Friday, November 24, 2017



gerund or present participle: foreshadowing
be a warning or indication of (a future event).

I watched the The Game of Thrones television series based on George R. R. Martin's Songs of Fire and Ice for the second time and noticed the saga was peppered with foreshadowing.  Throughout the series subtle phrases gave the viewer a glimpse into the coming events.  For example, several times early in the saga the ill-fated character Catelyn alluded to never seeing her children again, and another occured following the marriage of Rob Stack to Jayne Westerling when one of Rob's bannermen prophesied, "Your marriage cost us the war."

Catelyn Stark
These instances could have been spoilers, but were hinted at with such care as to not give away the plot or pull the reader from the scene.  I used foreshadowing in my novels and strove to limit the amount of information each presented.

The Storm

Since Akulina's death was the focal point of all of my novels, it was mentioned in all three.  Most, if not all, my foreshadowing came from Akulina's visions.  Her reputation as a seer provided a seamless way to present future events.  In my first novel, Ikons: Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker, soon after Massey leaves for America, Akulina tells her father of a vision very similar to that of Catlyn Stark. 
* * *
Akulina continued to stare off at the distant horizon, watching something hidden from her father's eyes.  "No.  Not exactly a vision," she explained in a tone devoid of emotion.  “I feel it more than I see it.  Even now when I look to the sky I can feel it and almost make it out.  It’s like a black cloud that fills the entire sky just beneath the horizon.  But it’s much more than a cloud.  It’s much more than a storm.  It’s blackness.  A blackness darker than the darkness in potato cellar beneath the izbah.  A blackness.”
Akulina looked at the ground before her.  "I have a feeling--a very strong feeling that I will never see my Massey again.  I can't explain it, Papa.  I just know it."
* * *
Akulina's Vision
Akulina tried to explain away her vision as a natural reaction to life in early twentieth century Russia.  After all, she later tells her father, if one waits long enough something bad will happen.

The Onion Field 

My second novel, Banners: For God, Tsar, and Russia, began with foreshadowing.  Shortly before the outbreak of the Great War, Akulina collapsed while harvesting the onion field.  When questioned why she cried out the Russian word for skulls, she admitted the bulbs appeared as the skulls of people she knew.  She then added, “The last skull I saw, was mine.”

Akulina's vision

Making Cheese

I kept the skull image in the final novel, Slogans: Our Children, Our Future. This time I used the scene where Akulina was making cheese.  As she stirred the mixture, cheese globules began to form and morphed into the shape of skulls.  (I must like the skull image since I employed it twice.)  Again, Akulina recognized the features as those deceased.  This time they called out to her.

* * *
In turn, Master Gleb, Ultia Yauhoraka, Simon Petr and Kochek the Cobbler broke to the surface and sank.  Finally, as one, the skulls churned to the top, stared at her from empty sockets and cried out through lipless mouths.  “Akulina Boriskova, soon you will join us.”  The onion field had returned and once more Akulina crumpled.
* * * 
Looking back at my use of foreshadowing, I don't think they were very subtle.  They may have taken the reader out of the flow and bludgeoned him with images, but Akulina's death merited strong ones.  While foreshadowing is obviously important with writing a saga, use them sparingly and treat them with care. Reread your favorite novel and watch for well constructed examples.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Pribish Boys Go To War

It is difficult to imagine the scope of World War Two.  The war that began nearly eighty years ago enveloped millions and spread misery across the entire Earth.  No family was left untouched as sons and fathers, uncles and cousins were called into the service.  Two of my family members who found themselves in this maelstrom of terror were my father and uncle, Stafan and John Pribish.

PCF John Pribish

My uncle John Pribish, referred in my novels as Vanya, immigrated to the United States in 1933.  He obtained his citizenship in 1940 and was shortly afterwards drafted in early 1941.  While his term of service was to be only one year, declaration of war in December of 1941 changed that.

John as a Tommy gunner in the ETO
John was stationed stateside until 1944 when he participated in the Normandy invasion.  As a lineman, his mission was repairing communication lines cut by the enemy.  It was a job without much chance for longevity.  He received several combat decorations while battling across Europe and remained there as part of the Allied occupation forces until 1948.  John returned to Rockdale with a war-bride and started his career with Caterpillar.

