WeWriWa—A place where there’s no suffering

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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 a few lines after last week’s, when young widower Mr. Lebedev was reunited with his three youngest daughters in February 1921. He now has five of his ten daughters back.

Next-youngest sister Natalya asked oldest sister Galya why she’s stumbling around, and Galya revealed she’s now blind (though hoping to get a sight-restoration operation in America). Mr. Lebedev has promised Fyodora, who’s not quite seven, he’ll spend the rest of his life giving her all the love and protection she was denied in the orphanage system.

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine with his belovèd daughter Elisabeth

“Where’s Mama?” Fyodora asks.

“She’s in a very nice place where there’s no more suffering,” Mr. Lebedev tells her, holding back tears. “We’ll see her again someday.”

“Where are my other five sisters?”

“I don’t know.  Some of them may be with your mother.”

“Now, please, Papa, we have to go to America.  Take us to a place where there’s no suffering,” Natalya pleads.

“So then Mama went to America?” Fyodora asks.

“She went to a magical place with angels, harps, fountains, gold, eternal youth, and love,” Mr. Lebedev elucidates.

When Mr. Lebedev remarries a bit over two years later, to female protagonist Lyuba’s mother, Fyodora realizes her mother must be dead, and what her father meant when he said her mother went to a magical place with things like golden water and harps. Her Machekha (Stepmother) Katya is the only mother she ever really knows, having been separated from her blood mother shortly after her third birthday.

Father and child reunion

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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, to mark Father’s Day, I’m featuring a snippet from my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan. I wrote the scene of Mr. Lebedev reuniting with his three youngest daughters back in 1998 or 1999, and it still chokes me up every time, particularly the section with little Fyodora.

Mr. Lebedev, who later becomes female protagonist Lyuba’s stepfather, had ten daughters in his first marriage. They were all taken away by the Bolsheviks, the older ones to Siberia and the youngest ones to the orphanage system. He eventually was reunited with oldest daughter Galya, and then seventh-born Alla.

In 1920, Alla got a job in the orphanage where the three youngest had been taken, and the four of them plus a brother and sister they’re friends with eventually escaped and began making their way out of the USSR. (The boy later becomes Fyodora’s husband.) It’s now February 1921, and they’ve reached their family’s old city, Pskov.

Mr. Lebedev has just said he can’t believe four of his daughters are still alive.

“Five, Papa, five,” Natalya says. “Dora’s on the mattress over there.  She’s got whooping cough.”

Mr. Lebedev strides over on shaking legs and picks his youngest daughter up.  Fyodora stops her coughing and recognizes the father she hasn’t seen in almost four years.  She only vaguely remembers what he looks like, but she’s never forgotten he has two different-colored eyes.

“Papa, you finally came back.”

“Praise God we’re together again,” he says, his voice shaking. “Now that our family’s back together, we’re never going to be separated ever again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life smothering you with all the love and protection you were denied while we were apart.  No one will ever hurt a hair on your head again.”

Mr. Lebedev is eventually reunited with four of his other missing daughters, and finally gets a boy after he remarries Lyuba’s mother. He’s always been a good sport about being a father to so many daughters in a row.

IWSG—Lagging productivity

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. I forgot to post last month, due to A to Z taking precedence, and travelling to NYC for my rabbi’s oldest daughter’s wedding.

This month, the IWSG question is:

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

I absolutely love research! Special favourites include vintage clothes, advertisements, childbirth, food, and slang. I also love looking at street maps to see where everything is in my settings. Other topics include what it’s like to be an amputee, Orthodox Christianity, and 1940s prosthetics.

After realising all my Russian male characters would’ve been uncircumcised, I did secondhand research on what it feels like to have intercourse with a guy like that. I wanted that level of authenticity in my sex scenes.

I technically won Camp NaNo, but this is NOT my best work. My productivity levels are normally so much higher. I had to lower my goal from 50K to 35K to 20K, and only broke even on Day 23. There were a few days early on when I didn’t write at all, though I still took screenshots of each day’s final progress when I did write. I like having that record.

Mitigating factors included the eight days of Pesach, my flagging mental health, my wrecked sleep cycles, and starting to make plans to move home to Pittsburgh against my parents’ insistence I join them in South Carolina for a few months. I’ve been stuck in this unhealthy holding pattern for far too long, and even my 17-year-old spider plant Kalanit is suffering.

I’m really unhappy with an unplanned subplot regarding Katya and Dmitriy’s new friends Dagmara (Marusya) and her husband Sima (Zosim). It started out so well, but developed far too quickly, and feels detached, like it’s just dumped in there instead of naturally-connected. It also feels very deus ex machina, in spite of its great potential.

