I Just Learned About the Credits

Credits are a great thing, and when you did not even know you had one, the surprise of discovery enhances the credit. Such is what happened today when I attempted to purchase a book for my Kindle. The price of the book I was considering purchasing was $14.99, but then I saw a curious peach-colored box with the note “$5.25 after credits.” I immediately contacted the family bibliophile, who told me to check my email or messages for an explanation.

I found the answer to the mystery in my Amazon account message center, which took a few minutes to locate. For those of you as clueless and uninformed as me, the message center is located by navigating to “Your Accounts” and then locating “Email alerts, messages, and ads.”

Lo and behold, I found a message informing me of a $9.74 credit I had received after a recent purchase of the fabulous book, “Educated: A Memoir,” which I just completed reading for my book club. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Amazon classifies certain nonfiction books as Great on Kindle books,” which entitles the purchaser to a 75% credit on their next Great on Kindle book.

I had purchased “Educated” using a $5.00 credit I received for doing a NY Times survey, so this was a huge win-win. I then went to the purchase page of my own book, “Trapped in Russia: An American Family’s Struggle to Survive” and was surprised to learn that Amazon has determined that my book is a Great on Kindle book.

Amazon also told me that sales of similar books perform better at a higher price, so as an experiment, I am increasing the price from $2.99 to $4.99. Knowing that anyone who purchases my book will receive a 75% credit on their next Great on Kindle book makes the price to anyone who plans on reading another book effectively $1.25.

So I will see what happens, and for now, thank you Amazon for considering my book a Great on Kindle book. Even if all nonfiction books are given this designation, it has a nice ring to me!

Here’s a thought: Did I lose many other credits by purchasing a fiction book after I potentially purchased a qualifying Great on Kindle book? Well, there is no sense crying over spilled credits!

Continue reading

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People Like Free Stuff

In honor of New Year’s Day, I decided to give away my new-and-improved book for a two-day period. I had done something similar twice before, although I had never done so for free. There was a huge difference in the outcome, so the question is, was it because people will take anything for free (but not for 99 cents), or was the title and cover more appealing?

My husband, who suggested eliminating the confusing “Do Svidanya” from the name and changing “USSR” to “Russia” in order to take advantage of the constant Russia news, was walking around the house with a big I-told-you-so smirk on his face. I pointed out that, while he may be correct, he was silent when I chose the original name.

During my 99 cent sale, I sold a whopping eight books, yet when I offered the book for free, 296 copies were downloaded. So was it the revamped title and cover or do people just like to grab free stuff?

And will they or will they not read it?

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Do Svidanya Dad 2.0

After careful consideration, along with input from my book club and Facebook friends, I changed my book title and cover. The new cover is in the form of a collage, and includes the photo from the original book along with a picture of Lenin, a letter from my father, and my aunt’s diary, which was so helpful in writing this book.

Based upon a suggestion of a friend, I included some red on the cover because of the obvious association of that color with Russia, such as Red Square and its red flag with the yellow hammer and sickle.

I took advantage of the change to expand one chapter based upon new information I found after the original publication. For anyone who has already read the book, I will be happy to send you the amended chapter.

My hope is that I will not lose the reviews from the original book. So here it is—my new and improved book: same story; different package.

Buy Here:


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Having Second Thoughts

I am looking for input from readers of my book regarding its title because it has been suggested (by my husband) that my lackluster sales may be because few people “get it.” After all, although Russia, Russia, Russia is all we seem to have been hearing about this past year or so, not many Americans may be as familiar with the meaning of do svidanya as they are of au revoir or adios. At book fairs, few people stop by my table. Is it because the title does not grab them because it is  confusing or could it be that the cover is not attractive enough?

The alternative explanation is that people know precisely what do svidanya means and are simply not interested in reading about anything Russia-related during their leisure time. So to those who have already read my book or this blog, what are your thoughts? Would changing the title to Trapped in the USSR would attract more prospective readers?

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 not just “goodbye” but rather “until we meet again,” I felt confident that I had found my title.

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. Now I am having second thoughts.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about my struggles in finding a title, so as I have been writing today’s posting, I looked to my thoughts back then. Among those that I rejected were:

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

I found instructions on how to change the title without losing my reviews as well as how to inform potential readers that it is the same book in order to avoid confusion.

How about some input, please?



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Thankful for the First Amendment

I did two DNA tests—the first several years ago via Ancestry.com and the second more recently through 23andMe. It was the second test that proved more exciting since it resulted in a connection to a cousin in Russia with the same last name—albeit one of the other spellings I have unearthed.

Cousin Yury and I have corresponded several times. He told me that the area of Russia where he is from is the home of many members of my family and is just 2.5 kilometers from where my grandfather was born.

He provided me with links to a site, “Victims of Political Terror in the USSR,” which has information on several relatives, the first being my great Uncle Ivan. In order to understand what was written on the site, I contacted an old friend from my schooldays, who is now a Russian history professor.

