Famous surnames (unintentional) in my Russian historicals

When I began my first Russian historical in January ’93, I chose names from a 1965 encyclopedia. This was long before the Internet existed for research (provided sources are properly vetted).

After my Russophilia began developing much more deeply at sixteen, I realised my characters’ names are well-known in Russian history. I also discovered surnames differ by sex; e.g., Konev vs. Koneva, Malenkov vs. Malenkova, Vishinskiy vs. Vishinskaya.

Marshal Georgiy K. Zhukov, 1896–1974

Zhukova, Lyuba’s birth surname. Its root, zhuk, means “beetle.” This is the name of WWII hero Marshal Georgiy Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Malenkov, main antagonist Boris. Georgiy Maksimilianovich Malenkov was an important politician during Stalin’s reign. Its root, malenkiy, means “little; small.”

Konev, Ivan’s family name, which Lyuba gladly takes to get rid of her repulsive blood father’s name. There were two famous bearers, Major General Ivan Nikitich and Ivan Stepanovich, both important WWII commanders. Its root, kon, means “horse.”

Marshal Ivan S. Konev, 1897–1973

Litvinov, heroic friend Pyotr. He double-crosses his father and brothers to get his friends out of the newly-formed USSR and onto a ship to America, and later defects to Sweden with his baby sister. In 1945, he comes to America with his sister, wife, and children. Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov was a diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. Its root, Litvin, means Lithuanian.

Beriya, the creepy secondary antagonist of Part I of the first book. It was such an eerie coincidence how I inadvertently selected the surname of a real-life sexual predator and vile waste of oxygen, Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya.

Vishinskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Nikolas, an inveterate intellectual who began going by the Greek form of his name at age twelve. After arriving in America, he changes the spelling to Vishinsky. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinskiy was an infamous prosecutor in the show trials of the Great Terror.

Marshal Kliment Ye. Voroshilov, 1881–1969

Voroshilova, Lyuba’s rival Anastasiya, who sometimes plays the role of secondary antagonist of sorts. Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov was a high-ranking military officer and politician under Stalin.

Kutuzova, Lyuba’s female best friend Eliisabet. Most Estonians didn’t have official surnames till the 19th century, and many took Russian and German names when the law dictated they adopt surnames. Eliisabet’s ancestors took their name in honour of Prince Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a great military hero.

General Kutuzov, 1745–1813

Golitsyn, a boardinghouse manager who later becomes Ivan’s uncle. The House of Golitsyn is a princely family.

Furtseva, Lyuba’s friend Anya. I got lucky when I chose the surname of a famous women for a female character! Yekaterina Alekseyevna was one of the most important female politicians in the USSR.

Minina, Lyuba’s friend Alya, and Anya’s lesbian partner. Kuzma Minin is a national hero who defended the Motherland against a 17th century Polish invasion.

Shepilov, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s former best friend Aleksandr, who comes through with heroism when push comes to shove. Dmitriy Trofimovich was a reactionary politician who served under Stalin and Khrushchëv.

Tsar Boris Godunov, ca. 1551–1605

Godunov, antagonist cousins in the first book. Though both Misha and Kostya are morally repugnant, Kostya is more buffoonish than evil. He’s great comic relief. I loved using both again in the third book.

Vrangel, Lyuba’s next-best friend Kat. The House of Wrangel is a Baltic–German noble family, with many illustrious members over the centuries.

Nikonova, Anastasiya’s best friend Katrin, later Lyuba’s dear friend as well. Originally, her name was Nikon, taken from Patriarch Nikon. I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little!

Discarded famous names:

Stalina, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s sweetheart Georgiya, whom he later unknowingly fathers a child with during her visit to America for Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding in 1923. I changed it to the similar-sounding Savvina. Does anyone NOT know who Stalin was?!

Trotskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. That namesake is pretty obvious too, which is why I changed it to the similar Tvardovskiy (more on that in Part II).

Herzen, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. The famous bearer was Aleksandr Ivanovich, an important philosopher and writer. I changed it to the similar-sounding Kharzin.

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2018 in review

From 31 December–5 January, all my e-books are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and B&N! You can find the links here.

Though I always feel I could’ve done better, I’m quite happy to have finally had a six-figure NaNo. I’ve hit over 100K in so many non-NaNo months, but that wordcount always eluded me when it most counted. I’m a realistic overachiever, not a humble-bragger trying to win on Day One or aiming for a million words.

I finally finished Part I of A Dream Deferred, at 484K. So far, Part II is up to 172K, and I’m on Chapter 75, up to late August 1950. So far, I’m hopeful the first draft of Part II will be shorter than Part I.

