Why I wanted the Konevs to move back to NYC

During the writing of Part III of my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, I latched onto what I thought was an awesome plot development, the Konevs deciding to leave Minnesota and return to NYC near the end of the book. While it did inject a needed boost of conflict for the last half of the story, it quickly became unfocused and never came together well.

Why did I come up with this idea and hold onto it for so long?

1. Their entire extended family lives in NYC. All these years, they’ve been by themselves in Minnesota.

2. They miss the convenience of living in the same city as so many loved ones. Celebrations either have to be missed or scheduled in chunks.

3. Lyuba’s mother and stepfather, and Ivan’s aunt and uncle whom he feels much closer to than his parents, are now elderly. It would give them comfort to be nearby in these twilight years.

4. Ivan latched onto the daydream of starting a farm in the Midwest not out of genuine passion for that lifestyle and area, but to escape into a remote place where he believed his abusive father would never find him and hurt him again. His true passion has always been art, a love his father beat out of him as a boy and which he only reclaimed at pushing fifty.

5. Lyuba and Ivan also moved to rural Minnesota in 1929 to save their marriage and give their kids a real house to grow up in, with wide-open spaces to play in, sunlight, and fresh air. But had their personal circumstances been less desperate and strained, they would’ve found a more rural location nearby instead of 1,000 miles away.

6. They were raised in cities, and finally belatedly realize rural life isn’t who they are deep down at all. They miss everything cities offer so copiously.

7. Lyuba has often said she misses living in New York. Even before moving, she felt twinges of regret at leaving so many wonderful things behind.

8. Their friends Eliisabet, Aleksey, and Kat, who moved to Minnesota with them, are inspired to go to university in their fifties too, and since they long ago promised to always stay together, they must return to New York too.

9. Nikolas, Kat’s husband, has decided to stay in the city after Katrin’s retrial to start a law firm in the tradition of Clarence Darrow.

10. Tatyana and Nikolay return home to start their own farm after graduating Barnard and Columbia not only because they feel they have to, but as an unrealized overreaction to the drama with Boris. Like their parents, they see Firebird Fields as a safe haven from the ugly real world. Now they’ve keenly grown to miss their friends, and are afraid their kids aren’t being exposed to enough of the outside world.

11. Fedya likewise returns to Minnesota out of blind duty and not wanting to disappoint his parents, and Novomira is severely guilted and pressured into it by her parents. Now they want to take charge of their own lives.

12. Darya’s husband Andrey wants to specialize in psychotherapy for Shoah survivors, veterans, and other people with traumatic wartime experiences. Per capita, there are far more of them in NYC than all of Minnesota.

13. What better city for Lyuba and Ivan to get master’s degrees in and realize their full academic potential?

14. Mr. Konev will be leaving his townhouse in Greenwich Village’s Gold Coast, and everything inside, to Igor, so why shouldn’t Igor and Violetta stay there longterm instead of only while they’re in graduate school?

15. People from upper-middle-class families who went to gymnasium never grow up to live in farm country! They long for the company of other intellectuals besides their three families.

16. Why wouldn’t Ivan and his sons want to live in New York? It’s the country’s largest Mecca of artists.

17. They all feel like they’re wasting their potential in rural Minnesota. Next-youngest child Sonyechka, the most brilliant by far, particularly feels she could do so much more with her brain in New York.

18. Sonyechka also wants to live near her new friends Pravdina and Zikatra, who encourage her to convince her parents to move. They’re so much more sophisticated, intellectual, political, and exciting than her friend Kleopatra.

19. Nonconformists were safer in big cities in this era.

20. Why would anyone want to live in the Midwest?!

21. An apartment suits them much better than a big ole farmhouse. To sweeten the deal, let’s make it a penthouse Ivan buys with the ample money his father leaves him.

22. Lyuba and Ivan must redo their New York experience “properly.”

23. Katya shouldn’t be alone in California while Dmitriy’s deployed.

24. Youngest child Tamara will have ample opportunities for baking classes.

25. Who wouldn’t want to live in New York?!

And then all my reasons fell apart like a flimsy house of cards. To be continued.

