing Tisha B’Av, may you have an easy and meaningful fast!

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m sharing the opening of Chapter 9, “Increasing Attraction,” of my fourth Russian historical. After last week’s snippet, Violetta agreed to come to Igor’s birthday party, and after he left, she and her baby sister Flora begged their mother to keep mum about how they had polio.

Violetta then phoned Igor’s great-aunt Valeriya and a number of other people who know her secret, begging them to keep mum too. When Igor arrived home, Valeriya was on the phone with Violetta. Valeriya urged him not to get his hopes up so much after only one meeting, and said he might find someone else he likes even more. She also said good relationships take time to develop.

The Kalvik penthouse has long been used as the site of many celebrations and get-togethers because it has a lot more space than anyone else’s house. Katrin Kalvik-Nikonova, the mistress of the household, is a longtime friend of Igor’s parents, and the one who paid for Violetta’s iron lung so she could finally go home for Orthodox Christmas 1943 and not lose her security blanket.

Front-Cover

To make sure the Kalviks and their servants understand the importance of keeping mum, Violetta arrives at Igor’s birthday party at 5:45, ahead of all the other guests.  Though she’s sure all the other young women will have fashionable knee-length skirts and dresses, she’s changed from her ankle-length turquoise school dress into a teal blouse with elbow-length sleeves and a black ankle-length skirt.  The only time she wears modern knee-length hemlines is at home, without any company, where she feels safe revealing the caliper on her right leg.  At least she no longer wears a caliper that goes under her foot or around her ankle.  With the somewhat shorter caliper she can hide under long hemlines, she’s able to compensate for her unfashionably long hemlines with pretty, fancy shoes, anklets, and nailpolish.

“You’re awfully early,” Katrin observes, looking up from a Japanese textbook. “I suppose you wanted to see Mireena and Milena before anyone else arrived.”

“Well, yes, but I also wanted to make sure you remembered what I told you on the phone last Saturday.  This is really serious business.”

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Katrin is teaching herself Japanese (her twelfth language) in preparation for a journalistic trip to see the aftereffects of the bombs. This trip will eventually land her in lots of hot water with McCarthyists, and will be one of the book’s other major storylines.

P.S.: Happy first birthday to my rook piercing! This was my eighth piercing, my seventh ear piercing, and my first real cartilage piercing (not counting my nostril). Sadly, I recently had to retire my beautiful navel piercing because of obvious rejection, but I’ve still got all nine of my ear piercings and my nostril, and I have plans for many more ear piercings. The rook is the barbell with blue gemstones going through the antihelix crus, the small, thick cartilage fold at the top of the ear.

Rook closeup

Writing about vintage bathing suits

Though I’ve always been proudly tomboyish and didn’t get a taste for clothes shopping till age 26, I really enjoy describing vintage clothes in my books. Clothes from previous decades are so fun. Since I love the beach, I particularly enjoy writing about vintage bathing suits. It’s also a perfect post topic for summer.

Here are some pictures of bathing suits from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, with accompanying excerpts.

Silver_Sheet_January_01_1923_-_GALLOPING_FISH.pdf

1923:

“Why would Katya show her bare ankles in public?” Anastasiya asks in horror. “It’s bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts showing her lower legs, even covered by heavy stockings.”

“I’ll be showing my ankles on Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon.  Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?” Katrin giddily holds up a peacock green satin swimsuit, without the sleeves, long skirts, and wool fabric they’re accustomed to.

“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”

“It reaches my thigh, dolt.  It’s not nearly as revealing as Annette Kellerman’s swimsuit, outlining her legs and crotch.  This is modern without being too scandalous.  Besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”

Bathing_Beach_1920

1923:

Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.  It’s painfully severe and old-fashioned even by the standards of the typical bathing dress.  No matter what, Anastasiya refuses to show her ankles and elbows in public.  Her few concessions to practicality are her lack of bathing stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and a cap.  Katrin meanwhile enjoys the flirting glances of other men, even though she has a wedding ring and is starting to become visibly pregnant.  Kittey, Viktoriya, Alya, and Anya also have modern, lightweight bathing suits which allow them to move freely and actually swim, while Kat, Eliisabet, and Lyuba have more demure bathing dresses, made of satin, with shoulder-length sleeves and hemlines just covering their knees.

