Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, December 30, 2013

When We Were 21

I had hoped to have the electronic version of A Rose for Sergei available by now.  My editor-daughter did warn me about all the time involved with writing/editing/publishing.  It is definitely taking a lot longer than I ever imagined.  I was advised by a few experienced authors to make sure I had several people proofread my manuscript before publishing.  I needed different people to check for specific items:  typos, dates, formatting, flow, continuity, etc.

I realize that asking someone to proofread an entire book is a huge undertaking.  My friend and former co-worker, Suzanna accepted the challenge.  After all, she was the one who kept telling me that I needed to write about Sergei.  She was an excellent choice—we often proofed each other’s papers at work.  I asked her to check my formatting and look for any misspelled words, and then I didn’t hear back from her for several weeks.  I started to get worried.  Uh-ohhh, I thought.  Problems?  I was relieved when I finally got an e-mail.


I finished your book a couple of nights ago and then have thought about it for a few nights.  I think your book shows Sergei in such a lovely light.  What a kind, caring person he was—how much he changed.  I think you accomplished your goal by coming across how you must have been at 21.  Young and feeling like nothing bad ever happens to anyone . . . .  It speaks to every young person’s take on life.  How they think everyone lives forever.  I didn’t cry . . . because I knew what was coming, but your reaction to his death came across as raw and emotional—it has stuck with me.  Also, I appreciate all of the references to the time period.  It was a neat insight into how men and women treated each other, bosses and secretaries, etc.

When I started the book, I was set on looking for formatting errors.  I found just a couple of small things.  As I became engrossed in your story, I forgot to look for errors!

Not to worry, I thought.  I do have other proofreaders.  The fact that Suzanna was so absorbed in my story that she forgot everything else was actually good news.  I could not have asked for a better book review.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Shared Memories


As I hung my favorite ornament on our Christmas tree this year it held a different meaning.  My parents’ home is now “for sale.”  There is no home to go home to.  The final chapter of the story of their lives has come to an end.  Even though I can’t physically go home again, my heart is filled with happy memories of past Christmases with my mother and father.  Those shared memories are enough to make me smile.  My mother knew along . . . all hearts go home for Christmas.

Below is an excerpt from A Rose for Sergei.  Sergei and I were not able to spend the holidays together.  I travelled from my home in Arlington, Virginia to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts.  Sergei flew back to Los Angeles, California, to enjoy a planned skiing vacation.
December 1972

“Christmas in Massachusetts is quite beautiful with all the snow covered pine trees.  Christmas with my family is even more beautiful.  It was my mother’s favorite time of year, and she always started playing Christmas music right after Thanksgiving.  Mom and Dad loved having all six children home at the same time.  There was always homemade bread and lots of Christmas cookies—tons of Christmas cookies.  My favorite Christmas ornament was from my mother.  It had a saying on it that read, “All Hearts go Home for Christmas.”  I loved that saying, but this year my heart was only partly there—the other part was with Sergei.

. . . Their home was picture perfect at Christmas time with a big fireplace at one end of the living room and a real Christmas tree to the side of the picture window that overlooked beautiful green pine trees right next to the patio.  It made for a cozy holiday, and I knew Sergei would have enjoyed being with all of us.  I loved being with all my brothers and sisters, but I had to admit that all I really wanted was to hurry back to Arlington to see Sergei.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Treasured Gift

As I was writing A Rose for Sergei I recalled how my former boss drove me to Sergei Kourdakov’s funeral.  Mr. and Mrs. Logie stood along side of me that heartbreaking day, supporting me emotionally and physically.

We don’t always stop to think about how important certain people are in our lives... maybe because we aren’t even aware of it at that particular moment.  Part of my writing journey led me to track down my former boss.  After thirty-six years, I finally caught up with Mr. Kirk Logie, Sr.  After we hugged each other warmly, he took a step back to just stare into my face.  He couldn’t stop smiling.  “I never, ever expected a visit from you after all these years,” he said as his eyes twinkled brightly.  “You got older.”  Did he expect time to stand still, just like our memories?  At age ninety-three he still has a full head of wavy hair, although time has turned it from red to white.  I would have recognized him anywhere.

