Georgiya Writes to Ginny

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Ginny’s surname was changed from Herzen to Kharzin.

***

While Naina and Katya are preparing for their reunion with Sonya and move to Toronto in early September 1927, back in the Soviet Union, 20-year-old Georgiya is writing a letter to her long-distance sweetheart, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail, called Grigoriy by Georgiya). She’s letting him know about Karla, and this news is eventually going to reach Sonya.

***

Leoníd glares over Geórgiya’s shoulder. “What, are you still writing to that Herzen kid? He’s an enemy of the people, and so is his entire family! When are you going to give up that stupid daydream about him defecting and coming home? You need to find a suitable boyfriend at your teaching college, not some boy you haven’t seen in four years.”

“I’m telling Grigóriy all about the wonderful end of our Yalta vacation.” Geórgiya hits the return bar on the typewriter. “He’s kept me updated on his own summer vacation in America. He’s going into his final year of high school soon. I wish I could go there for his long-delayed graduation.”

“Would you bring Ínga and finally let him know he made you an unwed mother the last time he saw you? Boy, I can’t imagine how humiliating that must be for him, twenty years old now and going into his final year of high school. All his classmates must think he’s the stupidest thing ever.”

“He missed four years of school because of the Revolution and Civil War, and tested a few years behind when he immigrated. I’d probably be in the same boat if I’d been the one expelled from school and then unable to go to school until I went to another country.”

“I see you’re letting him know about Kárla, while once again omitting any mention of your illegitimate daughter. The kid’s three years old now. If you’re going to continue being his penpal, you can’t hide that mistake’s existence forever.”

“You adopted a child, however hastily and stupidly. I had a child out of wedlock. Society accepts your form of unmarried parenthood, but not mine. And he might get in a lot of trouble with his parents. They used to be missionaries.”

“You shouldn’t be in love with an enemy of the people, even long distance,” Kárla says as she has a tea party with Nélya and Ínga. “You haven’t seen him in a long time. Sometimes I miss Kátya and Naína, but not when I think about how they’re enemies of the people who wanted to take me away from my destiny. At least he gave you a cute little girl.”

“You see?” Leoníd smirks. “Even a child a month away from her tenth birthday knows you’re delusional and stupid.”

“Geórgiya isn’t stupid. I understand why she’s loved him so long, since he was her only boyfriend, but she should focus on better things now.”

“Exactly right. She’s going to do what’s good for her and stop her incessant daydreaming about her bastard daughter’s father before she gets any older. That includes no longer being in contact with an enemy of the people.”

“He believes in Communism same as we do. They just do it differently in North America.” Geórgiya pulls a full sheet out of the typewriter and rolls a blank sheet in.

“I’m not going to give up on you. Kárla used to miss her cousin and their friend, but we both got her to see sense eventually. You probably just need a little bit more time before reality finally wears you down.”

“And you clearly underestimate the power of love.”

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.

Phoning Sonya

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 as planned future installments for the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and my Canadian characters’ summer home on Vancouver Island changed from Long Beach to Gonzales Beach.

***

Katrin is the only one in the beach house who has a phone on her floor. She’s also the only one with enough disposable income to make a long-distance call, and to not worry about the other party not being in when the call goes through. Not knowing exactly when Léna’s family is supposed to come back from Long Beach, Katrin has placed daily calls to their home in Toronto during the last week of August and the first few days of September. Today, September 4, Sunday, she finally gets a response.

“Hello?” Natálya asks. “We don’t usually get calls on Sunday.”

“This is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova calling from Long Island. Can you call Sónya to the phone, please?”

“Who’s on the phone?” Naína whispers.

“That’s Natálya Yeltsina, the youngest sister in that family,” Katrin says while Natálya is fetching Sónya. “She’s thirteen now and a charming child.”

“Hello?” Sónya asks. “Is there an emergency with Léna and Natásha’s mother or older sisters?”

“Sit down, Sófya Mitrofanovna. We’ve had two special guests with us this entire summer, guests whom my husband found on Ellis Island and decided, spur of the moment, to sponsor and put up in our home to avoid deportation. Your niece Naína Yezhova and your best friend’s daughter Kátya Chernomyrdina are here in this house, in this room, alive and well.”

Sónya screams.

“Are you alright, Bábushka?” Yuriy asks.

“God is good. God is good. I’m going to see my dear sister’s child and my best friend’s child again in this lifetime. My own children were taken away from me, but I still have one blood relative alive in this world.”

“We’re returning to Manhattan the day after Labor Day, Lyuba and Iván’s fourth anniversary. How soon can you or someone in your family be at the depot to meet them? I was planning to send my husband or my butler as the male escort, and possibly my maid, to avoid scandal in sending two young ladies on a train with only a man as company.”

“Put my niece on the phone. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in eight years.”

Naína is shaking so badly she can barely hold the receiver, not only because she last saw her aunt when she was just seven years old, but also because she doesn’t want to be blamed for the loss of Kárla and Mikhaíla.

