How a poorly-planned storyline fell apart

When a storyline never advances past a vague idea, or you can’t decide which way exactly to take it, that’s a very strong sign it’s not meant to be. That was precisely what happened with my aborted storyline of the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952.

How did it fall apart, and why did I realize it? Let me count the ways.

1. They spend way more time talking about their exciting upcoming move, or in Ivan’s case resisting it, than actively planning it! Who the bloody hell commits to moving 1,000 miles away and enrolling in grad school without guaranteed housing lined up?

2. I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood they should live in, and getting lost in rabbit holes of research. The West Village? The Upper West Side? Hamilton Heights? Morningside Heights? One of the districts within Victorian Flatbush? Staten Island?

3. Likewise with housing type. A penthouse? A luxury apartment? The mother-in-law suite in Katrin’s penthouse? A townhouse? A rowhouse? Sharing a townhouse with relatives? An estate in Victorian Flatbush?

4. I also kept going back and forth re: which schools everyone should attend. For the adults, should it be Columbia, City College, Brooklyn College, Columbia Teachers College, the Pratt Institute, NYU, Hunter, or Sarah Lawrence? For Sonyechka and Tamara, is Walden or New Lincoln a better fit?

5. Even if Lyuba sometimes said, well before this storyline, she wished the family still lived in New York, that wasn’t a true, active wish. Doesn’t everyone sometimes wonder about the path not taken? Deep down, she knows her life is in Minnesota now.

6. Speaking of, why would Tatyana and Nikolay uproot their six kids to move 1,000 miles away because they miss their friends? It’s like Plinio in Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (his only novel I found a slog instead of a joy to read), whining to his former best friend Joseph Knecht about how they grew apart. This bothered him for 20 years?! Move on, dude!

You can never really go home again. People and places change, even if everyone’s still there and the cityscape is the same on the surface. We acquire different lifestyles as we age. Raising a family and working take priority over carefree fun.

7. It played right into the overly romanticized view of New York as the best of all possible cities, the only city worth anything.

8. Though it was rather subtle, the city was entering the first stages of its tragic decline in this era. Where would the Konevs go after the city began noticeably deteriorating?

9. The severe housing crisis created during the Depression only got worse after WWII. They would not have had first priority on one of the precious units available, and a detached house in the outer boroughs would’ve resulted in a long commute.

10. It felt like a preachy polemic about the superiority of urban apartment life over farm country and traditional houses.

11. It necessitated too many convenient plot twists and cluttery storylines justifying almost the entire Minnesota cast relocating en masse!

12. Everyone began talking like they were never really happy in Firebird Fields and couldn’t wait to wash their hands of farming. Despite the difficulties, they were so happy to finally be out of the congested city and have large houses, fresh air, clear skies, open spaces, and sunlight again!

13. Katya points out Lyuba substituted one daydream for another. Yes, it sucks that her life was turned upside-down by the Revolution, but in her early fifties, she can only do so much towards returning to the path her life otherwise would’ve taken. Who’s to say her New York life would automatically be so much more awesome the second time around?

14. Their New York friends and family have missed living close by, but never expressed such severe longing to be together again before! All of a sudden it’s a huge hardship and heartache.

15. Deep down, I couldn’t picture the Konevs as apartment people, even in a sprawling penthouse with two stories, a big terrace, great amenities, and a gorgeous courtyard. They only lived in communal housing when they had no choice.

16. Ditto living in a multi-story, fairly narrow townhouse sharing walls with other homes. Just not who they’ve ever been, despite staying in relatives’ townhouses when they visit.

17. Where would they put their dear horse Branimir, another Long Island stable?

18. On the flip side of the NYC lovefest was a Minnesota hatefest. Everyone talks like it’s a cultural and intellectual desert!

19. Can’t these people think outside the familiar? There’s no reason everyone needs to either stay in Minnesota or return to NYC if there’s truly a pressing need to move.

20. Though Nikolay resents how farming gave him an automatic draft exemption in WWII, he and Tatyana truly do love that simpler lifestyle.