Seaman Stefan Pribish

Stefan quit barbering when the war broke out and found employment at a defense plant, thus ensuring him a deferment.  With a one year-old son and a daughter on the way, he could have ridden out the war at home, but instead joined the Navy at the age of 31.
Sefan during shore duty on Kwajalien
After boot camp he was assigned to the cruiser USS Chester as a ship's barber and gunner's mate.  Stefan saw action in the Sought Pacific and the bombardment of Iwo Jima, where he claimed his gun crew was responsible for downing several Japanese aircraft.  Stefan was discharged in 1946 and returned to Rockdale to resume barbering.
USS Chester

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Women's Death Batallion

While researching the Russian Revolution, I came upon a photo of the Women's Death Battalion.  Intrigued by the image and accompanying article, I was determined to include their story in my trilogy.  Unfortunately the late 80's was in still the information Stone Age and I struggled to flesh out their story.  It was not until the advent of internet that I gathered enough data to incorporate the Battalion into my saga.
Women's Death Battalion

I chose to tell the story of the Women's Battalion through my character Kataya.  The groundwork for her enlisting in the Death Battalion was laid early in my the second book, Banners: For God, Tsar and Russia when Kataya expressed her budding belief in feminist power. 
* * *
“Who-needs-men?”  Kataya’s attempt at humor died without eliciting a response.  The women surrounding her just stared at the ground.  “It-is-true.  We-have-no-need of-men,” Kataya said again, not ready to give up on her profound statement.
* * *
Once war with Germany begun, her father Boris traded his vodka stores for several dozen Mauser rifles to protect Hutava.  He attempted to instruct his eldest daughter, Akulina, in the use of the weapon, but she failed miserably. 
German Mauser 98
Undaunted by her older sister's feeble attempt Kataya shouldered the fallen weapon and faithfully mimicked her father's instructions.
* * *
“Let-me-try, Papa.”  Before Boris could reply, Kataya lifted the rifle from the ground.  It was heavier than she thought; yet she smoothly raised it to her shoulder.  Kataya planted both feet firmly in the soft earth, placed her cheek against the cool wooden stock and peered through the sights.  Slowly she squeezed the trigger, relishing in the cold, metallic click of the firing pin.  Still looking straight ahead she lowered the rifle, quickly slapped the bolt open, injected the imaginary bullet and slammed it closed.  Again she brought the rifle up to click off another round.  The Hutawa defense force had its first recruit
* * *
At the age of fourteen, Kataya had her nephew Stefan cut her hair and then ran off to join the Russian Army.  Even though she was small and young, her stamina and weapons' skill won her a spot in the newly formed Women's Death Battalion, a women's unit conceived by combat veteran,  Maria Bochkareva.  Sergeant Bochkareva had convinced the Russian Provisional Government to create an all female combat military force, who by their spirit de core would bolster the morale of the collapsing German front.

Kataya's stature always placed her in the front row
After several months of training, Kataya served at the front as a sniper.  Her experience in her one and only battle did not fair well.
* * *
Mercifully, Kataya could not remember everything.  Tragically, she remembered enough.  Kataya can easily recall the excitement of the train ride west and the march to the front lines and how gooseflesh appeared on her arms when Maria Boshkareva announced the women would lead the assault and male battalions would be supporting their flanks.  Kataya can still feel the rush of adrenaline as she climbed to the dirt parapet with the other sharpshooters and prepared to protect her comrades.  She remembers seeing Mademoiselle Skridlova’s banner leading the way and the utter confusion that followed.  Her mind holds only bits and pieces of bursting shells, screams, bodies snared in the barbed wire like flies in a web, and her own body frozen in terror.
* * *
After suffering a concussion from a shell explosion, Kataya convalesced and returned to her barracks where she learned the cost of war.
* * *

Kataya went over to her old bunk and threw her kit atop the straw mattress.  She took a deep breath, turned to the comrade seated on the next bunk and asked the question to which she feared the answer.  “Where are the others?”

“There are no others.”
* * *
The Women's Death Battalion made their final stand guarding the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks.  Out numbered and outgunned the women were forced to surrender.  Kataya spent her last days as a member of the battalion being chastised by a commissar before he shooed her off like a petulant child.

Eventually, the Red Army accepted Kataya and many other women into the combat arms during the Russian Civil War.  Two decades later, during the Great Patriotic War, women followed in the Death Battalions footsteps by serving not only as riflemen, but also as tankers, gunners and pilots.
Snipers from the Byelorussian Front

