Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Lebedeva sisters, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Unexpected Reunion at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012, as future installments of the now-permanently shelved 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 the infodumpy dialogue has been cleaned up quite a bit.

***

For the remainder of the service, they walk around looking at the paintings and ikons, feeling slightly embarrassed they don’t remember enough to know who most of these saints are or what many of the scenes depict. They can’t even figure out the Old Church Slavonic script on most of the paintings. If their reaction time is quick enough, they copy the congregation when they see people kneeling or crossing themselves. At least they remember the correct way to cross oneself and don’t do it backwards like the Catholics. They remember Zofia crossing herself sometimes, and she always did it in the opposite direction from the way they were taught.

After services, while most of the people are standing around socializing, they notice a very pretty young woman in a wheelchair, her leg elevated and in some type of metal brace, thick gauze wrapped around the flesh inside the confines of the brace. A handsome man with very light brown hair stands on one side of her, and a woman with green eyes and the same russet hair stands on the other side. The woman in the wheelchair looks vaguely familiar to them.

“What happened to you?” Naína asks.

“Some jerk driving a Bugatti ran me over in April when I was rescuing my baby niece from the oncoming car. I was burnt very badly and might’ve lost my leg to amputation had I not had one young doctor among the team assigned to me. He argued for a radical new bone surgery instead of the old method. My fiancé here is busy looking for a house or apartment I can easily access, and that means no stairs. I hope our home hunt isn’t delayed too much longer, since my twenty-seventh birthday is coming up in September, and that’s awfully old for a woman to be unmarried.”

“You look kind of familiar,” Kátya says. “Is it possible we met you back in the motherland? We spent the last seven years in the Ukraine, and before that we lived in Russia.”

“My name is Álla Ilyínichna Lebedeva. I’ve been here since May of ’21.”

Kátya smiles at her. “Of course we remember you! You used to work at our orphanage in Kiyev, until you snuck out with three of your sisters and a brother and sister pair in early ’21! Mrs. Brézhneva was going crazy for a long time trying to figure out what’d happened to you all!”

“There were so many girls there, and it’s been over six years since I left. You’ll have to tell me your names to refresh my memory.”

“I’m Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, and she’s Naína Antónovna Yezhova. Naína’s cousin Kárla disappeared on our train to freedom.”

“Now I remember you! From what I heard, you were rabble-rousers right till the very end of your stay at that place. My sisters Véra and Natálya are penpals with Inéssa Zyuganova in Minsk, and Inéssa’s penpals with Ínna. Sometimes Inéssa tells them what Ínna tells her, so we heard the sad news about Kárla. This is my older sister Svetlána, by the way. She’s an infant nurse, but she’s also been my nurse since I got injured. I live with her and our oldest sister Gálya. We were also living with our next-oldest sister Matryona till she got married yesterday. And this handsome fellow is my fiancé Daniíl Karmov.”

Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora make their way to Álla and Svetlána and look curiously at Naína and Kátya. Anastásiya is already on her way out of the church, taking off her hair covering as Mrs. Whitmore trails forty feet behind with Dmítriy.

“You girls can follow me out to the bus stop, unless you have an invitation to someone’s house for lunch. I wish someone would invite me to Sunday lunch once in awhile. They’ve known me for ten years now, and they’ve just met you.”

“You never get invites because you’re an insufferable pain,” Véra laughs. “I take it these are the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“They’re old friends of yours too,” Álla smiles. “Do you recognize Naína Yezhova and Kátya Chernomyrdina after over six years?”

“Are you kidding?” Natálya asks. “They’re one and the same as the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“This is incredible!” Véra says. “We thought we’d probably never see any of our orphanage friends ever again!”

“Look how tall you got! You were so young last time we saw you!”

“Are you staying in the city, or going right to Toronto?”

“What’s in Toronto?” Naína asks. “We were looking forward to having a nice vacation at the beach and amusement parks. We’ve never had a vacation before.”

