Is everything in your historical novel LA PLEVITSKAYA authentic?
No. Like the movie writers who put together a biographical movie, I have connected known facts with scenes that I developed. These are based on the life of Russian music performers with whom I have been associated for deacdes. When you read a historical novel about a person from the 1600s ALL is developed by the author, because the records from those times would normally only mention that a person existed, no details. My Plevitskaya book has more factual content than you would expect from works about individuals in the 1600s or 1700s. The 2011 Amazon edition contains some facts which I was not aware of before.
Which scenes are historic facts and which ones did you develop?
I’d like to keep that for myself for the time being, but will reveal the ins and outs to a movie producer if I ever sell the rights. That is, if they want to know.
The research phase was great fun; don’t we all love to dig in treasure troves and find gems. The more I read, the more interesting it became because there was and still is a lot of contradictory information about Plevitskaya and Skoblin.
I would like to name one and a half here. I have read: ‘Plevitskaya was a bolshevik from way back and turned Skoblin’ (military books) and ‘Skoblin turned our beloved Plevitskaya’ (music books). So what would the truth be? You’ll find that in my book.
International expert Walter Laqueur writes that Skoblin was recruited in the early 1930s. No, there is evidence that secret service contact existed before 1926. In all likelihood Skoblin would have sold information to the Americans in Paris, as well, judging from one person’s memoirs. But I have left that well alone. Laqueur might have meant that Skoblin’s American contacts started in 1930. The files that Laqueur had access to would have been full of Skoblin tales about when his other schemes started.
I enjoyed the many inconsistancies immensely because they allowed me to develop scenes from my perspective, how artists of this genre live.
Are you related to Plevitskaya because your book reads as if you were?
Why did you self-publish?
The book industry has changed it seems, or maybe we just did not focus enough on this aspect as many authors, including Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and even Johann Sebastian Bach self-published. The catalogues are full of very young writers or authors who the audience knows through television. I was clearly outside their paramaters on all accounts so I did not bother to queue up. All agents broadcast on the net that they do not want to know about more authors.
Incidentally, my book is also outside their catalgue parameters because it is neither fiction nor a biography in the academic sense which only uses sourced facts. In Russia, what does not fit into the system has a proud tradition and is called ‘samizdat’. It means just self-publishing but has this touch of underground literature and non-conformism. Despite my long years in Australia, I have not shaken off my Berlin trait of non-conformism. We wanted to be different from the masses, while in Anglo culture this kind of individualism is frowned upon. For money I conform, but regarding my own time, I’d like to make the decision if I want to conform or retain my individuality, different from the mainstream or not.
Apart from all that, I was also spooked by the many reports about people getting bad book deals but more importantly- if you get a book deal you have absolutely no influence on what happens next. Is the company spending enough on publicity to move the paper stock? Will their overseas partners in another English speaking country reject the book for their market? Are they putting in efforts for secondary rights, e.g. movie, TV, serialisation, condensed book – anything?
Once you have a publisher you are no longer allowed to do anything yourself. Painting the worst case scenario: The publisher might sell 1,000 copies and you get two grand royalties, which is not so grand when they subsequently decide to take it out of focus promotion. That could even be all you ever get from your work until the rights fall back to you which would be years.
It is not that I think I know everything best, I just want to sleep easy that they (the team of publishers, promoters, agents etc.) make apprpriate efforts. My time in the recording industry taught me that you can get companies who sit back comfortably and let the artists do all the hard yards, including funding all promotional efforts. Many, many people must have the same idea as it is said that self-published books now far outnumber the trad. published ones.
In which category do we slot your Plevitskaya book in?
Creative non-fiction is what I like best, but unfortunately, this is (not yet?) an official category. In one instance I had to tick ‘wildcard’.
What is the age group and demographic for your Plevitskaya book?
From 12 to 82 years of age. The demographic is very wide, too. For instance, Plevitskaya’s time in pre-Revolutionary Russia was the time when 2 million Jews left for Palestine, the US, and elsewhere. Now their descendents have become curious what happened there and then. The number of ancestor hunters is huge. They can get an impression of the lifestyle, the music, and the power structures from my book. The other group of descendents interested is that now third or fourth generation of those who had to flee red Russia. Another pool is the lovers of classical music who are interested in where Stravinsky and Rakhmaninoff found their inspiration. The much loved repertoire of Russian Folk tunes is to a large part based on the Plevitskaya Repertoire, as her contemporaries called it. There are millions of lovers of Russian Folk and Gypsy music, Russian and non-Russian speaking.
How famous was Plevitskaya in her time?
Hugely. She was a household name. Some sources wrote ‘Plevitskomania swept over Russia’, others say ‘we sang the songs from ‘The Plevitskaya Repertoire’. Stravinsky was clearly inspired by Plevitskaya. His set designer Benois wrote that Plevitskaya captured them all with her beauty and artistry.
Why was Plevitskaya forgotten?
Because she was convicted for espionage. Nobody brags about having known or admired a person who is in jail. She also died in WWII and people had other things to think about than music. As long as Stalin was alive (until 1953) nobody could have written about her.Then the years passed and she was forgotten.