“Stay right where you are. I’ll come down on the next train and my surrogate daughters and son-in-law will get the house ready for you. We have a spare room we can convert into a bedroom. I’ll leave some money for them to buy a mattress and some modest furniture. Thank God you’re alive. Kátya can spend some time perfecting her English, and then she can join my surrogate daughters Tónya and Léna and Léna’s husband Karl at the University of Toronto. I know you’ll be sixteen soon, old enough for high school. I’ll talk to the principal and see if you can have a translator or tutor, so you won’t be too many years behind. Praise Christ for preserving your lives and bringing you to safety in the land of the free!”

“My friends the Lebedevas told me you work at a Russian bakery and haven’t remarried. I always assumed Dyadya Maksím had been murdered, and I know my parents and Kátya’s parents are no more, but I always had a special feeling you had to have survived and come to North America. Now I know the story about how Iván Konev helped you and my older friend Álla escape from prison.”

“I’m not going to rest easy till I’m standing in front of you and Kátya and able to see and touch you again. Don’t worry, I’ve known about Mikhaíla for seven years. That wasn’t your fault. That was all on that sadistic, deranged madwoman running that orphanage. My youngest surrogate daughter Natálya told me she ended up at that same orphanage two years later, and the warden’s double-crossing pet had her sent to prison.”

“Do you still love us after we lost Kárla?”

“I’ve been essentially childless for eight years. I’ve spent more years of my life without children than I had them in my life. At least I still have memories, and one photograph of my precious girls, taken shortly before I lost them to the Reds.”

2019 in review (Writing)

Going in, I hoped 2019 might be the year I finally finished my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, but it wasn’t to be. I did, however, bring the story up to late April 1952. The main text only has two more months to go, and the Epilogue will take place in autumn 1952. Originally, the plan was for it to only be set over Thanksgiving, but now I have two or three episodes in mind.

This book will require more editing and revising than usual at this stage of my development. I blame this on not outlining new storylines as they came up. Most I was able to mentally keep track of and naturally weave into the overall story, but others just got away from me and ultimately ended in media res.

I’ll have to remove the short-lived storyline about, out of nowhere, the Koneva girls and their friends suddenly being deeply unhappy with the radical Stefania Wolicka Academy and longing for a more structured, traditional education. They were supposed to lose their scholarships due to dwindling finances and finish the year at a free Quaker school, but then Ivan’s prodigal father sends money to rescue them.

I went back and forth on whether Sonyechka and Tamara should attend New Lincoln or Walden School after moving to NYC, and ultimately decided on Walden, the school their friends the Zyuganovs are at. Likewise, I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood the Konevs should live in, and feel it fits best if they move to the fictional Tranquility Towers in the West Village. I just can’t see them uptown, nor in a townhouse.

Another dropped storyline was Lyuba applying to Columbia for a master’s degree. Several characters have already attended Columbia, but the radical City College, Harvard on the Hudson, fits more with who Lyuba is.

I also dropped the storyline about some of my Barnard ladies leaving the school in protest and switching to Sarah Lawrence mid-semester. They’ll still leave the school after this academic year, but two will go to the free art school Cooper Union, while others will switch to City College. I’m no longer sure Sarah Lawrence is a better fit for any of them, as radical as it is.

I broke up three of my couples—Susanna and Vilorik (who lost their anencephalic baby-to-be in the eighteenth week), Léa and Rhonwen, Tolya and Yasha. They no longer felt right together. As for Léa’s family, I think I’ve decided against moving them to NYC. It makes narrative sense for the Konevs to want to return to the city, and their friends the Novaks, but the only Kahn I developed beyond a secondary character is Léa. They’re not essential to the continuing story.

The storyline about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Sima and Marusya will be moved into the future sixth book. It’s developed far too quickly and then dropped almost as quickly. If I keep them at all, it’ll be as friends who might have a connection to Katya’s family.

I went through The Twelfth Time for a hardcover edition, and managed to take away several thousand more words, shrinking it down to 980 pages (including front and back matter). I thought it couldn’t be done after increasing the inside margins from 0.7″ to one inch.

Most recently, I went through Volume I of Journey Through a Dark Forest for its own print edition, and managed to shave off 3,000 words. This wasn’t necessary editing so much as having to reword some things and take out superfluous words to tighten up the kerning. When I changed the inside margins, it became necessary to go through the entire book and remove as many unsightly gaps as possible.

It’s really weird to me to see one of my adult books at under 400 pages! Now the total length is 858K. We’ll see if the other three volumes will have similar shrinkage when I’m through with them.

I added some new words, mostly to correct the inaccurate picture I painted of the duplex Pavel and Nadezhda share with Svetlana. In NYC, a duplex refers to two floor-through apartments, sometimes with two floors per each family, NOT side-by-side units!

Two of my 2020 posts will be on NYC architecture and housing styles, and architectural styles in general. It’s embarrassing that for the longest time, I wrote my Manhattan characters’ homes as traditional detached houses instead of multi-story, narrow edifices. Even in the early 20th century, that wasn’t realistic!

At the end of April, my story “Charleston Masquerade” was published in the IWSG anthology Masquerade: Oddly Suited. I’m really looking forward to returning to these long-shelved 18th century characters and writing their family saga.