Two of Mr. Logie’s children also joined us when we met.  They shared heartwarming stories of when Sergei lived with them when he first arrived in Washington DC.  Sergei helped Kirk Jr. with his swimming and diving skills at the neighborhood pool.  Sergei obviously was an expert in that area, having survived his incredible swim to freedom the night he defected from the Soviet Union.  You couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Sergei.

It was Lee Anne’s story, however, that captured my heart.  Lee Anne was seven years old at the time and had her first-ever “crush” on Sergei.  To a young girl, Sergei must have seemed “larger than life.”  She said Sergei liked to pick her up and place her on his shoulders as he walked around.  After one such time, Lee Anne told Sergei that she loved him.  His response completely surprised me.  Sergei told Lee Anne that no one had ever said those words to him before... and then he gently told her that he had a girlfriend.  I knew that hearing those words, “I love you,” from a sweet, caring child would have touched him deeply.  A few days later, Sergei gave Lee Anne a watch.

After Lee Anne told me her story she showed me the watch Sergei had given her.  It was beautiful, with a small stretch band to fit a young girl’s wrist, and a few tiny diamond chips sprinkled at the corners where the band attached to the facing.  She treasured his gift even after all these years.  I picked up the watch and held it close with both hands as a flood of memories rushed over me.  I smiled as I told her, “You beat me to it.  You told Sergei you loved him before I did.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Wrote a Letter

I often thought about my former boss, Mr. Logie, as I was writing A Rose for Sergei.  He is the one who introduced me to Sergei Kourdakov.  How could I have lost track of him?  There were times when I was writing that I would abruptly stop and initiate a search on Google.  I had a feeling that I needed to find Mr. Logie, but every avenue turned out to be just another dead end.  It bothers me that I let thirty-six years just slip away without any contact.

The last I heard was that my boss had returned to his homeland of New Zealand.  I had pretty much given up any hope of finding him.  I decided to try to locate his oldest son, his namesake.  I knew that if someone was writing a book, and mentioned my father, that I would want to know about it . . . especially since I had recently lost my own father.  My last Internet search finally paid off.  I found his son!  Now what?  I wasn’t quite sure how to go about making contact or how it would be received.  And so I decided on the old-fashioned way.  I wrote a letter.

Within twenty-four hours of mailing that letter I received an e-mail from Kirk, Jr.  How was that even possible?  I shouldn’t have worried about how my letter was going to be received; Kirk Jr.’s response was warm and kind-hearted.  Yes, he remembered Sergei.  Yes, he remembered meeting me when he was just a teenager.  And yes, his father still speaks about me even after all these years.  From the e-mail we progressed to several phone calls that day.  His exuberance reminded me so much of his father.  He caught me up on all the family news, and best of all, his father was doing well and still lived in the area.

Kirk Jr. told me that Sergei had lived in their home for several weeks when Sergei first came to Washington DC.  As we talked about my forthcoming book he couldn’t help but tease me about how his younger sister Lee Anne would take it.  “You know, Lee Anne was only seven at the time, but she had a huge crush on Sergei.”  I was touched to hear that and I definitely understood how that could happen.

Later that week I talked with Kirk Sr. on the phone, and all those years suddenly melted away.  It was so wonderful to hear his voice—his New Zealand accent still so familiar.  He told me that he was really glad I was writing a book about Sergei.  He still has fond memories of Sergei, which are just as sharp as ever.  I knew he was like a father to Sergei, they were very close.  Right before our conversation ended, with my promise to visit him soon, he too told me about Lee Anne’s crush on Sergei.

Wow, I wondered.  Mr. Logie is ninety-three years old and he still remembers Lee Anne’s crush on Sergei!  And her older brother remembers that too!  This had to be an amazing story.

I met with Lee Anne the following week and heard about “the crush.”  I promise to write in my blog next week about that seven-year-old girl and her beautiful story.  It will truly touch your heart.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Three Powerful Words

I was shopping at a store last week when I spotted an item on a top shelf.  I was sure I could reach it if I stood on my tiptoes . . . ahhhh, the perils of being short.  I leaned in close and stretched my arm to the max, but it was still just out of my reach.  I turned away empty handed, in search of a tall store employee . . . that’s when a shopper appeared at my side.  “I’ll help you,” she said with a smile.

