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This is an unfinished short story from a while back… It takes place in 1991. 

 

It was in Palm Beach that I first wanted to be a cat. Or a dog.

I looked at them lounging poolside, each in its own chez striped in white and red, gray Puffy licking his paws, and two dirty-white Maltese, Buford and Twinkie, one scratching its balls, the other gnawing at its hind paw. Why was it that these puff balls had their breakfast and dinner served on a silver tray, walked three times a day, washed once a week while I had to scrub floors and pretend to be invisible like a modern day Cinderella? Because of Don.

He liked the dogs to kiss him on the lips, the cat to sit on his crotch, and all of them to sleep in his bed. I found the first two repulsive. The latter I could understand as Don was the loneliest man I’ve met, single and childless at 60. He also had the money for a dedicated live-in au pair for his pets. Me.

Didn’t these animals know that I had a graduate degree in Russian Literature (Silver Age) from a top university in St. Petersburg, I wondered taking out cat litter with one hand and squeezing my nose with another; that my father worked with Sobchak when he was the Mayor of Leningrad and that I was invited to model in Paris. Don knew all this, of course, and that’s why he hired me. Even though he later told me it was my long legs that made him choose me from sixty other applicants for the job. Had I not guessed by then that he was gay, I would have run away after the revelation.

Don also knew that I was a 20-year-old girl, alone in New York City, whose tourist visa would soon expire and who had not enough money to buy six chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Four I could afford, not six. How did he know? Perhaps by my look of wounded pride and panic, barely concealed by a forced half smile during the job interview three months earlier. Or conviction with which I told him that I’d be the best person for the job, as I had the intellectual upbringing and grew up with dogs, my broken English no longer an obstacle in conveying this half-lie.

After he explained my duties with the dogs, the dry cleaning and the upkeep of his Midtown penthouse apartment, he showed me to a side room – my own, with yellow and green wallpaper, a lock on the door and a separate pink bathroom, with a bathtub. Maid’s room it was called. Who knew that people still had maids at the end of the twentieth century, and that I’d be one of them? Try telling that to one of my high school friends back in Leningrad. They’d probably pee in their pants that their valedictorian classmate could fall so low. After Perestroika and Glasnost, after Russia’s first free elections, to end up a maid for pets in New York, herself leashed like a dog to room and board, and $150 a week.

The night I moved in, Don told me I could eat anything I wanted from his refrigerator. As I searched for words which would express my gratitude and not reveal the insult, he left the kitchen.

Back at home sugar and salt were allowed strictly in exchange for coupons, half a kilo per month. Was St. Petersburg of 1991 circling back to Leningrad of 1941, I thought, my fingers fetching slobs of crab meat out of a jar I found on the top shelf of Don’s monstrous kitchen cupboard. I’ve never tasted crabmeat before. As a daughter of a distinguished professor who survived the Siege of Leningrad, I didn’t appreciate being reminded that I’d starve, too, if not for the fancies inside Don’s fridge. I finished the crabmeat and drank the salty juice, catching the last drops with my tongue.

I then ate a pack of Raisinets. Their sweet warmth reminded me of childhood, of Grandma buying me a pack of chocolate-covered raisins every Sunday from a street kiosk near her flat. I haven’t had one in 15 years.

What was I doing in Palm Beach? Getting ready for Don’s New Year’s Eve party at his mansion. He told me he was expecting some of America’s richest (old money) and influential (politics) families in attendance and that besides making the house shine I should shine myself. While I accomplished the former in four hours – the four bedrooms, the den, the kitchen and now even the pool was sparkling – making myself shine was harder. I walked into my room, legs shaking, hands aching, and armpits smelling, and sat down on the high bed with embroidered white linens and hand-made quilt. I yearned for some stillness – to sit for a few minutes in the dim den, or lie down on the bed. And I only had one dress, long, black and sleeveless, which cost me whooping thirteen dollars on sale at Express. Not an evening gown, a 100% cotton dress a woman might wear to conceal her legs or hide her hips. I didn’t have to hide my body; people told me I had a perfect figure. I bought it because I could wear it on all occasions. When I showed it to Don, he wasn’t thrilled and left my room. I bit my nails.

