Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Karla, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Leonid Brings Karla Home

This was one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 as future installments for the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time, for reasons including the pedantic use of accent marks and Leonid’s family name being Stalin instead of Savvin.

While on holiday in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, 31-year-old Leonid Savvin found 8-year-old Karla Gorbachëva unconscious in the snow and decided to adopt her. However, he hasn’t informed anyone else about his plans. Because the Savvins are local bigwigs and longtime Bolsheviks, they’ve been allowed to maintain their ancestral estate and wealthy lifestyle.

***

Leoníd stumbles through the doors of his family’s mansion the next night, carrying the still-unconscious Kárla while a shocked servant carries in Leoníd’s luggage. His parents, Geórgiya, and four-year-old Nélya stare at him in amazement, while eighteen-month-old Ínga stands back shyly and takes in the sight with her azure eyes.

“This is the first I’ve heard of bringing back a child as a souvenir from a trip out of the country,” eighteen-year-old Geórgiya gapes.

“Liar. What do you think Ínga is if not the ultimate souvenir from your trip abroad?”

“Where did this child come from?” Mr. Stálin asks. “Do you have permission to adopt her? Or are you keeping her while her parents are away?”

“I was going snowshoeing my last day of my trip, and I found her lying unconscious in the snow along some railroad tracks. She’s got an orphanage ID with her name, place of birth, and birthdate on it. None of the local orphanages could find her in their records, so it was safe to assume she came from somewhere else. It’s the perfect plan to win greater political acclaim, adopting a child and becoming a family man. My constituents will finally have an image of me as a father, not some overgrown bachelor who only cares about politics. Besides, we’ve got enough money to take care of her. She’ll lack for nothing growing up here. Her name’s Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva, and she turned eight years old in October. When she wakes up, she’ll find herself in a dream come true. Her leg’s broken and she’s temporarily unconscious after a concussion, but other than that she’s going to be fine. A doctor at my hotel set her break and put a splint on her, but he told me to have another doctor put a real cast on her once I got home.”

“But you’re at work most of the day, and you travel a lot for business, politics, and vacations,” Mrs. Stálina protests. “Now I’ll be the primary caregiver to three young girls at my age.”

“That’s your job, yes. And it would only be two if you and Father had put your feet down and not let Geórgiya bring Ínga in here.”

Geórgiya glares at him. “Ínga’s your blood, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say about this strange girl you found in an entirely different republic.”

“These things happen,” Mr. Stálin says in resignation. “Better your mother take the brunt of her caregiving initially than have our blood turned over to be raised by the state. And since you’ve made no moves towards marriage and fatherhood until this bizarre adoption idea just now, it’s nice to enjoy a grandchild while we’re still relatively young grandparents.”

“See? You are desperate for grandkids. She’s already eight years old, and I’m thirty-one. It’s not unreasonable for me to raise her as my own daughter. I’m going to adopt her, and before long it’ll be as though she was always a member of our happy little household. And Nélya can play with her.”

“I’m only four,” Nélya says. “She’s eight.”

“Before you know it, you’ll be best friends. Think of her as a new big sister for you, a sister who’s not a grownup like Geórgiya.”

His parents look at one another for awhile, then turn back to Leoníd looking defeated.

“Fine, we’ll put her up in our house and raise her as our grandchild,” Mr. Stálin says. “But since it was your crazy idea to adopt her, you’re going to do your fair share of raising her and acting like her father. Parenting, be it adoptive or natural, is serious business, not something you just take on to curry favor with constituents or for a publicity stunt.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Karla, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Leonid Saves Karla

This was one of a batch of 20 posts I prepared on 24 June 2012 and indefinitely put into my drafts folder for future installments of the now-cancelled Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs somewhat from the published version in The Twelfth Time, including the pedantic accent marks and Leonid’s surname. I changed it from Stalin to Savvin after realizing only THE Stalin would’ve had that name.

In Journey Through a Dark Forest, Leonid does something even more heroic than what he does here, making the ultimate sacrifice to save Karla, his elderly parents, his baby sister Nelya, and his niece Inga from being arrested as enemies of the people.