“I’ll help you.”  That’s what the young woman said to me as she rushed over to offer her assistance.  Three simple words.  It made an impression in a very positive way.  She didn’t phrase it as a question—“Do you need help?” or “Can I help you?”  It was a statement.

I thought about what the young woman said when I got home that evening.  Three kind words.  Three powerful words.  I thought about other powerful words in my book.  Three words can evoke such strong emotions.

From A Rose for Sergei:

I believe you.”
What I said to Sergei after he told me about his life in the Soviet Union.

“I’m so sorry.”
What I said to Sergei after hearing about him becoming an orphan
at the age of four.

“I trust you.”
What I said to Sergei after he told me he would protect me.

“I love you.”
What Sergei said to me.

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's a Sign!

Whenever my younger sister Kelly wanted to know the answer to a life-changing situation, she asked for a sign.  She wanted something “visible” to know for sure if she was making the right decision.  I often teased her if I found a strange item on the ground—“Look, Kelly, it’s a piece of broken green glass, with rounded edges.  It’s a sign!  It’s a sign!  What does it mean?”  She always took the ribbing in stride.  She knew if she asked for a sign she would get it.  I always thought she must have a special sign Angel. 

I remember an incident that happened several years ago at a family beach get-together.  During a quiet girls-only stroll along the beach, Kelly spotted a beautiful sand dollar.  It was nestled among the thousands of piled up, broken sea shells that had washed ashore.  For some reason the fragile sand dollar was still intact.  It was perfect.  Kelly immediately snatched up the sand dollar and hugged it to her heart.  “I asked for a sign just a minute ago,” she said, “and here it is.”  It turned out that Kelly wanted confirmation that her boyfriend was “the one.”  It must have been the right sign because she later married him. 

I am probably more skeptical about signs but I admit that I have never found a whole sand dollar either, even though I have searched hundreds of times.  Something happened just recently, however, that made me think twice about signs.  I was waiting in a long line when I couldn’t help but notice the woman directly behind me.  She was slightly older than I am, attractive, and very distinguished looking.  Her beautiful Russian fur hat set her apart from everyone else.

I seldom start a conversation with strangers, but I couldn’t help myself.  I had to ask her about the hat.  “Yes, it’s from Russia,” she said warmly.  “I bought it forty years ago.”  I did detect a slight accent, but she said she was not Russian, she was Dutch.  I really did a double take when I heard her key words . . . “Russia, forty years ago.”  What were the chances of hearing those words from a stranger?  I was drawn to this lovely lady, and told her I was writing a book about a Russian that I had met forty years ago.

In the back of my mind, I could just hear Kelly’s voice laughing over the miles:
“It’s a sign.  It’s a sign!  You are supposed to tell your story about Sergei."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Safe With Me

Whenever Sergei Kourdakov and I walked alongside each other, he always threw an arm over my shoulders, pulling me closer to him as if shielding me from any harm.  He towered over me with his muscular physique and broad shoulders, overshadowing my petite frame.  “You are safe with me,” Sergei would assure me with an easy smile, as his arm rested on my shoulders.

Below is an excerpt from A Rose for Sergei. 

“We were excited to get started on our shopping trip, so we headed right out to my car.  I handed him the keys to my Mustang and asked if he wanted to drive, which was a big thing to me since I never let anyone drive my car.  I didn’t think he was the type of guy who wanted to be a passenger in a car driven by a female.  He declined and settled right in, leaning his bucket seat way back to enjoy the ride. 
When we arrived at the shopping center, Sergei was quick to hop out and run around to open my car door.  He had a big smile on his face, gave me a hug, and then threw one arm over my shoulders.  He pulled me close to his side as we proceeded to walk through the parking lot.  Some guys like to hold hands, some like to link arms when they walk—he liked to casually drape one arm over my shoulders and hold me close, my head almost leaning against his chest and tucked in safely under his arm.  Although I didn’t feel I needed to be protected in broad daylight in the middle of the parking lot, it was comforting anyway.  As we walked, we fell into an easy rhythm as Sergei naturally adjusted his steps to my shorter strides.  It felt as if we had known each other for a long time . . . .”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fitting In

I remember when Sergei told me about becoming “King” in the children’s home at Barysevo.  He explained it briefly to me, intentionally brushing over the details.  He said the children started their own society within the orphanage and there were three different categories:  the slaves, the lieutenants, and the king.  He told me he eventually fought his way to the top to become king.  That was all he told me...end of story.  He did not go into specifics about his former life in the Soviet Union because he never wanted to frighten me.  He made the right decision.  Once again, I am reminded of how different our lives were.

