Commingled pandemonium and sadness at Rudy’s wake

To mark Rudy Valentino’s 95th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m sharing the fourth section of Chapter 23, “Death of Valentino,” from The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

“Why again are we returning to the city during a heat wave to go to a wake for someone we never met?” Ivan pesters as they get off the subway on Tuesday. “I hate crowds, and I can already hear all those loony women screaming and weeping.”

“Because our grandkids will love to hear the story of how we went to the viewing of a famous moviestar who died in our adopted hometown,” Lyuba says. “And Kittey and Viktoriya were fans, though not crazy and obsessed like Anastasiya.”

“Do I see a riot in progress?” Eliisabet asks. “I’m sure he’d be so proud of his so-called fans for turning his wake and funeral into a three-ring circus.”

When they join up with Alla, Vera, Natalya, Fyodora, and Anya Godimova, they notice smashed windows in the approaching Frank Campbell Funeral Home and a number of police on horseback. Ivan wishes he hadn’t been talked into leaving their happy shore vacation to witness this madness.

“I don’t like seeing so many police in one place,” he says. “It brings back bad memories.”

“I’ve seen those uniforms in newsreels.” Vera points. “They’re Italian Blackshirts. What are they doing here?”

“There’s still time to turn around and go back to the shore. Who knows what all these police might do to us if they think we’re among the crazy people smashing windows and fainting. I wonder how many coffin-climbers they’ve had to restrain so far.”

“Police in this country only arrest you or use physical force if they have a good reason,” Eliisabet says. “They’ll see we’re normal people not causing trouble.”

“Clearly you haven’t seen many movies,” Viktoriya says. “A lot of cops arrest or follow people who haven’t done anything. They have God complexes like doctors.”

“That’s meant to be funny!” Kittey protests.

“I don’t think it’s very funny to see people, even in fictional situations, having their basic civil liberties violated.”

As they get closer to the funeral home, they see several policemen hauling a screaming, weeping, hysterical Anastasiya out the door and through the street. Anastasiya is fighting against the cops and trying to climb over them to get back into the funeral home, loudly protesting she’s a very important woman. Dagnija, who came as her companion, looks extremely embarrassed for her.

“Why does this not surprise me?” Katrin asks. “I just knew Nastya would be among the crazy, hysterical fans rioting and fainting.”

“How come dead people have to be displayed before they’re buried?” Tatyana asks. “It’s nicer to remember them alive, not lying in a coffin.”

“It gives people one last memory and chance to say goodbye,” Lyuba says.

“If that bad guy had killed Papa before you killed him with the fire poker, I wouldn’t have wanted to see him dead in a coffin.”

“Mama killed a guy with a fire poker?” Fedya asks. “When did it happen?”

“Our last day in Russia, a man from the secret police came into our house in Pskov and made his case for me being the escaped criminal everyone was looking for,” Ivan says. “Before he could fire his gun, your mother crept up behind him and hit him on the head with a fire poker. When he started to move, she stabbed him in the heart.”

“Wow, you’re really brave,” Fedya says proudly, smiling up at her. “If you hadn’t killed that bad guy to protect him, I never would’ve been born. Babushka and Dedushka think you don’t love Papa, but if you hated him, you wouldn’t have done that.”

“Yes, your mother’s the best life partner I ever could’ve asked for.”

A phalanx of police are assembled around the funeral home, and only allow Lyuba’s party to go in a few at a time. First Kittey, Vera, and Natalya go in, having been the biggest fans, followed by Viktoriya, Alla, and Fyodora, then Katrin and Sandro, then Eliisabet and Nikolay, then Kat, and finally the Konevs. Lyuba starts sobbing hysterically at the sight of the pale, emaciated body in the coffin.

“Can we go back to Long Island now?” Ivan asks, looking uncomfortably at the dead actor before shifting his gaze back to his children.

“Can you promise you’ll never take sick and will always look after your health, Vanyushka? He was only three years older than you, and might’ve lived if he’d gone to a doctor sooner.”

“Of course I’ll take care of myself for you and the kids. Hopefully I don’t have any longterm effects from breathing in all that iron residue and lifting all that iron. My cough is slowly going away too.”