***

Eight-year-old Karla, who fell off the top of a moving train, broke her leg, and fell unconscious in the snow, has been found by the unlikeliest of rescuers. Leonid is the annoying much-older brother of Lyuba’s cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail)’s long-distance sweetheart Georgiya. His rescue of Karla is probably the best thing he ever does in his life.

***

Leoníd Yuriyevich Stálin, the annoying, conceited much-older brother of Ginny’s long-distance girlfriend Geórgiya, has been spending the last two weeks on holiday in Bila Tserkva. His parents and Geórgiya are still after to him get married already and start his own household. He’s heavily involved in local politics and has a good reputation in the world of politics and influence, making up for his lacking reputation in the world of social graces and humility. Now thirty-one years old, Leoníd still has no interest in finding a wife and having kids, and continues to claim Comrade Lénin was against everyone needing to get married and reproduce. If he finds a woman who’ll have someone with his less than sought-after personality, he might consider it, but he’s not going to force himself into marriage just to increase his reputation and say he has blood heirs.

Tonight is his last night in Bila Tserkva before heading home to Moskvá. As he goes snowshoeing near the railroad tracks in the gathering twilight, his eyes catch on a bright patch of blue in the thick snow. Drawing closer, he sees a young girl in a blue coat partially buried in the lightly falling snow, her long black hair splayed out behind her.

When she doesn’t respond to him, he grabs her wrist and finds a pulse. When he pulls her out of the snowbank, he sees something glinting around her neck. He pulls on it and finds her orphanage ID on the end of the chain, listing her name as Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva, her place of origin as Yaroslavl, and her date of birth as October 9, 1917.

Leoníd picks her up and walks the short distance back to his hotel, knowing from the ID that she wouldn’t be a local child who’d have been reported missing. Once at the hotel, he asks the man working the security desk to put out a call to any orphanages in the city to ask if they have a girl by that name and age. While the man is placing the calls, one of the physician guests is called down to the lobby and diagnoses Kárla with a broken leg and a concussion.

“I’m thirty-one and still a childless bachelor,” he thinks out loud. “And I’d probably have a better shot at a longer-term career in local politics if my constituents saw I’m a family man like everyone else. I’ll look like a hero for adopting a lost orphanage child. Since no one is claiming her, it looks like it’s up to me. If I were a kid, I’d jump at the chance to grow up in a prominent, well-off Muscovite family instead of an orphanage. And she is pretty cute. She’s got no future if her orphanage of origin reclaims her. What are orphanages for if not to offer children for adoption? Perhaps her father died in the Civil War, or her parents were jailed enemies of the people. It’s doubly-important for her to be raised right. Do you think I’d be legally cleared to adopt this kid?”

“I wouldn’t wish an orphanage upbringing on anyone,” the doctor says as he finishes setting the break and putting it in a makeshift splint. “And it probably is a smart idea to adopt a child to increase your political reputation. Everyone loves a family man. And you might find a wife soon if you’re known to be raising a child who’s not even yours. I’m sure plenty of women will love the chance to be a mother to this poor orphan.”

“Does she need any other medical attention?”

“I think she’ll be fine. She’s not bleeding from her concussion site, and the break isn’t a compound fracture. Once you get home, you’ll probably want another doctor to replace her splint with an actual cast, but other than that, all she needs is a lot of care and rest. Hers is the type of concussion where consciousness is typically regained within twenty-four hours. When she comes to herself, she’ll be safely ensconced in her new home.”

“And she’ll have an aunt who’s only four years younger than she is, a built-in best friend. My parents had an accident, and in December of ’21 my sister and I got a surprise baby sister, Nélya. There’s another little girl in the house too, Ínga, but she’s a bit too young to be friends with an eight-year-old.”

“Then it seems like it’s settled. You’ll take the next train home, and once there go through all the proper channels to adopt her. She’ll be grateful to you for the rest of her life.”