The News Trickles Down

This was originally one of twenty posts put together on 24 June 2012 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, the Herzens are now the Kharzins, there’s less passive voice, and Mrs. Kharzina refers to her husband as Tatyana’s Dyadya (Uncle) Mishenka, not her Dvoyurodniy Dédushka (Great-Uncle). The former is much simpler, even if it’s not their official relationship.

***

During Chapter 31 of The Twelfth Time, “Ivan Loses His Accent,” Lyuba’s cousin Ginny gets Georgiya’s latest letter, which breaks the news about Karla. Now the only thing that remains to be done is to tell Sonya what’s happened to her daughter.

***

Sunday after church, the Konevs are invited to the Herzen house for lunch. While Tatyana and Dárya hold hands and skip ahead of their parents and other siblings, Fédya drags his feet the entire way there and constantly snaps and complains about everything. Lyuba feels wounded every time he raises his voice to her or utters unkind words, and Iván now knows why some parents hit their kids in the heat of the moment. He struggles to honor the promise he made to himself long ago to never raise his voice or his hands against any of his children.

“Ginny got a letter from that girl he thinks you should forward to Sónya,” Mrs. Herzena says as they’re waiting for lunch to be done. “He says his eyes almost fell out of his head when he realized what exactly that girl was saying.”

“She has a name, Mátushka. Her name is Geórgiya.” Ginny opens the nearest candy jar and pops some gumdrops down his throat.

“That’s snack food for between meals. You’ll spoil your appetite if you fill up on them before lunch. Surely you’re a big enough boy to know that by now.”

“I’m twenty years old. That’s a man, not a boy.”

“As long as you live in our house, you’re a boy, not a real grownup.”

Ginny rolls his eyes. “Thank God I’m finally graduating in June. I can’t get out on my own soon enough.”

“And who will you marry once you’re an independent adult? Every man needs a woman of the house. I don’t know how your cousin’s friend Pável does it, living all alone for so long now. At least he could hire a housekeeper and a cook, if he’s going to insist on waiting for his girlfriend to be released from Siberia and make her way here. From what I hear, he’s making more than enough money to afford a few servants.”

“What exactly is in this letter?” Lyuba asks. “How does this concern our friend Sónya?”

Ginny gets up to fetch the latest letter he’s received from Geórgiya and points to one section in the middle. “Right there. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about what really happened to Sónya’s surviving daughter.”

Lyuba scans the five paragraphs Geórgiya has written about Kárla, not sure whether she should feel relieved or horrorstruck. On the one hand, Naína, Kátya, and Sónya will have their minds set at rest as to whether Kárla is alive and in good hands. But on the other hand, this means she’s still in the Soviet Union, being raised by people whose belief system is the antithesis of her shrunken family’s. And Leoníd made no efforts to try to find her guardians or even to tell the police he’d found a missing child. Silently she gives thanks Tatyana was never taken away to an orphanage either of the short times they were separated back home.

“Is there anything that poor woman can do to get her child back?” Iván asks as he takes a turn reading it. “She’s now a Canadian citizen, and her only surviving child is being kept in a hostile country, raised with odious beliefs, with a potential dictator as the new leader. They must be filling that poor kid’s head with lies about how her real family is so horrible for being anti-Bolshevik. She might not even want anything to do with them if anyone succeeds in taking her out of there.”

“With what authority?” Mrs. Herzena asks in resignation. “Leoníd, even if he is as stuck-up and annoying as you all say, has legally adopted her, and she’s been living in that house for almost two years now. She must be attached to her new family. Any child who was raised in orphanages must feel it’s a dream come true to be adopted by a man who lives in a mansion, has servants, and makes enough money to take her on vacations, buy her fancy presents, and enroll her in a private state-run school.”

“I don’t think he’d want to turn her over, even if Sónya had enough money, connections, and determination to get a Supreme Court or Kremlin petition to have Kárla given back to her,” Ginny agrees. “Leaving the only real home she’s known and being forced to move to Canada would probably be very traumatic for her. I don’t even think Leoníd would respond to the letter if Sónya sent one begging for the return of her child.”