“I never want to lose you so young. He must’ve gone through such agony before God finally put him out of his misery. Promise me you’ll die on the same day and hour as I do, when we’re old, not in the prime of life.”

“I’ll try my best.”

Someone calls to them that their time is up. Lyuba takes Katya from Ivan and walks out with Tatyana, while Ivan takes Fedya and Darya by the hands.

“Bye-bye, Mr. Moviestar.” Fedya waves. “I hope you have a good time with the angels.”

Sonya Reacts

This is the final of the twenty posts I originally put together on 24 June 2012 (plus a few posts from the same story arc done at later dates) for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Mrs. Herzena is now Mrs. Kharzina.


In Chapter 32 of The Twelfth Time, “The Exodus Begins,” Sonya has finally discovered what happened to her surviving daughter. During Alla and Karmov’s wedding celebration, Ginny’s mother begins pressing, for not the first time, for a potential marriage match between him and Kittey. Ginny insists, as always, that he still loves Georgiya in the Soviet Union. Ginny and Georgiya will eventually be reunited, but not for many, many, many years. Ginny will meet his daughter Inga long before he sees his one true love again.


“Speaking of Kittey.” Mrs. Herzena takes a large piece of smoked fish from the serving platter. “Have you given any further thought to marrying her, Ginny? It’s not good for people of your age to be unmarried. I’m not suggesting having children immediately, since I didn’t, but at least have your own adult household. People will start to talk about you if you’re not married soon.”

“Not on your life,” Kittey says. “I’d never leave my brother and his family. I’m going to Minnesota with them. Perhaps when I’m a bit older, I’ll go to the University of Minnesota. But in the meantime, I have to help Kat and Kólya with running their planned general store. And my nieces and nephews adore me. How could I even think of deserting them?”

“Don’t take Tyotya Kittey away from us!” Anzhelíka begs.

“She loves us more than our mother!” Andréy says.

“I already have a woman I love,” Ginny says. “Kittey is too much like a sister to me to even think about in that way.”

“That girl is never going to defect,” Mrs. Herzena says. “She loves the Soviet Union too much. Unless that new Stálin fellow makes life as unbearable for her as that lunatic Lénin made it for us, she’s staying exactly where she is for the rest of her life. And you’re certainly not going home. Stop wasting your time dreaming about someone you’ll never see again. I’m sure she’ll move onto an attainable man soon.”

“Even if this Geórgiya does meet and marry a nearby man, I want you to stay in contact with her as long as possible,” Sónya says. “She’s the only person who can provide information on my daughter. I know parents are allowed to bring children to Canada and bypass immigration regulations, but I’m sure that man would fight such an order. I still can’t get over how he just took my Kárlochka eight hours away from where he found her and adopted her. Decent people don’t assume a lost child is unwanted or that no one’s looking for her!”

“He was always an annoying pain in the neck,” Ginny says. “I’m not surprised he’s still unmarried. But if Kárla loves him and calls him Papa Lyonya, it would probably be very traumatic for her to be taken away from him. No offense, Sónya, but you’re a stranger to her. She hasn’t seen you in almost nine years. She was far too young to remember when she was taken away.”

“I hope to God he suffers the same way we did when the Tsar was overthrown,” Naína says. “I’m not the only one who’s suspicious about how some relative nobody was able to rise all the way to the top, instead of one of Lénin’s top confidantes. Usually people are up to no good when they rise so high so quickly, and get rid of better-qualified competition in the process. I only hope our Kárlochka stays safe if bad things happen over there.”

“You can still have another baby to replace Kárla, Tyotya Sónya,” Tatyana says. “You’re Tyotya Gálya’s age, so I know you’re not too old yet to have more babies.”

“And you can find a younger man,” Nikoláy says. “Tyotya Mótya, Tyotya Gálya, and Válya Yeltsina married younger men. Maybe you can have a little boy with your new husband.”

“There’s no proof my Maksím is dead. I’m sure no priest would allow me to marry again if the status of my first husband is unknown.”

Tyotya Állochka just got married again, and she found out her first husband was dead,” Novomira says. “A nice priest will understand your first husband is probably gone, but there’s no way to find proof.”

“You’d be blameless,” Kittey says. “At least think about it. I’m too young to think about marriage, contrary to what Ginny’s mother thinks, but you’re too old to not think about remarriage and more kids while you’re still fertile.”

