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.

WeWriWa—Acrimonious anniversary


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when Ivan Konev came home at 11:00 at night on his first anniversary with his wife Lyuba, whom he waited fifteen and a half years to marry since falling in love with her at age nine. He’s tried to placate her by showing her a bag of anniversary presents, and baptismal anniversary gifts for their kids.

“Both children are asleep. You’re not going to wake them so late just to give them presents. Did you know I made a special meal, assuming you’d actually be home on time on our anniversary? Goat meat, stuffed peppers, tomato soup with croutons, pelmeni stuffed with mushrooms and cheese, chocolate cake with cherry frosting and real cherries, and coffeecake with apricot filling and chocolate drizzle. The leftovers are in the refrigerator. Say what you want about your father’s job, but it’s thanks to him we were able to afford a real refrigerator and get rid of that stupid outdated icebox. We’ve got a real washing machine and modern kitchen and cooking implements thanks to him too. Why don’t you work for your father so you can finally bring in real money?”

Ivan’s father has a secret liquor store, and wants Ivan to help him with bootlegging his supply of alcohol. Lyuba worked for him briefly in the past, but Ivan put a stop to it after an incident with Russian–American mobsters.

Mr. Konev is also a former alcoholic who beat Ivan black and blue every day for years, till he got too big to push around, and raped Lyuba about ten times, always in conjunction with her own abusive father. Over the course of this book, both spouses come to regret forgiving him for committing such vile sins against them.

Ins and Outs of Prohibition (Imprint MT Shadow)

(Quick note: This post is bolded because the font doesn’t show up as well in plain, due to its shadow-like appearance.)

Font: Imprint MT Shadow

Year created: 1993

Chapter: “Ins and Outs of Prohibition”

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

Written: Spring or Summer 2001

Computer created on: Our ’99 Mac

File format: ClarisWorks

This is the 36th chapter of my first Russian historical novel, and one of the ones I had the most fun researching and writing. Overall, I loved Part II, since it’s set in America in the 1920s. It gave me the chance to write about things like Prohibition, Coney Island, immigration, flapper clothes, and silent moviestars. During the course of researching Part II, I also developed my interest in natural childbirth and the history of birth in America.

It’s April 1923, and Ivan’s father has convinced Lyuba to secretly work for him. Ivan has only touched alcohol during one very unrepresentative period in his life, and has been sorry about it ever since because of what he did to Lyuba when he was drunk out of his mind. He also has never fully forgiven his father for beating him black and blue when he was a boy, nor for some of the things he did to Lyuba together with her father. Mr. Konev claims to have repented and says he’s not an alcoholic anymore, but Ivan and his aunt Valeriya have a hard time buying his new saint act.

Mr. Konev used to have a liquor store in Russia, and now that he’s in America, he’s gone right back to the old business. It may be underground, but as he’s always rubbing in his son’s face, it makes a lot more money than working for beans in an iron factory. Lyuba, desperate for money, agrees to work for her fiancé’s father (who, by the way, is even taller than Ivan, at six feet seven).

Some highlights:

“I can easily arrange for you to start making thirty to fifty dollars an hour!” Mr. Konev pulls up a chair at the table, takes down a glass, uncaps his cane, and pours himself a glass of beer.

“I drink from time to time.  I’m not out of control about it now.  I’m deeply ashamed of what I did to you and my son before when I drank.” He takes off his belovèd bowler, pulls out a false bottom, shakes out a plain white paper bag, and unties the top. “Care for some champagne truffles?”

The next morning after Iván has left for work, Lyuba begins placing the bottles into the two buckets full of ice.  Some of the alcohol is pure moonshine, some is moonshine made from only grain, water, and essence of juniper, some has been made from wort and yeast, some is Vine-Glo mixed with near-beer, and the rest is malt tonic mixed with near-beer.

“Not to worry, Lyubóv Leontiyevna, these nice three men are on our side.  You’d be amazed at just how many so-called officers of the law, both federal agents and policemen like these fellows, are openly enabling us to continue breaking the Volstead Act!”

Lyuba walks down to the harbor with her future father-in-law, who’s pushing Fédya’s pram as Tatyana skips behind them.  There’s a long line of ships anchored three and half miles away from the shore, constantly being boarded and unboarded by alcohol connoisseurs in various types of boats.  Some of the local policemen and mobsters are even casually standing by enabling this to happen right in broad daylight.

Iván has zero idea over the next week of where all this extra money is suddenly coming from.  So far a modern washing machine, new kitchen and cooking appliances, and six pairs of silk stockings have materialized without an explanation.

“That’s a General Electric refrigerator, my love.  And it got here just this afternoon.  It only needed to be plugged in.  No hassle with any belts, drains, fans, or anything.  Look at how much bigger it is than the old tiny icebox!  Now I won’t need to go shopping so often!  The man who came to install it even told me the top of it will never get dusty.  No, but you can’t look inside just yet.  Not till I feel safely at liberty to tell you just why.”

“These five men are the leaders of one of the local Russian immigrant gangs,” Mr. Konev gulps. “They’ve been by to threaten me and Zákhar before, but nothing terrible ever came of it.  It’s all empty words.”

“I’m not handing over my weapons to the likes of you,” Mr. Konev repeats stubbornly.

[Ivan, horrified to learn where Lyuba has been so late at night] “My son is not only in an illegal liquor store that could get raided by the police at any time, but now also in the same store as a couple of mobsters?!”

“You can clearly see the baby isn’t hurt a tad!  He’s been in Zákhar’s lap all night, though he’s had to shush him periodically when he got hungry.  Sure they tried to scare me into giving up my weapons and making vows to buy only their alcohol, taking target shots at him but only shooting right over his head or next to his arms—”

“His hide was saved because he ordered me into the cellar, where I saw a phone number for three ‘alcohol-friendly cops’!  I can’t believe there are actually officers of the law out there who are going around protecting people who would dare violate Prohibition!” Iván goes back to Fédya and changes his diaper.