“Here,” he said walking back in and handing me a flat white box tied with a silk red bow, puffing on his cigar. “Try that on. I want Koch and Shriver to appreciate my taste in household help.” I heard neither the names nor the offense. I felt like Vivian from “Pretty Woman” – the first film I saw upon arriving in New York. I didn’t have to sleep with the benefactor, though.

What was inside that box? Was he giving it to me for the evening or for good? Maybe I could meet someone at this party who’d tell me that this slaving for Don was only temporary, that I’d get a real job in no time. I united the bow and opened the box. A shimmering piece of red silk slipped from my hands and fell on the bed. The perfect dress I’d seen in my recurring dreams.

“Try it on and let me see,” Don said leaving the room. “The guests arrive in 30 minutes. You’re greeting them with champagne at the door. Have to pour it first, too.”

I took another shower before trying the dress on, as if afraid that the Cinderella transformation wouldn’t be complete without the cleansing. As I watched the water swirl around my feet, I wondered what my ex-boyfriend would think if he saw me in this dress. But first it had to fit.

I smothered my body, shoulders to toes, in a rose body lotion I found in the shower cabinet. “Crabtree & Evelyn,” it said on the label. Smelling like a rose, I wondered what the crab had to do with Evelyn, and who she was. A rose? And then I started to feel like one, petals slowly unfolding, ready for my grand entry to the ball. The look in the mirror, though, revealed that I also shined like a Russian samovar. I powdered my face, then found some talcum powder and put it on my chest and arms to stop them from reflecting the lights. Now I looked like a sugared apple, or a Geisha.

The guests would be arriving in ten minutes. I rubbed off the talcum with a towel, my skin burning; my eyes stinging. Inhale. Exhale. The dress was waiting for me, as was the beginning of something wonderful. I was certain of that.

To be continued

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My nine-year-old daughter told me she’d be entering a NYT poetry contest.

When she was six, we co-wrote this short piece below.

 

The Magic Flower

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl. She loved to sing while walking in the rain, and to pick flowers. Her favorite color was red, and sometimes orange. More than anything, she liked to dream. One morning, when she woke up in her high bed, she saw a rainbow flower outside her window. It was as tall as a horse. The girl leaned out the window and tried to pick the flower, but it moved to the other window. The girl thought, I’ll just go to the next window and touch it. But then she thought, what if the flower moves to the window after next? She decided to walk out into the garden and talk to it. She knew it was a magic flower: if it could move, perhaps it could talk.

The dew kissed her feet as she took a few steps on the sparkling grass toward the flower. It remained still, and when she came closer, the flower leaned over the girl with its seven petals, and she found herself inside a giant rainbow umbrella. Is it raining? She thought. But the sun was shining – through the flower’s petals, red and orange, yellow and blue, making kaleidoscopic patterns on her white pajamas, as if pronouncing her the queen of the magic kingdom. The girl touched each petal, whispering a wish into their softness. The flower didn’t answer, only caressed the girl’s bare arms, and she knew that each dream would come true.

She dreamed of friends, who’d never betray her.

She dreamed of meeting a magician, who would understand her dreams.

She dreamed of traveling to magic countries and speaking in foreign tongues with people who looked nothing like her.

She dreamed of creating a magic kingdom of her own, where only kind, smart and funny people were allowed.

She dreamed of being an inspiration to people around her, even though she didn’t know yet what inspiration was.

She dreamed of never getting hurt again by people.

She dreamed of her mother being alive.

More than thirty years have passed, and most of her wishes came true. Except for the last two. Perhaps, it wasn’t a magic flower after all, she thought, sitting on a windowsill of her apartment, smelling the rain outside. Perhaps it was, because five wishes out of seven is better than nothing.

 

 

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Love is in the air, or so they say when Spring rolls in.

To celebrate a year since the publication of my debut novel, I’m giving away three copies of Inga’s Zigzags on Amazon.

First come first serve. All you have to do is follow me on Twitter, and if you’re already a follower, just click below and there you have it – a good love novel, free, just in time for falling in love.

Enter here.

Let the spring fever start!

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He touched her hand as she walked by, on a street in SoHo. She turned, and stopped. It was dark, but the window display lit him up as if on stage. His eyes were fixed on her, in awe, and she tilted her head inquiringly.

