Maintaining Control

My decision to self-publish my book evolved. As I mentioned earlier, it began as a very long letter to my children, but the volume of information I uncovered with the discovery of the diary and the documents at the National Archives transformed the letter into the book.

At that point I thought, “Of course I should attempt to find an agent who will see the merits of this story.” I researched the process, and then spent over a year sending out letters to agents but was either politely rejected or completely ignored.  I consoled myself with the stories of renowned writers who had similar experiences for years, but finally I decided to analyze my motivation for doing this.

I thought about the comments of a literary agent who read thirty pages of one of the earlier versions of my story.  I was able to receive feedback from her via a local book fair near my home, and it was after speaking with her that I conceived the idea of adding letters to my father throughout the book.

I recalled her suggestions to eliminate sections of the book which I believed were important, and that was the moment I decided to self-publish Do Svidanya Dad. This was a very personal story to me, so I did not want to relinquish control to a stranger, no matter how competent they may be.

While any writer dreams of seeing their book on the best-seller list, I know better. (Still, there is probably a greater chance of that happening than winning that Mega-Million Lottery, and I still buy those tickets.) My hope is that the residents of my father’s town of Rockaway and my town of Boonton, New Jersey will read it, whether they buy the paperback book, the kindle, or get it from the library. (Hooray, it’s in my old library!)

Anyone who knew the mad Russian on Cornelia Street will learn how much more there was to him. Hopefully, it will inspire people to speak to the elders of their family while they can, and it will make the complainers out there realize the meaning of legitimate hardship.

Next, I am waiting to hear from my local library here in South Carolina, and then I hope that a few of these readers will spread the word—maybe even give Oprah a call! Is that really asking for too much?

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Words of Wisdom- TBT

As part of a TBT, I thought I would share some words of wisdom that I found among my father’s newspapers—the first would be considered household hints, while the second is timely marital advice from a flash from the past/present.

I checked out the book mentioned in the article—Never Throw Out a Banana Again. I learned, in the brief description, that a banana’s nutrition increases as it ripens, so they can be frozen and then used in smoothies or banana ice cream. I never recall having either of these, so I guess neither of my parents read this handy-dandy helpful hint. Somehow, the second hint about throwing in a sponge to “absorb spoilage-promoting moisture” has a bit of familiarity to it, so I will have to ask my mother about that hint.

Penny-pinching Advice

The second little article was written by none-other than Ivana Trump and includes a piece of advice from her 1995 book The Best is Yet to Come: Coping with Divorce and Enjoying Life Again.

Ivana Trump Advice

According to the first former Mrs. Trump, “The only time you don’t need a prenuptial is if he’s got a bad cough and a walker.”

Hmm! Very interesting.

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Do You Ever Choose a Book by its Cover?

The final step after writing the book and choosing the title was deciding on the cover, because unless a book has been recommended by my book club, a friend, or perhaps I noticed it on the best-seller list, I admit that I often do choose a book by its cover. With little hesitation, I ran to my “office” (aka my laundry room with a desk) and reached for my father’s photo album.

There just has to be the perfect photo inside this album that would represent the essence of my book, I thought as I started skimming through the pages. I had “stolen” the album many years ago, with my mother’s permission, so that I could move the photos taped to the torn pages into a new book, complete with captions when possible. I gave it to Dad for Christmas that year.

Each time I look at it I am astonished at what he kept because it covers so many years and all the places he lived in and traveled to—New Jersey, Leningrad, Japan, and all the places he was stationed at during the war.

The first page I titled “The Early Years,” and it is filled with photos of my father alone and with his brothers—the oldest dated 1926 when he was just seven years old. Another is a family photo on the steps of their New Jersey home. As I turned each page and saw each moment of his life unfold in front of me, I considered what photo should be on my book cover.

Marty Wardamasky-Rockaway,NJ

 

Dads family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should it be a pictures taken on one of the two boats they voyaged on across the Atlantic and the North Sea, or perhaps a scene depicting their life in Leningrad—at school, visiting a museum or standing in front of a statue of Lenin and Stalin?