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Izbah

The Russian izbah (or as some would spell it, izba) is the Russian peasant's home.  This humble abode was the center of many scenes in my novels. Izbahs, or izbahi, were first described in my initial novel Ikons: Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker. When I started writing Ikons, I had no idea of the intricacies of the izbah and how important it was to Russian life.  I saw old black and white pictures, colored ones from the photographer Prokudin-Gorsky, and grainy photos taken by my uncle, but all were exterior views.  From these I imaged Hutava as it may have appeared in 1900.
* * *
Nothing distinguished Hutawa from any of her Russian sisters scattered everywhere.  Two dozen monotonous wooden izbahi topped by the chimneys of the ubiquitous Russian stoves stood shoulder to shoulder in a ragged line defining the village.  Only an occasional muted yellow or green trim placed on weather beaten walls differentiated one home from its neighbor. 
* * *
During one of my assignments to the former Soviet Union I had the opportunity to visit an izbah in an historical park in Minsk.  The interior was probably much cleaner than the typical turn-of-the-century izbah, but it did give a starting point.  Based on that exhibit, I wrote detailed description of my characters' home in the first chapter of Slogans: Our Children, Our Future as Akulina's laments her sons belief they are rich.

An historic exhibit of the Russian izbah
* * *
Rich?  Akulina inhaled the heady mixture of wood smoke, shchi, night dirt and unwashed bodies and glanced about her.  The wooden izbah she shared with its owner, her father and two young sons was no better or worse than the other two score dwellings the nearly three hundred residents of Unkurda called home.  Like most Old Believer dwellings it consisted of a single small room, half of which was occupied the pyechka, the large Russian stove made from stone and clay.  Circling the pyechka were the sleeping ledges and goose down comforters for the people and assorted animals.  True, the walls were covered with religious ikon and multicolored tapestries, but the tapestries were not for show but to keep out the winter wind.  The room boasted one thick table, four stools, a shelf for the stew pot, two grimy glass windows, ropes of onions and garlic and nearly a dozen balls of aging cheese hanging from the beams.  No doubt a place fit for the Tsar.  “We are not rich, Stefan Mataovich.”
* * *
The interior - Note the samovar on the left
The Russian great stove is on the right
In the early 1980's my uncle John, Vanya, returned to Hutava after a fifty year absence.  He claimed the village hadn't changed much with the passage of time.  While there he took several photographs and recorded several reels of Super-8 film.  Unfortunately, an overly enthusiastic Soviet X-ray machine fogged the photographic images.  The film, however, came through in pretty good shape.  Below are some clips from film taken in Hutava.

Vanya posing before a Hutava izbah.

Vanya demonstrating he hasn't lost his driving skills

During the various wars that swept across Russia in this century, thousand of izbah were burnt either by the Russians scorched policy or punitive actions by invading armies.  Either way the hardships foisted upon Russian citizens were horrific.
By whose hand?
Hutava was destroyed during the First World War by the retreating Russian army.  The description of its destruction was described simply in Banners: For Gor, Tsar and Russia.
* * *

By late afternoon only a thick column of sooty smoke marked the location where the village of Hutawa had stood.  By the next day that too was gone.
* * *
Twenty-five years later, Hutava again suffered the same fate.  This time at the hands of the advancing Germans.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Writing a Death Scene - Part 2

The Gulag

Any historic novel set in Russia during the twentieth century will invariably include at least one scenario situated in her forced labor camps.  Since no family was spared the snares of what Andre Solzhenitsyn called the Gulag Archipelago, I sentenced my character, Boris Koscik to five years hard labor, or what his daughter labeled death.  Rather than try to describe the horrors of prison life, I choose to write only snippets of Boris'confinement.  For a detailed picture of camp life, I left it up to narratives found in the works of talented writers such as Solzhenitsyn's One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich and  Varlan Shalamov's  Kolyma Tales.


In Slogans: Our Children, Our Future, I wrote of Boris's death from his point of view.  Left to die from cholera in a sealed barrack, Boris remained in character and continued his defiance against the Party to the end.  As he drifted in and out of delirium, he shouted challenges and insults to the guards posted safely outside. 
* * *

“Come inside you sniveling curs.  What?  Are you afraid to die?”  Boris' attempt at a challenge resulted in little more than a dry rattle.  “Come and see how real men face death.”  There would be no doctor, no cure.  He was a zhuk and zhuk were replaceable.  He strained his ears and heard nothing.  The old priest no longer chanted prayers forgiving his jailers and the young anarchist ceased to blaspheme.  In the gulag, death respected neither age nor belief.
* * *
Gulag Prisoners
As Boris slipped away, in his mind he heard a song.  It was the same tune his daughter, Akulina had requested on her wedding day.  The song, "Little Bells" evoked a longing to return to the comforts of home after a hard day or a hard life.
* * *

Death's fishy odor grew thicker than the sodden blanket Boris huddled beneath for warmth.  As he struggled for life, blackness slowly descended over him heralded by a song.  The singer’s voice was strong and steady and floated from everywhere and yet nowhere.  It sang a slow mournful tune whose lyrics spoke of yearning for times long gone. 