When I read back over my first Russian historical in 2011, nine years after I’d last had access to it, I was so impressed at how expertly I’d woven all these storylines together and then finally linked them all up. The stories of the orphanage girls (esp. the Lebedeva sisters and Inessa) and Lena Yeltsina’s family are an integral part of the overall story, not just thrown in there every few chapters without any lead-in or foreshadowing.

However, I’m a lot happier with one of my other unplanned secondary characters, former Marine Captain Nestor Sevastyanovich Ugolnikov. I originally planned to give him to Bogdana Sheltsova, but then I realised he’s a much better match with Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova. But first, he has to overcome his belief that no woman would want a guy who’s missing a leg.

(FYI: You NEVER call someone “an ex-Marine”! It’s always “former Marine.” Semper fi means something!)

I also finally have a new cover for Little Ragdoll. My artist kept it based on the original reference photo. There was an odd technical issue, where Amazon wouldn’t accept the cover’s size, and the enlarged files she sent me kept being read as too small and the same size as before. I finally had to go onto my older computer to resize it myself in Gimp.

Writing about vintage candy (and other sweets)

I’ve always had a major sweet tooth, and love writing scenes with ice-cream, candy, chocolate, sundaes, and baked goods. It’s particularly fun to research vintage candies and sweets, and to create characters with a sweet tooth. My Cinnimin has a particularly intense sweet tooth, and is frequently shown indulging it. Her habit of keeping a bag of candy under her bed and in her purse must’ve been influenced by Claudia in The Baby-Sitters’ Club.

Here are some of the vintage candy ads and dessert recipes I’ve collected, with accompanying excerpts.
Dubble Bubble

1940:

Cinni bought the biggest container of popcorn, along with three chocolate egg creams, ten Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, a giant rainbow-swirl lolly, and a large bag of Dubble Bubble.  Max and Harry got popcorn, egg creams, and a big bag of Tootsie Rolls.  Sparky could only look at all the wonderful candy and treats, imagining what they must taste like.  This might not be a grand movie palace like she’d gotten used to, but it was hardly some hole in the wall.

Chiffon pie

1940:

Cinni went around to all the baskets of free samples, taking the biggest pieces and digging for crumbs.  A few of the samples were those dreaded, boring, adult sweets like lemon cookies, almond cake, and maple walnut rolls, but almost everything else pleased her palate—thumbprint cookies, chocolate chip bread, blueberry crumb cake, apricot coffeecake, chocolate cookies, cinnamon buns, raspberry bars, hot cross buns, brownies, cupcakes, chocolate éclairs, cherry danishes, fudge, macaroons, meringues, doughnuts, and cookies and cupcakes made to look like cartoon characters and sporting balls.

Strawberry meringue cake

1940:

With the house all to themselves, mostly, Babs and Cinni lay on the living room davenport listening to the radio.  When lunchtime came, Babs went into the kitchen and made them sandwiches with peanut butter, hot fudge, caramel sauce, and marshmallow crème.  She set them on a tray, then added two extra-large glasses of fruit punch with lots of sugar stirred in.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” Mr. Filliard asked when he ran across Babs on her way back to the living room. “I thought I heard the radio in the background, but I assumed it was your mother or aunt, or even that kooky Jasper.”

“Oh, Cinni didn’t feel well, and I took her home.  It’s not a big deal.  She’ll be better by tomorrow.”

“In that case, bring her some sweets.  I won’t hear of my pet child not having her every want catered to when she’s ill.” Mr. Filliard loaded up the tray with fudge, chocolate chip cookies, cherry pie, chocolate doughnuts, and strawberry danishes.

Grape LS

1939:

This is yours,” Barry said, extending a large basket. “I’ve never given mishloach manot to Gentiles before, but everyone in your family deserves one for being so good to us.  Without your father, we’d still be in Europe, with God knows what kind of future.”

Cinni returned the smile and eagerly took the basket.  She headed back to the davenport with it, and delightedly discovered oranges, hamentaschen, saltwater taffy, gumdrops, chocolate-covered peanuts, a bottle of grape pop, and five silver dollars.

“I packed that one just for you,” Barry said, smiling at her again. “I know what a sweet tooth you have.  You’d never be happy with the mishloach manot we made for your parents and siblings.”

Black Crows candy

1938:

Sparky stood back as Cinni, Violet, Tina, and Babs rang the bell and held out their pillowcases.  The woman who answered the door bent down for a large pail of candy and gave each girl a 5th Avenue bar, 3 Musketeers, Tootsie Rolls, and Snickers bars.  Sparky was a little hungry when she saw all the candy they were getting just for putting on costumes and showing up at someone’s house.

GPC vintage

1922:

Ivan comes home to laundry strung through the apartment, the smell of chicken dumpling soup, baby cries, two strangers in his living room, and his fiancée lying unresponsive on the davenport, a cold compress on her forehead.