“If your aunt and Kárla’s mother is the same Sófya Mitrofanovna Gorbachëva we’re acquainted with, she lives in Toronto,” Véra says. “She lives with the younger two daughters of the woman whose hotel was suggested to you as a hub of Russian immigrants. She also lives with the best friend, husband, and son of the older of those two girls. They come down to visit us every so often, and we’ve been up there a few times, time and finances permitting. This woman doesn’t talk about her pre-Revolution life too often, but we know she had two daughters named Mikhaíla and Kárla. She knows Mikhaíla is dead. One of the ladies she lives with was a witness, and broke the news to her on their ship to Canada.”

“My aunt really is alive, and you know her? I’d love to see her! But after eight years, I guess a few more months won’t make a big deal. Would it still be okay to go on vacation with you? I don’t know anything about Toronto, but I’m pretty sure Canada isn’t known for its beaches and warm climate. We might not get another chance to have a long beach vacation for awhile if we have to move there.”

“I was looking forward to going on the long vacation too, since I haven’t had much of a break from schoolwork, my job, and my family since I came here. Now that I know who our companions are going to be, I want to go even more. I think your aunt will understand. Katrin probably will pay for you to make a long-distance call when you get back to her penthouse. In the meantime, we’d love to have you for lunch.”

“We’ve got a cute baby halfbrother now,” Natálya says. “Fyodora is his godmother. Besides Svéta here, we’ll also be having our other three sisters, and our stepsister’s family.”

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Word Count, Writing

IWSG—My sixth official NaNo

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

How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream?

I’ve won both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and all my books have been made into films over which I had a great amount of creative control. I’ve got homes in several cities around the world, but do most of my writing in my farmstead in the Lower Galilee, in a room with a huge bay window overlooking the water.

I’m invited to many events each year—library talks, local writers’ groups, conferences, book signings, bookstores, schools, book clubs, houses of worship.

I know this makes me sound like a humble-bragger, but I’m rather disappointed I didn’t beat or at least tie last year’s all-time NaNo best of 130K. Instead of getting my win on Day 14 as I did last year (my earliest win to date), I barely squeaked out the 50K minimum near the end of Day 15. I knew early on I probably wouldn’t do as well as I wanted.

By my own standards, I’m capable of writing well over 100K in a month, and I failed to push myself to be as prolific, committed, and motivated as I could’ve been. For some reason, the pressure of NaNo seems to make me underperform, in comparison to fellow overachievers who say NaNo is the only month of the year they’re that wordy.

I did manage over 100K, so I’ll take that as a decent enough second-best.

I included blog posts as creative non-fiction, but most of the total came from my WIP. So far, many of the chapters in Part IV are shaping up to be novelette-length, which is unusual even for me, but not entirely unheard-of. My philosophy is that every book, chapter, scene, and part is as long or short as it needs to be. It naturally unfolds at a certain length for a reason.

It’s a spectrum like, e.g., birth weight. Some babies are all of one pound, seven ounces, and manage to not only survive but thrive, while others are as heavy as 14-15 pounds. While it’s more common to be in the 7-10 range, variation exists for a reason.

It’s obvious which days were Saturdays, since the wordcount just plummeted. I don’t use my computer on Shabbos, which means I lose Friday nights and, this time of year, a good portion of Saturday.

Next year, I want that second chart to be closer to a straight or slightly squiggly line, not so many dramatic peaks and valleys. I know I’m capable of so much more, though I’ll never be one of those extreme overachievers who aims for a win on the first day or strives to write a million words. On the days I’ve written in the 7K and 8K range, I’ve practically been dry-heaving by the end!

I reconnoitered my table of contents for the final time, so it’ll finish at 160 chapters instead of 150. It wouldn’t have been practical to pack so many sections into so few chapters just to cover all the remaining material in the timeline within an overtaxed amount of time and space.