“The sound of the bell echoes in the field.
The coachman is silent and road
Stretches far into the horizon.”
* * *
In keeping with Akulina's extraordinary perception,  she felt her father slip away "as softly as a moonbeam through a window."  In the last paragraph of the camp scene I jumped to a future in which the remains of the camp victims were compared to that of a mammoth consumed by the prisoners in an earlier chapter.
* * *

Unlike the death of the mammoth ten millennia ago, Pravda did not mention the thirty-two prisoners at Solovki Sub-Camp Number Seven who perished from cholera.  Several generations would pass before the victims' bones and those of thousands of others scattered throughout the forest would be exhumed and given a proper burial.
* * *

Burial site outside a labor camp

Illness and Starvation

Along with the labor camps, death from starvation and sickness was rampant in the early years of the Soviet Union.  Unlike Boris' fictitious death in the Gulag, Akulina's death on a badly managed famine train was true.


Akulina's life and death contained all the material of legend.  It was a story of suffering and sacrifice; a mother who died so her sons may live.  Her final moments spanned all three of my novels.  In the first two it occurred as haunting premonitions, a black emptiness void of all light.  In Slogans, I finally described her death.  As the transport train chugged through the Russian wasteland on its way to Poland, Akulina weakened by starvation succumbed to pneumonia.  I choose using two opposing points of view. 

In the first narrative Akulina slipped into a dream state where she met her mother Maria, who showed her a room piled with food and drink.  Akulina viewed a wonderful world that was in stark contrast to her actual surroundings.
* * *

Akulina sat at the table and gazed about the room.  She viewed clear windows with lace curtains, a floor that glimmered like a moonlit pond, and furniture grander than Old Rosina's.  Never had she been in a place so elegant.
“Would you like a cup of chi, dear?” her mother asked.  “Come, drink.  It will warm you.”
* *  *
Reality - Transport Train to Poland
The second point of view was that of her youngest son, Vanya.  Vanya slept next his mother for warmth and sensed his mother's distress.  I played the two views against each other, one showing a peaceful death, the other the actual.
* * *

Vanya put his arms around his mother and felt her body shiver.  How small she is.  I can feel her bones.  Should I call Teta?  Vanya remained silent until the spasms lessened and the breathing softened.  “Please, Mati.  Be better,” he whispered before he again drifted to sleep.
* * *
Akulina allowed her mother to lead her into the beyond.  It wasn't until others had read this passage that I recognized the significance of Maria's last words.  I don't know where the inspiration for "there is no when" came from, but it seemed to fit.

Into the Light

* * *

“Where are you taking me?” Akulina asked.  “I can't leave my boys.  And what about Massey?”
“You did well with them, Akulina Boriskova.  Their father will see they grow to become fine young men.  You need not worry.”
“And Papa?”
“He awaits.”
“When will I see him?”
Oh, Lena.  Where we're going there is no when.  Only now.”
* * *
Poor little Vanya realized his mother was gone and did all in his power to help her.
* * *
Vanya awoke with a jolt and adjusted his blanket to block the night air.  Again he rolled closer to his mother for comfort, but as soon as their bodies touched he knew.  In a desperate attempt, Vanya pulled his mother closer, wrapped her in his arms and tried to bring her back.
* * *
Koscik family memorial - Hutava, Belarus

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Writing a Death Scene

A major character's death is an important part of any historic saga, as it represents the end of one story line and the beginning of another.  In all three of my novels death led to a veer in plot development.  Each demise was handled differently according to personality and situation.  For some, the end was quick and unexpected, while others languished slowly.  How I presented each of these is the subject of this post.


The death of Akulina and Massey's first born, Luka, was a pivotal point in Ikons: Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker.  Luka was Massey and Akulina's first born and the first grandchild of Sergei and Boris.  The boy represented hope in the future.  I choose not elaborate on the cause of the child's death, but only on the final moment.  I wrote the scene from grandfather Sergei's point of view.  A devoutly religious man, after exhausting all known remedies Sergei's last resort was applying the sacraments and praying for a miracle.
* * *
"The servant of God, Luka Mataovich Pribish, is baptized into the Name of the Father, Amen.  And of the Son, Amen.  And of the Holy Spirit, Amen."  Sergei Pribish spoke the words of baptism softly, as three times he poured the blessed water over his grandson's forehead.  The child remained perfectly still as the trickle of water slid silently off his head and splashed into the basin.  The child’s eyes were half closed and showed no interest in the ceremony or those around him.  Earlier Luka's tongue had made a feeble attempt at reaching the water that had touched on his lips, but failed.  Now he lay still, him head turned, his tongue partially out of his mouth.

