WeWriWa—Alla’s accident

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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. Today, to mark the 15th anniversary of a car accident that almost killed me, gave me second-degree burns, and left me unable to walk for eleven months, I’m sharing an excerpt from The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, the second volume about my Russian characters (which is long overdue for its final polishing and release!).

Some years back, I posted an earlier part of this scene in a post for the now-defunct Six Sentence Sunday hop, It’s April 1927, and Lyuba’s closest stepsister, Alla, was knocked over and run over by a Bugatti after she ran into the road to rescue Lyuba’s baby Katya. Shortly afterwards, an Essex with Alla’s ex-boyfriend, Daniil Karmov, drove up, and Karmov immediately came to Alla’s assistance.

Bugatti Type 44, Copyright Herranderssvensson

Ivan hands Katya to Lyuba and tries pushing the Bugatti over on its side, the way he’s seen cars flip over in the movies.  Karmov goes to the other side as the driver shouts at them.

“Don’t let him drive off without taking down his license!” Katrin says. “He needs to be reported to the police for running over a pedestrian!” She pulls a pen and a notepad out of her purse and goes around to the back to write down the identification number.

Karmov’s friend in the Essex pulls Alla onto the sidewalk as soon as the car has been lifted up just far enough to give her space to escape.  The Bugatti owner drives off shouting at them and calling them dumb immigrants and agitators.

“He’ll go to jail for leaving the scene of an accident he caused,” Katrin predicts. “What a jerk.”

Hudson Essex Super Six, Copyright Addvisor

Next Sunday, which is a much happier anniversary, I’ll have some good news to share.

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.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! In honor of the holiday, I’m presenting the third section of Chapter 104, “Dmitriy’s Desire,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s 1946 in Berkeley, California, and 20-year-olds Dmitriy Voroshilov and Katya Koneva are on their first date after two months of Dmitriy constantly pursuing Katya. Dmitriy has grown to feel more than mere lust for Katya, while Katya now has a keen interest in Dmitriy.

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On Thursday, Halloween, Katya arrives at Dmitriy’s Shattuck Avenue house, wearing a witch’s hat and a long, voluminous red cape over her costume.  She dared not walk about in public, even for a very short while, with the costume she pulled together.  That might’ve caused more scandal than the mere act of a single woman going to an unrelated man’s house alone.  At least there are other people in the house, and she’s not out past curfew.

Dmitriy, dressed as a magician, greets her with a large bouquet of red, orange, and yellow roses in a ceramic jack-o-lantern. “Happy Halloween.  Please, have a seat, and I’ll introduce you to my friends.  I hope you’re wearing something sexy under that cape.  I’ve never seen a witch costume consisting of just a hat and a long red cape.  I already made my Navy buddies promise not to make inappropriate noises or motions.  This is my territory, not theirs.”

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Katya stares down at the flowers. “Do you always get flowers for just a first date?”

“Only for you.  I didn’t pursue anyone else for two months, so I figured you were worth a little reward.  I wanted a Halloween-themed bouquet, and this was the best I could do.  I hope you’re not offended I already got you flowers, or that it’s not some more romantic bouquet like white roses or colored daisies and sunflowers.”

“No man ever got me flowers before.  I’m surprised a guy like you would do something like that.  How come you’re dressed as a magician?”

“Because that’s what I am.” He smiles devilishly. “I steal hearts and work magic with the special parts of my body.”

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Katya takes the flowers and comes inside, where Dmitriy introduces her to his Navy buddies and their dates.  The other four couples consist of an American Indian princess and a whiteface clown, a Medieval princess and a Vampyre, a nurse and a skeleton, and an antebellum belle and a pirate.  Dmitriy has decorated his small, humble home with cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns, black and orange balloons and streamers, die-cut skeletons, black cat silhouettes, ghost garlands, several jack-o-lantern bowls overflowing with candy, and strings of orange lights.

“Now will you finally show me your real costume?  Let’s see a good girl’s idea of sexy.”

Katya shakes her head. “I’m underdressed next to all your friends.  I’ll just leave this cape on and forget I was foolish enough to dress like a harlot.  Had I known your friends were wearing normal costumes, I never would’ve embarrassed myself through such immodest dress.”

“In that case, please, show me.  All my buddies will be jealous of me for having such a sexy date.  Don’t worry about the other girls.  I never dated any of them.”

Katya sets the flowers on a small bureau with a display of Halloween cards, novelty candles, macabre dolls, and a homemade Halloween tree.  Casting her eyes downwards, she lets her cape fall to the ground.

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Dmitriy takes in all her bare flesh and the outlines of her body, showcased in a tight, strapless, black bathing suit, black high heels, and black fishnet stockings.  He begins salivating at this unexpected delight, and feels his trousers growing tighter under his thankfully long jacket.

“What did you do to get such a sweet dish?” the pirate asks. “Are you sure she’s such a good girl?  I could never get a good girl to wear such a revealing costume.”

