A phenomenal anniversary for my beautiful swan


Twenty years ago today, 26 August 2001, I finished Chapter 41 of Swan (later entitled “Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall?” after a line in the chorus of the George Harrison song “The Lord Loves the One [That Loves the Lord]”), wrote the Epilogue, and typed “The End.”

I was 21 years old, and had been working on this book for almost the entirety of my teen years, plus my entire adulthood up to that point. Yes, there was a break from working on the novel proper from October ’93 to September ’96, but in between, I wrote several prequel short stories and additional scenes to be inserted into the book, as well as doing longhand editing of a printout of the entire story up to that point.

Soon after closing out of the final document of this massive doorstopper, I saw on aohell that the singer Aaliyah had just died in a plane crash. Though I don’t really follow contemporary pop culture, I’ll always remember that event and its date because it’s linked so closely to the end of my first draft.

All these years later, it’s stunning to think back on how young I was when I wrote the first draft, and yet how well I wrote it. Yes, I ended up junking or radically rewriting at least 95% of the original 1993 material, but there were so many places in my juvenile initial vision that perfectly led into a more mature direction and an actual plot with a real focus.

The material from the second major phase, my junior year of high school, didn’t need quite so many severe edits and excisions, but it did require more than light, surface tweaking. By that point, I’d begun making and working from short chapter-by-chapter notes and following a real storyline.

The material from the third and final major phase of the first draft, late ’98 through to the end, needed the least amount of editing. The vast majority of these chapters are largely unchanged but for adding and expanding certain scenes. I look back and marvel at how a good chunk of that was the work of a teenager! In my very late teens and thus technically an adult, but nevertheless still a teen.

And without any elaborate advance plotting and planning, I managed to ultimately link up all these groups of characters and their stories—the main cast, the orphanage girls, the middle Lebedeva sisters, Lena Yeltsina, Natalya Yeltsina, Mrs. Yeltsina and her older daughters. How did I do that?! I doubt I’d be able to pull off such a feat, or even write the book itself so well, if I were just starting out now.

Technology moved on, and I was unable to access any of my files on disks for almost an entire decade, even after buying an external disk drive. Finally, in April 2011, I figured out how to open and convert these documents in obsolete file formats.

When I typed “The End” at 21, I naïvely believed I only needed to really edit the earliest chapters. How very wrong I was! The entire manuscript received multiple edits, revisions, and rewrites over the next three and a half years.

Then I made various edits for a second, third, fourth, and finally fifth edition. Nothing too radical, mostly just some new, brief additions here and there. One of the later editions also involved replacing the cover. Though I remain proud of how those are the best human figures I’ve ever drawn, I’m now embarrassed I ever thought that looked professional.

My entire life long, this will stand as one of the books I’m proudest of having written, one of the books closest to my heart. We grew up together, and it wonderfully demonstrates my writing style during many distinct phases of my development.

Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.

***

Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.

***

“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”

“Kárla.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

IWSG—February odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

I’d never pretend to be professional-level, but I enjoy drawing with colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and pastels—Derwent’s Coloursoft, Artbars, and Inktense; Caran d’Ache Pablos and Neocolor II; Faber-Castell Polychromos; Koh-I-Noor woodless coloured pencils; Crayola’s Portfolio oil pastels; about a dozen Prismacolors; and Sennelier oil pastels. The lattermost were created for Picasso in 1949. When I have the money, I want to buy the complete set of Sennelier soft pastels, which were created for Degas.

My passion is for abstract and geometric art.

I also do cross-stitch and embroidery.

My mother started this for her parents after my uncle died in 1988, but put it away for years. (She made a few mistakes!) I finished it while recovering from my last leg surgery in 2006, and my grandparents were thrilled with it. They framed it and hung it on the wall of their condo. My grandma, now my only living grandparent, brought it with her when she moved to a retirement home.

I made a few mistakes of my own on this (Buddha should’ve been taller, and some objects should’ve been in slightly different spots), but no one would tell unless I explained my miscalculations.

Since I won a free title setup on IngramSpark for winning NaNo, I decided to make a hardcover for my first Russian historical. (I’ve long since had a block of five ISBNs for it from Canada’s IndieBookLauncher; this service is sadly no longer offered.) I went through it to make sure it’s as perfect as can be for this the fifth edition, and mostly made tiny tweaks and corrected a few typos that were created during the edits for the fourth edition.

At one point, I began to seriously wish I’d rewritten the first six chapters much more radically during my endless edits, revisions, and rewrites in 2011–14. I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, but it still didn’t seem like I did enough.

Eventually, I stepped back and realized it’s better to bring my improved writing skills and lessons learnt into current and future books, not waste time frogging part of an already-published book and rewriting those chapters almost entirely from the ground up.