“I have to talk to you,” he said. “May I talk to you?”

He was short, well dressed and slightly agitated. Older. She was tall, well dressed and tired after a night of performing. But, as was every time after a show, she was elated, as if still floating above the stage, nurtured by the shared intimacy of the crowd that responded to her and made her feel loved, and she longer had to feel lonely.

Her friends turned to look.

“What would you like to talk about?”

“Can I just tell you how beautiful you are?”

He was sincere and desperate at once, so she nodded: a crumb of admiration from a stranger was like a gift of kindness from above, and she accepted it, grateful yet skeptical.

“I want to hold your hand, and tell you things,” he said and reached for her hand. She withdrew it.

“I’m married, you know.”

“No, that can’t be.” He took a step back, then forward, inspected the rings on her left hand.

“They are real,” she said.

“Are you happily married?” He searched for the answer in her eyes.

She looked at the window display, with an empty-eyed mannequin dressed in orange, and nodded. He didn’t need to know the answer. She didn’t know it herself.

“And I am her lover,” her friend stepped up closer.

The man turned to the woman who had said the words, inspected her reddish hair, ironic smile, and turned back. He was ready to believe it, and that made her even more desirable in his eyes.

“Former lover,” she corrected her friend.

“Former?”

“And future, too.” The women smiled at each other. He nodded. It didn’t matter whether that was true or not. She was like a vision, and he didn’t want to lose it.

“I live nearby,” he said. “Would you like to stop by?”

She shook her head.

“I have to go home. There is a husband waiting for me, and two children.” She paused. “Are you that lonely? Nobody waiting for you at your fancy loft?”

“Nobody,” he said, and took her right hand in his. “I could read you some poems. I’m a poet.”

She looked at him, and didn’t take her hand away. She could feel his loneliness, it was much bigger than hers, but tonight she was still awash in the love she felt onstage, and didn’t want it to dissipate.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know about lonely. But I’m going home.”

She started walking away, then turned.

“You should write a poem, for me. Tonight.” She told him her name. “Find me, send me the poem, and then I’ll respond. Maybe.”

They walked away, the man standing by the lit window. On the pavement, atop a pile of recycled boxes, lay an enormous photograph, a woman’s portrait, in color. It must have been an ad for a beauty product, or a demo at a branding meeting, and now the face looked solemnly from the shadows of the street, discarded. They laughed at first, and took photos with the woman on the photo, and nearly fell into the pile of cardboards. She thought how the woman on the photograph was recycled, and all alone on the street. But the day they had photographed her, she must have been the center of attention, and all lights and cameras were on her.

She tried not to make any analogies – with her performance, and the man who found her on the street after.

The next morning she received a poem. It was about her teeth, and hands, and rivers flowing into the ocean.

She didn’t answer. The whole thing made her sad. The only difference between her and the poet was that he begged for attention on the street, and she didn’t.

(c) Vica Miller

May 22, 2014

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Friends, for  14 days before pub date, you have a chance to win one of the 14 copies of Inga’s Zigzags paperback. Yes, the books have been printed, and look great!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Inga's Zigzags by Vica Miller

Inga’s Zigzags

by Vica Miller

Giveaway ends May 14, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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Hello, my friends! This post includes parts from the latest update for my Kickstarter backers.

I’ve been so busy finishing up book production, that by the time the galleys were out (on February 14, as promised), I nearly passed out with exhaustion. The good news: advance reading copies are here and Inga Belova will soon be part of your household (so to speak).

Let me tell you this story in pictures:

1. Book production consists of two key parts: cover design and interior (pages) design (after the manuscript has been edited, proofread, and proofread, and proofread). The front cover was designed by TM/R, the back cover and interior pages by Yelena Ebel.