It feels very fitting I finished up shortly after Raisa’s now-second husband Filaret (a count by birth) axes into her apartment to save her from her abusive husband’s most monstrous act yet. The final words are spoken by midwife Mrs. Grinkova, whom Raisa always calls to undo the damage done by her butcher of a doctor after she gives birth or has a miscarriage.

Mrs. Grinkova is one of my favorite secondary characters. Midwives are such amazing women. She’s also one of the characters I deliberately gave a famous surname to.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Holiday decorating begins

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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.

As last year, my Christmas- and Chanukah-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This is the opening of the chapter, when Sparky Small (birth name Katharina Brandt) and her older brothers start realizing just how predominant all things Christmas are during December in their new country. It’s particularly hard to avoid because they live with a Methodist family.

Sparky, her brothers, the Filliard girls, and Elmira came home from school on the first day of December to a wreath on the door and Mrs. Filliard and Lucinda unpacking all the Christmas ornaments and decorations. Six crates stood in the center of the living room, while small boxes, coiled-up strings of lights and other decorations, and individually-wrapped ornaments were all over the davenport, chairs, side tables, loveseat, and Lucinda’s new turquoise velvet Ottoman. A black and dark green plaid, circular cloth was draped over the back of the davenport, and a green metal object which somewhat resembled a bell was off in a corner.

“You’re just in time to help us with decorating the tree,” Mrs. Filliard announced. “Michael should have it very soon. He was supposed to be back by now, but it’s just like him to inspect each and every tree instead of sawing down the first big tree he sees. If he ain’t back soon, Pietro might have him arrested for trespassing.”

Gary could barely disguise his horrified expression. “Kätchen, Otto, and I must respectfully decline your invitation to decorate a tree, but I’m more concerned about Michael trespassing to get your tree. Did you really send him onto someone else’s property without permission?”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Ivan, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Names, Religion, Russian culture, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time.

***

On Sunday morning, Naína and Kátya put on their nicest clothes and try to copy Anastásiya when she ties a fancy scarf over her hair. They know not all girls and women cover their hair in church, but they don’t want to call attention to themselves when they’re going to be new and haven’t had the chance to go to church in eight years. Even though Katrin said the church has pews, unlike Orthodox churches back home, they feel they’ll call less attention to themselves if they walk around during the service instead of sitting or standing in one place. Since they don’t even remember what happens or how to behave during a typical Divine Liturgy, they think they’ll feel more at home lighting candles and taking in the ikons and artwork.

Just as Katrin said, Anastásiya makes Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy ride on the upper level of the bus, while she takes a seat with Naína and Kátya on the lower level. Mrs. Whitmore gets off several blocks before their stop and walks the rest of the way to the church, so no one will suspect she’s with Anastásiya. Naína and Kátya think she’s as ridiculous as Katrin and Viktóriya told them, and hope this woman isn’t around them very much during the vacation they were promised. They’re more looking forward to spending time playing with the children, which seems a natural activity after so many years in orphanages, and getting to know Viktóriya and the other three young girls they were told might be coming. They left all their friends behind and can’t wait to make some new ones.

Anastásiya doesn’t even introduce them and goes to sit on one of the pews nearest the altar. Naína and Kátya are shocked to see a healthy young person taking a seat when they remember only the old, infirm, pregnant women, and people with small children taking seats back home. They try to follow along in the prayerbook for awhile, then give up on following along with the Old Church Slavonic, both printed and spoken. While they’re waiting for an ample space to open up so they can light some candles, they notice a very handsome, tall man holding a young girl in the crook of one arm and holding a little boy with his other hand. The young girl is venerating an ikon in a baby’s way. Next to him is a very tall woman holding a somewhat older girl who’s lighting a candle.

“Welcome to our church,” the man smiles. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen you. We’re the Konevs.”

“We just came here a few days ago.  I’m Naína Yezhova, and that’s my best friend Kátya Chernomyrdina. I’m fifteen and she’s nineteen.”