“Papa, I’m very hungry,” Tatyana announces. “Did you buy me candy after you left work?  I didn’t eat any lunch.”

In a daze, Ivan opens his metal lunchpail and hands her two Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, with the wrappers open for her convenience. “Can someone care to explain to me what in the world happened today?”

Whitman's 1944

1942:

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform.  He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream.  Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

Orange LS

1933:

Inside the theatre, Vsevolod gets Nadezhda a chocolate ice-cream soda with a cherry and whipped cream on top, and gets himself buttered, salted popcorn.  He wishes he could try all the candy on display to make up for twenty-six years of subsisting on reindeer meat, root vegetables, winter berries, and bread.

Writing about vintage bathing suits

Though I’ve always been proudly tomboyish and didn’t get a taste for clothes shopping till age 26, I really enjoy describing vintage clothes in my books. Clothes from previous decades are so fun. Since I love the beach, I particularly enjoy writing about vintage bathing suits. It’s also a perfect post topic for summer.

Here are some pictures of bathing suits from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, with accompanying excerpts.

Silver_Sheet_January_01_1923_-_GALLOPING_FISH.pdf

1923:

“Why would Katya show her bare ankles in public?” Anastasiya asks in horror. “It’s bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts showing her lower legs, even covered by heavy stockings.”

“I’ll be showing my ankles on Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon.  Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?” Katrin giddily holds up a peacock green satin swimsuit, without the sleeves, long skirts, and wool fabric they’re accustomed to.

“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”

“It reaches my thigh, dolt.  It’s not nearly as revealing as Annette Kellerman’s swimsuit, outlining her legs and crotch.  This is modern without being too scandalous.  Besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”

Bathing_Beach_1920

1923:

Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.  It’s painfully severe and old-fashioned even by the standards of the typical bathing dress.  No matter what, Anastasiya refuses to show her ankles and elbows in public.  Her few concessions to practicality are her lack of bathing stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and a cap.  Katrin meanwhile enjoys the flirting glances of other men, even though she has a wedding ring and is starting to become visibly pregnant.  Kittey, Viktoriya, Alya, and Anya also have modern, lightweight bathing suits which allow them to move freely and actually swim, while Kat, Eliisabet, and Lyuba have more demure bathing dresses, made of satin, with shoulder-length sleeves and hemlines just covering their knees.

The four men have the normal black tank tops falling to their mid-thighs, over snug-fitting shorts, made of ribbed cotton.  Ivan typically has the most conservative bathing suit, paranoid he’ll be arrested for indecency if the wind or water clings to him too tightly or blows anything out of place.  He’s also made sure his top isn’t loose and that the sleeves are as relatively long as possible, so no one will see any of the thirty whiplash scars still emblazoned all over his back.  The children meanwhile are running and toddling about in homemade bathing suits, unburdened by worries of looking either fashionable or immodest.

1930s bathing suits

1938:

The last day of August, Cinni got freshened up to go down to the beach, and then strutted around admiring herself in her red bathing suit.  She’d scored a particular coup in finagling her father to let her buy and wear a two-piece bathing suit.  Even if it didn’t show anything past what a normal bathing suit did, she loved the daring feeling of wearing two separate pieces.

1940s swimsuits

1945:

Darya climbs out of the pool first and slips into her blue rubber sandals.  She looks down at her red, white, and blue swimsuit, with a loose swing skirt instead of the tighter skirts her bathing suits have always had.  When she doesn’t have much of a body yet, a tighter skirt would only serve to accentuate everything she doesn’t have.  She already needs to have a swimsuit tie so the extra material doesn’t flop around.  The other three also have swimsuits with loose skirts.  Halina has a white swimsuit decorated with medium pink roses, Maja has a solid blue swimsuit, and Oliivia has a red two-piece swimsuit with white polka-dots.  Just two short months ago, none of them dreamt they’d have enough flesh on their bones or feel strong enough to wear swimsuits and go swimming.

I'm_conserving_wool,_this_bathing_suit's_painted_on.,_ca._1943_-_ca._1943_-_NARA_-_535701.tif

1946:

Yuriy walks back and forth through the men’s swimsuit section several times before finally settling on a bright blue piece, with enough fabric to ensure modesty.  He steps into the changing room to try it on, and feels satisfied when it’s nice and loose.  The last thing he wants is to have his masculine reflex paying a call when he’s out of the water.  Inga would be so horrified and offended she might never speak or write to him ever again.

1940s swimsuits ad

Yuriy gives thanks for the roomy fabric when he sees Inga in her bathing suit, a simple navy blue and white plaid style with ruching and a long swing skirt.  He’s never seen her body outlined so much before, and is already imagining what she looks like underneath.  This’ll sure help with all those dreams he has about taking her to bed.