Part II contains five chapters set in Japan (in full or part), as radical Katrin investigates the true aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and overall life under American occupation. As emotionally difficult as it is to research this aspect of Japanese history (possibly the most difficult subject I’ve ever researched, of all the macabre, depressing things I’ve chosen to write about), I loved the chance to finally use a Japanese setting.

Someday, I plan to write a few Japanese historicals, at least one set in the Heian era (794–1185, the last era of classical Japanese history). I’ve been a Nipponophile since age 14, the more traditional type (i.e., interested in history, language, culture, and religion instead of modern pop culture).

At the end of January, I finished the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very First (after believing for years it already ended where it needed to). I’m glad I added in two more chapters and an Epilogue. In 2019, after final polishing, I plan to release both it and the book formerly known as The Very Next.

I can’t wait to finally reveal their new and improved titles! I also came up with a better title for the book formerly known as The Very Last, inspired by a line in a Charlie Chaplin talkie.

I released my alternative history 17 July, on my protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary. I knew I should’ve gone back to it at least several months earlier, to avoid that mad race to the finish line by the deadline, which included final edits. I was embarrassed to catch a number of little errors post-publication (obviously corrected immediately). Never again!

From formatting four books for physical copies, I also learnt a very important lesson about inside margins based on page count and trim size. I only saw them onscreen, not in print, and so didn’t realise 0.7″ is on the tight side for 6×9, esp. with a high page count. I’ll be redoing Little Ragdoll with one-inch inside margins.

I also learnt about the importance of double-checking the left and right headers are correct! Odd pages (including the first page of any book) are always on the right, and evens are always on the left.

I released my second Russian historical on 6 September, after having it finished for years. It just needed one final polishing. I also released Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third book with my Russian characters, on 11 December, in four volumes.

Additionally, I designed a new and improved cover for my first Russian historical. It was a big mistake to use my own artwork for the original 2014 cover, though those were probably the best human figures I ever drew! I also made some changes to the text, for a fourth edition.

In 2018, my Top 10 most-viewed posts were:

“A primer on Russian names” (2,901 views)
“No, I will not get sucked into the cult of Arbonne!” (1,899 views)
“Favorite Decameron stories, Part I” (1,438 views)
“Writing an arm amputee character” (1,226 views)
“The importance of stylistic consistency” (769 views)
“Why I HATED The Book Thief (644 views)
“A primer on Tatar names” (596 views)
“A primer on Yiddish names” (590 views)
“A primer on Albanian names” (496 views)
“A primer on Occitan names” (422 views)

The first four posts are also my most-viewed posts of all time, to date. It’s not even close between the first two, 41,553 to 7,415. I still want nothing to do with Arbonne or any other MLMs!

IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I was pursuing traditional publication in 2000–01, and again from 2011–14. Everything I’d read said all writers needed agents, and I took part in so many contests, pitchfests, and events like Gearing Up to Get an Agent and the Platform-Building Campaign.

Gradually, I came to realise I needed to be the mistress of my own destiny. I’ve nothing against the many writers who’ve chosen traditional publishing, but I personally like having total creative control. Most of my books, apart from my Atlantic City books, are also deliberately saga-length, with ensemble casts. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for 5–10 years to prove myself worthy of releasing a very long book.

I also don’t like the idea of waiting up to two years (or more) for a book to be published, after finding an agent. I enjoy setting my own release dates, and coinciding them with important dates to my characters.

After spending nearly an entire month checking four e-proofs and correcting a few stray typos and errors I caught, I went through my first Russian historical to create the fourth edition I’d wanted to work on for a long time. I also finally put my other books onto Nook and Kobo.

I also added a glossary and a “The Story Behind the Story” for And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, about both my volumes with Jakob and Rachel. I’ve always considered it one story in two books, though I still agree with my decision to make the final year of the story into its own book. The focus of each is so different.

Then I went back to The Twelfth Time, the sequel to Swan, for a long, long-overdue final polishing. Its first draft was 406K, and I’d taken it down to 398K the last time I worked on it. I’m proud to have gotten it down to a more manageable 390K, plus about 4K of front and back matter. Does anyone expect a Russian novel to be short?!

The Twelfth Time releases on 6 September, Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding anniversary. They chose that date because it was the date they finally became lovers, and conceived their first blood child together. I wrote that book in 2011, and began editing it in 2014. I shouldn’t have been sitting on it for nearly this long!

I also love the Russian Land typeface I found (which is free for commercial use). It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic. This typeface is far more suitable for the mood and style of these books than the fancy types I was playing with prior, like Chopin, Lucien Schoenschrift, Tangerine, and Exmouth.