I’m very proud of how I wrote the first draft from ages 13–21, and how it reflects my writing voice, style, and abilities evolving through the years. The scant remainder of the original material is also a poignant reminder of my 128K Mac, on which I began it so many years ago.

Had I begun this book as an adult, I would’ve started it closer to the October Revolution, perhaps even in 1918, not soon after the February Revolution. I also probably would’ve set it in Petrograd, not Moskva. But it is what it is, and it wouldn’t be the same story if I suddenly changed things that are so integral to the overall story.

I’ve finally got Word on my newer computer, but decided to go back to Pages for my WIP. I might try again later, but I’ve grown so used to setting up Pages documents. When I C&Ped the one Word chapter back into the master Pages file, there were a bunch of formatting specs that needed fixed. I’ll use Word for new documents, but will keep Pages as my primary word processor.

My older computer uses Word 2003, so I’m quite out of step with the newest version!

Have you ever had late-coming doubts about a story? Would you be more forgiving of shortcomings in a book if you knew the author had written it at a very young age? Have you had difficulties adjusting to different word processors?

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, conclusion

These days, I mostly find surnames from lists, and have moved past randomly choosing them from outdated encyclopedia and picking names in the news. It’s so much easier to do research now. However, I don’t regret giving some of my characters famous names, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s like an Easter egg; e.g., names like Chernomyrdina, Yeltsina, Zyuganov(a), and Yavlinskiy make it pretty obvious how immersed in Russian politics I was in the late Nineties.

I particularly don’t regret giving Lyuba’s stepfather’s family the name Lebedev(a), after Gen. Aleksandr Lebed (1950–2002), the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He had a very strong third-place finish, and was exactly the kind of leader Russia needs. The name means “swan,” which fits the title and symbolism of the first book.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband and son

Gumilyov, the false name Boris claims for himself, Lyuba, Ivan, and Ginny when deserting Bolshevik soldiers visit them in autumn 1917. Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (1886–1921) was a prominent poet of Russia’s Silver Age, and the husband of poet Anna Akhmatova. He was arrested and murdered by the Cheka. His son, Lev (1912–92), was a historian, anthropologist, ethnologist, and Persian translator.

Rhodes, Katrin’s awesome butler. He’s so fun to write. I created him in 2001, and named him around 2012, after Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Scholl, a radical Greenwich Village doctor with an underground clinic, and a lot of courage and compassion. He was named for Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.

Tolstaya, a gymnasium teacher. Obviously after the famous Tolstoy family, titled counts who’ve produced scores of notables over the centuries.

Baryshnikova, wily orphanage girl Klarisa, whom Lena Yeltsina names her first daughter after in gratitude. As an adult, she continues using her skill at forging and double-crossing to help people with defecting. Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov (born 1948) is one of the greatest danseurs in history.

Nureyev, an interrogator in Lubyanka, named after venerable danseur Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (1938–93).

Grinkova, the midwife who serves the fictional Russian–American farming town of Firebird Fields, Minnesota, very near Duluth. Mrs. Grinkova delivers Lyuba’s sixth, seventh, and eighth children, as well as all of Tatyana’s children. She and Ivan frequently trade sharp barbs because of their very different views on Lyuba continuing to have children with her history of high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

In the fourth book, Mrs. Grinkova removes the husband stitches given to Nikolas and Kat’s daughter Raisa against her will. She and Raisa’s future second husband Filaret will come to her rescue near the end of the book, after husband Gustav’s most monstrous act.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Grinkov (1967–95) was the 1988 and 1994 OGM in pairs skating with his wife, Yekaterina Gordeyeva, with whom he also had four World golds, three European golds, one European silver, one World silver, one World Junior gold, and several other assorted golds and silvers. I’ll write a review of the book My Sergei sometime this year.

Aleksandr V. Popov during the 2008 Olympics, Copyright KenChong 一洲

Popov, one of creepy Basil Beriya’s fellow inmates at The Marx Center for the Crazies. He’s convinced he’s Karl Marx. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (born 1971) is widely considered the greatest sprinter in swimming history. He has four OGMs, and two World Championship golds.

Nemova, another fellow inmate, who screams out the Nicene Creed nonstop. Basil is chained to the wall between these people. Aleksey Yuriyevich Nemov (born 1976) is one of the greatest gymnasts of history, with twelve Olympic medals (four of them gold), thirteen World Championship medals (five of them gold), four European Championship medals (three of them gold), and two European Team Championship golds.

House of Zubov coat of arms

Zubov, a former count, WWII Red Army hero, and young widower who moves into the Minneapolis apartment of the unhappily married Raisa and her twin Lyudmila in 1950. Raisa is instantly smitten with the handsome, polite, kind-natured Filaret, and begins dreaming of having an affair.