“She’s such a good girl, she’s never even kissed a man at the age of twenty,” Dmitriy brags. “Unless something’s changed since I last spoke to her about the matter.”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.” Katya shoves a fist into his sweet spot. “Let that be a warning in case you decide to get smart again and share personal details about me in front of strangers.”

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Dmitriy staggers over to the davenport, clutching himself. “That’s not the first time she’s done that to me.  I think she likes inflicting pain on me, as some kind of kinky sexual thrill.”

“That’s what he gets for saying things he shouldn’t.”

“That hurt more than usual, since my munandid were completely unprotected this time,” he whispers as soon as he has a seat. “You sure killed my arousal quick.”

“Oh, who are you kidding?” she whispers back. “As soon as your pain subsides, you’ll be back to lusting after me.  I never knew I could wield that type of power over a man.” Katya’s eyes light up at the three-layer cake with orange and black frosting extended by the Medieval princess. “We’re having cake before dinner?”

“This is just a fortune cake.  Would you like to cut a slice before we get to dinner?  Dinner won’t be much, though Mitya insists he’s a good cook for a man.”

“He is.  The breakfast he cooked me shortly before the semester was wonderful, even though it was simple.  He claimed he would’ve fixed me something a lot more gourmet if I’d had more time.”

“You made her breakfast before you got a date?” the Vampyre asks. “What’s the story behind that?”

“Nothing I care to share with company,” Dmitriy says, eyeing Katya’s fist. “A gentleman and a lady need secrets.”

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Katya cuts into the cake and eases her slice onto the proffered pumpkin-themed plate.  Not wanting to appear piggish, she waits for everyone else to cut a slice and discover their fortunes.  The belle acts as translator, and tells everyone the meaning of the fleur de lis, kite, castle, penny, crown, heart, horseshoe, and bells.  Finally, Dmitriy sticks a fork into his slice and discovers a ring.

“Marriage within a year!” the belle laughs. “With whom?  You go through women like cigarettes.”

“I don’t smoke, and I’m slowing down now.  I’m looking for more meaningful relationships, not just a quick one-time date or someone to go steady with for six weeks.”

“Six weeks?  You’ve had a girl for that long?” Katya asks.

“That was my all-time record.  We had a date every Monday, when I could get away from my Navy training for a little while.  Anyway, these fortunes don’t mean anything.”

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Katya looks askance at the charm in her cake, hands holding a heart topped by a crown. “What in the world is this?”

“That’s called a claddagh,” the belle supplies. “It’s a Celtic symbol representing eternal love, friendship, and loyalty.”

“I hope I find my eternal love with a returning serviceman, about my age, nice and tall, handsome, Russian, Orthodox, respectable, and ready to be an honorable family man.  He should have a family I want to marry into.”

“What if your dream man isn’t Russian?” Dmitriy asks. “He could be perfect in every other way, but happen to have other types of blood in his veins.  I’ve never cared about my dates being French or Estonian.  How come you accepted a date with me when I’m not Russian?”

“Your name’s Russian, even if your mother’s Estonian and your mystery father’s a Frenchman.  And you worship Russian Orthodox.  You’re close enough for hand-grenades, while I bide my time waiting for my husband.”

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“You sure know how to be a tease,” he whispers while the guests floats walnut boats. “Are you getting some kind of thrill out of getting my hopes up and then cruelly dashing them, or do you really not understand how this makes me feel?  At least your fist and knee only gave me physical pain I could quickly recover from.  Now I feel pain where it can’t be tangibly measured or predictably cured.”

“You?  Heartbroken over a woman’s teasing and rejection, and suddenly using poetic language?  Do you really like me that much already?”

“So much, even I can’t believe it.”

Katya tries to push it out of her mind as she follows the other guests into the kitchen.  Dinner consists of corn on the cob, butternut squash soup, warm cider with large cinnamon sticks, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin polenta shaped into pumpkins, with tiny green pepper slivers representing the stems.  A large pumpkin pie sits off on the counter, flanked by a glass baking dish of fudge and a chocolate-glazed Bundt cake.

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“All this good cooking and baking can be yours, all yours, if you be my steady girl,” Dmitriy whispers as she has a seat. “Remember, I’m not as shallow and sex-crazed as you’d like to think.”

“Does the Navy need you on Friday or Saturday night, or Sunday afternoon?”

“They only need my handsome self one weekend a month, and two additional weeks a year.  I’ll be happy to take you out tomorrow night, if you promise not to sock me anymore.”

“Can we see The Dark Mirror?  I really like Lew Ayres, and it’s important to support him after so many people attacked him for being a conscientious objector and a non-combatant medic.  I hope people soon forget about wartime jingoism and not care about what guys did during the war.  I’m really proud of my brother’s service, but not everyone had the personality or philosophy to support a stint in the military.  It took a lot of courage for Lew Ayres to stand up for what he believed in, even if it meant risking his career.”