From Sergei’s book:

I remained a slave for only a short time.  When I became a little bigger and a little stronger, I challenged a lieutenant and beat him up and took his place....  I was determined to become the strongest boy in the home, and eventually to become king.  That was my goal, and no one...was going to stop me from reaching it!

There were four other boys who wanted to be king.  One by one, I took them on and beat every one of them.  Only one gave me a hard time, but I was able to finish him by smashing his face in.

Soon it was very clear who was the new king.  We had fought by the rules of our society, and I had won.  If at any time some lieutenant thought he could whip me, he had the right to try.  But for now I had won, and I was crowned the new king at Barysevo.  For a fourteen-year-old, that was not bad!

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor, Chapter 7, pgs. 69-70

* * *

When I was fourteen my family moved to the Washington DC area.  My father was a pilot in the U.S.A.F. and his new duty assignment placed him at the Pentagon.  I was upset about the move because I left all of my friends behind in Colorado, and I missed them.  It wasn’t long before I realized that living on the East coast, in a big suburb, was very different from the laid-back ways and friendliness of rural areas in the mid-west.

I soon discovered the meaning of the word clique at my new school.  It referred to the group or circle of friends you hung out with.  There were many levels of cliques.  One of the friendlier, popular boys in the ninth grade was my neighbor, Mark.  Sensing my “new school” nervousness, he explained the ins and outs of the various cliques.  If I wanted to fit in with the popular group, all I had to do, apparently, was buy fashionable East-coast-style clothes so I didn’t look out of place.

Wanting to fit in is everyone’s wish, no matter your age or your circumstances.  Sergei did what he felt he had to do in order to fit into the society of his children’s home.
If only the answer to fitting in was as simple as buying a new outfit.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Have you ever watched the television program, “Touched,” starring Kiefer Sutherland?  The premise of the show captured my attention and I was an instant fan.  It’s about a father and his son who has the ability to make connections with unrelated people around the world.  It shows the interconnectivity of people, how actions, seen and unseen, can change the fate of people across the world for the better.

I remember one such incident that unfolded recently right before my eyes.  I had just walked out of a restaurant with a revolving door that spilled out onto a wide sidewalk—directly in front of a busy street.  As I stood at the edge of the sidewalk, and waited for traffic to stop, I watched a child gleefully skip out of the restaurant door and run towards the street.  Her parents were caught up in the revolving door, still chatting with their friends.

In seconds, the child was beside me, about to step in front of an oncoming car.  I automatically swung my arm down, like a crossing guard, to block her path.  I barely touched her.  I felt the light fabric of her coat graze across my arm.  In that split second she stopped and spun around.  She ran back toward her parents as they sprang free from the door, and called happily to them, “Hi Mommy, hi Daddy.”  The little girl never knew the danger she was in.  Her parents each took a hand and strolled away, with their daughter in the middle, completely unaware they almost lost their child that day.  My actions changed the fate of that family and they would never know.  Our lives touched.

The fact that people from all over the world are interested in my book, A Rose for Sergei, encourages me.  Aside from the United States, the next largest group of people following my blog lives in The Netherlands.  Quite simply, I am touched, and I thank each and every one of you.

We are all connected.  Our everyday actions touch someone’s life somewhere . . . whether we know it or not.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Anything But Mundane

Definition of mundane (adjective):  ordinary, dull, routine, boring, unexciting

Below is an excerpt from my draft of A Rose for Sergei.  It was a Sunday afternoon and Sergei Kourdakov stopped by my apartment in Arlington, VA.  We only had a few hours to visit before he had to leave for the airport for his return flight to Los Angeles.