I immediately got to work on the final polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, which I’m hoping to finally release either late this year or sometime next year. All this rereading is really making me eager to finally go back full-time to my fourth Russian historical, and the remaining seven books in my epic series, which I’ve named The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan.

I also finally put together a page with links to all my current author pages and books. Planned future releases are also listed. I have no one to blame but myself for my previous failure at marketing myself.

Anything exciting going on in your writing and publishing life lately?

WeWriWa—Eliisabet’s advice

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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 immediately follows last week’s, when 17-year-old Lyuba Zhukova privately lamented her ball escort to her friend Eliisabet.

Lyuba’s two best friends, Boris Malenkov and Ivan Konev, have taken turns escorting her to balls since they were gymnasium students, but since Boris acted up in April and was punished with the new-fangled detention, Ivan took his place for their final gymnasium ball before they were expelled. Not only does this mean Boris now gets to escort her to a ball, but Lyuba also promised Boris would have two turns in a row next time.

Lyuba’s friend Eliisabet Kutuzova, always very understanding and full of practical advice, tries to convince her to follow her heart.

“It’s long past time you were honest with both of them. If you really prefer Ivan, it’s dishonest to have them switch turns and pretend you only like both of them as friends. I can see it all over your face. That’s the man you love. If you lead Malenkov on, things might get more complicated than you bargained for. It’s easier to level with someone before things go too far than it is to jilt someone who thinks he’s your beau.”

“Just yesterday we were about to run away to get married and leave for America, but that creep Basil sprung a surprise visit on us and ruined everything. Vanya may have only ever kissed me, but he’s as incredible as a man who’s had a thousand prior girlfriends. I wish I were in his arms right now, doing all the things we used to do during our secret romance in the spring.”

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24):

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a band of friends, and a cousin, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

My swan soars again (and then heads for the rocks)

I’m quite pleased to announce I finally did the light post-publication polishing I’d long wanted to do for my first Russian historical. I mostly removed overused words and phrases (e.g., even, at least, just, besides), cleaned up some clumsy wording, and deleted some lines, along with adding a number of new lines and paragraphs. This makes it the fourth edition.

The second edition merely replaced the legally incorrect title Tsarevich with Tsesarevich and added a brief paragraph about that in “A note on Russian pronunciation and names” in the front matter. The third edition stripped it of all those pedantic accent marks I’d pointlessly used for years.

I may be making some slight changes to the revamped cover, but this is the core image I want to use. I was also lucky enough to get a large enough image for a full cover (front, back, and spine).

I don’t regret the experience of making the original cover, but I quickly came to realize it wasn’t the kind of professional image I wanted to project. On its own, it’s a nice piece of art for myself, and those are probably the best human figures I’ve ever drawn. My human figures have always had a flat, cartoon-like appearance (by choice), but within that style, they’re light years beyond the kinds of people I used to draw!

I’ve also since fallen out of love with Chopin Script (which replaced Edwardian ITC after I changed my primary computer). It’s way too overused as a fancy typeface. The new typeface is called Russian Land, part of a three-font family. It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic.

A word of advice to all authors, indie or traditional: Getting stuck on the idea of your cover having to feature a certain scene, or depict your characters close to 100% of your mental image of them, can hurt you. Think about broader themes and moods.

26 August was my 17th anniversary of finishing the first draft of this book. I wrote it from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001. Starting in 1995, I went back and regularly editing and fleshed-out previous material. I also did some editing and expansion from 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011.

Three and a half years of intense editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing followed. This is the book I’m proudest of having written, not least because I wrote it from ages 13–21. In spite of all the deleted and radically rewritten material from the earliest years, there’s a marked progression documenting my evolution as a storyteller.

How many people can say they wrote a book on six different computers over a total of twelve years, in at least eleven different buildings, with five different word processing programs plus some handwritten material that made its way in?

Where did I get the inspiration to write such a long saga, or figure out how to ultimately tie all these subplots and characters together? I doubt I would’ve been able to write this story so well, the way it needed told, as a full adult!

These are two images I’m considering for the cover of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, the sequel. It was long overdue for its final polishing and release. Indeed, it’d been so long since I last seriously looked at it, I’d totally forgotten I’d written a “The Story Behind the Story” for it, and that there’s a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares” (which, very appropriately, comes right after “Union with a Snake”).

The dedication makes the inspiration for those chapter titles pretty obvious!

I’d like to have all my proof-checking and this release done by the end of September, so I can finally get back to my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. With any luck, it’ll be finished within a year, so I can get to work on the fifth volume, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow. I’m also very excited for the sixth and seventh volumes, and the two prequels.