His arrest record states that Ivan was an illiterate peasant who worked on a collective farm (Kolkhoz).  He was arrested on December 30, 1932.  Some secret informant overhead him making politically incorrect statements (e.g., criticizing the Soviet state or administration in the collective farm).  He was sentenced to three years of exile in the “Northern Krai,” which was a large territorial administrative district in far northwestern Russia around Archangel.  He was (luckily) released in 1937. 

The arrest occurred during the early stage of the massive famine of 1932-33, which claimed some 7-8 million lives in the USSR.  The famine resulted from the failures of collectivization, especially from the fact that far too much food was being taken from the farms by the Soviet state.  My guess is that someone overheard Ivan criticizing collectivization. 

The biggest construction project taking place in the “Northern Krai” in 1932 was construction of the Baltic-White Sea Canal.  Tens of thousands worked on the project, and an estimated 25,000 died in the process.  Once completed in 1933, however, the canal proved to be too shallow for large ships to go between the White Sea and Baltic Sea.  It amounted to a huge waste of lives and resources.  Although Ivan was sentenced only to exile and not hard labor, he may have ended up working on the canal.  He was subsequently “rehabilitated” (exonerated) in 1989.

I wonder if my grandfather knew what happened to his brother Ivan. He had been arrested one year before my grandfather moved the family from New Jersey to the USSR and was not released until four years after their arrival.

My father’s family was certainly a lot more complex than my mother’s, who led a much more simple life in New Jersey, free from arrests and exile.

Thankfully, we still live in a nation where we do not get arrested for making politically incorrect statements or speaking out against our government. I hope to never live to see that day.

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Three Days. Time is Up

My Russian grandfather advised my American-born father against joining any political organizations. “You don’t know what is going to happen in the future in this world. You could belong to an organization and later end up getting arrested.”

Would these two men be upset with me or proud of me for joining an organization—Moms Demand Action—whose purpose is “to demand action from legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms,” and who believes “common-sense solutions can help decrease the escalating epidemic of gun violence that kills too many of our children and loved ones every day?”

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the South Carolina Judiciary Subcommittee with some of my fellow Moms Who Demand Action. The agenda was twofold:

1.  Discuss an amendment to a bill to increase penalties for threatening a person with a firearm in a public or private school or any public building.

2.  Close the “Charleston Loophole,” which would extend the waiting period to buy a gun.

This was a first for me. I would like to add my observations. In my ninety minute introduction to how to pass or amend a law, I learned why it takes so long to get anything done in Washington, DC. It is all about the wording and talking. It takes a lot of talking!

Much time was spent regarding the word “firearm,” because it was pointed out that other instruments, such as a knife or a car could cause injury, so the wording was altered to say something to the effect of “firearm or instrument.” The Senators were worried about a savvy lawyer getting a case thrown out of court if the weapon was other than a gun.

I learned that most background checks are completed within minutes of the desired purchase of a gun or after the passage of three business days. The sale can go through if the background check has not been completed within the three days. This is called the Charleston Loophole, because the killer at the Emanuel Church was able to purchase his gun once the three-day period had expired.

The bill proposed yesterday was to increase the time to five days, even though it was acknowledged that it should be “until the background check is complete.” The problem with increasing the time beyond five days is the concern that in this state, any more time would not garner enough votes—even though a beloved member of the state legislature was among the victims of the Charleston shooting.

That was abhorrent to me. More shocking to me was the added information that only 8% of all attempted purchases are not cleared immediately and need the extra three business days. No statistics were given regarding how many of those 8% do not pass after the three days, but I found some numbers on my own.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, during the period between February 28, 1994 and December 31, 2015, 3 million checks were denied out of 197 million performed during that time—1.5%.  I wonder how many purchases were allowed simply because the time expired.

Why not wait as long as it takes? If it takes longer than the three days, perhaps there is a problem. If a law-abiding person needs more time, than

What would Dad and Grandpa think?

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Happy Happy!

Every year, the stupid talk about the alleged “Merry Christmas” ban begins anew. When I heard that our president was promising to bring Merry Christmas back again, I was honestly taken aback. I never knew those words were gone. Where did they go? Who took them away?

I say it to who I want without fear of being arrested by the Christmas secret police, but at the same time, I also am a fan of “Happy Holidays.” December is filled with many holidays, so saying “happy holidays” covers them all. It’s more considerate.

Thinking about all the controversy over what to say makes me think of my grandma. Baba, who spoke little English, would say to us with her very heavy Russian accent, “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Happy!”

She was way ahead of her time. In fact, while picking up our dozen icing-covered, cream-filled, glaze-encrusted box of Dunkin Donuts for our traditional Christmas morning breakfast, I told the cheery young lady behind the counter about Baba’s expression. She smiled and said she liked it.

So I am proposing that America adopt a new expression this holiday season: Happy Happy Everyone!

Personally, you can wish me whatever you want—Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, Happy Kwanzaa. I am just happy for the smiles and the goodwill.

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A Win-Win for All!

I have thought about the purpose of publishing my book for the world to read—other than for a motion-picture deal. (Feel free to laugh!) My objective was twofold:

  • Enlighten readers about a little-known piece of American history.
  • Encourage families to learn their own family history before the information is lost with the death of a loved-one.