“Oh, you’re the girls my wife’s crazy radical friend Katrin’s husband sponsored. I was told you’re going on vacation with us this summer. I’m Iván, and that’s my wife Lyuba. Our baby here is also named Kátya, after her maternal grandmother. The other little girl is Dárya, and the boy is our son Fyodor. Our firstborn Tatyana is somewhere over there with her godparents and their kids.”

“We promise we’ll be very good on vacation and prove we deserve to be sponsored. We’ll do chores, childcare, and whatever else you ask us to do. And we won’t bother you anymore after September. Sándros told us we could go to some hotel run by an older Russian woman, and possibly get information about my aunt there. We’ve never had a real vacation, and barely remember when life was normal.”

“We were all immigrants ourselves not too many years ago. We’d never exploit one of our own. I assume you came here with that light-headed Anastásiya. She usually minds her own business when we vacation together. Other than that, we’re pretty nice people. Even that crazy Katrin seems like a nice person beneath her radical politics.”

“Her little boy is so cute,” Kátya says. “I can understand not wanting to draw attention to their relationship in public, since she’s an unwed mother, but she doesn’t even act loving or motherly in private.”

“She was never the smartest person or possessed of very sympathetic feelings. God forgive me for saying this in church, but she’s been self-centered and oblivious since I’ve known her. She only kept her son instead of placing him for adoption so she could have an heir to her family name and successful business. And she once was against having kids for fear her figure would be destroyed and she’d have her precious personal time disrupted and a potential competitor for her beauty, if she’d had a girl. The woman’s got as much sense as God gave a brick.”

“Ványa, that’s quite enough gossip in church,” Lyuba warns.

“Of course. Well, I guess we’ll see you girls again tomorrow, when we all leave for Coney Island. I hate most of the rides and sideshows, but the beach is nice.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Start to Settle In

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It’s unusually short, at all of 399 words. This differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time, for reasons including the pedantic presence of accent marks and Katrin’s husband’s name. He went from Sandros to Sandro.

***

Naína and Kátya go into one of the spare rooms with their suitcases and commence unpacking. The majority contents of their suitcases are clothes, but they also have some books, magazines, and pictures. For the first time since she went into the orphanage system, Naína feels confident no one is going to steal the necklace her mother gave her when she was four. She usually wore it under her blouse to guard against thieves, but now she’s unafraid to publicly wear it. She knows she won’t have to pull out the gun she always hid under her dress to defend her property or her life. Kárla’s little suitcase remains unpacked, set in a corner of the room, waiting, however delusionally, for its young owner to come along and unpack it.

With six small children in the house, Naína knows she shouldn’t have a gun lying around, so she puts it on a high shelf in their closet. She doesn’t want to unload it and keep the ammunition in a separate place in case she ever needs to use it at a moment’s notice. She wonders why an otherwise modern, enlightened woman like Katrin felt the need to bring along a male escort instead of just carrying a gun.

When Sándros comes home at 6:00, he gives Naína and Kátya large chocolate bars and big bags of jellybeans. For the umpteenth time since their arrival, their eyes widen at all the riches this country has to offer. No one ever got sweets in the orphanages unless they stole them from the kitchen or intercepted a care package before the warden got to it. And when they were staying in Odessa and Yalta, they cared more about trying to find Kárla, getting clearance to immigrate, and just surviving than having anything extra like chocolate.

They try not to gobble the stuffed mushrooms, almond-encrusted salmon, lemony green beans, chocolate mousse, and fruit salad Mrs. Oswald has made for dinner and dessert. Even the better food they successfully campaigned for at Mrs. Brézhneva’s orphanage doesn’t hold a candle to this. Naína hopes her Tyotya Sónya has food this wonderful, if she indeed lives somewhere in North America. It would be too horrible if she were the only member of her entire family left alive, with only Kátya as surrogate family and someone who remembers her family and what life was like before the Revolution.