The villagers huddled closer to little Luka watching for the sign they now knew would not come.  They had employed all their knowledge of herbs and salves to ward off the sickness, but it had been in vain.  They prayed, lay on hands, and hoped for a miracle--a merciful act of God that would spare this child.  But miracles were rare in Hutawa these days.
Sergei gently placed his fingertips on the small eyelids and closed them.  He had been able to do little for his grandson in this life.  Perhaps these final acts would help him in the next.
* * *
The Final Farewell
Luka's death shattered Massey's American dream and forced his return to Hutava.  This led to his dramatic escape from the secret police and his final voyage to America.


Banners: For God, Tsar and Russia  takes place during World War One and the Russian Revolution.  As a result the death toll in this novel is extremely high.  I fashioned the death of Ribba Kunatz to represent all the soldiers lost in conflicts while doing their "duty."
* * *
"From the corner of his eye, Ribba caught sight of Moohah pitching forward, his papacha flying from his head, and his arms reaching out for his rifle.  Ribba turned toward the fallen Moohah and looked down the line of his regiment.  Men were falling, twisting and turning, being thrown back by the invisible force of machine gun bullets that steadily worked their way down his line.  Ribba could see it coming, cold and irresistible.  Did the wheat feel the cut of the farmers sickle?"
* * *

The Universal Soldier
The final scene in this chapter highlighted the futility of war and equality of death.  I did not identify the dead man or even indicate his side.  In this chapter crosses were the unifying theme.  As one soldier remarked prior to the attack, "After this battle there will be crosses.  Either on our chests or on our grave."
* * *

The dead soldier lay on his back, his mouth open, his empty eyes searching a sky that lay forever beyond the reach of outstretched frozen arms.  Both his hands were clinched and from the right dangled the little gold chain that had been calling to the old woman all morning.  Quickly she knelt next to the body, grasped the chain and tugged.  The death grip would not yield.  Next she tried to pry the fist open, but the frozen fingers would not surrender.  The old woman persisted.  She knew what lay clutched at the end of such a lovely chain.  During the last three days she had seen many crosses, both Austrian and Russian.  God did not take sides.
* * *
Major Sergei Pribish was at heart a soldier and envisioned an historic death on a battlefield.  He saw himself leading a desperate charge against hopeless odds in defense of a lost cause.  I wrote his death in Banners as anything but heroic. Like the majority of casualties in the Great War, Sergei was killed by an artillery shell fired by nameless, faceless mechanics.  The gun that killed him on the eve of his last offensive was a German howitzer nickname "Big Bertha."

Big Bertha
* * *
On the morning of October 11, 1917, man-made lightening lit the sky outside Riga as Bertha hurled her first of many massive shells eight miles into the sky.  With a roar likened to a runaway streetcar on very bad tracks, a deluge of death fell onto the Russian lines.  Bertha’s shells didn’t explode on impact, but rather burrowed deep into the earth like a surgeon’s fingers probing for nerve centers.  Only these fingers were probing for the nerve centers of an army.  One shell, fired from a distance of seven miles, landed directly atop the headquarters of the Russian general staff.  It tore through the protective upper layer, buried itself twenty feet deep beneath the floor and exploded in a brilliant flash.  Tons of earth, rock, and timber shot skyward, hesitated, and then cascaded back into the crater burying the human carnage.  Among those entombed in the rubble, still dressed in the whites of the Imperial Frontier Army was Colonel Sergei M. Pribish, soldier of the Tsar.
* * *
In order to instill realism in my historic fiction, I use the jargon of the era.  During most of the twentieth century, the name Big Bertha invoked images of  a World War One German cannon or the overly large girl in your junior high class.  The cannon is the image I was trying to convey when I wrote Banners. 

Big Bertha Driver
In 1991, Callaway introduced a technical breakthrough in powerful golf drivers and named their new line of clubs, "Big Bertha."  By time Banners was published in 2001, Big Bertha had become synonymous with the game of golf.  Several Beta readers wondered why the Germans named their cannon after a golf club.  So be advised: when writing historical fiction, realize the image a word conjures up may may not be the one you intended.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fourth of July