In order to provide greater access to my book, I have placed it in several libraries and made it available for purchase in a wide arena of booksellers. Trapped in Russia is available to read on Kindle, but what I did not understand when I first published it is that I was able to make it available to be read for free on Amazon for readers subscribing to Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime.

This weekend, I decided to test whether I could truly read a book for free using my Amazon Prime account. I have many books on my Amazon wish-list and my Goodreads shelves. I chose a book by a self-published writer like me whose previous novel I had read and thoroughly enjoyed.

Like my book, the Kindle version of the novel I chose—White Lies by Ellie Holmes—is shown to cost “$0.00 kindleunlimited.” That is the key phrase.

What I learned after careful research, having never read a book on Kindle for free, is that a book could only be accessed and uploaded to my Kindle from my Kindle, not via the Amazon website on my computer.

So I pulled out my Kindle, searched for the book, and then clicked on “Borrow for Free.” I was able to easily upload it, so now I am happily reading a new  romance suspense novel. The only restriction regarding read-for-free on Amazon Prime is that one can only read one free book/month. No problem for me!

As a writer, I was initially reluctant to read a fellow-author’s book for free, but once I saw the money being credited to my account by individuals reading my book in this manner, I relaxed.

Perhaps more people will read these books if they know the authors still get a royalty. This is a particularly good option for people who read less books because of the cost. It is like reading a book from the library, except that the writer gets paid.

It’s a win-win. So don’t feel guilty if you choose to read my book, or Ellie’s book, or any other writer’s book this way. Just read!

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Knoshing Around the World

My recent trip to Washington, DC was like attending an international food festival. My husband and I began in Korea, and by the end of the weekend, we had visited eateries representing Venezuela, China, the Middle East, and Russia. Looking back on our choices, those all represented hot spots in the news of late, but that was not intentional.

I was most excited to dine at the Russian restaurant—conveniently located less than a mile from the White House and one block from the famous Mayflower Hotel. (I encourage you to Google “Mayflower Hotel Russians” and you’ll see what I mean.)

You would think the fact that my father had lived in Russia for ten years would have made me familiar with the cuisine of his people, but that was not the case at all. The only time I ever went to a Russian restaurant was when we accompanied Dad and his cousin, Misha, to a restaurant in New York City, where I believe I feasted on Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes.  I ordered the same for old times’ sake.

I always have a glass of wine with dinner, but it I felt it would be wrong not to order some sort of vodka-based drink in a Russian restaurant. I ordered a strawberry-infused vodka cocktail. Delicious!

Within seconds of opening my menu, a wave of emotion swept over me and I began to cry. I don’t know why, but after spending so much time writing my book about my father’s years living in the USSR, being in a place I knew he would have loved just caused those tear ducts to open and begin to flow.

There were plenty of Russian-speaking patrons slurping their borscht and sipping vodka, and the bar was showing Russian cartoons. It was cozy, and the bathroom was decorated with Russian newspapers, which added to the ambience.

While my meal was not my favorite on our food tour around the world, the atmosphere affected my soul the most.


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An Unexpected Contact

For those of you who have read this blog and possibly my book, you know that I spent a lot of time researching the story of my family’s years in Russia beginning in 1931. I did my best to be accurate, but have always known there may be mistakes, and there are still many missing pieces to this tragic tale.

I was recently surprised to be contacted by a woman who was a cousin of the man my aunt Nancy married while in Russia. She stumbled upon this blog while researching her family. This woman filled in a few pieces of the story as told by my aunt’s mother-in-law, Susanna.

I do not recall many details of her story about the war.  Only that they ran from city to city.  Aunt Susanna said that she was with her daughter Vera and son Walter trying to escape the coming Nazi’s bombing.  During the bombing she and Walter were separated from Vera. Vera had gone on before them in a vehicle if I recall correctly. 

So this may have solved a mystery in the family diary.

When my father’s family hurriedly evacuated the city of Novgorod the day before German forces attacked the city, the diary said “Family stayed in a barn- 7 in number.” That number seven never made sense because I could only account for five people: my grandparents and three aunts. Several letters from the State Department indicated that my uncle Pete had taken the family belongings and left by boat. One letter in particular was addressed to Uncle Pete and my aunt’s husband, which is what led me to believe they had left together.

However, a month after leaving Novgorod, there was a mysterious paragraph written in Russian:

September 19- They bombed Kiev and announced to us that the war had begun. Peacetime has come to any end. It is time for us to part. I promise to be faithful to you to the end. But be careful with my feelings.

The wheels of the rail cars clack as the train speeds on like an arrow. I am in the rail car. You are waving to me from the platform. One year will go by. I will meet you again. We will be together and will be happy then.

My new theory, based upon this very sorrowful note, along with the information from Susanna, is that the seven people staying in the barn may have included Susanna and her son, Waldemar—my aunt’s husband. Perhaps he stayed with her until the train came and then joined his sister Vera, my Uncle Pete, and Pete’s wife, Nona.

I do not know if my aunt ever saw her husband again.

Boarding Train

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