Lenin -Stalin

 

It did not take long to choose the photo of my father on the Finnish steamer, where he can be seen squinting in the sunlight while wearing a life preserver with the name of the ship printed on it. He is surrounded by his mother, brother, one sister, and several other women as they prepared for the next leg of the trip. They are bundled up in their winter jackets, and to me, this photo was the perfect representation of an immigrant family on the move.

I did not want a glossy, colorful photograph because I knew they were not off to a happy life. I chose the old sad picture because I knew what lied ahead of them.

Aboard Arcturus

For the back cover, I chose a black and white photo of the little red diary which was used by at least two of my aunts and spanned a time period of fourteen years. I could not have unraveled as much of the story from their personal points of view without this book.

diary

 

Now that it’s done, I hope someone looks at my book and decides that they want to see what happened to that boy in the photo.

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TBT- Violence in America and Dad’s Newspapers

Every week it seems we read of another shooting, followed by questions and more violence. We read that the numbers are decreasing despite what “He Who Shall Not Be Named” and his followers are reporting. I have looked at the statistics and charts on many sites, which appear to confirm this. Increases in a few cities does not reflect the overall facts that violent crime seems to be down. I was educated in mathematics, so I understand the charts and statistics.

Lately, however, it just does not appear to be so. I think that we are just hearing it so much because news can now be reported instantly from all corners of our nation, and the mass shootings makes it seem as if the numbers are increasing. I feel better reading the reports, I guess. But it can be much better.

I pulled out an old newspaper from Dad’s archives. Reading the headlines makes it appear as if the article was written today: Violence Surfaces in American Life.

Violence stalks through American public life like a poison shadow: waiting, waiting, and then—striking…. “Violence by gun is an American trait,” said Dr. David Abrahamsen, a New York psychiatrist experienced in criminal cases. “We are still living under the legend of the Wild West where action was the easiest solution. On the frontier, settlers solved their problems with a gun.”

 Sadly, this article was written after the 1968 shooting of Bobby Kennedy. Forty-eight years later, we still haven’t solved this problem. It has been around for over one hundred-fifty years. My friends from Ireland shook their heads at me and said none of them could understand the American love of guns.

As in so many of the articles in Dad’s treasure-trove, I again see that history keeps repeating itself, yet we just can’t learn from our mistakes. Isn’t that part of the reason we should learn? You put your hand on the stove, get burned, and then hopefully learn a lesson. Why is it that only children can learn from their past experiences?

Violence Surfaces in American Life

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What’s In a Title?

After you write the book, edit the book, write the book and edit the book ad nauseum, you need a creative, eye-catching title. I agonized over choosing just the right words to capture the essence of my story.

I recall trolling the aisles of a book store, noting that wordiness in a title was to be avoided unless it was with the addition of a brief explanatory subtitle. I began developing a list, and for a while, The Traveling Diary was the winner, since the little red diary I located in my father’s dresser unlocked many of the mysteries of his story. But that title sounded too whimsical, so I eliminated it from consideration.

I have been working on this project for many years, so I forgot what other titles I contemplated and then rejected. Since I saved all my notes, I decided to look at those which I trashed to confirm that Do Svidanya Dad was the correct decision.

  • They Never Gave Up
  • They Never Stopped Trying
  • So Long New Jersey, Dasvidaniya My Family
  • So Long, Dasvidaniya
  • If Only They Had the Money
  • My Hero, My Dad
  • Deceived, Abandoned but Not Forgotten

Clearly, I was closing in on incorporating the Russian version of goodbye into my title. Too many times over the course of twenty-six years someone was leaving, so I felt it was important to use. My husband thought dasvidaniya was not well-known, but I argued that while Americans are not known for their ability to be multi-lingual, we all know at least how to say farewell in many languages: Ciao, au revoir, adios, auf wiedersehen. Why not, then, dasvidaniya? I Googled it and found it in many newspapers throughout the years, but the spellings differed.