I also wrote a story for this year’s IWSG contest, “The Search for Shoki,” set in 737 Japan. Though I wasn’t a winner, I’m glad I tried something new, historical fantasy. I’d be game for writing a full book set in the Nara period. There are barely any Japanese historicals with that setting.

Finally, I began looking ahead to a radical rewrite and revision of the first book in my Max’s House series. Unsurprisingly, the strongest material is the all-new stuff I added in 1999, 2011, and on and off during this decade. I’ll only be keeping the 1991–93 material as a bare-bones outline to avoid a complete rewrite.

Bittersweet Discovery

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012, as future installments for the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Karla’s adoptive family’s name changed from Stalin to Savvin after I realised only THE Stalin had that name.

***

While Naina and Katya are preparing to take off on their first real vacation and loving American life, back in the Soviet Union, Karla is also starting her first real vacation. When her adoptive family gets to their hotel, they discover that Naina and Katya were in the area only a few months ago, looking for Karla. By this point, Leonid is so attached to his adoptive daughter that he won’t even consider relinquishing her to so-called enemies of the people.

***

Following the end of Kárla’s third grade year at the state-run school, Nélya’s kindergarten graduation, and the conclusion of the spring semester at Geórgiya’s teaching college, the Stálins decided to take a trip down to Yalta for the summer. Kárla has never had a real vacation before, and is thrilled at the chance to spend a few months at a seaside resort with her adoptive family. Even Geórgiya and Leoníd’s constant bickering on the train from Moskvá to the Crimea didn’t put a damper on her excitement.

“Look at this,” Geórgiya says as they’re waiting to check in at the hotel. “Those girls you told us about must’ve been in this area looking for you.”

Her parents, Leoníd, Kárla, and Nélya gather around the hotel bulletin board to read a missing persons notice put together by Kátya and Naína and dated this February. Kárla doesn’t know whether to cry or be glad she wasn’t found.

“Pardon me,” Leoníd says to the clerk. “My adoptive daughter happens to be the girl described in that missing persons notice. I have no intention of surrendering her to the enemies of the people who were planning to take her out of the Soviet Union, but do you happen to know if they’re still guests at this hotel or somewhere in the city? I’d hate to lose such a charming child to people who don’t have her best interests at heart.”

“Oh, that notice. It’s been up for awhile, with no luck. The girls who got permission to put it up were never guests here. They said they were staying in Yalta for the winter and were going on a cruise to Bulgaria in April. If they come back here after their cruise, shouldn’t you do the right thing and relinquish her?”

“Of course not! And she’s told me and my entire family how her cousin and their friend were planning to go to North America! I’m sure that so-called cruise was just a pretense for defecting abroad and then getting someone to let them go to the land of our enemies! Well, good riddance, I say. We don’t need any enemies of the people weakening our glorious Soviet state. Now the girl is being raised properly, in a devout Communist home. She’ll have no reason to want to defect and find them when she’s of age.”

“How did you even find this girl? I seem to remember the young ladies saying she disappeared on a train. Did you kidnap her?”

“I found her lying unconscious in the snow last January, with a broken leg. I brought her to my family’s home, where she was nursed back to health and enrolled in a state-run school. She’d been an orphanage child prior. I’ve since adopted her, and she’s now well-ensconced in our household. My younger sisters are like her own sisters, and my bastard niece is like her niece. And just recently she started calling me Papa Lyonya, after a long time of only calling me Lyonya. If I ever marry, my wife will be her mother. I wouldn’t dream of surrendering my adoptive child to anyone.”

“Comrade, I don’t doubt your sincerity of feelings for the child, or her feelings of attachment to you and your family, but did you make no moves towards locating her real family when you found her? Didn’t you think her real friends and family must be frantic?”

“She had an orphanage ID around her neck. I never thought she had anyone looking for her. When she came to, she said she was with a cousin and their friend, and we learnt the whole story over time. Those girls are enemies of the people, and I couldn’t be happier they left our country of their own free will before we had to throw them out. At least she already had a reverential attitude towards our dearly departed Comrade Lénin when we found her. She said the other girls didn’t share her feelings. Thank God she was only born in late 1917 and can’t remember what they can, a time before the glorious Revolution.”

The clerk rolls his eyes. “Well, whatever happened or whatever their leanings are, it’s obviously too late now to reunite her with her cousin and friend. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack at this point, and even if you wanted to, you’d still have to find someone willing to travel with her and then get permission for both of them to leave the country. If I found a missing, injured child, I’d try to search for anyone who might claim her before taking matters into my own hands and adopting her on the presumption she was abandoned or completely orphaned.”

“She’s my child now. My parents consider her their own granddaughter. I saved her from the horrible fate of leaving our motherland and being brought up on hideous lies about Socialism and our glorious heroes of the Revolution. My family has become her family.” Leoníd looks over his shoulder at Kárla interacting with three-year-old Ínga, both of them playing with dolls. “Yes, it’s without question for the better that she remain with us. Even if I were insane enough to want to turn her over to be raised by enemies of the people, it would be too traumatic for her to leave the only home she’s known for a year and a half and go back to people who must be like strangers by now.”