“But that’s not fair,” Tatyana protests. “Sónya’s thirty-seven now and getting old. She should get her little girl back while she’s still young enough to be a normal-aged mother. It’s not nice to keep a mother away from her own child.”

“I’m forty-four!” Mrs. Herzena says. “I’m seven years older than Sónya, and I don’t think I’m decrepit just yet. I could even have another baby if I wanted to.”

“Do you want to give Ginny a baby brother or sister? I love my little brother and sisters, even if my little brother has been really rude and mean to us lately.”

“Oh, no, I’m quite happy with only having one child. Your Dvoyurodniy Dédushka Míshenka and I deliberately chose to have just one. There are no problems we know of, but we just prefer having a small, quiet house.”

“I’m glad you’re only having me,” Ginny says. “That would be too awkward if you did have another baby when I was this old.”

“Wouldn’t a judge or government man step in and make Geórgiya’s brother return Kárla to her mother?” Tatyana asks. “You shouldn’t raise a child away from her mother if you know she’s alive and wants her child back. Bad guys took both her kids away from her, and one of them went to be with God early. Now she only has one left, and she’d be very happy if she got her back.”

“She’s not getting her back, unless Kárla takes it into her head to run away and finds a way to come to North America without being deported,” Mrs. Herzena says. “But perhaps someday they’ll be reunited in this lifetime.”

Emotional reunion

This was originally put together on 10 January 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop, as part of Naina, Katya, and Karla’s story. It differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use accent marks, Katrin’s husband is now called Sandro, and some passive voice is eliminated.

***

This week’s excerpt is the conclusion of Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba’s friend Sonya, who lives in Toronto, comes down to Long Island on the last day of summer vacation to pick up her niece Naina and her best friend’s daughter Katya. Naina and Katya were friends with Lyuba’s youngest stepsisters in the Soviet orphanage system, and were delighted to be reunited several months earlier. Sonya, who’s been away on vacation with her three surrogate daughters all summer, has only recently found out Naina and Katya are not only still alive but safe in North America. (The reader knows what happened to Sonya’s surviving daughter Karla, but Sonya won’t know for several more chapters.)

***

While they’re eating breakfast, the doorbell rings. Mrs. Samson gets up from a game of Mahjong with Mrs. Whitmore and pulls open the door to find Sónya.

Naína looks up from her waffles and dimly recognizes her aunt from the old family pictures she hid under her clothes at the orphanages. Kátya, four years Naína’s senior, only recognizes her a little bit better. Sónya, who hasn’t seen them since they were young girls, can only pick them out because they’re the only people at the table she doesn’t recognize.

Naína runs into her sobbing aunt’s arms, Kátya following and joining the embrace from the side. All three of them are invoking God and proclaiming their love, while the people at the table look away politely. Katrin kicks Anastásiya under the table when she catches her gaping at them.

“We’re going to go right to the depot and get on the next train heading for Toronto. I came here last night and stayed in a hotel, so don’t think I’m going right from one train to another. My dear sister Zinoviya, my brother-in-law Antón, my best friend Yuliana, and her husband Karl have been watching over you the entire time!”

“And I had a gun,” Naína smiles through her tears. “Papa handed me one of his handguns before we were taken away, and I hid it under my dress all through our years in the orphanages. It’s waiting to be packed up in my suitcase now.”

“I brought some thank-you presents for Sándros and Katrin for sponsoring you and putting you up in their home, and for the Konevs, Eliisabet, Kat, and Álla for taking care of you for an entire summer. I won’t hear of your refusing them. I also brought down our anniversary gift for Iván and Lyuba.”

“Do I get anything?” Anastásiya whines.

Everyone around the table laughs.

“Have you taken any active part in taking care of my niece and my best friend’s daughter, or have you just sat around thinking only of yourself as usual?”

“She doesn’t even take care of her own little boy, Tyotya Sónya,” Naína says. “He thinks Katrin is more his mother than she is, and he’s only twenty-one months old.”

