Monday, May 4, 2009

A Magical My Town Monday

Tomorrow afternoon I'm heading south the go fishing at Lake Buchanan west of Austin. Preparing for my trip meant I didn't have time tow rite a My Town Monday post about Amarillo, so for the very first time ever I'm handing the reins to One Word, One Rung, One Day to a guest blogger. Many of you already know Erica Orloff and read her blogs but let me introduce her for those who do not. Erica is a multi-published author in a variety of genres. On her writing blog she does a masterful job of relating the everyday aspects of life to the craft of writing. She also is the author of an often hilarious parenting blog called Demon Baby and Me. Check those out when you get the chance but first read her My Town Monday post which ties in quit nicely with her just released YA series.


First, thanks to Travis for having me. I remember following blog links to his site ages ago, and I think he was in the middle of his department store Santa essays . . . and I thought, “This guy is like David Sedaris, only in a big, heterosexual Texan writer.” Love his voice!

And now I get to do a My Town Monday. My Town is New York City. I live in Virginia now, but you can take the girl out of New York—but not New York out of the girl. When it came time to write the Magickeepers, though, it was actually someone else’s My Town that was woven through the book.

My grandmother, Fanya (always known as “Fanny”) was born in Russia, in Rostov-on-Don. My entire life, she was not the warm, fuzzy grandmother, like my mom’s mother. She was this five-foot-tall Russian who frequently scolded and loved to stuff me full of food (and for the record, she was not a good cook). I didn’t really understand her particularly well. She didn’t do things like other grandmothers. We didn’t go to the park or even outside. She didn’t chit chat like other grandmothers beyond a cursory, “How’s school?”

When I got a little older, and could really begin to understand, I learned she had survived “the Revolution.” At that point, they only revolution I knew of had George Washington in it. Fanny was really old, and so it struck me as possible she and George had been friends. But instead it turned out that she had survived the Russian Revolution.

I could write a book on her experiences. But instead, I recall one story. My grandmother would sometimes sit down and play the piano—dark, complex pieces. And she was sitting on the piano bench when she told me about her town. Her family had been wealthy, and there was a young girl of 15 or so, who used to come and sing opera in people’s parlors.

“When the Communists came,” she said, practically spitting the word, “they took her, this beautiful songbird—her voice was so pure—into the public square and shot her in the head in front of everyone in our town. Her voice was ‘too expressive’ they said as they condemned her.”

It was then I started to understand Fanny better. What she had survived. Why she was darker and more distant. And I tucked away that story, like most writers. When I decided to write The Magickeepers, it was about a rogue clan of robber baron magicians who escaped Communist Russia and settled, eventually, in Las Vegas, where they hide their identities by having a casino and a stage show of illusions. And woven through the book is the idea of this Russian history—this “my town”—coloring every choice and every decision. The idea of bravery and destiny.

You may have a My Town that’s actually an ancestor’s town. Do you have inherited stories from before your time that still resonate as part of you?

And as always, check back for links to other MY TOWN MONDAY posts.

Jenn Jilks - Muskoka, Ontario, Canada

Lyzzydee - Hertfordshire, England

Mary - Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Cloudia - Honolulu, Hawaii

Chris - Genoa, Italy

Terrie Farley Moran - New York City, New York

Clair Dickson - Howell, Michigan

Debra - Village of Peninsula, Ohio

Sex Scenes at Starbucks - Grand Lake, Colorado


lyzzydee said...

I hope Travis has a great time fishing!! I have actuallyu got a my town Monday post but It won't go live until midnight GMT!!
I enjoyed reading your account of New York.

Erica Orloff said...

I will check it out . . . and wish Travis big fish!

Jenn Jilks said...

Interesting post, Erica.
I have been helping with the palliative care for an 80-something woman. She has been telling me marvellous stories.

I imagine Travis will come back with a big one (story or fish - who knows!).

MTM is about my trip back for my Jarvis high school reunion. Amazing old building! It was its 200th anniversary. Not telling mine...but there were bell bottoms involved.

Janet said...

My grandmother fled what was then Austria as a girl, because her father had the immense wisdom to see the First World War coming. Their town was the scene of one of the major battles of the war, and their house was blown to smithereens. They did not have an easy life in Canada, dealing with the prejudice against anyone who spoke German through two wars, living in near-frontier conditions, clawing their way up from abject poverty to genteel poverty. But they never complained, except for the tiny wisp of regret that entered my grandmother's voice when she talked about the education she was unable to complete. Her children were all well-educated and successful, an ambitious, intelligent lot.

Her hometown is now part of the Ukraine, one of those multi-ethnic regions that are so hard to classify. I would love to check it out someday. I once met a man in the airport who came from that region. He had the same eyes, which I had never even noticed as being distinctive until I met someone from outside the family who had them.

Travis' Wife said...

Wow I am ready to read!! That is my kind of book. I think we should meet in Vegas and read it by a pool. Rent a cabana I'll read you sign books have the pool boy bring us drinks. Sounds like a reason for a trip to me.