Celebrating our independence from Great Briton with fireworks has been an annual American tradition since 1777.  I used a July Fourth event from a century ago to illustrate the growing fear of foreigners.  Just as today, dire predictions of terrorist activity were projected by the government and like most warnings, nothing occurred.
Celebrating the Fourth of July
* * *
The Independence Day explosions came as predicted but not as the American Protective League anticipated.  Massey did not understand America's fascination with firecrackers, aerial bombs or any other device that shattered his midsummer's peace.  It seemed every schoolboy and yahoo with a few pennies wreaked havoc upon Rockdale.  Whether launching wizz-bangs at neighbors, sending pinwheels dancing down the streets or tying strings of ladyfingers to a mangy cat's tail, there was no end to the mischief the holiday evoked.  Thankfully for Massey and the rest of the Russians, none of the perpetrators of the July detonations were Bolsheviks.  Attorney General Palmer's dire warnings of violence on the Fourth passed without incident.  However, the same could not be said several weeks later.
* * *
The anticipated explosions did occur in early August. They were not from terrorist bombs, but rather from a volatile mixing of races.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Terrorist Bombings

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana

The negative side of writing historic fiction is discovering a lot of bad stuff happened in the past.  Even worse is finding outit looks an awful lot like the present.  The more I learn, the more I believe Santayana's proposition did not go far enough.  What I've noticed is those who remember past are also condemned to repeat it.  Case in point, terrorist bombings.  While the present day United States has not fared as badly as Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Europe, bombings were once prominent in America's landscape.  As my character Massey finds out in this scene from Slogans: Our Children, Our Future, America was not immune.
* * *
Massey sat in Paulie Travica's Barber Shop gripping the pink-tinged newspaper.  The special edition of The National Police Gazette's front page displayed a single morbid illustration.  The intricate pen and ink drawing showed a severed head flung in the air by a massive explosion. 

The National Police Gazette Banner
According to The Gazette, a bomb blast had rocked a quiet residential Washington D. C. neighborhood ripping leaves and limbs from trees, shattering the stoop of a brownstone and scattering chunks of the would-be assassin over half a block. The inhuman device was intended for Attorney General Alexander Palmer and was just one of thirty meant for prominent American leaders and businessmen.  
* * *
Bombers also hit Wall Street.  Borne by a horse-drawn wagon, their explosive devise was powerful enough to cause considerable structural damage and lead to the deaths of 38 people.  Though the real perpetrators were never found, public outrage against Russians immigrants was rampant.
Wall Street Bombing - September 16, 1920
* * *
..., the blame immediately fell on Bolsheviks and the nation called for an immediate response against what was now being heralded as the Red Menace.  One national demagogue suggested sending the Bolsheviks back to Russia in ships of stone with sails of lead.  Then reflecting on his statement added, “Maybe we should just shoot them and save space on the ships.”
* * *
I used this in Slogans by making Massey the target of a local anti-immigrant group.  Like terror bombings of old, lashing out against foreigners is still going on so it was easy to pick up the feelings of those opposed to immigrants.  It was a sad commentary on human nature.

Bombings serve one purpose, to terrorize.  They weaken citizens trust in their government and widen the rift between nations and people.  While bombs and the method of transportation has evolved from black powder and horse-drawn wagons to C4 and trucks, the aim remains the same -- the destruction of the status quo.
Car Bombing in the Middle East - 2017
If my addition to Santayana's proposition is correct, we can expect history to keep repeating itself.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

What's In A Name

A constant comment, or rather criticism, of my work is the difficulty of pronouncing and remembering my characters' names.  Since my stories presented the Russian and Russian-American experience, it was difficult to provide those unfamiliar with the Slavic language with easily identifiable monikers. 


In my first novel, Ikons: Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker, the majority of the characters bear the names of my family and their friends.  When I needed Belarus surnames to populate Hutava, I used the Minsk phone book and members of Stankovo's military detachment.  The name of the chief of Hutava's Mir, Mayor Voltaic, was appropriated from the Russian word for giant.  In my later novels I used this method to create names for many of my characters.


I can sympathize with readers of Banners: For God, Tasr and Russia.  There are an awful lot of characters.  I lifted quite a few names for my major characters from the state museum in Minsk: famous Russian poets, leaders and military heroes.  For minor characters I made up whimsical names based on Russian nouns and adjectives.  For instance, Feldfebel (First Sargent) Zortun.
* * *
Feldfebel Zartun was huge.  So huge that Sergei was almost eye level with the seated sergeant.  But it was not the sergeant’s height that upset Sergei―it was his weight.  To call the man fat would have been kind.  It was obvious the sergeant had not earned his rank through forced marches or horseback patrols.  Also, Sergei thought, the sergeant’s neatly trimmed mutton chops framing his bloated face might look fine on a parade field or in army headquarters, but they would draw more fleas than a stray koshka if the man ever left the post.  This Sergei knew from sad experience.
* * *
Zurtun's family name was derived from the Russian word for joke.  Originally,  I planned to use him for comic relief, but he turned out to anything but.  Another play on words was Sergei's commanding officer in Pervosk Fortress, Polkovnik (Colonel) Rygalov.  His last name was Russian for "belch" and I gave the poor guy an unhealthy dose of stomach problems.