21. The main plotlines of the future sixth book are based around Sonyechka and Tamara NOT living in the same city as their parents!

To be continued.

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.

July 4th, 1938

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In case anyone is reading blogs today, here’s a holiday-themed excerpt. This is the third section of Chapter 43, “Tempting Fate,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Nineteen-year-old Tatyana has been living with her blood father Boris for the past year in Harlem, and hasn’t abated in the surly attitude she’s been copping towards her family since discovering the truth of her paternity. This is extremely hurtful to her little brother Fedya, but her attitude is staying put.

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On the Fourth of July, just as promised, Fedya and Novomira tag along to Rockaway Beach and Rockaways’ Playland.  Even if they had the sense not to stay at Boris’s house, they’re still doing a damn good job of being a thorn in Tatyana’s side during this weekend she was looking forward to so much.  The only moment of peace she’s gotten so far was yesterday at Gavrik’s baptism, and then Fedya and Novomira began tagging along with her friends all over again.  They’re even younger than Vasya and don’t belong in a group consisting of mostly university students.  Worse yet, her friends seem to like both of them, and Valentina, Rodya, and Vladlena in particular are fascinated by Fedya’s left-handedness.  Tatyana has been shown up by her own brother.

“I’d like to watch the local parade before we head to the beach or amusement park,” Novomira says as they board the subway.

“What for?” Tatyana snaps. “If you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all.  Parades stopped being interesting after I passed the age of twelve.  They’re boring, hot, and require too much standing in a crowd.  And there are all the whining, screaming children.”

“Don’t you work with children?” Fedya asks. “And I presume you’d like your own kids someday.”

“Our children at camp are well-behaved, and know not to throw tantrums or do whatever they want.  I don’t like dealing with other people’s brats.”

“We can always find a stoop to sit on, or I can rent some folding chairs,” Nikolay suggests. “It’s been awhile since Mira and Fedya have seen a really big parade.  Minnesota can’t compare with the big city.  Valya and Vladka have never seen a Fourth of July parade.  I’d hate to have them miss out during their first July Fourth.”

Tatyana has a seat and crosses her arms tightly, keeping a firm hold on her ocelots’ leashes.

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“I’m most looking forward to the fireworks tonight,” Valentina says. “We didn’t have them very often in Minsk.”

“What’s a Fourth of July parade like?” Vladlena asks. “We had lots of parades back home, but they were more like political inspiration than entertainment.  They were held in honor of important national holidays and heroes.  I don’t know if many civilians could take part other than for something like music or a special exhibit a school made.”

“They’re kind of boring once you’ve seen a few,” Tatyana repeats. “A bunch of floats, loud brass music, people in costumes, flags, balloons, that sort of thing.  Some of the people marching or on the floats toss candy and other trinkets.  It’s a little like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, only now the weather is nice enough to watch it in person instead of hearing the radio broadcast.  I think July Fourth is best if you’re a little kid and don’t have the sense to be annoyed by mosquitoes, heat, crowds, and noise.”

“Not everyone feels the same way as you,” Nikolay warns. “You were behaving so well until our families came here.  I thought being away from them for so long would get you to see things differently and go back to your old sweet self.”

“I’d prefer if they’d continued leaving me alone.  I just know my stepfather planned his birthday party for New York just to irritate me and try to guilt me through these two.”

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Fedya struggles to contain his hurt in front of these sophisticated older people. “You were always such a great big sister to me, and you liked Mira as well.  I had nothing to do with this coverup of your true paternity.  I didn’t even know about it until you did.  How can some one-sided letter from a known scoundrel magically erase all your love for your family and the man who raised you?”

“You’d feel the same way if you were the one who were lied to your entire life.  Thank God my real father is a modern, sensible person who approves of young ladies shaving their legs, wearing makeup, staying out late within reason, being alone with their steady beaux, and using perfume.  He’s not some overly moral plaster saint like your father.  That man needs to grow up and enter the twentieth century.  His rigid ideas of right and wrong are so Medieval.”

