Latvian Cinderella Meets American Prince
My novel, Bittersweet Christmas, a.k.a. A Daddy for Christmas, was supposed to be a simple little romance, written in four months, re-written in two. It was inspired by Christmas books written by a best selling novelist. I’d never thought about writing a Christmas book before. They seemed too sweet for me, a person who eats jalapeños out of the jar and has the personality to match. When I finished reading the famous author’s four-book series, which featured adultery, drug addiction, insider trading, prison, and cancer, I realized that not all Christmas novels need be as sweet as divinity fudge. I decided to give it a go.
Too many novels these days feature these same elements. They’ve become clichés. But if I didn’t want to use them, what would I do for conflict? Who would my conflicted characters be? I turned to my own background for inspiration. I am the daughter of Latvian refugees, born in Augsburg, Germany, where I spent the first few years of my life.
Considering the things going on in our country today, and around the world, writing about refugees seemed timely. Setting my story in 1952 made it less politically fraught and provided me with plenty of material, which I could crib from the lives of family and friends. I belong to pretty much every Latvian group on Facebook.
My Latvian Cinderella is Līvija Galiņa, the widow of a Latvian soldier who died before their daughter Dzintra was born. In Latvia Līvija was a lawyer, in America she cleans other women’s house. Līvija lives communally with her daughter, mother, and six other Latvians in a big house on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
The American Prince is Cameron Quinn, a decorated former fighter pilot, who lives a few blocks from Līvija’s home. They meet when she is walking home from work one snowy evening and he saves her from being run over by a car which has jumped the curb after skidding on the icy street.
The main conflict is fear of cultural betrayal on Līvija’s part. Latvians are supposed to marry other Latvians. We are a small community. We struggle to keep our community and culture from dying out. It’s what Līvija’s mother expects of her. She faces pressure from the entire Latvian community, which includes a number of single young men. However Līvija’s unruly heart cares nothing about cultural betrayal. It wants what it wants: Cameron.
Simple enough. Except that while I had given considerable attention to the political situation in Latvia, it turned out I had thought very little about the political situation in the US. I am writing about the era of the Red Scare. Cameron is an aeronautical engineer and test pilot at Boeing. Association with someone from a Soviet bloc country could jeopardize a job he loves, rouse suspicion among co-workers and friends. His heart, too, wants what it wants, He’s a man who doesn’t easily surrender. He would fight for his job. Fortunately, Cameron’s not prominent enough to be dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but would J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI be after him? My dilemma, how much of this to include in a novel which is supposed to be a simple romance? It gives me gives me great points of conflict for my plot, but if I include too much of this material, my story stops being a romance.
A manuscript I thought was almost finished would need to get longer and more involved than I intended it to be. I want this thing to be finished. How much of this new material can I skim over? Head pounding on keyboard.
I love my characters and my story. Somehow I will wade through this mire.