MLR_001_Zigzags_ARC_Cover_1

Covers and spine, final proof for Advance Reading Copy (ARC)
2. Picking the fonts. I have chosen the font that was used by Simon Van Booy for his latest novel, The Illusion of Separateness. When I saw the first page designed, I loved the look, but when I printed it, I realized the font was too small (see below), and I wanted wider page margins, so that the book “breathed” better and was easier to read. We increased the font to 12 points, and widened the margins. With that, the book went from 250 to 340 pages.

page1

3. Final review. While the book covers were being designed, I read and re-read the manuscript until I almost went blind (again, this was AFTER the book has been edited and proofread by the editorial team), first in a PDF format, later on paper (what’s called pass pages). We had to tweak quite a few things. For instance, at some point I realized that there were too many word breaks. We went through the whole designed manuscript and tweaked dozen of instances.

pass pages

4. Printing the galleys. I chose McNally Jackson bookstore to print the galleys on their Espresso Book Machine, for two reasons: they are located in SoHo (I wanted to come over and review the proof in person), and I was hoping that giving them business would make it easier for me to score a reading with them. Well, their prices are outrageous ($17 to print one book of this size – usually it’s around $8), and nobody replied to my reading inquiry. However, the book looks great (I changed the paper for the cover from matte to satin, as the colors didn’t look right on matte), especially when placed on a shelf with New and Noteworthy Fiction, and I scored a reading at another book store, of which more below.

McNally

I brought the galleys home…

galleys1

and still can’t believe that I can hold MY OWN BOOK in my hands! When people ask me how it feels, I say “surreal.”

galleys2

5. Fulfilling the rewards. Some of you have already received the printed book, others will do within two weeks. Ebooks will be sent over in mid-March, i.e. two months before publication, as promised. When you do receive your book, please post it on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. – it’s an immense help in generating the buzz!

wrapped

backer
6. Next steps.

  • I have created the sites, ladno.com and vicamiller.com, for Ladno Books and for my author site, and they will soon be developed into real web entities that they should be. All backer names will appear on vicamiller.com.
  • The book has been registered with Bowker.com (the main book database), the paperback ISBN – 978-0-9913834-0-5 – is active, which means that Inga’s Zigzags can already be pre-ordered by book stores, libraries and organizations.
  • I’ll be creating a Kindle version, and setting up the Amazon page in the next couple of weeks. It will become available for pre-order then. So exciting!
  • I have arranged a series of readings, and shall be appearing at a number of venues in May and June, including Book Culture (where the book launch will take place on pub day 14.05.14), my own Russia! Salon (with Boris Fishman, Lara Vapnyar and Alina Simone), Generation R at JCC Manhattan (with Vicky Kuperman) and Coney Island Museum, for Brooklyn launch (thank you, Fred Kahl, for helping with this opportunity). For a complete list of readings, including those in the fall, please go to Ladno Events page.
  • Inga’s Ball will take place on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 (for backers at $100+ levels), and will be an extravaganza of burlesque, reading, opera singing, video projections, and dancing, with Gay Pride Parade flair, emceed by the phenomenal Shelly Watson.

6. Publicity. Ah, what would we do without publicity? As is well known, the best publicity for any book is word of mouth. I rely on yours! The early readers had this to say about my novel, “fascinating read”, “impossible to put down”, “I love your book.” Music to my ears. To increase the good buzz, I plan the following:

  • Make a Kindle version of Inga’s Zigzags available for free to Amazon Prime users for the first two months
  • Solicit as many reader reviews as possible. That includes you! 🙂
  • Give the book for free to libraries. Yes, you won’t believe it, but often libraries don’t have the funds to buy books! Since I am my own boss here, libraries won’t have to pay for my book.
  • Have a series of author interviews and book reviews. The novel is out with a number of lit and lifestyle magazines (and Kirkus Reviews!), so I’ll keep you posted.
  • One interview already took place – on parenting and writing. Please take a look at Cari Luna’s wonderful blog to read it. Here is the pict that goes with it.

Vica Miller with children
For a complete list of press sightings, please see ladno.com/press

7. Lessons Learned. This has been a fascinating ride, albeit the one that felt like a roller coaster at times.

  • I have learned who my true friends are, and who could care less about me succeeding.
  • I learned that some people/organizations are so stiff that it’s better to stay away from them (McNally Jackson, Powerhouse Arena), while others are enthusiastic, supportive and down to Earth (Book Culture, Pen Parentis, Lit at Lark, the publisher of Riverhead Books).
  • I have learned so much about the business of publishing that I feel truly confident about running my own indie publishing house, Ladno Books.