Nikolay is by now strongly convinced Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan and rather haughty, uncharacteristic behavior were caused by some petty teenage grievance against an old-world father with an admittedly very black and white view of the world.  She’s more dissatisfied with some of Boris’s behavior than she let onto their families.  He just needs to figure out a way to push her towards investigating their dubious benefactor’s past, coupled with some serious reflection on how she just gave up the loving father-daughter relationship she and Ivan enjoyed for eighteen years.  Tatyana surely realizes how rare it is for any man to raise another man’s baby as his own and marry a fallen woman with an illegitimate child.  Boris couldn’t even marry Lyuba after he got her in trouble.

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Instead of heading right to the beach when the subway reaches Queens, their group sets off towards the main thoroughfare in search of a parade.  After a resident provides directions, Tatyana lags behind everyone and kicks at pebbles, refusing to talk to anyone.  Fedya and Novomira have a seat on the sidewalk, and Valentina and Vladlena find room on the cement stairs outside a bright green apartment.  Tatyana is the last one in their group to find a place to sit.

For the entire parade, Tatyana stares off into space and barely notices the loud music and cacophony of voices.  She barely even cares when some of the candy being thrown from floats lands near her.  Nikolay has to collect it for her.  After probably a good three hours, when the parade ends and the crowd breaks up, they finally start for the amusement park.

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“Don’t be disappointed,” Rodya tells Valentina. “This place isn’t as big as Coney Island, but it’s still got some nice rides.  We’ll probably have fewer crowds, even if today’s a big holiday.  Everyone always heads for Coney Island.  Mostly only locals come here.”

“I like amusement parks no matter how small they are,” Valentina proclaims. “We’ll be back to work tomorrow, so we should enjoy the long vacation.”

“I wish I could enjoy the long weekend too,” Tatyana mumbles.

“Why are you acting like this?” Nikolay asks. “What have Mira and Fedya ever done to you to make you hate or resent them?  They’re just trying to have some fun in the big city, away from adults and children they don’t have much in common with.  We’re not that much older than they are.”

A sour feeling is in the pit of Tatyana’s stomach the entire time at the amusement park.  She doesn’t even snuggle up next to Nikolay in the rides, as the other three couples do.  The presence of her brother and his girlfriend has so perturbed her, she can’t relax and think of anything but how much she deeply resents their unwanted company.  Their time on the beach isn’t much better, though at least she has more privacy there and is able to sit and swim as far away from them as possible.

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“She’s really not like this normally,” Nikolay says in embarrassment on the subway home. “I don’t know why she’s acting like some spoilt child again all of a sudden.  She was doing so well this entire past year.”

“Does she really think we’re too young and stupid to buddy around with?” Novomira asks. “We used to be buddies.  I’m only two and a half years her junior, and Fedya’s not quite three and a half years her junior.  That’s not a really big age difference, since we grew up together.  It’s not like I’m some babyish ten-year-old tagging along with the sophisticated older kids.”

“It’s not that.  She’s just sorting out some confusion and annoyance with Dyadya Vanya.  I really think she’ll return to normal with a little more time, but I can’t force her to feel differently.  She probably does still love you deep down.  I’ve studied situations like this in some of my psychology and sociology classes.”

“Are you coming back to Minnesota when you graduate?” Fedya asks. “I don’t want to be joined at the hip with my family, but I always thought we’d have our own little farms on the same property.  It won’t feel right if you and Tanya stay in New York.  It still feels strange that my big sister isn’t around anymore.  Now she doesn’t even like me anymore, after how good she always was with me.”

“I’m going to start my own farm, even if I like big city life.  I doubt I could live here long-term.  It’s just not the type of life I could see for myself forever.  Tanya’s a farm girl at heart, even if she likes to give the impression of this important, modern, fashionable big city girl.  This is probably just a form of rebellion and trying on a new persona.  All perfectly normal.  So long as she figures out the right path before Malenkov reverts back to scoundrelhood, no one is really hurt that deeply.”