Erica Orloff said...

I love talking to seniors. They always have AMAZING stories . . . of lives lived long and often with wisdom,

Erica Orloff said...

I have four children, and the oldest looks very slavic, I think. I often "see" the Russian in her the way I don't "see" it in my other children, who resemble their father much more, who is Hispanic.

Erica Orloff said...

Travis' Wife"
I'm there! Margaritas!


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Erica,

My MTM post will be up at 9 AM EST. It is about the Queensborough Public Library in the Borough of Queens in New York City.

Yay New York.


Mary said...

Hi Erica,

My post is up and I'm ready to read your book in Vegas by a pool as well.

I am so glad you were able to see who your Grandma really was.

(my post is up as well)

Erica Orloff said...

Hey Terrie:
My writing blog has a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge!


Erica Orloff said...

Sounds like time for a Vegas road trip.

Mark Terry said...

As you know, my Mom has Alzheimer's, so her stories now are often fabrications, like the time--she told me--she spent a summer with friends in Europe. There might be an upside to AD if you get to think things you dreamed of or read are actual memories.

Erica Orloff said...

My mother's mother used to think she was in Hawaii in a mansion with servants--a place she had never been. I used to think . . . well, at least her fantasy is a nice one.


Helen Ginger said...

My ancestral story would be about my father. My mother and he divorced when I was three. He came over every other weekend to pick up my sister and I for the day. Most of the time we visited battlefields (I live in Georgia then and the battlefields were plentiful.) We would walk and walk, reading signs, searching the fields for relics, Dad telling us stories about the battles and the men who fought them. I was in my early teen years when I realized my dad could not have fought in the Civil War. He was old (in my mind) but not that old.

Travis, welcome to my part of Texas, we have the biggest fish in the state. If you drive to the west of Austin, wave at me.

Richmond Writer said...

My town story would be the d*** Yankees came and used the grand piano as a feeding trough for their horses. Obviously that one goes back a few generations but there are some stories that just never die.

Jessica said...

Oh, what a sad story. Your poor grandmother. No, I don't have any stories. I'm glad later on you could kind of understand why your grandma turned so cut off. I can't imagine living somewhere like that. :-(

Thanks for stopping by my blog, twice! :-) Have fun fishing. We're heading down to the Keys this week. My husband is a huge fisherman and wants to catch some permit. LOL

Anonymous said...

Aha! Road trip, with fishing. West of Austin. All good. Loved to go fishing with my dad, years ago.

Thanks for the story, Erica, and for the mention of what looks to be a very cool book. I will look for it.

No important stories here. My family came to Texas at least six generations before me, and I'm a grandmother myself. Before that they were just in some other state. But I love to read the stories of other families.

Clair Dickson said...

My MTM post is up. It is fascinating listening to old stories.

My husband's grandfater tells stories about fleeing Mexico as the economy was crashing. He had to smuggle his money out in his socks.

debra said...

My post is up. I will be back later to read :-)

Erica Orloff said...

Isn't it marvelous how children determine ages? My kids think I am ancient.

Erica Orloff said...

Get out! Wow . . . talk about an authentic detail to go into a book one day.

Erica Orloff said...

You know, kids just don't place people in context. If someone is mean, they're just mean--and they don't think, "Oh, that person must have a REASON they turned out so ornery."

Erica Orloff said...

I love looking at other people's photo albums too. People and their families and ancestors fascinate me.

Erica Orloff said...

My significant other is Mexican as well. Our children have been researching his family tree a bit. His grandfather was a medicine man of sorts. Cured acne with steamed rice and all sorts of natural remedies.

Clare2e said...

Erica- I love the premise of your upcoming novel, and the cover's wonderful! Sometimes certain people are an acquired taste, better appreciated later in life, like sharp cheeses. It occurred to me that "Fanny" is such a warm and cheery nickname for a woman who'd been turned dour.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I have a short my town post up.

Sarah Laurenson said...

My great grandmother came from wealth, but she married a tug boat captain and was disinherited. My grandmother and her three sisters went to school to knit socks for the soldiers instead of learning anything. Food became scarce. The one boy in the family was dropped on his head by a relative and died.

This was Hamburg, Germany circa 1910.

My grandmother came to the US (1922ish) and went to work sewing buttons on sweaters at some relative's factory. She learned some English and then worked at a TB hospital where she met my Aunt (who was not a blood relative, but added Italian 'relations' to my family tree).

Looking forward to reading The Magickeepers!

Anonymous said...

“When the Communists came,” she said, practically spitting the word, “they took her, this beautiful songbird—her voice was so pure—into the public square and shot her in the head in front of everyone in our town. Her voice was ‘too expressive’ they said as they condemned her."

My stomach hurts just thinking about this.

As far as my town goes, I just visited it yesterday. It's a small little town that has fallen on some hard times. They don't even have a library anymore, though my Dad tells me they have a little bit of money tucked away for one.