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.


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.


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.

What’s Up Wednesday

Happy heavenly 95th birthday to my favourite writer and one of my heroes, the late great Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn! Your life and your writing will serve as a legacy and inspiration to me and the world for all time. I’m a better writer in part because of you, and if I hadn’t discovered you, there’s no telling if I would’ve had my Russophilia reawakened so powerfully and gone back to my first Russian historical novel. My ultimate dream is to have a Ph.D. in Russian history, with a special focus in GULAG and the Great Terror, because of you.

Also, happy 114th birthday to Lyuba, née Amy, the female lead of my Russian novels. She has the same birthday as Aleksandr Isayevich on purpose. She’s one of my most complex female characters, right up there with Cinnimin.
WUW Winter

What I’m Writing

Baruch Hashem, done with writing for my courses. For a little while, I can focus on fictional writing. I’m up to 537,000 words in my WIP and Chapter 69. I decided to move the title “Homefront Services and Sacrifices” to 69, and renamed 68 “The Pain of Separation.” I looked at how it was shaping up, and felt that title applied more to the events that came a bit later in the timeline. I also wanted to rein in the length and keep it focused on the same general events and theme.

On top of the general homefront drama of 1942, there’s also going to be some polio near the end of Chapter 69. No one dies, but it will necessitate closing or delaying Father Spiridon’s church camp, which the college-aged characters normally work for. I already have a polio survivor among my cast of characters, Kittey Vishinskaya, who was 11-17 in the first book. (Don’t even ask what the original story was behind her becoming crippled and gradually relearning to walk!)

Also planning in my head for the future prequel. I’m even toying with the idea of doing two prequels, one from 1889-96 and the other the planned 1897-1917. It might be fun to show how Lyuba and Ivan’s respective parents and aunt and uncle grew up, before they got married and became parents in their late teens. Also, if Lyuba’s maternal grandpap died in the influenza epidemic of 1889-90, which began in St. Petersburg, that could go a long way towards explaining why her grandmother urged her mother to marry for financial security, not love, and how the family came to be poor when Katya and Margarita were growing up.

What I’m Reading

No time yet to start in on pleasure reading, though the semester is now over for me.

What Inspires Me

9 December marked the 34th anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s announcement that smallpox had been eradicated. I am so, so thankful that my lifetime has never included this terrifying disease, and that the Wikipedia entry on the disease begins “Smallpox was….” Polio is well on its way to being a past tense disease too, relegated to the annals of history.

Modern science and medicine are amazing, no matter what the modern-day science-denialists insist in their woo-filled, scare tactic, easily-debunked propaganda. (Seriously, a number of the vaccine-denialists even deny the germ theory, one of the four foundations of modern biology.) I may have been born in the wrong generation, but I’m so glad I live in a time of such scientific progress, when diseases our ancestors feared are now easily prevented, when penicillin and antibiotics can easily clear up an infection or illness that would’ve killed 100 years ago, when so many things are possible that were the stuff of science fiction only a few generations ago.

What Else I’m Up To

I made some awesome no-bake cookies on the 8th night of Chanukah, my first recipe from my new cookbook Vegan on the Cheap. The chocolate chips were actually milk chocolate, but everything else was vegan.


Melting Earth Balance, the vegan butter I use. I’ve never liked butter, even before I cut almost all dairy out of my diet. It’s the same kind of aversion I’ve had to mayonnaise since about the same time, age eight.


Adding almond milk and sugar.


A day without peanut butter is a day without sunshine. Salt and vanilla extract are also added.




The only non-vegan part of the recipe. I had these from Pesach, when I intended them for the delicious matzah granola I’ve been making every year since 2004. Instead I was lazy and saw some pre-made matzah granola at the Kosher Chopper, and never made my own. Next time I’ll make the homemade granola again, which always is plentiful enough to go several days past Pesach.


Starting to mix.


Nice and blended.


One of the two cookie sheets I filled up. It took longer than the recipe’s suggested 30 minutes for them to fully set, and even a day later, they still were frequently a bit soft. It’s to be expected with no-bake goodies.

