Sunday, February 11, 2018


I like to weave Russian folklore, myths and legends into my novels; be they the baba yagi of the Belarus swamps, Mayor Voloctic's house spirits, or Akulina's tale of the Uglish bell.  During a Russian class at the University of Dayton, our professor expanded our appreciation for the Slavic culture by introducing us to the rusalka, a myth with which I was not familiar
Professor Tatiana Liaugmias
Doctor Liaugmias' described the rusalka as the slimy ghost of drowned young women who tickled boys to death.  Yes, tickled.  She presented the story in such a dramatic fashion, I knew I had to include the rusalka in my novel Slogans: Our Children Our Future. I chose to write the scene from the viewpoint of three village lads.  No one believes more in belligerent spirits and enjoys telling scary stories than that age group.  Also, the riverside incident provided an excellent avenue to broaden their character.
The Rusalka
* * *
Oleg studied the river; then the sinking sun.  “We better get going.  All those splashes in the deeps will awaken the rusalka and then we'll be in big trouble.”

“There's no such thing as rusalka.” Stepha said and flung another stone.  “Master Gleb said they're just make-believe pagan stories to keep babies from the river.”

Oleg shook his head.  “Oh, they're real alright.  One of the Staroverok boys told me one time a girl from the village fell in and drowned and she became a rusalka because his cousin saw her return to the village one night.  Then this other boy saw her and said her skin looked like wet bread dough and her hair was dripping with weeds and so were her clothes and then she crept from izbah to izbah looking for a boy to tickle.”

“That's the dumbest thing I ever heard.”  Stepha was just about to cock his arm when icy fingers caressed his sides and began to tickle.
Stepha's shrieks echoed off the rocky hills and sailed up and downstream.  He leapt toward the water, slipped and plunged into the winter-chill.  By time Stepha righted himself, Vanya and his icy fingers were mere specks on the trail, his long-limbed legs flying back to the village.  For a moment, Stepha thought about giving chase but thought better.  Unlike rusalka, Vanya's speed was not make-believe.
* * *
In early 1900 Dvorak wrote an opera based on the rusalka tale.  The synopsis sounds an awful lot like the plot of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, written in 1837.  I'm not saying Dvorak stole the idea, but one wonders.
Dvorak's opera Rusalka

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Russian-American Collussion

 Following the 2016 Presidential election, American social media has been rife with allegations of  collusion between the Trump Presidency and Russian government.  Whether it was Russia directly aiding Trump's campaign or scuttling Clinton's, stories of skullduggery abound.  A century ago, there was no need for conjecture as to the meddling of one country's government affairs in another.  The deed was done quite openly.  Only this time the drama's villain was the United States.


In early 1918 while Russia was in the grips of Revolution, German troops threatened to capture Moscow.  Lenin, now in charge of the government, ended the war with Germany to end in late February with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Citing betrayal, Allies turned against Lenin's regime by aiding his "White" enemies and landing troops in Russian ports to prevent Russian supplies from reaching Germany.
At the urging of France and Great Britain, the United States sent military forces to the Russian cities of  Vladivostok and Murmansk.  The American troops in the north were from the 339th Infantry Regiment, a unit made up primarily of men from the Detroit, Michigan area.  When the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the 339th found themselves in a war with Bolshevik Russia that would last until mid-1919.
Men of the 339th Infantry in Murmansk


US Intervention in My Novel

I worked the story of America's Intervention into Slogans: Our Children, Our Future by showing the effect American action had the Russian expatriates  living in the United States.
* * * 
No sooner had Locko Fadukovich made his opening statements then the All Russian Committee for the Aid to Dependent Slavic Families became a fractured mob. The committee, whose numbers were smaller than its name, consisted of the seven Russian men whose families were still in the Old Country and to Locko it appeared their families' plights were the only thing they had in common.  Instead of ways to raise money, the discussion had turned into a debate on American intervention.  As chairman, Locko tried to keep the talk civil and on topic, but the harder he pounded his fist the louder the voices became.  Perhaps, he now realized, meeting in the backroom of Shimek's Tavern was not the best idea.
“So America should stand by and do nothing while the Bolsheviks run around murdering innocent Russians.  If those devils can kill the Tsar, then no one is safe.”
“Oh, and the Tsar was not a murderer with blood dripping from his hands?  How many millions died because of him?  I say good riddance to him and all the royalty.”
“You're as much a bastard as those who are doing the killing.”
“Let those still in Russia decide.  If it's a tsar they want, then it's a tsar they'll have.  But don't let other countries determine her fate.  Especially the French and English.  They are no friends of Russia.”
 * * *
 America's continued meddling in Russian affairs lead to a series of demonstrations and clashes between Russian sympathizers and police.  Using the prospect of a Communist uprising as an excuse, most of the demonstrations were brutally suppressed.  My characters' reactions were not surprising.
* * *
How can we obey a country making war on our home?  I've had enough of Wilson's lies.  First he says America invaded Russia to prevent it from leaving the war.  Later American soldiers are in Archangel to protect weapons after Kerensky was overthrown.  Then they are in Vladivostok fighting Russians to free the Czech Legion.  Today he says the America army is advancing in Siberia to save the lost Russian children.  How many more lies does Wilson have to tell and how may more Russians do the Americans have to kill before we do something?  A thousand?  A million?”
 * * *

A Monument to Folly

In June of 1919, the last American troops left Murmansk after suffering more than 500 casualties and souring Russian-American relations for years to come.  To commemorate their service in Russia, the 339th was given the nickname of Detroit's Own  Polar Bears and a distinctive unit insignia.  A monument to the unit and its action ion Russia was erected in Troy, Michigan.

Polar Bear Monument in White Chapel Cemetery, Troy, Michigan, by Leon Mermant 

The USS Chester

In a twist that can only happen in real life, the last US troops were evacuated from Murmansk aboard the American cruiser, USS Chester.  Twenty-five years later, my father who was seven-years old at the time, found himself serving on a new heavy cruiser named the USS Chester.

USS Chester, CL-1