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—August odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

As I’ve written about before, I was not prepared for the depth of emotion I felt when writing the final days and death of Leonid Savvin in Journey Through a Dark Forest. He’d been written as an annoying, conceited pain since I created him in ’93, but 20 years later, I got incredibly choked-up as his long-planned death approached.

In the end, Leonid redeemed himself by making the ultimate sacrifice to save his adopted daughter Karla, his elderly parents, his baby sister Nelya, and his niece Inga from being arrested and tortured as enemies of the people themselves. He also tells his sister Georgiya he loves her, hugs her, and kisses her for the first time during their final meeting, and gives her a note to keep her spirits alive in Siberia.

This unexpected emotional connection will enable me to better write Leonid in the second of the two future prequels. There’s also a stunning development related to him to be revealed in the seventh book, and hinted at in the fifth.

I won Camp NaNo on Day 9, with a very lowball goal. I think this is my best Camp month ever! Towards the end, I went back to Word as my primary word processor. I needed to transition back in after years away. However, the master files for the three volumes are in Pages.

Much to my annoyance, I’ve discovered Dream Deferred will need a much more extensive editing and revision than usual, because:

I stupidly assumed universities always started in early September. In 1948–52, the schools in this book, and many others, began in late September and early October. This requires moving events around.

Overnight, Irina and Sonyechka go from declaring Stefania Wolicka Academy, a radical private school that gave them full scholarships, is the best school ever, to lamenting the lack of traditional, structured education. There’s no triggering event to explain why they’re suddenly annoyed with being allowed to choose almost their entire course of study.

The subplots with Katya and Dmitriy’s fellow Naval couple Marusya and Sima seem so pointless, cluttery, dumped on the page. All the other subplots naturally weave into the overall story, are plotted well, and would leave noticeable gaps if expunged, but the story wouldn’t miss a thing if this one were moved into the fifth book. At most, I might keep Marusya and Sima as friends with a possible family connection.

I like the theme that emerged in Part III, many things not being what they seemed for so long. Those seeming quick-fix miracles and safe bubbles away from ugly problems were too good to be true. Nothing about the Konevs’ life in St. Paul represents who they really are, and neither did their move to rural Minnesota all those years ago. It feels right for new chapters of their lives to beckon elsewhere.

I’m rather in arrears re: my planned film posts. During the remainder of August, I hope to cover 1929 films The Cocoanuts, Blackmail, Coquette, Un Chien Andalou, and Hallelujah! Next month I’ll have a series celebrating the 70th birthday of a film so white-hot it merits a rare 6 out of 5 stars rating. I also hope to have a September series on the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve also continued doing my genealogical research, and found even more illustrious ancestors in another branch of my Boring line—nobility, aristocracy, and royalty of Medieval France, England, and Kyivan Rus. King Henri I of France married Princess Anna Yaroslavovna, which makes me a direct descendant of Prince Ryurik, the Viking prince who founded the Ryurikovich Dynasty.

I also finally found verified Irish ancestry!

Have you ever discovered problems with a book as you were writing it? Did you ever make a mistake based on poor research or assumptions?

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Word Count, Writing

ROW80 Update—Emotionally Gutted

ROW80

In memory of Leonid Yuriyevich Savvin (né Stalin), 1894-1937. Created in 1993 on a 1984 152K Mac, destroyed in 2013 on a 2008 13-inch MacBook Pro.

I’ve finished Chapter 25 of my third Russian novel and am up to about 193,000 words. I’m very pleased that I’m keeping the chapters of Part II down to a short to mid-size length (by my standards), and that so far none has run over 7,500 words. I’m in my element writing the Soviet chapters depicting the Great Terror, as difficult as it is to write a lot of this. This is my area of expertise in Russian history, part of the topic I want to focus on when I someday get my doctorate in Russian history.

I was not prepared to be so emotionally gutted by the execution of Leonid. Since the first book, he’s always been written as a bit of an annoying prick, some haughty snob, a very self-concerned personality. No one really likes being around him except for Karla, the orphanage girl he finds unconscious in the snow in the second book and adopts. This fellow is so charming he calls his own niece Inga (born out of wedlock) and his much-younger baby sister Nelya (a late-life surprise for their parents) mistakes and accidents.

