Celebrating with Eau de Tap

0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.

Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.

How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?

Can’t even afford a glass.

This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.

Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Hearts Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.

When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.

This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.

Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.

Not a perfect match but it will have to do.

One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.

The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.

If only I were an artist, too.

It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.

Some Honeymoon!

The Beginning of a Refugee Journey

Today would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary.

They got married during World War II. At the time Germans were occupying Latvia. Two months after their wedding they were having breakfast when a German soldier knocked on the door and warned that the Soviet Red Army was invading Latvia. If they didn’t want to live under Soviet rule, they must flee immediately. They did.

My mother was from Limbaži, a town in the Vidzeme region in northern Latvia, not far inland from the Gulf of Rīga.

This is probably a school photo of my mother.

My father was from Alūksne in the northeast of Latvia. Too close to the border with Russia.

I don’t know when this photo of my father was taken.

They met in Mālpils, a small town that’s also in Vidzeme, but a bit farther to the south, closer to the capital, Rīga. My mother was a pharmacy assistant and my father was the postmaster. He would go to the pharmacy for prescriptions and she’d go to the post office to buy stamps. Other than that, I know nothing of their courtship. They were married at my maternal grandparents’ home and then returned to Mālpils. During wartime in an occupied country there was probably no opportunity to take a wedding trip.

The pharmacy in Mālpils.

 My mother had no wedding photos among her belongings.ī

 Taking the warning seriously my parents fled on bicycles. Someone must have carried their possessions in a wagon or maybe a truck. Their household goods included linen sheets and pillowcases. Towels that my mother had embroidered for her hope chest. These items made it all the way to America. Decades later when I visited my mother’s childhood home, where her younger brother and his family still live I was surprised and delighted to see a handwoven coverlet on my uncle and aunt’s bed that was identical to the one I have at home.

It’s hard to believe and embarrassing to realize how incurious I was about my parents’ marriage, their early years together, and how they got to Germany. My mother spoke very little about that time, my father not speak of it at all. How terrigly traumatic it must have been to leave behind everything they knew and loved, their families, their country, their professions, their entire way of life.

Two of my mother’s three brothers made it out of Lativa; her younger brother stayed behind with their parents. Only one of my father’s three brothers was able to escape. The other two brothers, his sister, and his parents never made it to freedom. Since they weren’t living in their hometowns when they left Latvia, they were unable to contact loved ones and  probably had no idea what became of them

I don’t know by what route my parents got to Germany. I never had to ask why they went to a war-torn country where all sorts of horrors were happening. What I do know is that most Latvians would have fled into the maw of hell in order to get away from the advancing Soviets army.

My parents in the Bavarian Alps.

My folks wound up in Berlin when it was being bombed. They found shelter in a five-tory brick schoolhouse. My mother said a bomb cut the building in two as if with a knife. I don’t know how my parents survived.

Eventually, they made it to the Hochfeld Displaced Persons Camp in Augsburg in the American-occupied zone, the German state of Bavaria. I’m not sure how long they were there, four or five years probably. Augsburg is where I was born.

My parents’ story and those of friends and relatives provided inspiration for my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. Our first two refuges in the USA were Pennsylvania and then Delaware where my parents worked to pay back their sponsors for bringing us to America. Like my heroine, Līvija Galiņa, our ultimate desitnation was Western Washington. One of my mother’s cousins, her son, and her mother found a new home in Seattle on Capitol Hill where Līvija lives with her family. Where she meets her destiny.

The link to my novel on Kindle Vella.

Born Stateless

This is a revised version of an essay I posted in November of 2020. It’s not just sad, but horrible that not only have things not changed in that time, they’ve gotten worse. Putin, a Stalin-wanna-be has brutally invaded Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have fled, thousands have stayed to fight for their country, and too many have died. My heart aches for them. I read the headline, watch video clips and cry. I hope the refugees can all go home soon and none of their children are born stateless.

A Photo Essay

Refugees have been on my mind lately, even though the refugee crisis on the southern USA border has been pushed out of the headlines by the pandemic and the presidential election. I’ve also been reading about refugees and their desperate plight in books by Erich Maria Remarque,  Flotsam and The Night in Lisbon.

Flotsam is defined as the debris from the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. It’s also defined as people or things that have been rejected and are regarded as worthless.

Isn’t that perfect? We were human flotsam from the World War II wreckage of Europe. At best refugees were regarded by natives of the countries they fled to as “unwanted guests,” at worst as “the scum of Europe.” How sad that so little has changed.