Still, visiting there yesterday gave me that warm fuzzy feeling inside, as only Home can do.


Skeeter said...

Hi Travis, thanks for the B-day wishes. Hope you catch some nice fish out there.

Hi Erica, that was a remarkable account. It must have been electric to hear hear it first hand. Very well done.

Best wishes,


Erica Orloff said...


Acquired taste is such a great way to put it! :-)

Erica Orloff said...

Sex Scenes:
Off to check it out!

Erica Orloff said...

LOVE the tugboat captain tidbit!


Erica Orloff said...

Almost all her stories were sad. Coupled with my grandfather's stories (also from Russia, he his in a barn under hay while his entire family--8 or so of them--were lined up and executed in a field), it comes as no surprise to me that Russians are considered stereotypically brooding and intense.

Erica Orloff said...

You know, I remember thinking it sounded so far away and strange. I also had cousins exiled to Siberia . . . I still can't wrap my mind around it sometimes.

Travis Erwin said...

Just for the record I'm still doing the gathering of links and posting them. i say that because if I screw up and miss someone I do not want Erica to get blamed. I do not fly out until this afternoon so I'll be gathering links until about 2PM central time.

And Erica this really is a marvelous story and I went to pick up Magickeepers but my local Hastings hasn't gotten the 5 copies they ordered yet. I reserved one for when I get back in town.

Melanie Avila said...

Erica, what a great tribute to your grandmother. To be able to take her history and weave it into a book... just wonderful.

Lauren said...

That's a horrible ordeal that she survived! Seniors always have such great stories. That's great that you have woven some of your history into your work. Is your nom de plume your maiden name, if you don't mind me asking? I wonder since the Russian is from your father's side.

I am looking forward to reading your book! Sounds fabulous. I got it for my nieces (after hearing about it around the blog-o-verse), but am going to review it first :)

Linda McLaughlin said...

My ancestors lived ina log cabin in Western PA in the late 18th c. and I used that setting for my historical romance, Rogue's Hostage, published by Amber Quill Press.

Fascinating post, Erica. Is your book YA?

Have fun fishing, Travis.

Erica Orloff said...



Erica Orloff said...

No . . . Orloff is Russian. But I took a pen name to distinguish it from my adult books as I don't want kids reading them,


Erica Orloff said...

Hi Linda:
It's Middle Grade.


angel, jr. said...

Hi Travis...have a great time fishing!

Joe Barone said...

What a moving story. I'm at the aged where I look forward and backward in regard to backstories. I have backstories I've been told (i.e. my father was born the day after his mother got off the boat from Itay and everything that goes with that).

But I hope to leave some backstories too, some things before my son's time which he can remember.

In some way our backstories have a lot to do with molding who we are.

debra said...

What a great story, Erica. Many of our grandparents lived lives that we cannot imagine. My Grandmother died when she was 101. She came to this country from the Ukraine in the steerage compartment of a ship when she was 14. She had stories about soldiers and dogs and the like. She worked as a seamstress in a factory in Cleveland Ohio to support her family. At 14.

Erica Orloff said...

I consider the Russian in me hard to shake off, so to speak. Yes . . . definitely molds you. I know I learned hard work from my dad.


Erica Orloff said...

I am constantly reminded that I don't believe my grandmother's story was all that different--i.e., so many immigrants have harrowing tales of WWI, WWII, etc. My mother's mother told me a lot of Great Depression stories. I am fortunate that as a writer I can keep a few of them alive in spirit.


yellowdog granny said...

if you're still in the austin area on the 9th(sat night.9pm) drop by Ginny's little longhorn and catch James Hand..local boy from west, texas..if you like hank williams sr. you'll love james..

Jude Hardin said...

One day every year, on the first Saturday in May, the world stops to notice my hometown for at least a couple of minutes.

One time I was talking to my grandmother about Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and she said, "He wrote about it. We lived it." Like so many families back then, mine struggled daily just to survive. It makes me sad that they had to suffer like that, and thankful for the relative luxury we live in now.

alex keto said...

As a related story, my grandmother was born in Vippuri, Finland, but after some unpleasantness with the Soviets in the 1940s, it became Vyborg, Russia.

Caron Guillo said...


It's so nice to meet you here on my writing buddy Travis's blog. What a delicious story you've intrigued us with. Yes, where we're from is such a deeply-rooted part of who we are.

As an aside, I checked out your parenting blog and was touched by your 5 Things I Love About Being a Mom post . . . so much so, that I linked to it and wrote my humorous "Bad Mom" parenting column on the same topic. (

Cloudia said...

A complex post - like mulled spice wine drunk through a surgar cube!

Junosmom said...

Hi Travis - I've been away but I'm back. I wrote today my MTM (okay, I know it is Tuesday, but I'm trying) about our Church's Cinco de Mayo celebration this past Sunday. It was fun to have such a cultural event, small though it was, at our Church in our small town.