IWSG—September odds and sods

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup
It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

This month’s question is:

If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Mark Twain! He’s long been one of my fave writers, since he was such an astute observer of humans and society, and very funny. We also have a lot of political and social views in common, and both love science and technology. It would be really fun to be his beta partner.

The book formerly known as The Very First released in e-book format on 23 August. I’d hoped to have a simultaneous print and e-book release, but the print edition (which has a different cover) should be ready to go within two weeks.

I’m saving my big release day post until then. It’ll discuss the reason for different covers, last-minute changes to the text, things I considered changing, and more. There’s no point in rushing, particularly since making changes to the text of a print book after the fact isn’t free or easy like it is with e-books.

For that reason, I haven’t yet put buy links on my “Where to find my books and author pages” page.

The hardcover edition of The Twelfth Time is now finally in production. Once I’m done checking the proof of the book formerly known as The Very First one final time, I’ll begin my final checks of the four volumes of Dark Forest.

I’m coming to feel that one of the reasons my progress on Dream Deferred, which seemed to be heading into the homestretch before permanent lockdown began, has ground to a near-complete standstill is that I’ve just been with these characters for too long at one stretch. I need a break from them to regain my passion and momentum.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be starting the fifth book in this saga, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, anytime soon!

As I briefly mentioned in my DDAD post, my 34-year-old little brother disowned me in a fit of rage in early August because of this, my Facebook profile picture. He was quite abusive, hateful, insulting, and misogynistic in DMs, and kept cycling back to emotional language and ideology instead of addressing any of the specific issues I cited or recognising that many people outside his little Woke Stasi bubble share my views.

It really is painful to be treated so cruelly and disrespectfully by my own brother, but at least he mailed me my notebooks from my storage locker before this happened. Now that he’s convinced I’m a horrible bigot with terrible morals, he’ll only consider finish sending me the rest of my stuff for the sake of our parents.

I truly hope his creepy ménage falls apart and that he profusely apologises to our entire family for the awful way he’s treated all of us for a long time. He refers to his emotionally unstable girlfriend and her creepy husband as his “loving family,” while having almost nothing to do with his real family. I’m so angry at them for brainwashing him and turning him against us!

I’m still going back and forth on whether to slightly age up my Atlantic City characters or keep their long-established age, through 60 years’ worth of storylines, as-is. My heart wants to keep them as they’ve always been, since it’ll all even out once they’re in their mid-teens, but my head keeps nagging me about unrealistic cognitive development and things that feel super-sketchy even in over the top satire, like a 9-year-old girl dating a 15-year-old boy or a 6-year-old boy having a room full of pornographic filth of all types.

I think my NaNo project this year might be a resumption of my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, and starting my gut renovation of Almost As an Afterthought: The First Six Months of 1941. I’ll have to figure out my final decision by then!

Walking through more second edition edits

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My second edition edits for The Twelfth Time were even less extensive than the ones for Journey Through a Dark Forest, but noteworthy enough to make mention of. Most, however, entailed tightening kerning to remove unsightly gaps, or slightly rephrasing things or removing words when kerning tightening failed. A few times, I also excised lines that suddenly came across as overly wordy or unnecessary.

1. A contradictory line from Rostislav, shortly after he and Lyolya arrive in San Francisco, about never seeing a moving picture or automobile in person, then pondering whether any of his fave actors are still making films. WHAT! Perhaps I intended it to mean actors he liked reading about and seeing photos of in newspapers, but that still seems off. I changed it to Lyolya wondering this.

2. Again, more accurate descriptions of housing. E.g., Lyuba’s mother and stepfather move to a four-story townhouse (which is still humble by townhouse standards); Boris lives in a two-story former carriage house; Alla and Daniil live in a three-story (including the garden level) mews house on a private lane. Despite seeing many photos of NYC houses, I nevertheless persisted in a mental image of shrunken-down bungalows or detached houses!

3. Adding a few lines to say Lyuba and Katrin’s bank has the very progressive, highly unusual policy of letting women do business without a man’s permission or co-signature.

4. For the first time, going into more detail about Katrin’s building. She and most of her friends always use the service entrance and lift, eschewing the grand courtyard and lobby on the other side. The building is called The Fourier, after esteemed Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier, and a very early cooperative. Very rarely for the era, the manager lets women buy apartments without a male co-signature.

Though there are many luxury units, there are also apartments for normal people. Even the rich residents are the type rejected by the UES, and many other UWS luxury buildings—Blacks, Jews, Catholics, nouveau riche, political radicals, atheists, Asians, Eastern and Southern Europeans, women living alone.

5. After Katrin invites Lyuba to attend her weekly Socialist meetings in the penthouse, Viktoriya extends an additional invitation to the daily discussions and film screenings on the first and second floors. The lobby has schedules of the many community events.

6. When Naina and Katya arrive at the penthouse, Katrin says there are amenities like a pool, restaurants, and a hairdressing salon, which she rarely takes advantage of but which they’re welcome to explore while her family’s away at Matryona’s wedding tomorrow.

7. Replacing references to scholarships and tuition at Hunter College and Soviet universities to gratitude they’re free. Marvellously, CUNY schools were free until the city very narrowly escaped bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the USSR’s constitution guaranteed free education. However, I did retain the detail of six of Inessa’s cousins being at a private Communist boarding school which her uncle hasn’t enough money to send all of his kids to. There were a rare few Soviet schools which cost money, which doubtless would’ve included a fancy private academy.

8. Since coming to the realisation it was a mistake for the Konevs to leave NY for rural Minnesota, I added in a few lines here and there making it even more obvious this isn’t who they, or their closest friends, really are. Katrin says she would’ve recommended getting their feet wet with small-scale farming first, and then, if they truly liked it, moving to a more rural area locally. Not blindly committing themselves to something they’ve never done before, a thousand miles away.

9. Katya’s big stuffed parrot is now named Pesto.

10. Fixing the grades Inessa’s youngest cousins and little adoptive sister Valentina are in. For some reason, I had them a year ahead of the grades lining up with their birthdays.

Sonya Reacts

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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.”

The News Trickles Down

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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

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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.”

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