I'm extremely happy to welcome H.B. Pattskyn as my very first guest blogger. We met a few years ago at Dragon*con, and even though she's cut her hair, she still looks very much like a sexy mermaid.
Her latest book was released just last Friday. It features a character who speaks Russian, so she's going to tell us a bit about the differences between Russian and English letters/writing. Anyone else old enough to remember Soviet athletes in the Olympics with CCCP on the backs of their track suits
Take it away, Helen!
First off, a huge, huge thank you to Bee for letting invade her blog today! I was looking over her vacation pictures with absolute envy. I especially loved the cute guy in his skivvies and the happy cat wandering around the restaurant!
My third novel from Dreamspinner Press is called Hanging by the Moment, and it is near and dear to my heart. I know most authors say that about their current projects (or at least I know that whatever I’m working on in the moment is always “my favorite”) but there’s a lot of me in my character Pasha Batalov. Well, you know, except for the part where I’m not a gay man *g*
Pasha is the son of Russian immigrants. I’m the great granddaughter of Russian immigrants. I never knew my great grandparents, but I was raised by my grandmother, and there’s a lot of her in Pasha’s father, Ivan (both the good and the bad).
One area where Pasha and I differ significantly, and I wish we didn’t, is that Pasha is bilingual, he speaks Russian as fluently as he speaks English. When I was little, my grandmother and her sisters tried to teach me, but I wasn’t interested in learning. So when I got much older and was in college, I took a semester and a half of Russian. (I had to drop out midway through my second semester because I was taking library cataloging at the same time and there are only so many free brain cells in my head. Since I needed cataloging to graduate, I dropped out of Russian. I’m not entirely sure I made the right decision, but that’s a conversation for another day…)
But anyone who has ever taken foreign language at a collegiate level knows how fast they plow through the book and how difficult it is to keep up. Add to that, that in addition to learning nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, I also had to learn a new alphabet—and it has 33 letters. Two of them are always silent and at least one of them has absolutely no real English equivalent. Several of the other letters make sounds like “ch” and “sh” or “zh” (as in “azure”). Russian has no “j” sound—and contrary to Star Trek mythos, Russian does have a “v” (except it looks like a b), but no “w”. (I don’t care, I still loved the scene in Star Trek the Voyage Home where Mr. Checkov was asking about the “nuclear wessels” *g*). R looks like p, N looks like a capitol H, H looks like x, in cursive T looks like m... and all of that was to be memorized on the first day of class!
|samples of Russian and English writing|
Someday I want to go back and learn more, but in the meantime, I can at least say hello, introduce myself, and ask where the bathroom is. (Gdye tuahlet?), which in my opinion is the most important thing to be able to ask in any language! (And just in case it isn’t obvious, Russian doesn’t really use the present tense of “to be” or articles such as “a,” “an,” or “the.” So “Gdye tuahlet?” translates literally as: “Where bathroom?”)
Lack of complex vocabulary skills on my part didn’t stop me from sprinkling Russian words into Hanging by the Moment, however. I either stuck with words I knew or got some help from real people online.
One of them gave me some grief for spelling Russian words phonetically, but all of the Russian words I used were in dialogue, and I thought it was more important to for the reader to be able to “hear” the word than to see them correctly on the page. A great example is the Russian word for boyfriend, which would be spelled in Roman letters “drug,” but is pronounced drook, because the “g” on the end is soft and soft “g” sounds like “k.”
Pasha Batalov has lived his whole life doing what a good son is expected to do. He dropped out of school to help run the failing family restaurant, and ever since he’s put up with his difficult business partner, who also happens to be his father. And, of course, he keeps his sexual orientation a secret from his conservative, Russian family. After being closeted costs him his first serious relationship, Pasha resigns himself to one-night stands and loneliness.
But a chance encounter with lost delivery-truck driver, Daniel Englewood, has Pasha questioning all of his assumptions about life. Daniel is sweet, funny, smart, drop-dead gorgeous—and for the last six years, he’s been living with HIV. Pasha worries that he won’t be strong enough to help Daniel if HIV turns to AIDS, but he can’t walk away from their deepening attraction. He also doesn’t know if he can be strong enough to face the hardest task that a relationship with Daniel demands: coming out to his family and friends, and risking losing everything else he holds dear.
Below is a small excerpt from Hanging by the Moment. On their first date, Pasha and Daniel do all of the usual “first date stuff,” including discussing where they grew up.
THE next hour was spent eating, laughing, and trading stories about growing up, school, work, and family. And even though Pasha was way more interested in hearing about Daniel’s life than he was in talking about his own, he found himself saying more than he’d planned about himself. He talked about his brother and sister and nieces and nephew, and he learned that Daniel was from the Upper Peninsula, from “a speck on the map” called Hannahville.
“It’s not too far from Escanaba,” he offered. That didn’t help much, but instead of asking where Escanaba was, Pasha decided to look it up online later. “What about you?” said Daniel. “You live in Michigan all your life?”
Pasha shook his head. “I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia,” he added. “Not Florida.”
“Whoa. You don’t sound like it. I mean… sorry. I just meant you don’t have any kind of accent.”
He shrugged. “I came here when I was five. I’ve spent most of my life speaking English.”
“Do you still speak Russian?”
Pasha laughed. “By two words?”
“It’s better than I could do.” He set down his chopsticks and regarded Pasha thoughtfully for a moment. “What was the hardest part of moving here?”
“You know, you’re one of the few people who have ever asked me that. Most people just assume it was learning English, but really it was learning the alphabet. It’s really different.”
Pasha flagged over their waitress and asked if he could borrow a pen and something to write on, then he turned back to Daniel. “What’s your dad’s name?”
“I suppose we’re on tee—on informal terms,” Pasha explained. “But if we were in Russia, I might still be calling you Daniel Johnovich.” As he spoke, he wrote out Daniel’s name in Cyrillic cursive—although “Johnovich” was far from a traditional patronymic name.
“Okay, I recognize about half the letters,” said Daniel, “but why’s there an H in the middle of my name?”
“That’s an n,” Pasha told him.
Daniel shot him an incredulous look. “So why do both Daniel and Johnovich start with D?”
“Because there isn’t a j in Russian.”
“Right. Note to self: do not try to learn Russian to impress boyfriend,” Daniel muttered. Then he blushed. “Sorry. I’m honestly not trying to get ahead of myself here, promise.”
“It’s kind of pointless going out with someone if you don’t at least hope there’s the possibility for something, right?” He held his breath waiting for the answer.
Daniel’s smile made his heart surge. “Yeah. Absolutely right.”
And it was all Pasha could do not to reach across the table and take hold of his hand.
In case you’re wondering about that last line, Pasha is so far in the closet it’s almost painful to watch. No one in his family knows (after all, they’re conservative Russian immigrants), and since he works at the family business, that lets out telling any of his co-workers.
And of course since this is a part of a virtual book launch party, there are party favors! Or at least a prize at the end of the blog tour. Between now and October 14, I’m visiting a bunch of my friends’ blogs; if you leave a comment here (and include your contact info) you’ll be entered to win a pretty cool prize: a signed paperback copy of Hanging by the Moment as well as a goody bag of awesome swag.
And anyone who signs up for my newsletter will also be entered to win a signed paperback copy of the book in October.