My Book: A Latvian Can of Worms


Latvian Cinderella Meets American Prince

Not my heroine or her daughter. My passport photo for coming to America

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.

Hospital in Augsburg where I was born.

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.

My mother and I in Hochfeld DP, where
Līvija and her family lived.

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.

My uncle (on the right), a friend and I at Hochfeld Displaced Persons Camp in Augsburg, Germany

9 thoughts on “My Book: A Latvian Can of Worms”

  1. Excellent post.

    As you know, I definitely agree with Judy and Lisa. Keep the book as simple as possible. Get it published and leave the extra stuff for use in the event you get to do sequels. The most important thing at present is to sell the book and get your name out there.

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    1. Thanks, Colleen, that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to make my book overly complicated, but I don’t think I can ignore this issue, either. There are people who will pick up on it. I just have to find some way to deal with it without over-burdening my story with it.

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      1. It probably should be mentioned, but there’s no reason it can’t just be an amorphous concern in the background of their relationship that never ends up causing an issue.

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  2. So, for what it’s worth, my feeling is that this is not a simple love story because, as we’ve discussed, you don’t have a happy ending. For the purposes of making it a romance, if you wrapped it up with them together and didn’t worry about potential sequels where loose ends left from book one are tied up, that would be a romance. You might have two different projects here, as Judy suggests: one stand-alone romance and something bigger, series or not, that deals with the political and social situation that the characters are going to encounter because of who and what they are.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Lisa. The ending has changed so it is happy. Or at least happy enough. I really, really don’t want to get into politics in this book or any other. It’s what my father tried to steer me to years ago. Maybe it’s a not-so-simple romance. It doesn’t seem plausible to ignore the political atmosphere of the time, but don’t want to go into in depth, either. That’s my dilemma. I have to figure out how to skim over it somehow, yet make it believable. As I said, I have enough trauma in my life without including trauma in a book that’s supposed to be a happy writing experience.

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  3. Great photos and very interesting back story to your work-in-progress! You say you want your story done, but it sounds more like you want to be decided re whether to keep it simple or allow it to be as complex as it could be. In your place I’d be thinking about why I’m writing in the first place. If it’s primarily to sell, try the easy fix (straightforward romance). If it’s something beyond that, dig for the meat on the bones of the possibilities your characters and setting present. It’s not easy to know one’s own mind sometimes. A creative solution–having your cake and eating it too–may also be possible. That is, you might fashion and sell the romance, then later rework the characters to something more literary over time, once you have your rights back.

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    1. Thanks, Judy! I’m for the quick fix and on to the sequel. I just need to figure out how to deal with the new complications. It’s not just that I want to sell, which I do, but I’m not really interested in writing a political novel, especially since it was such an ugly time. This project is escapism for me. I don’t need additional trauma in my life, even if it’s fictional. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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