“We got you and Iván an anniversary gift, Lyubochka,” Kátya says. “We’ll give it to you before we leave. And we got a little something for Tatyana and Fédya’s baptismal anniversary.”

Sónya goes into her suitcase and hands out the gifts. Anastásiya whines again when Sónya also gives some money to Mrs. Samson, Mrs. Oswald, and Mr. Rhodes, as well as small trinkets to Viktóriya, Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora.

“We’ll see you again sometime next year,” Sónya says. “As soon as you girls finish breakfast, you can finish packing your things and we’ll go to the depot. I can’t believe my little niece Náyechka carries a gun.”

“It came in handy when I encountered wardens who wanted to steal my necklace. It was the last thing my mother ever gave me, and damned if I’d let some overgrown bully steal it.”

“It belonged to my mother, your grandmother, before you. She gave it to you because citrine is your birthstone too. And look how well it matches your dark blonde hair.”

“My birthstone used to be citrine too,” Lyuba says. “Naína’s corrected birthday is the same day my birthday used to be before we switched to the Gregorian calendar, November twenty-ninth. She’s a fellow Sagittarius.”

“I bought my Lyuba a beautiful citrine bracelet ten years ago,” Iván says as he pours more maple syrup on his plate. “For the life of me I can’t remember what became of it. Someone must’ve stolen it, and it was too late by the time I remembered it and was free to give it to her after she was no longer with Borís and I wasn’t in that phony relationship with Voroshilova.”

“It may still turn up somewhere when you least expect it,” Sónya says encouragingly. “I found my dear sister’s only child and my best friend’s only child after assuming they were lost forever. Don’t give up hope too soon.”

***

At 9:00 at night, Kátya and Naína stagger into their new house with Sónya. After the eight-hour ride from Long Island to Toronto, all they want to do is sleep.

“Are these my new aunts you told me about?” Yuriy asks.

“Yes they are, and they can’t wait to play with you,” Sónya smiles. “But right now, they most want to be shown to their new room so they can sleep.”

Natálya steps forward. “I can’t wait to get to know you and have two new sisters. I’m Natálya Yeltsina and I’m thirteen, and those are my sister Léna, who’ll be twenty-one at the end of the month, her husband of a year, Karl Tsvetkov, also twenty-one, and Léna’s best friend Antonína Petróva, who’s twenty.”

“We’ve met Antonína before, a long time ago,” Kátya says. “We didn’t know her for very long, but we remembered her since she was the one who wrote the paper epitaph for poor little Mikhaíla.”

“I remember you too,” Antonína nods. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you a lot better. I honestly never thought I’d see you again after you left Mrs. Voznesenskaya’s orphanage, and never dreamt I’d end up with Naína’s aunt for my surrogate mother.”

“Follow me,” Léna says. “I’ll take you to your new room. It’s the last available room in this house big enough to be converted into a bedroom. Now we’re up to five bedrooms. When Kárlik, Yura, and I move out within the next few years, we plan to build a house next door so we can always be together.”

Kátya and Naína drop their suitcases as soon as they’re shown into the room, putting Kárla’s little suitcase into the closet. After throwing their travel clothes on the floor and pulling on their new nightgowns Katrin bought to replace their ugly orphanage-regulation ones, they climb into bed and look up at the stars through their window.

“It’s been a long way from Russia to Toronto,” Kátya says. “Perhaps somewhere out there, our Kárlochka is looking up at the same stars and being looked after by decent people.”

“Perhaps. We found Sónya and our old friends the Lebedevas after so many years. I guess some miracles aren’t supposed to happen overnight, since we might not appreciate them as much.”

“We’ll see her again someday. We have to believe that. Even if we’ll never see our parents or other relatives ever again, we know Kárla could be out there somewhere.K It’s only a matter of time till we’re happily reunited with her the same way we were reunited with Sónya.”

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

Happy fourth anniversary

This post was originally put together on 6 October 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. Though not part of the batch of twenty posts I created on 24 June 2012, it’s obviously from the same sequence. After I put those posts in my drafts folder, I went back and made a few more with important sequences I’d left out.

This differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use pedantic accent marks, and I discovered there was no “traditional” fourth anniversary gift in 1927. Lyuba and Ivan’s anniversary gifts for non-milestone years remain the same, just without references to them being traditional materials.

***

This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America.” It’s 6 September 1927, Lyuba and Ivan’s fourth wedding anniversary and the last day of their annual Long Island summer vacation. In spite of their worsening marital and personal problems, they put their issues aside for their anniversary.

***

Lyuba wakes up on the morning of her fourth anniversary to the smell of chocolate waffles and sausage coming from the first floor.  She’s not looking forward to heading home later today, but she intends to savor the last gasp of summer vacation as long as it lasts.

“Happy anniversary, Mrs. Koneva.” Iván reaches under the bed and hands her a wrapped box. “I put a lot of different things in there, but they’re all part of the same present. I went out yesterday and got you something else too. Before you woke up, I snuck downstairs to retrieve it from Katrin’s kitchen. You’ll find it on our kitchen table.”

Lyuba carefully pulls the blue tissue paper off, opens the box, and starts pulling out a series of small decorative bags. “What exactly is this?”

“The traditional fourth anniversary presents are fruit and flowers. Since those aren’t very permanent things, I wanted to get you something as lasting as possible while still being traditional. They’re indoor flowering plants that can live all year. When we have our farm, you can transplant them to the garden and then move them inside during the winter.”

She snuggles her face against the curve of his neck. “You’re a good husband. As many struggles as we’ve had, I’m still glad I chose you. Can you believe we’ve been husband and wife for four years now?”

“Did you get me a present too?”

“Of course I did. You’re getting more and more overeager every year, you bad boy. You used to be able to wait till later in the day to exchange presents. Now you’re giving and demanding them first thing in the morning.” Lyuba puts the seeds back into the box and gets two wrapped parcels out of the closet.

Iván unwraps a transparent glass picture frame with dried flowers pressed between the two layers, and a light green shirt with a subtle floral pattern. “So my sweet little wifey still loves me, after everything I’ve put you through.”

“I will love you till the last breath leaves my body, Ványushka. I want to be with you through all our future lifetimes, till the world comes to an end. But you’d better get a real job once we’re back in the city, or I may have to start nagging you and starting fights with you again. You know I hate having to do that, so you’d better do the right thing.”

Lyuba smiles at the sight of the wildflowers on the vase on the kitchen table after she’s thrown on some clothes and left the bedroom. Iván has always known she’s not the type who goes for flowers, perfume, and chocolates, so the few times he does get her such trinkets, she knows it’s for a very special reason and not just a meaningless gesture he does out of some obligation to be romantic in a certain way. She appreciates how the flowers are just regular wildflowers, the type anyone could buy for cheap at a florist’s, and not some big expensive bouquet of roses or orchids. At least he’s saving his money for more important things now, while still making an effort to buy nice things for her on special occasions.

“Can we go downstairs and eat breakfast now?” Fédya asks.

“You can go right on down, my sweet little pumpkin. Then we’ll have one last day on the beach before we pack up and leave for the train. Just think, on Thursday you’ll have your first day of school!”

“I don’t want to go to school. I’m scared of the teacher hitting my hand.”

“They stop eventually,” Iván says. “After a certain point, they realize they’re not converting you and leave you alone. I must’ve been twelve or thirteen years old by the time they finally stopped hitting my hand, thumping me on the head, and threatening to beat me. You just have to be brave and let everyone know you’re carrying on a family tradition. No one switched me or my Dyadya Ígor, and no one’s going to change you either. Now why don’t we think about nicer things, like breakfast.”

Lyuba holds her son’s left hand tightly as they’re going downstairs to Katrin’s quarters, praying her sweet, sensitive only son is treated nicely in public kindergarten and not subjected to the same fate her husband and late uncle-in-law went through in primary school. Naína and Kátya have told her the policy of the new Soviet Union is right-handed writing in schools, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that majority mold doesn’t have the option of protesting. Right-handed writing is mandatory. Lyuba always figured God made certain people that way for a reason, since an all-powerful being who can do whatever he wants would’ve made everyone right-handed if that were truly the only proper way to be.