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Once they’ve reached Central Park, Tatyana flings her blanket down and rubs lemongrass on her arms and legs to repel any mosquitoes.  She takes Nikolay’s hand and smiles at him, grateful Fedya and Novomira have the good sense to sit far away from them.

Fedya throws his arm around Novomira and stares up at the fireworks as they start. “What crawled down her throat and died?  She’s never had this kind of rude attitude as long as I can remember.  How can someone just go from nice to mean overnight?  Is she using drugs?”

“Kolya was saying something about her just rebelling to get some kind of taste of a different personality.  It’s some kind of concept from psychology.  Maybe she really did resent Dyadya Vanya for a long time, and then just went off on everyone after she found out another man’s her blood father.  I’ve never had much interest in copying moviestar fashions and modern American fads, but I’m sure my father would be understanding and accommodating of things like reasonable makeup and shorter skirts.  She does have a point about your father being pretty old-fashioned and having these really outdated ideas of how women should look and act.  Who knows why he picked Tyotya Lyuba, with her very modern views and tomboyish past.”

“I never really thought about that.  I just thought my father was really old-fashioned in some ways but modern and sensible in others.  He thinks girls should have a higher education, even if he’s horrified by things like women wearing pants and my mother working outside the house.  My mother, for all her modern ideas, still doesn’t wear makeup, high heels, or some of these modern fashions, and she only shaved her legs when she was working our last year in New York.  I wonder if my younger sisters will act like Tanya too, wanting to be these modern American girls.”

“My mother says I’m a nice blend of two worlds.  I like being a modern American, but I also like the Russian and Estonian parts of myself.  Maybe Tanya’s embarrassed because we’re not as modern or American as she’d like to be.”

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During the fireworks, Novomira leans against Fedya and occasionally runs her fingers along his left hand.  Though the bruises and rope burn left by Miss Cavendish disappeared years ago, she still remembers them, and wonders if his hand might have some invisible trauma still left in it.  Surely invisible wounds need tender loving care as much as physical wounds.  He needs all the love and affection possible, particularly now when he’s been rebuffed by the sister he always worshipped.

During the finale of green, silver, white, orange, and blue fireworks, Fedya leans over and kisses her.  Novomira smiles up at him and giggles.

“What was that for?”

“Just because I like you so much.  Now was as good a time as any.” He does it again, this time putting his hands around her shoulders.

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One blanket away, Valentina looks away jealously and ever so slightly edges away from Rodya.  As the fireworks die down, Rodya becomes aware of her muffled noises and quivering shoulders.

“Did something happen to you?” Rodya puts his hand on her shoulder. “You can tell me what’s wrong.  Are you worried about getting accepted to Barnard with less than perfect English?  That’s not the measure of your worth.”

“Do you really consider me your girlfriend, or am I more like a friend who just happens to be a woman?  Or are you just extremely old-fashioned?”

“Of course you’re my sweetheart.  Just because we’ve never had a private date doesn’t mean we’re not official.  It’s just easier to triple-date and go out as an octet.”

“Well, right now I don’t exactly feel like your real girlfriend.  Those two have only been going steady for about a month and a half, and they’re already doing more than just holding hands.  They’re younger than we are.  I thought everyone did that at our age and after five and a half months.”

Rodya looks quickly at Fedya and Novomira, then looks away in embarrassment. “Is that all you’re upset about?  I thought you liked that I respect you enough to not make unsolicited advances so soon.  You’re the sweetest girl I ever dated, not like some fast, loose woman who expects certain things by the third or even first date.”

“I’m not that old-fashioned.  I’m not some Victorian woman who expects a chaste courtship.  Why can’t we have a few private dates every now and then?  Just because Tanya doesn’t trust herself alone with her boyfriend doesn’t mean I’m that old-fashioned or incapable of self-control.”

Rodya slips his arm around her. “Didn’t you tell me you’d never had a boyfriend or even gone on a date before me?”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t make up for lost time now.  If you’ve already done that with previous dates and girlfriends, you shouldn’t be afraid to do it with me.”