The four men have the normal black tank tops falling to their mid-thighs, over snug-fitting shorts, made of ribbed cotton.  Ivan typically has the most conservative bathing suit, paranoid he’ll be arrested for indecency if the wind or water clings to him too tightly or blows anything out of place.  He’s also made sure his top isn’t loose and that the sleeves are as relatively long as possible, so no one will see any of the thirty whiplash scars still emblazoned all over his back.  The children meanwhile are running and toddling about in homemade bathing suits, unburdened by worries of looking either fashionable or immodest.

1930s bathing suits

1938:

The last day of August, Cinni got freshened up to go down to the beach, and then strutted around admiring herself in her red bathing suit.  She’d scored a particular coup in finagling her father to let her buy and wear a two-piece bathing suit.  Even if it didn’t show anything past what a normal bathing suit did, she loved the daring feeling of wearing two separate pieces.

1940s swimsuits

1945:

Darya climbs out of the pool first and slips into her blue rubber sandals.  She looks down at her red, white, and blue swimsuit, with a loose swing skirt instead of the tighter skirts her bathing suits have always had.  When she doesn’t have much of a body yet, a tighter skirt would only serve to accentuate everything she doesn’t have.  She already needs to have a swimsuit tie so the extra material doesn’t flop around.  The other three also have swimsuits with loose skirts.  Halina has a white swimsuit decorated with medium pink roses, Maja has a solid blue swimsuit, and Oliivia has a red two-piece swimsuit with white polka-dots.  Just two short months ago, none of them dreamt they’d have enough flesh on their bones or feel strong enough to wear swimsuits and go swimming.

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1946:

Yuriy walks back and forth through the men’s swimsuit section several times before finally settling on a bright blue piece, with enough fabric to ensure modesty.  He steps into the changing room to try it on, and feels satisfied when it’s nice and loose.  The last thing he wants is to have his masculine reflex paying a call when he’s out of the water.  Inga would be so horrified and offended she might never speak or write to him ever again.

1940s swimsuits ad

Yuriy gives thanks for the roomy fabric when he sees Inga in her bathing suit, a simple navy blue and white plaid style with ruching and a long swing skirt.  He’s never seen her body outlined so much before, and is already imagining what she looks like underneath.  This’ll sure help with all those dreams he has about taking her to bed.

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.

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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.

WeWriWa—Meet Lyuba and Katrin

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP.  I’m now sharing from the opening of my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (available for pre-order here).

Finally, a bit over two pages in, we really meet Lyuba, Ivan’s best friend and now-ex-girlfriend. We also meet the third of the three girls who just moved from Estonia, Katariina Nikonova (Katrin). I always have so much fun writing Katrin, and particularly enjoyed turning her from girl to woman in the first book, someone who really lives her political beliefs and gives up childish things.

The Estonian accent really is just as I’ve described it, though many Russians mock it for its sing-songishness. It’s a beautiful language, with a beautiful accent. Starting in 1869, the Estonians sang for their freedom from Russia, and still love singing today, so it’s no surprise there’s such a musical lilt in their accent.

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Lyuba boards the tram near the end of the line, and loudly curses when she sees all the seats are taken. Having little choice, she grabs the rail and finds herself standing next to the third Estonian girl. The first thing she notices about the girl is her short blonde hair. Her short hairstyle isn’t even feminine like the American dancer Irene Castle or the French actress Polaire, but cropped as short as a man’s, with nary a hair accessory like hair clips or a bandeau. It looks so modern next to Lyuba’s mane of hair flowing past her knees.