“Sure, whatever you want, ptichka.  Just remember, at least pretend to be ladylike.  If you want to touch me, you can do it nicely, after you like me enough.  Just no more fists and knees.”

“Then you can refrain from talking too dirty.”

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Dmitriy nods. “I’ll come to your dormitory to pick you up.  Just so you know, I won’t force you to do anything after only a few dates.  As much as I’d love to taste that sweet-looking mouth, it might feel even better if I save it for later and leave it as something to look forward to.”

“And then what, you’ll fix your eyes on some other woman after you got what you wanted?”

“Perish the thought.  I never chase a girl and then throw her away after some roll in the hay.  It’s just that we lose interest in each other, since we were only after a good time.  But you’re the kind of girl a fellow marries and takes home to his family, not the type who just wants to neck and pet while she waits for her real dream man.”

“I’ll never be that woman for you, since my parents and your mother hate each other.  Always remember that, and don’t get too attached to me.”

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WeWriWa—A sexy witch

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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 scene continues a few lines after last week’s, as 20-year-old Katya Koneva has just arrived at an off-campus Halloween party for her first date with notorious skirt-chaser Dmitriy Voroshilov.

Dmitriy, an ensign in the Naval Reserve, is dressed as a magician, and the eight other guests have similar normal costumes. Katya volunteered to wear a very sexy costume, but now she feels extremely underdressed beneath her long red cape. Had she known no one else would be wearing a risqué costume, she never would’ve worn it, but Dmitriy presses her to reveal herself.

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Katya sets the flowers on a small bureau with a display of Halloween cards, novelty candles, macabre dolls, and a homemade Halloween tree.  Casting her eyes downwards, she lets her cape fall to the ground.

Dmitriy takes in all her bare flesh and the outlines of her body, showcased in a tight, strapless, black bathing suit, black high heels, and black fishnet stockings.  He begins salivating at this unexpected delight, and feels his trousers growing tighter under his thankfully long jacket.

“What did you do to get such a sweet dish?” the pirate asks. “Are you sure she’s such a good girl?  I could never get a good girl to wear such a revealing costume.”

“She’s such a good girl, she’s never even kissed a man at the age of twenty,” Dmitriy brags. “Unless something’s changed since I last spoke to her about the matter.”

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1940s pinup girl Dusty Anderson, in a similar costume

Katya kills Dmitriy’s arousal very quickly with a well-placed fist, as a warning for what’ll happen if he shares such personal information with company again!

For anyone who’s been following my October series about classic silent horror films with landmark anniversaries this year, I’ll be discussing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Monday and Wednesday, and the original Lost World on Friday. Of course, I’ve saved the best for last, and will have several posts about The Phantom of the Opera in the last week of October.

WeWriWa—Halloween 1946

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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. In the spirit of the Halloween season, all my October snippets are related to this best of all holidays. (I know it seems like a complete juxtaposition that my two favorite holidays are Halloween and Yom Kippur!)

This week’s snippet comes from Chapter 104 of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest. Dmitriy Voroshilov, a 20-year-old ensign in the Naval Reserve, is hosting a party in his little house on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, California in 1946. This is his first date with Katya Koneva, the closest in age sister of Darya from last week.

Dmitriy has pursued Katya relentlessly since their reunion on the train back to California at the end of the summer, but she’s continually deterred him, not only because he’s so cocky, dirty-minded, bawdy-tongued, and skirt-chasing, but also because his mother is a longtime enemy of her family. Now she’s finally starting to be interested in him, and has arrived in a witch’s hat and long red cape over her true costume. At the door, Dmitriy presents her with a bouquet of red, yellow, and orange roses in a ceramic jack-o-lantern, and Katya asks why he’s dressed as a magician.

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“Because that’s what I am.” He smiles devilishly. “I steal hearts and work magic with the special parts of my body.”

Katya takes the flowers and comes inside, where Dmitriy introduces her to his Navy buddies and their dates. The other four couples consist of an American Indian princess and a whiteface clown, a Medieval princess and a Vampyre, a nurse and a skeleton, and an antebellum belle and a pirate. Dmitriy has decorated his small, humble home with cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns, black and orange balloons and streamers, die-cut skeletons, black cat silhouettes, ghost garlands, several jack-o-lantern bowls overflowing with candy, and strings of orange lights.

“Now will you finally show me your real costume? Let’s see a good girl’s idea of sexy.”

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In spite of what Dmitriy says at the beginning, he’s still a technical virgin. He doesn’t want to have full intimacy until he’s with someone he wants to marry, and he doesn’t want to risk ruining anyone’s reputation if the worst happens.

Though Dmitriy was just the right age to serve in the war, his godmother (the woman who really raised him) arranged for him to enroll in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, an accelerated program which provided both a college education and Navy training. The war ended shortly after Dmitriy began the three-month V-7 Navy College Training finishing course at a midshipmen’s school, and now he’s returned to Berkeley to finish his bachelor’s degree on a normal timetable. The only Navy service required of him now is one weekend every month and two additional weeks a year in the Reserve.