Snow Days & Frida Vigdorova

It’s the first real snowfall of this winter in Boston, which is not unusual: most snow doesn’t start to accumulate/batter us until after New Year’s. The first snowfall is always THE BEST, because it’s new! Wheeee! Look, it’s snowing! When I used to have a job where we got snow days, I would always be pissed as hell when snow would fall on weekends, because UGH, come ON. *wants snow days*

I no longer have a job like that, so I’m basically fine with this being the weekend. It just makes it cosier. (Until we have to go outside and shovel. Bah.)

Anyway, the first snow day of the year always reminds me of my very first snow day, EVER. Growing up in Russia, we did not get snow days. Oh no, is it winter? Is it snowing? Oh, how terrible for you. Now get those snow boots on and get your butt to school. The only times I remember school being canceled was when it was too cold. Imagine how COLD it had to be for that to happen. (Obviously, everyone would wind up at the ice rink, skating.)

So, anyway! First snow day was when we lived in Central New York. It was our first winter and it never even occurred to me that such a thing could happen. I woke up one morning and it was very bright, and I was alone in the bedroom I shared with my sister. Confused, I walked downstairs and was greeted by my mom and sister, huge grins on their faces: ENJOY YOURSELF, SCHOOL IS CLOSED.

Best. Day. EVER.

As it happened, my mom had gotten me two Russian books from the university library that I had wanted to read a few years back, but was deemed too young. At 11, my mom thought I was ready. They were called Liubimaya Uliza (Beloved Street) and Semeinoe Schastie (Family Happiness) and they were written by a writer I already loved, Frida Vigdorova.

That first snow day, I read the first book. Actually, it’s more apt to say I swallowed it whole. I think I barely stopped to eat. I sat in the chair and didn’t get up until I was done.

One snow day turned into a miraculous two, and on the second day, I read the second book. Same deal. I’m pretty sure I barely said two words to my family, who very nicely left me alone because they knew.

Vigodorova was not a household name by the time I was born, but my mom grew up with her books, and passed on that love to me and my sister. Looking back, I think, of all the books I read as a kid (which was a lot; I mean, a LOT) Vigdorova’s writing has influenced my worldview the most. And while you can look back at some childhood heroes and realize that they were fallible and imperfect and maybe even not someone to model yourself after, Frida Vigodorova remains a pretty incredible hero to me.

She started out as a teacher, but later on, she became a journalist. What she became most known for wasn’t actually her fiction, but her quietly political life and, most importantly, her final act of heroism, which was this: she transcribed the entirety of Joseph Brodsky’s trial.


F. Vigdorova (image courtesy of

Brodsky was a Soviet poet and writer who was tried by the government for his “crimes against the nation.” You can probably guess what that was all about. He was tried and convicted, and the entire time this farce was going on, Vigdorova sat in that courtroom, and she transcribed every single word. Every single piece of bullshit flung at Brodsky, every single insidious charge–we have it all, because of her. I don’t know how she managed to gain access into that room, but it was a pretty incredible act of journalism.

After his conviction, Vigdorova petitioned and petitioned and petitioned for his release, backed up by huge voices of the times, including poets like Anna Akhmatova and Yevgeniy Yevtushenko (even Sartre; weird, eh? This was a huge deal.) Because of that pressure, Brodsky was eventually released and eventually fled to the US.

But by then, Vigdorova had already died of cancer. Instead of resting and getting treatment, she spent her last months fighting for justice, only not to see the result. This might sound overwrought, but in a totalitarian state, that was a really big fucking deal, and it was an enormous act of bravery.

Apparently, after he was released, Brodsky kept a picture of her in his home, both in the USSR and later, in the US.

Everyone remembers the Brodsky trial, but not many remember the woman who was instrumental in bringing it to light. So I wanted to tell you about her, because she was amazing, and one of the best writers I’ve ever read. She wrote about people, and about love, and about childhood and parenthood and everything in between, and with it all, a sense of political awareness, feminism, and justice underlay everything, subtly enough that it got past the censors. If I had the means and the talent, I would translate her works into English, because they remain some of the best glimpses the lives of the Soviet people I’ve ever encountered.

For more on the Trial of Joseph Brodsky, see the New England Review.