“I’m Lyubóv Leontiyevna Zhúkova. What’s your name?”

She looks up at Lyuba with piercing green eyes, and begins speaking with the most beautiful accent Lyuba has ever heard, a soft, singsongy lilt which blends sadness, poetry, and music.


Irene Castle


Polaire

What’s Up Wednesday—Happy International Left-Handedness Awareness Day!

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What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog or Erin’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I finished Yoko Kawashima Watkins’s My Brother, My Sister, and I, about the struggles she and her siblings went through in the early postwar years in Japan, after they got out of Korea. It’s the sequel to So Far from the Bamboo Grove. They didn’t have much, but they had one another, and they always found a way to get food, money, and shelter. In both books, I loved the secondary character Mr. Naido, who worked in the furnace room of Yoko’s school and gave her all the usable paper from the trash. He was her only friend and advocate at school, while all the other girls treated her horribly for not being as moneyed as they were.

What I’m Writing

Up to Chapter 88 of my WIP, 669,500 words. I’d actually started what I thought was Chapter 88, which opens with the citizenship ceremony of Inessa’s family on 11 August 1945. But then I realised I’d totally skipped over the kind of really important historical events of a few days earlier! So I changed Chapter 88 to 89 and put it on hold, then started the real Chapter 88, “A Happy Ending…or Not?”

For many years now, it’s been my firm belief that we should never have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not only because it was unethical and immoral, but also because Japan was well on its way to surrendering anyway. Even General Eisenhower didn’t agree with it and thought it was cruel and pointless. Obviously, radical Katrin is going to have quite a lot to say about the bombs. She’s been writing for numerous left-wing newspapers, in at least 10 languages, ever since she came to America in 1921. I actually just thought of a great storyline for my fourth Russian novel (1948-52), Katrin falling under suspicion during the McCarthyist witch hunts due to her loud, proud Socialist convictions.

What Inspires Me

It’s International Left-Handedness Awareness Day! It’s so so special how we’ve got our own holiday now, after how brutally lefties were treated for so much of human history. Sadly, many cultures still shame and bully little lefties out of their natural inclination, and have an almost fetishistic worship of the right side of the body. It makes me so sad to read about how so many teachers and parents used to smack children’s hands, tie their hands down with rope or weights, tie their hands behind their backs, removed utensils and pens from the left hand and shoved them into the right hand, gave lefties failing marks in handwriting because of their ignorance of proper left-handed writing methods, beat them, the list goes on and on.

When you’re left-handed, you have left-dar and immediately notice other lefties, whereas right-handed folks don’t pay attention to what hand someone writes or eats with. Some right-handed people even express surprise when finding out a friend is a lefty, like they never noticed that pretty important detail in so much time.

I love being a positive ambassador for sinistrality, and finding little lefties. I got such a thrill when I discovered some of my campers over the last three years were lefties, particularly two in the nursery bunk. I was in the closet about the true extent of my left-handedness till three years ago, and now I’m out and proud. Handedness, like sexual orientation, exists along a continuum.  Very few people are 100% one or the other. I see myself as having the best of best worlds, since I’m still able to eat and write right-handed after so many years of doing it. I just do most of my eating and writing with my left hand now.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I finally got a new computer, though I’ve still got the old one around to transfer files and for backup. It’s so nice to not have to run a fan right behind my computer and hear that painful, scary death rattle from the left fan. I’ve got a lot of readjusting to do, since I was using a 2007 computer. Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to open my old Power PC applications on the new machine. Right now, it’s refusing to open Word 2004 and Ideal Solitaire. In the meantime, Pages is easy enough to navigate, though I miss some of the features Word had.

I also finally had two feet of hair taken off after Tisha B’Av. It’s so nice to have short hair again! I think it even helped the pain from the chickenpox scars under my hair. They were hurting me a lot in recent months, but now there’s so much less hair weighing them down. (I missed the vaccine by just one year, and I never found out who gave them to me at age fourteen.)