But deep down, I think I knew all along that he had a heart buried in there somewhere. When push comes to shove, he knew he had to sacrifice his whole life, at only 42 years old, to save his aging parents, his 15-year-old sister, his 12-year-old niece, and his 19-year-old adoptive daughter from the same fate he and his younger sister Georgiya received. Before he’s taken to his execution, he tells Georgiya (who’s gotten a 20-year-sentence) to survive for Inga, and orders their friend Aleksandr to look after Georgiya in Siberia.

I chose Leonid to be executed during the Great Purge in the third book because I didn’t really care for him, and considered him expendable. He wasn’t some beloved character like Georgiya, or even a conflicted but ultimately good guy like Aleksandr. I surprised myself by caring so deeply for Leonid at the last moment and having him redeem himself.

It was kind of appropriate and ironic that one of the songs playing while I was writing towards the end of this chapter was “Careless Memories.” I was basically in tears writing this. Then when I got home from class and finished writing it, I had to write in silence. No music. It just didn’t feel appropriate to have music on during the actual execution scene, followed by Georgiya and Aleksandr being taken away to Siberia.

These last two chapters bear the titles “The Beaters in a Ring Close In” and “The Wrong Prey in View.” I like to, when I can, adapt chapter titles from songs, poetry, and prose. These two got their titles from lines in the heartbreaking poem “Nobel Prize,” by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak.

I do have a prequel to eventually write. I think I’ll tackle that behemoth after I’ve written the future fourth book. It’ll be good to resurrect Leonid for that 20-year saga.

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Word Count, Writing

ROW80 Update—Betrayed by the Revolution

ROW80

As of the Sunday check-in for A Round of Words in 80 Days, I’m up to Chapter 23 and about 180,400 words on my WIP, my third Russian historical novel. The story spans 15 years and 3 continents, and I’m up to April 1937, so I think I’m making good progress for the massive ground I have to cover.

Chapter 23 is one of the exclusively Soviet chapters, and entitled “Betrayed by the Revolution.” Even though I’ve had these events planned and in basic outline form for over a decade, actually writing them down is a bit difficult emotionally. I am so sorry I had to kill off former orphanage girl Inessa’s husband Roman, even though his only appearance ever is in this chapter. Inessa’s one of my favorite Soviet characters, and she doesn’t deserve this.

I even feel sorry for the obnoxious Leonid, knowing what’s going to happen to him in probably the next chapter. I was not planning for him to finally redeem his character at the end, but I couldn’t stand to have him be this flat, static, annoying, obnoxious fellow right up till the very end. Even his adoption of former orphanage girl Karla in the sequel wasn’t completely motivated by altruism, though he’s grown to love her like his own child. He’s finally shown brotherly love to Georgiya by holding her hand as they’re taken to the NKVD car, and in the next chapter, he’s going to ask to see her before the end and tell her, for the first and only time, that he loves her.

I had to do some rather gruesome, disturbing reading for this chapter. Even when you’ve read and written for so many years about subjects like the Shoah, GULAG, the Armenian Genocide, and the Great Terror, it doesn’t ever make it a ray of sunshine or pleasant to read about. But it’s important to have accuracy when you’re writing about real events and places.

I’d never read about the killing fields of Kurapaty (near Minsk) before, and I had to know exactly how it went down to realistically show how Inessa’s cousin Rustam (the husband of her adoptive sister Olga) was able to survive that mass grave. Note to nitpickers: Just because something rarely or infrequently happened doesn’t mean it was completely out of the realm of possibility or that there were no documented instances. It just means it didn’t happen often, not that it never happened. And it makes for a more interesting story.

It helped that this is the first half of ’37, before a fence was constructed around the killing field and thus making escape and survival even more difficult. Before he leaves Roman, he takes out the gag to give him dignity in death, and kisses him in farewell. Now it’s imperative that Inessa’s family escape the Soviet Union, as dangerous as it’s going to be.