Filaret treats her twins Diana and Pamela much better than their father Gustav, and his respectful treatment of Raisa is night and day next to the increasingly cruel way Gustav treats her. He and Mrs. Grinkova will come to their rescue towards the end of the fourth book.

Though Zubov is a real noble surname, I also chose this name because of Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich Zubov, the subject of Chapter One of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s Invisible Allies. Dr. Zubov and his wife repeatedly risked their lives to hide his writings, and suffered a lot for their association, but remained loyal allies who refused to betray their friend.

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, continued

Tvardovskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. In America, he changes the spelling to Tvardovsky. His surname was originally Trotskiy, which really only has one association. I don’t see it as a bad association, but it’s not one of those famous names (e.g., Lennon, Jackson) that feels believable on a non-famous person.

The replacement not only has a similar sound, but was also the surname of literary magazine Noviy Mir‘s chief editor, Aleksandr Trofimovich (1910–71). Under his tutelage, the magazine published a lot of things butting up against the Party line.

Teglyov, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Pavel, who saves their daughter Tatyana’s life when villain Misha Godunov throws her in the Skhodnya River as a baby. This is a character in Turgenev’s story “Knock, Knock, Knock.”

Premier Brezhnev (1906–82) in 1943

Brezhneva, curmudgeonly orphanage mother in Kyiv. Mrs. Brezhneva is so fun to write, because she’s so predictable, while also demonstrating slow but steady emotional growth. As loath as she is to admit it, she grows to deeply care for co-director and former orphanage girl Inna, as well as Inna’s children and the children of the other now-adult orphanage girls who also defected to Iran. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was Soviet Premier from 1964–82.

Andropov, a boardinghouse manager who appears in the first book. Yuriy Vladimirovich Andropov was Soviet Premier from November 1982–February 1984.

Yavlinskiy, a doctor who treats Ivan’s broken arm in the first book, and lets Lyuba, Ivan, Ginny, and Tatyana hide in his clinic for two weeks. Grigoriy Alekseyevich Yavlinskiy founded social-liberal party Yabloko (Apple), and came in fourth in the 1996 presidential election.

Grigoriy A. Yavlinskiy (born 1952), Copyright Бахтиёр Абдуллаев (Bakhtiyor Abdullayev)

Kerenskaya, orphanage girl Olga, who’s later adopted by Inessa’s Dyadya (Uncle) Dima and marries Inessa’s cousin Rustam. She’s eight months pregnant when she wades across the creek-like River Bug to Poland in 1937. Shortly after her arrival in America, she gives birth to her first child. In 1945, her family and Inessa’s family move to Staten Island.

Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy (1881–1970) was a prominent politician during the short-lived Provisional Government of 1917, and the leader of Russia from July–November 1917. He narrowly escaped after the Bolshevik takeover, and settled in France. After the Nazi invasion, he immigrated to the U.S.

Aleksandr F. Kerenskiy

Kuchma, Ukrainian orphanage girl Valentina, another of the girls adopted by Dyadya Dima. She becomes very close to Inessa after they’re mistakenly sent to another orphanage, which influences Inessa to beg Dyadya Dima to adopt a little girl too. It means so much to Valentina to have a family again, and that Dyadya Dima respects her origins so much he tells her to never change her name, forget her native language, or call him Tata.

Leonid Danylovych Kuchma (born 1938) was Ukraine’s second president, 1994–2005.

Kwasniewska, Polish-born orphanage girl Zofia, also adopted by Dyadya Dima. She moves home to Poland as an adult, and ends up at the same rocket-making forced labour factory as Darya and Oliivia in the third book. Zofia survives Mauthausen with them too. She’s reunited with her three children after the war, and they’re given permission to join their family in America. Aleksander Kwaśniewski (born 1954) was President of Poland from 1995–2005.

Iosif Brodskiy (Joseph Brodsky)

Brodskaya, orphanage girl Irina, who appears in the first two books. Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodskiy (1940–1996) was persecuted, twice put in a mental hospital, put on trial, and sentenced to five years of hard labour (of which he served 18 months) for his “anti-Soviet” poetry. In 1972, he was forced into exile, and in 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Rutskoy, a false name Boris gives Aleksey and Eliisabet when deserting Bolshevik soldiers pay a housecall in autumn 1917. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Rutskoy (born 1947) was Russia’s only Vice President, 1991–93. During the violent constitutional crisis of ’93, he was proclaimed Acting President. He remains active in politics.

Andrey A. Voznesenskiy, 1933–2010, Kremlin.ru

Voznesenskaya, a deranged, sadistic orphanage warden in Petrograd, who gets her just desserts near the end of Part I of the first book. Andrey Andreyevich Voznesenskiy (whose surname means “ascension”) was an amazing poet I highly recommend.

To be continued.