The Don Cossacks monopolized the Russian music market for a while and from 1967 a German opera singer called Ivan Rebroff (who I knew before he was famous) personified the Russian songs. He even perpetuated the maleness of this genre in the eyes and ears of the audiences. Where Plevitskaya is ruthless and selfish, that is loosely based on what I experienced with Rebroff. LA PLEVITSKAYA is the first and still the only one which describes her life in full.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I researched and wrote parallel over four years. If I could have done it full time, it might have been a lot quicker, but I had many other obligations at the time – just tried to fit it in when I could. At some stage I reserved the Thursdays to go to either one of the big libraries here in Adelaide, armed with catalogue numbers from the internet catalogues. That got me out of the noisy environment where I lived at the time. I could also sort my thoughts and notes. That was a productive time. What slowed me down was a new ‘duty’, i.e. learning to play the bass balalaika. But the upside of that was that I was now right back in the middle of my topic, Russian Music.
Did you experience writers’ block?
No. I even dispute it exists. In my view, you can have a block to write something specific that is required of you at that particular moment, but if you changed your topic, you would probably not feel stuck. I do not see it in any other way than cooking. You might love to cook special meals but will probably experience a day or two when the very thought of cooking puts you off completely.
There were days when I was not sure what the next chapter would be, how to tie it in with the historic facts and ambiente. Sometimes I just edited previous chapters; sometimes I left it for a couple of days and sorted it out in my head when doing dishes or some such like. The answer usually appears very early in the morning when being half awake.
I made tons of notes and photocopies but did not refer to them a lot, rather coming back to the technique that I had practiced in my time as a journalist. If it’s important, you will remember it. Put that on paper and consult your notes for accurancy only.
Sometimes when I had a little idea, I just jotted it on a piece of paper which I kept in a specific folder, in the probable order of insertion. From time to time I would go over these notes and discard or use them.
Why did you write this Plevitskaya book?
The idea had fascinated me about seven years before I could tackle it. I felt like an explorer discovering the white area on the map. For decades, I had also worked more in the background, a role that I had elected, but suddenly I felt the need to prove that I could do something on my own. I was only occasionally helped by the feedback in the writers group.
What software did you use?
I write in wordpad as I think it is the fastest so you don’t lose the flow of your thoughts. When I had to stop the writing or editing session, I put in a little marker like xxx to quickly find that part again next time. Where I wanted to check up on a fact I put in a different marker which enabled me to do a fact checking session, because the sifting through boxes with notes,photocopies, internet, and books means getting up all the time, so it is better to group these items.
From time to time I’d copy my texts into PageMaker and then do the typesetting stuff. I once used InDesign which has some nice features, but it makes gigantic pdfs which are unsuitable for upload to CreateSpace/Amazon. Not knowing this cost me a fair amount of time and headache because I had to put it all back into PageMaker. We don’t do Word in this household.
Are you working on another book?
Unfortunately not, or not yet. At this stage it is still more important to promote my Plevitskaya book and maybe find time to translate it into my old language. I often have ideas and the urge to embark on another journey like the Plevitskaya one, but pull myself back to not lose focus.
M o v i e p i t c h f o r s p e e d r e a d e r s
by Ally Hauptmann-Gurski
(First Draft, will be updated or deleted soon)
Option for sale
Turn my Plevitskaya book into a bio-pic.
Why? Topic has not been done before
Based on a true story
Longseller (historical phase and music do not date)
Some characters known by audiences. Heroine 15 in the beginning.
Places that people relate to? Yes
Love? Scenes can be downplayed for G rating or up for M.
Audience demographic: Descendents of emigrés and escapees from the Tsarist and Bolshevik empires. Music lovers and scholars. Berliners, Parisians, Ukrainians, Russians, Russian speakers. Everyone from 12 to 82 who enjoys a colourful movie with a beautiful singer and balalaika/guitar music thrown in. Australians due to author residing in Australia. Germans due to author originating in Berlin. In Bombay, Russian music was (is?) all the rage a few years ago. Peek behind the curtain.
What about that samizdat book La Plevitskaya? Can be withdrawn 24/7 and by the time the movie comes out, the tie-in edition will look fresh.
Plevitskaya was a very attractive woman. Look at the backcover of my book and let your inspiration wander. I do not intend to make any casting suggestions, but a new face that seeks a breakthrough project could be used for the lead.
Movie producers have their own script writing teams. I will not be involved (unless asked). Final script approval? Probably not.
I envisage interested companies to buy a book from
This offers a protective wall of anonymity. Purchase price will be deducted tenfold from initial option payment.
Big bucks option? No, Progress to Production Deal
Why offer on the net? Where I live, they specialize in budget movies and Australian stories. I have no Vitamin C (Connections) to the Sydney movie scene where the occasional international movie is made. My vision is of an international co-production for which I certainly lack Vitamin C, but that is obviously up to those who put up the capital.
The book mentions more songs than can be included in a movie. Song material is out of c or anon.
No battle scenes.
Agency inquiries welcome. As a former journalist I understand your need for confidentiality
If you have not read them already, please check out my other postings on this blog to ascertain if you think we can work together for a common goal.
Ally Hauptmann-Gurski (artifex2ATbigpond.com)
Have a nice day!