For a stunningly detailed write-up of what Frida Vigdorova was like and everything she’s done, go here. It’s long, but so worth a read.


Romancing the (Confused) Writer

So, August is Romance Month (or so I’ve been told, and in the grand tradition of the internet, I’m not actually going to independently factcheck this but simply use it to advance my own agenda) and a friend suggested I write about how I got into Romance and Romancelandia in the first place.

This also fits nicely in with the fact that yesterday, I finished my very first manuscript. As in, a book. Which I wrote? And an amazing publishing house (*cough* Brain Mill Press *cough*) actually want to publish. It’s…a very strange feeling. On the one hand, I knew that I was, you know. Doing this thing. But it still felt a bit like an out of body experience to actually format the thing and say, okay. So. I guess, like. I’m sending this to my agent? (I have an agent?!) And then, you know. Submitting it by deadline? (I have a DEADLINE.)

It’s all very strange and confusing, but back to Romance: it was December 2014, and I was desperate for some queer historical writing. Like, my entire being was clamoring for something LIKE Jane Austen, except queer. Someone I knew had recommended The Gentleman and the Rogue by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon as a fun read, and I decided to give it a shot. Hey, it was four bucks. Hard to beat that.

I’d never read Romance before. I think I held the same prejudices as a lot of people who don’t know much about Romance hold, but it’s hard to remember now through my film of ROMANCE IS THE BEST EVERYONE STFU ABOUT IT. Regardless, I read it and enjoyed it, so I asked for more recs. Then another friend of mine (@booksandjoe, if you must know) sent me an email with a whole bunch of recommendations, which ended with “You have to read KJ Charles’s Think of England but just know that it’s the best one and nothing will ever top it.”

I took her at her word and put off reading it for a week or so. In that time, my wife picked it up and read it and looked at me and said, “This is amazing. She’s right – nothing will top it. Also it’s got, like, one of best blowjobs I’ve ever read.”

I read through the other recs, then finally picked up Think of England.

And that is what I think of as my head-first tumble into Romancelandia. I was gone.

And I needed MORE. Give me more historical British romance, I yelled at Amazon. Moarrrr, give me moar! A bunch of books fell out when I shook the internet. I read Joanna Chambers’ The Enlightenment Series while hungover on January 1st and it was the single greatest January 1st I had ever had. I read KJ Charles’s The Magpie Series. It was a school vacation for me, so I gorged myself until the well suddenly appeared to run dry. “Nooooooooo!” I screamed to the heavens as I poked at several free samples that just weren’t doing it for me. “What do I do NOW?”

Enter @booksandjoe to the rescue once more. She told me that I had to read Glitterland by Alexis Hall. It was contemporary, but still British (don’t ask; I have strange needs) so I decided to give it a shot.

And oh man, was I glad that I had done that. Was I ever, ever glad.

Reading Glitterland led me to Prosperity, which led me to write a truly embarrassing note to Alexis Hall via his website (!) to which he responded in the nicest, most gracious manner to a message that probably caused him to back away from his computer slowly.

And that opened up the door for me to read contemporary romance. And then romance that wasn’t just British-set. And then I was reading all the recommendations, ever, and I am beyond grateful that I did the thing. Still do, of course–no one shall take my Romance away from me. *clutches it to her bosom*

So, how does this tie in to me finishing my manuscript in August of 2016? I had had an idea kicking around my brain for a book, but could never figure out the hook for it. When I first had the idea, I had been trying to picture it as a finished book on a display in a bookstore. Which, to me, meant that it needed to be a lot of things I felt constrained by (in my general lack of knowledge about Big Six Publishing). But then, the hook came to me.

OH. It was a romance.

From there, it became many others things, and I felt a huge sense of freedom. Just…write what you know. Research what you don’t. And stop caring about where the project will end up (I’m still having trouble with this part).

Through Romancelandia, I have met incredible, wonderful people. I’ve met people I consider to be some of my closest friends. I’ve met people I admire, people I respect, people I love hearing from. I’ve met people who have supported me and whom I have supported in turn. It’s been a whirlwind sort of ride, and I don’t plan on getting off it anytime soon. ROMANCE! HOORAY FOR ROMANCE!

And that is how I got into Romancelandia.