I turned to my Russian professors and a news correspondent who was based in Moscow, which was how I decided on “do svidanya.” There were disagreements regarding “do svidanya” or “do svidaniya,” but in the end, the professor who was born in Moscow had the most credibility.

Since the book was about my father, and so many chapters began “Dear Dad,” I was drawn to “Do Svidanya Dad.” When I found several translations claiming it meant more than just “goodbye” but rather “until we meet again,” I felt confident that I had found my title. The final confirmation that I had hit the nail on the head by choosing this title was when I turned again to “Google,” as well as all the bookstores I could think of, and discovered no other book by that name. (Plus, I like alliteration.)

Not only is it my hope that Dad and I will meet again, I thought it was an appropriate farewell to his parents when he set out on his journey back to New Jersey.

My advice in choosing a title is to compile a list, and then analyze each contender for uniqueness, creativity, boldness, and the ability to summarize your story. If necessary, add a subtitle if you feel the need to elaborate, which I did with the addition of “Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR.” I wanted to explain the American/Soviet connection, and by using the word “tracing,” I was hoping to feed off of the genealogy craze.

That is my method, what can any writers reading this add to my method?

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Writing Takes Minimal Difficulty

I went to my thesaurus trying to find an adequate word to describe the difficulty of writing a book, but I then realized I don’t need a pretentious, five-star word that would impress one of my former English teachers. What’s wrong with just saying that it has been really, really hard? So many times over the past few years when I realized that I was writing more than a letter to my children, I wanted to quit. But each time I wanted to throw in the towel, I thought of my father and his family and knew I had to continue.

Dad’s disappointment when I told him I wanted to drop out of college inspired me to continue. Next, I recalled the many letters I found in a misfiled box at the National Archives—letters of desperation written over a period of many years—and concluded that writing a book paled in comparison to the difficulty of being a war-time refugee.

My grandparents were sixty-four and fifty-six years old, and my aunt was pregnant, when they suddenly found themselves forced to evacuate their home on foot just hours before the city they were living in came under attack by German forces. They spent five months living in barns, abandoned houses, and train stations fighting a ferociously-cold and snowy winter—the coldest European winter of the Twentieth Century. They traveled nearly sixteen hundred miles.

None of them surrendered to the conditions that faced them, so how could I? As I sat at my computer in my comfortable house, which was heated by the push of a button during the winter and cooled during my scorching southern summers, I often contemplated abandoning the idea of completing my book. Then I thought of letters such as this memo written by someone at the American Embassy in January 1942 and realized I was a coward. How could I quit? This is what motivated my to complete my book, Do Svidanya Dad- Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR

January 19- 42 Kuibyshev

 

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A Step Closer to Solving a Family Mystery?

A dear friend and champion of my book sent me an article this week from the New York Times written by Neil MacFarquhar, From a Dacha Wall, A Clue to Raoul Wallenberg’s Cold War Fate. Could it shed some light on the fate of two members of my father’s family, who did not survive the move to the Soviet Union?

The article discussed the mysterious disappearance of a Swedish diplomat who had assisted thousands of Hungarian Jews from being sent to Auschwitz. It had long been suspected that Raoul Wallenberg had been abducted by the Soviets somewhere near Budapest. That sounded like a sad but familiar family tale to me.

Like one of my father’s siblings, Mr. Wallenberg died in a Soviet prison, and the circumstances surrounding his death have also been unknown. A recent book has been published called  “Notes From a Suitcase: Secret Diaries of the First K.G.B. Chairman, Found Over 25 Years After His Death.” These diaries were found in the wall of a cottage owned by the granddaughter of the agent and allegedly explain why Wallenberg was arrested.

The New York Times article quoted a retired Swedish diplomat, Hans Mangnusson that “there should have been a personal prisoner file which was created for every prisoner.” As my children would say, “Duh!” (obviously!)

I was quite excited to read this article, thinking that perhaps this book could shed some light on what happened to my father’s family. I tried in vain to locate the book and finally contacted the NYT writer, who informed me that the book has not been translated and he believes there are no immediate plans to publish it outside of Russia.

So the mystery continues unanswered.

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