Enlisted ranks were filled with soldiers who last names in Russian described their their physical and mental bearing, such as Gunner, Screamer, Lanky, and Grief.  Unfortunately, this did not help the pronunciation and memory problem, but it kept me smiling.

It was also in Banners that I introduced the leaders of the Old Believers as the twelve apostles and used Russian equivalents for their Biblical names. 


Slogans: Our Children, Our Future contained many of the characters from the first two books.  Since Slogans dealt two young boys, Stepha and Vanya, the characters surrounding them were children.  For the children's names I used their diminutives: Kolya, Pasha, Valki, etc. Later, when Stepha and Vanya join a gang of Polish urchins, I used street names to identify them.  Stepha and Vanya tried to adopt street names to make them seem tougher.
* * *
After both lowered their weapons, the boy fronted them.  “They call me Ryzhy, because of this,” he said taking off his cap revealing a shock of flaming red hair.  “What cha called?”
Stepha was about to blurt out his name when he remembered Kolya's advice:  Don't use your real name or they'll think you're soft.  Call yourself something fierce.  “I’m called Medved―Bear,” Stepha said.  “And this is my brother, er, Volk―Wolf.”
* * *
Other gang members assumed names reflecting their status or physical qualities.
* * *
The brothers stood in the center of a dank basement, lit by four flickering candles.  Ryzhy's gang had circled them, arms folded, faces grim.  There was Krivoy, with just one good eye; Kosoy, whose eyes were crossed; Riaboy, with a face pot marked by disease; and Starik, who looked like a frail old man.  There also were two girls identified as Monashka, the nun, and Lebed, the swan. 
 * * *
Will this background information help my readers if they read this post?  Probably not, but at least they might be impressed by the genesis of those hard to pronounce and easy to forget names.

Your Character's Perceptions

In the July/August 2017 issue of Writer's Digest, author Jane K. Cleland presented an article entitled "The Perception Gap."  After explaining how writers can use their character's perception of events and people to "propel their plot," Ms Cleland challenged the reader to find examples of correct and incorrect perceptions in their work.  I chose three examples from my novels in which my character made a judgement based on their personal experience.  In two cases, their initial gut reaction, though well founded, were incorrect.


On Massey's first trip across the Atlantic, he tried to follow the suggestion given to him by seasoned ocean travelers, "Take the lower bunk."  His attempt to follow the advice led to a confrontation and friendship.  The following excerpt from Ikons: Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker, tells of his initial encounter with Marko and how perception based on visual clues can lead to false assumptions.
* * *

Spying an empty lower bunk Massey made straight for it and threw his belongings on the mattress just ahead of a badly worn carpetbag and bedroll belonging to another.

"Moy," said Massey staking his claim.
"Ta moye," came the equally irrefutable retort in Polish. 
* * *
Steerage Sleeping Quarters
A standoff ensued and Massey, based on the man's body language, was sure the Pole meant to fight for possession of the bunk and Massey was ready to oblige.  However, it turned out Massey's assessment of the situation was incorrect.
* * *

Massey stood his ground as the Pole's right hand formed a fist.  Just when blows seemed inevitable, the Pole's face formed a full smile.  He then moved back a step and put out his left hand, palm up.  Slowly he pounded his fist, meaty side down, into his open palm three times.   Once more the Pole repeated his action and this time Massey recognized the child's game of "rock, paper, scissors."  Massey smiled and struck his palm three times.  Massey's rock broke Marko Kozlowski's scissors, earning Massey the lower bunk and two life long friends.
* * *


Sergei honed his fighting skills as an infantry officer on the Turkish frontier.  Much later as a civilian volunteer, he witnessed the defeat of the Russian Third Army at the hands of the Germans.  In this scene from Banners: For God, Tsar and Russia, Sergei called upon his previous wartime experience to stem the tide of retreat and hold the line.
* * *
Words.  There are moments in a conflict when one man with words has the power to change history.  If he uses the right words at the right time, beaten men will rally and the rush of defeat will be stemmed.  Sometimes the words must implore the men, beg them to do their duty.  Other times, the words must chastise and humiliate them into standing their ground.  By the time Sergei reached the road crowded with retreating men, he was in no mood to beg.
* * *
Russian Third Army In Retreat

Sergei searched for the soldiers he needed by noting their mannerisms.
* * *
Finally, the men he awaited appeared.
Their company formation was ragged, but their heads were high and they still held their weapons and equipment.  “May God be praised,” Sergei mouthed when he looked into their eyes.  For the first time in days he saw not fear, but betrayal. 
* * *
Based on his correct assessment, Sergei was able to convince these men to reform the defensive line until precious artillery to be saved.  It was also during this scene that Sergei had his perception of a previous character completely reversed.