Naina and Katya at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time.

***

On Sunday morning, Naína and Kátya put on their nicest clothes and try to copy Anastásiya when she ties a fancy scarf over her hair. They know not all girls and women cover their hair in church, but they don’t want to call attention to themselves when they’re going to be new and haven’t had the chance to go to church in eight years. Even though Katrin said the church has pews, unlike Orthodox churches back home, they feel they’ll call less attention to themselves if they walk around during the service instead of sitting or standing in one place. Since they don’t even remember what happens or how to behave during a typical Divine Liturgy, they think they’ll feel more at home lighting candles and taking in the ikons and artwork.

Just as Katrin said, Anastásiya makes Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy ride on the upper level of the bus, while she takes a seat with Naína and Kátya on the lower level. Mrs. Whitmore gets off several blocks before their stop and walks the rest of the way to the church, so no one will suspect she’s with Anastásiya. Naína and Kátya think she’s as ridiculous as Katrin and Viktóriya told them, and hope this woman isn’t around them very much during the vacation they were promised. They’re more looking forward to spending time playing with the children, which seems a natural activity after so many years in orphanages, and getting to know Viktóriya and the other three young girls they were told might be coming. They left all their friends behind and can’t wait to make some new ones.

Anastásiya doesn’t even introduce them and goes to sit on one of the pews nearest the altar. Naína and Kátya are shocked to see a healthy young person taking a seat when they remember only the old, infirm, pregnant women, and people with small children taking seats back home. They try to follow along in the prayerbook for awhile, then give up on following along with the Old Church Slavonic, both printed and spoken. While they’re waiting for an ample space to open up so they can light some candles, they notice a very handsome, tall man holding a young girl in the crook of one arm and holding a little boy with his other hand. The young girl is venerating an ikon in a baby’s way. Next to him is a very tall woman holding a somewhat older girl who’s lighting a candle.

“Welcome to our church,” the man smiles. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen you. We’re the Konevs.”

“We just came here a few days ago.  I’m Naína Yezhova, and that’s my best friend Kátya Chernomyrdina. I’m fifteen and she’s nineteen.”

“Oh, you’re the girls my wife’s crazy radical friend Katrin’s husband sponsored. I was told you’re going on vacation with us this summer. I’m Iván, and that’s my wife Lyuba. Our baby here is also named Kátya, after her maternal grandmother. The other little girl is Dárya, and the boy is our son Fyodor. Our firstborn Tatyana is somewhere over there with her godparents and their kids.”

“We promise we’ll be very good on vacation and prove we deserve to be sponsored. We’ll do chores, childcare, and whatever else you ask us to do. And we won’t bother you anymore after September. Sándros told us we could go to some hotel run by an older Russian woman, and possibly get information about my aunt there. We’ve never had a real vacation, and barely remember when life was normal.”

“We were all immigrants ourselves not too many years ago. We’d never exploit one of our own. I assume you came here with that light-headed Anastásiya. She usually minds her own business when we vacation together. Other than that, we’re pretty nice people. Even that crazy Katrin seems like a nice person beneath her radical politics.”

“Her little boy is so cute,” Kátya says. “I can understand not wanting to draw attention to their relationship in public, since she’s an unwed mother, but she doesn’t even act loving or motherly in private.”

“She was never the smartest person or possessed of very sympathetic feelings. God forgive me for saying this in church, but she’s been self-centered and oblivious since I’ve known her. She only kept her son instead of placing him for adoption so she could have an heir to her family name and successful business. And she once was against having kids for fear her figure would be destroyed and she’d have her precious personal time disrupted and a potential competitor for her beauty, if she’d had a girl. The woman’s got as much sense as God gave a brick.”

“Ványa, that’s quite enough gossip in church,” Lyuba warns.

“Of course. Well, I guess we’ll see you girls again tomorrow, when we all leave for Coney Island. I hate most of the rides and sideshows, but the beach is nice.”