Book culture

Book Culture on Broadway & 112th, where book launch will take place on May 14, 2014

It feels very empowering to be able to do what you want to do, the way you want to do it, while helping others. By that, I mean that

  • percentage of all Inga’s Zigzags sales will go to support LGBTQ rights in Russia;
  • the next Ladno Books title will be On Loving, an anthology of short stories and essays by women writers, exploring all kinds of love, from forbidden and kinky to platonic and romantic. I’m thinking of the kind and caliber of writing that would have been banned, like Nabokov’s Lolita was, until someone brave published it overseas. I choose to be that brave person, and do it right here, in the U.S. 🙂

Thank you for your support, my dear friend. You made my dream come true.

Here is to making lemonade out of lemons!

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Writer & Literary Salon Founder Vica Miller Launches Kickstarter Campaign for Inga’s Zigzags

A Crowdfunding Campaign to Publish Debut Novel Starts at 9:10 am on 11/12/13

 

New York, NEW YORK – 11/12/13 – As the debate over traditional versus self- publishing continues, writer and literary salon founder Vica Miller announces a Kickstarter campaign to finance the publication of her debut novel, Inga’s Zigzags.

“Inga Belova leaves NYC for post-perestroika Moscow to launch her own business. She falls in love with two women along the way,” reads the description of the novel on Kickstarter. Miller, a tech PR executive and mother of two, says that it took her eight years to write, edit, workshop, and rewrite the novel, and that she’d rather devote her time to bringing the book directly to the reader than do the “agent dance.” “I believe Inga’s story will resonate with many,” adds Miller, “but it might be a bit outrageous for U.S. publishers, so I decided to dare the outrageous on my own.”

Inga’s Zigzags is the story of a 28-year-old Russian woman, who after a decade of living in New York, returns to post-perestroika Moscow to start her own business. When her prospects fall through, she meets Emma and Alexandra, a pair of wealthy magazine publishers, who lure Inga into their bed and then propose to start a company together. When the threesome starts to fall apart, Inga is forced to make some difficult choices to find her way through the labyrinth of Moscow’s intrigues and heartbreaks.

Miller says that the novel will appeal to anyone who’s ever struggled with finding a place in life – be it in geography, jobs or relationships. The book is about evolving, a yearning to belong and feel accepted. Inga Belova is a New Yorker who has an MBA but feels misplaced. She is a double single – as in, divorced with no boyfriend – but then she finds double love. Yet she continues to feel in between – countries, careers, and lovers. She questions her sexuality, national identity, and loyalty. Miller says the book is especially timely, considering the recent crackdown on gay rights in Russia.

As a literary salon founder and published author of short stories, Miller is not a newcomer to the literary scene. She is fully aware of the lingering stigma that self-published books might not be on a par, in both writing and production, with those published traditionally. But knowing that worthy books often take years to get published traditionally, she says it’s time for conventions to change. A savvy professional, who has spent two decades in technology and public relations, Miller is on track to produce a high-quality book. She has already assembled a stellar team to help her: an editor, formerly with a big-five publishing house, an award-winning photographer for the cover image, a well-respected book cover designer, and a publishing consultant.

“I believe in the power of the creative community,” says Miller. “I can’t do this alone. I need good people to help me, and I need to pay for their efforts. It takes between $5K and $15K to publish a quality book.” She hopes to raise $5K, with a stretch goal of $10K.

Miller seeks donations from her backers ranging between $5 and $1,000. The rewards for supporters include advanced copies of e-book, signed copies of a paperback, reserved seating at her salons, invitations to a book launch party, and PR services. If the project is funded, a percentage of future book sales will go towards supporting LGBT rights in Russia.

A New Yorker for over two decades, Miller is an avid supporter of the arts: she has hosted dozens of writers, both published and not, at her salons, including Arthur Phillips, Lara Vapnyar, Michael Cunningham, Simon Van Booy, Jennifer Gilmore, Boris Fishman and Liesl Schillinger among others. She’s also backed two projects on Kickstarter, including The Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

Miller’s project launches on Kickstarter at 9:10 am on 11/12/13. “Help me bring Inga’s Zigzags to you, the reader,” says Miller. “I promise you will not be disappointed.”

For more information, please visit http://www.vicamillersalons.com/news.

Media Contact:

Vica Miller

+1-917-915-2054

millervica@gmail.com

@vica_miller

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