Ten year-old Stepha and his nine year old brother had run away from the displaced persons' camp in search of their father.  Armed only with childish cunning and advice from older village boys, they have so far avoided trouble.  However, in this scene from Slogans: Our Children, Our Future, they believe their luck may have run out.

Young toughs
* * *

“Hey, kid.”

Stepha dropped his end of Akulina's no-touch box and spun around.  Advancing toward him was an older boy almost as disheveled as he.  Glancing to his sides, Stepha saw no place to hide and escaping with their treasures was out of the question.  There remained only one option.  “Get ready.” Stepha instructed Vanya and both pulled out knives and took up a defensive stance.
* * *
The older boy was much more street-wise than Stepha and immediately sized up the situation.
* * *

The boy continued coming, finally stopping seven paces away.  “You're from the camp, ain't cha,” he said ignoring the younger boys' bravado.

Stepha shook his head.
“Don't lie.  Only camp kids wear them kinds of clothes.  Can spot cha at a thousand paces.”
* * *
The older boy introduced himself and offered to take the two brothers into their "gang." At first Sepha was skeptical, but finally relented.  It turned out the gang had a use for the brothers talents.
* * *

A shudder ran through Stepha as he recalled another of Kolya's warnings.  One about gangs of young thugs who lured unsuspecting children into their dens and robbed them.

“So what ya say?  Want to join our gang?” Ryzhy asked.
Stepha and Vanya eyed each other and felt their stomachs rumble.  “Da,” Stepha said, “we'll join, but nobody better touch our stuff.”
* * *
I hope Jane K. Cleland agrees with my interpretation of her article.  In any case, in your writings keep in mind that often your character's perception may or may not be reality.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Climate Change

A century ago, world concern dwelt on many of the same topics that trouble us today.  War, immigration and terrorism were splashed across yesterday's newspapers. While climate change worries were not as widespread as today, there was ampprehension.  Following the hostilities in 1918, the world suffered through the coldest winters on record and my characters in Siberia felt the effects.
Ohio weather follows no pattern
I introduced the subject of climate change in the first half of my novel Slogans: Our Children Our Future.  Just like the present, my characters offered diverse and conflicting theories on the cause of the sudden dip in temperatures.  I tried not to take a stand on the cause of climatic fluctuation, but offered several scenarios that people of that period may have put forward, sometimes in a humorous manner.

The Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky - 1918

The Old Believer Theory

Simon Petr, leader of the Old Believers, placed the blame for weather conditions squarely on the shoulders of the village's Polish Catholics.
* * *
It was the coldest February in memory.  During the day tree limbs burst like rifle shots and at night the stars whispered their deadly song.  Simon Petr greeted the phenomena by again donning sackcloth and parading through Unkurda announcing yet another sign of End Time. He attributed the temperature's plunge to divine wrath.  “Tis,” he proclaimed in a deep, Biblical tone, “more of God's displeasure with the unbelievers' Christmas Tide and the daily blasphemy of the Catholics.” 
* * * 
The Ohio River frozen over - 1918

The Orthodox Theory

The followers of the Orthodox religion blamed the cold on Red and White atrocities.
* * *
The Orthodox believed the reasons for God's punishment were legion.  The Tsar and his family, “may God have mercy on their souls,” had been slaughtered, churches defiled, uncountable innocent men hanged, women outraged and children starved.
* * *
Armored Czech Legion Train - 1918

The Catholic Theory

Unlike the other religions, the Catholics did not single out one group, but laid the blame at the feet of mankind.
* * *
Even the Catholics agreed the cold was God's doing, though they did not point an accusing finger.  The depths of man's sins they said, were vast beyond forgiveness.  However, instead of sending down fire and brimstone like He had on Sodom and Gomorrah, The Almighty was sending down ice and snow.  
* * *
The Front

The Freethinkers

Those who chose reason over religion found the source of their misery in scientific facts.
* * *
“God's wrath?  Ridiculous,” the freethinkers of the village responded.  “We may as well wear animal hides and sacrifice virgins like our prehistoric ancestors.  True, man is responsible for the horrid weather but not by sinning.”  Their explanation was scientific.  It was the war.  The smoke and dust from tens of thousands of cannons and uncounted burning farms, villages and cities had clouded the sky and was shielding the sun's warmth.
* * *
I couldn't find a suitable climate change cartoon online, so I created my own.

Original by Me