“I like you more than any of the other girls I’ve ever dated.  I think I might even love you.” Rodya pulls her towards him and kisses her.

Valentina gazes up at him afterwards. “Was that so difficult?  You’re pretty good.”

“You taste sweet, like strawberries.  I’m glad you don’t wear makeup.  I don’t want lipstick rubbing off on me.”

“Can we practice doing that again?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.”

Valentina is only just starting to get the hang of it when she hears footsteps.  She abruptly pulls away from Rodya and hides her face in embarrassment at the sight of Patya and Vladlena.

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“All good things must come to an end,” Patya chides affectionately. “You can have your own private date on your own time.  We need to get home now.  Work starts at eight-thirty tomorrow.”

Rodya pulls Valentina up and walks her out to the Rochet-Schneider.  After the all-too-short drive home, he walks her up to the apartment via the fire escape and kisses her goodnight.  Valentina’s heart beats a little faster when she feels his hands wandering, though at least he’s keeping them above her clothes and not going below her waist.  Just as she’s tentatively starting to pet him back, the fire escape door swings open.

“I wondered what was taking you so long,” Inessa says. “You do know what that causes, don’t you?”

“He’s fine.” Valentina smoothes her blouse down, her heart still racing. “We were just making up for lost time.”

Rodya smiles at her as Inessa shuts the door in his face.

“Remember, self-control is very important for a woman,” Inessa says. “If you want to do more than neck and pet, you have to get married.  It’s too dangerous to risk going further without marriage.  These things happen, but you don’t want to get caught in a scandal unawares.  Make sure you set limits with him the next time that happens.  I don’t like the double standard and delayed gratification, but it is what it is.” She smiles devilishly. “But in the meantime, you’ve got two perfectly good hands.  No woman ever got pregnant by her own hand before.”

Horny Hump Day—Tatyana and Nikolay

My What’s Up Wednesday post is here.

Warning:  Not safe for work or appropriate for those under 18!

Welcome back to Horny Hump Day, a weekly hop where writers share three erotic sentences of a book or WIP. I’m skipping a few lines ahead from last week’s, so I can finish the scene in time to put all my blogging focus and attention on the April A to Z Challenge.

Young newlyweds Tatyana and Nikolay are honeymooning by the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, and on the last night of their honeymoon, thanks to advice from Tatyana’s friends, they finally have a mutually pleasurable coupling. Once Tatyana took the time to explore her own body and discover what she likes, she gained a lot of sexual self-confidence and is no longer afraid to take charge.

This has been edited somewhat to fit three lines.

***

The unbearable pressure building up finally, mercifully washes away, and her breathing slowly returns to normal after one final primal, guttural utterance.  For the first time since their wedding night, Nikoláy feels like a real, complete man after they finish coupling.  He doesn’t even care that Tatyana apparently finished before he did; all that matters is that he finally knows how to satisfy his woman.

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I’ll be back in May, after the A to Z Challenge. For anyone interested in stopping by during April, the theme on my main blog is cities I’ve written about or otherwise mentioned, and my names blog will focus on the invented names so popular in the early Soviet Union.

Horny Hump Day—Tatyana and Nikolay

My What’s Up Wednesday post is here.

Warning:  Not safe for work or appropriate for those under 18!

Welcome back to Horny Hump Day, a weekly hop where writers share three erotic sentences of a book or WIP. My snippet this week comes a little after last week’s. Young newlyweds Tatyana and Nikolay are honeymooning by the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, but haven’t had a very good sexual experience since they got married last month. Nikolay has no idea how to get her off, and Tatyana is still getting used to the physical sensation.

Tatyana took the personal advice from some friends a few days ago, and has discovered an erogenous zone she had no idea existed. After emerging from a long bath, she tells Nikolay she has a new trick to teach him, a trick they’ll both like.

***

Tatyana grabs his hand and places it right on the small hidden area.  She shudders as a funny tingling sensation takes root, while Nikoláy lingers there in response to her increasingly heavy breathing and involuntary movements.  He’s hesitant to even try anything else, since this seems to be working so well.