I’ve also been thinking about refugees because for the past two years I’ve been writing a novel about a Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa, and her family, who after years as flotsam in Europe have finally found a safe haven in Seattle, Washington, USA. There, one snowy evening, Līvija is nearly run down by an out-of-control car, which has skidded on an ice street and jumped the curb. Her life is saved by a dashing former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn. Writing my novel has been an all-consuming, delightful, frustrating, agonizing journey–hours of writing, followed by more hours of re-writing, editing, and more editing, doing my best to make my story captivating and readable. Hoping readers will find my characters as engaging as I do.

Here are a few photos of my family’s time in the Hochfeld Displaced Persons camp in Augsburg, Germany.

This is what Latvians were running from

This cattle car is not loading Jewish people to send them to concentration camps. This cattle car is loading Latvians to take them to Siberia. Thousands were deported. Most of them never returned. They died of starvation or overwork in forced labor camps. Or because it was so cold that even vodka freezes during a Siberian winter.

The man in the middle is my mother’s brother.

Nikolaijs lost his leg in WW II. He and his friends are posing outside a hospital. My uncle was in the Augsburg DP camp with us. He, my other uncle–my father’s brother, Alfons, my parents, and I all lived together. I think we had two rooms. A separate room for my folks and me and another for the unmarried uncles.

The maternity hospital in Augsburg, Germany where I was born.
Me, in my grand carriage. I was born in Augsburg.
My folks and I in a park in Augsburg.
Mr. Ohaks, my uncle Nikolaijs, and yours truly.

I have no idea how this picture got taken or why Mr. Ohaks is in it. He was the “elder,” the supervisor, I guess, of the DP camp building where we lived. He was no relation to us. Perhaps he was my uncle’s friend, or as the elder, maybe he was everyone’s friend. I have no idea where that ball came from. It could have been in a CARE package from America.

My other uncle, my dad’s younger brother, Alfons, and his special friend.

My uncle never talked about her. I never knew her name. I only know about her from what my mother told me. The girlfriend had a husband who had stayed in Latvia. I don’t know how they got separated. Was he a soldier who’d been reported killed in action? While in Germany she learned that her husband was still alive. She went back to him, leaving my uncle devastated. In her absence, her husband had married someone else. The girlfriend was not allowed to leave Latvia again. Alfons never married. I based events in my novel on real-life incidents.

This is my uncle, Alfons, leaving for Bremerhaven, Germany to get on the boat that would take him to America. The promised land. He’s wearing a tag on his coat as if he were a parcel in the mail. All refugees wore them as they departed Germany.
My mother, her brother, Nikolaijs, and me on a street in Augsburg.

The uncles left one by one as they found sponsors in the USA. I’m upset because Nikolaijs was my favorite uncle. I believe the buildings on the right are the ones where we all lived. Many refugees did not have such elegant accommodations. Some had to live in root cellars.

The photo for my laissez-passer

A laissez-passer is “a diplomatic travel document issued by the United Nations” to stateless people. Refugee who’ve lost their homelands.

The USNS General A.W. Greely.

The Greely was the navy transport ship that brought my family and other refugees to New York.

I remember very little about the trip. I was only three and a half. My mother and I had an upper bunk in a cabin with other women and children. My father was in a different cabin with other men. Everyone but me was seasick.

On the Greely was the first time I remember seeing a Black man. He was a steward and very nice. He gave me an orange. Oranges were such a rare commodity that in the camps they were Christmas gifts.

The nice steward also brought me a dish of red Jell-o. It was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing. I called it kustelīgais (wiggly)

Playing dress-up with a borrowed doll carriage.

Our first stop in the USA was Pennsylvania where my parents worked on the corn farm that belonged to our sponsors to repay them for bringing us to America. We also lived in Delaware for a while.

After a year of working for their sponsors, refugees were free to go wherever they wished. My folks hated the heat and humidity of East Coast summers. Alfons had completed his tenure working on his sponsors’ farm in South Dakota and moved to Tacoma, Washington where he had friends. He wrote to my father saying how nice it was in western Washington and urged us to come to live here. I may be prejudiced but I think he couldn’t have picked a better place.

A safe haven in Tacoma, Washington. Refugee kids at a Children’s Christmas party. I’m the one front and center, bow and all.

(More installments of Latvia Under the Soviets will follow)


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