Goodbye to the Motherland (Georgia)

Font: Georgia

Year created: 1996

Chapter: “Goodbye to the Motherland”

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

Written: 1999 or 2000

Computer created on: I want to say the ’93 Mac, though this was a period when I was going back and forth between that Mac and the newer ’96 or ’97 one and converting files back and forth between MacWriteII and ClarisWorks.

If it was on the ’93 Mac, it was MacWriteII. If it were the newer machine, it would’ve been ClarisWorks.

This is Chapter 21 of my first Russian historical novel, and the closing chapter of Part I, “Russia.” Reading the end of Chapter 19, “Kalinin,” and the whole of Chapter 21 really chokes me up. These people are saying goodbye to the land where they grew up and believed they’d grow old and die in. They have to get into Estonia (which was not part of the USSR till 1940) and then to America to save their lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

The chapter opens in Novgorod, where Lyuba’s party of 12 has been split up among four cabins provided for them by their friend Pyotr, who’s risking his life by double-crossing his father and older brothers to save his friends. At this point, Lyuba and Ivan are essentially living together as husband and wife, though still without sex. Trouble comes when they discover the Godunov cousins are in the area, along with Pyotr’s father and brothers, still hunting for Ivan.

Pyotr hustles them into Pskov, but the manhunt extends there next, and then it’s a race against time to get everyone into Estonia. Even after they’re all in Estonia, after a dramatic escape, the hunters continue closing in. A rather unlikely person saves Lyuba and Ivan in Tallinn, though the wrong directions he gives unintentionally lead to another person the Godunovs have been looking for, as is revealed in Part II.

Some highlights:

“Go on your walk with Zhóra.” Lyuba points to Ginny’s coat. “I do wish you’d pick up your clothes instead of just flinging them on the floor.”

“Don’t look.  I just saw someone who could turn my cousin and her boyfriend into the authorities.  Shepilov.” Ginny’s voice drops down to a whisper.

“There were men around asking about a tall man whom you seem very much to resemble.” An old fat woman comes up to them. “Are you by any chance wanted for murder back in Moskvá?”

A week and a half and one hundred fifty kilometers later, they arrive in Pskov.  There’s no time to take in the beauty of the last Russian city they’ll be setting foot in before they cross the border over to Estonia and the coast.  Pyotr shuttles them quickly into a large imposing-looking house under cover of darkness.  He orders them not to leave the house or make any noise.  All the shades are pulled and drawn.  The floors are padded with extra-thick carpets.  No sunlight is allowed in.  Lyuba already wants to scream after two weeks of this locked-up existence.  It’s as worse as when they went to the first hiding place in April of 1917.  They hear boots in the night, every night, and the sounds of riots and strikes going on, but they cannot peer out to see what’s going on.  Pyotr has to come in and out of the house by an airvent covered over with slush.

“I’ve seen a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes going in and out of this house by a back entranceway.  We have reason to believe this young man is helping a convicted criminal.  You wouldn’t happen to be sheltering a rather tall young man with brown hair and eyes, would you?”

That evening Lyuba goes upstairs to put Tatyana to bed and notices Iván and Nikolás are nowhere to be seen.  Then she sees one of the windows broken and the curtains flying in the breeze.  Two sets of footprints in the snow.  Quickly she plugs the window with a pillow and waits for the nightly visit from Pyotr.

“This is the last Russian city you’ll be seeing for a long time,” he whispers as they climb up into a cattlecar of an abandoned train he’s gotten an Azerbaijani émigré to operate. “Look back and remember it.”

Kittey reaches down and scrapes away the snow on the ground until she reaches dirt.  She scoops up a handful of dirt into a miniature porcelain teacup. “I’ll keep this Russian soil until I’m old and gray.”

The smell of blood is in the air the next morning.  Rotting bodies are everywhere when she peeks out through the crack.  Fires are spreading.  And to top it all off, Pyotr comes into the house to inform her that the Azerbaijani émigré who was operating the train has been arrested, and that he himself was being watched late at night by the awful Godunov cousins.

“Don’t look back.  You cannot make a single noise.  I’m going to carry you, you’re going to carry Tatyana, Tatyana will carry her doll, and this is how we’ll leave Matusa Rus.”

Iván slips a large emerald ring with small accent diamonds onto her finger. “I’m twenty-two years old and you’ve finally consented to be my wife, the fifth time I ask you!”

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