”We didn’t have a lot of time left together that afternoon but Sergei remembered that I said I needed to go to the grocery store that weekend because I was practically out of everything.  And, for some strange reason, he said he really wanted to help me grocery shop.  It seemed like such a mundane thing to do, but he was adamant about going with me.

I should have known that a trip to the grocery store with Sergei would be anything but mundane.  Everything in this country was new to him, and he wanted to experience as much as he could.  He had to push the grocery cart, he had to look at everything in the store and ask about all the items.  We laughed the entire time and acted like two little kids in a candy store for the first time.  I could tell that just hanging out together, doing something so ordinary, made him feel like he was normal.  He could forget about his past life, forget about the danger he felt, at least for just a little while.

When we were done shopping he took a wild ride on the back of the grocery cart in the parking lot as he raced ahead of me to my car.  It was quite a spectacle, and I just shook my head in disbelief and smiled.  I didn’t know a lot about the . . . but I was pretty sure that wasn’t the image they usually projected.  As I watched him sailing through the parking lot on the grocery cart, I couldn’t help but think how free he must have felt.  For the first time in his life he was completely free to be himself.  And he loved every moment.”

Sergei and I always tried to fit in as much time together as possible.  It seemed like there was never enough time.  Spending time with Sergei was always an adventure—it was never ordinary.  It was anything but mundane.

Monday, October 21, 2013

When We Were Nine

His smile!  That’s what I noticed first about Sergei Kourdakov on the day we met.  I was caught off guard by his friendliness and kind demeanor.  When he shook my hand, he didn’t let go.  He kept holding onto my hand.  But it was his smile that captivated me.  He never stopped smiling.

As I got to know Sergei better, I had a hard time grasping how he could be so happy.  Sergei lost both parents at a very young age and was raised in Soviet Union orphanages.  I realized it was his choice to be happy.  He was resilient—he had the capacity to cope positively with stress and adversity.

As I was writing A Rose for Sergei, I thought about how very different our lives were growing up.  Sometimes I wondered where Sergei and I were at the exact same time in our childhood.

From Sergei’s book:    

One day in 1960, when I was nine years old, the director of Number One came to me and said, “Kourdakov, get your things packed, you’re going to a new children’s home.” 

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Not far away.  In Verkh-Irmen.”  I didn’t know Verkh-Irmen from Moscow and was a little afraid.

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 5, pg. 42)

* * *

In 1960, when I was nine years old, I lived on a U.S. Air Force base in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  My father was a fighter pilot and my mother stayed at home taking care of five children.  Our home was filled with love and happy times together.

One of my favorite things to do was to ride around the base on my bike.  I loved the freedom and the feel of the cool wind whipping through my long hair.  I felt safe and secure in the confines of the guarded base.  One day when I was riding my bike, the hem of my jeans got caught up in the bicycle chain.  The pull of the chain yanked my leg back and I flipped over hard onto the street.  I held back the tears as I tried to pull my jeans free.  I was more afraid than hurt, worried about how to get home.  But I knew this was only temporary.

The uncertainty in Sergei’s life was a constant factor that he lived with, whereas my life was stable. 
Even though our paths were very different, they led us to the same place in time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Payback Time

It was difficult for me to wait while my book, A Rose for Sergei, was being edited by my daughter.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the editing process.  I wondered what she must be thinking as she carefully scrutinized every chapter, every page, and every word.  Would she like it?  Would she say to try again, or politely suggest that I forget it entirely?  I wondered if all writers felt the same way—were they as critical of their own work as I seemed to be?

My daughter is an editor and I trust her.  But, still, I am her mother.  My thoughts flashed back to when she was in the sixth grade and working on a science project for school.  I remembered when she showed me her results.  I told her, “It’s good, but you need a little more work.  You need to explain why something works better.”  I was encouraging her, and I wanted her to ask questions and learn from it.  She won first place at the school science fair that year.

Payback time has finally arrived.  My manuscript came back with her scrawled notes, in red ink, in the margins:  Why?  Because Sergei defected?  What were the broadcasts for?  What are S&H green stamps?

I secretly held my breath as we talked about the book.  It turned out that this payback wasn’t so bad after all.

“Mom, it’s good.  Your book is good,” she said with a smile. 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Things That Haunt You

The definition of haunt is varied—trouble, disturb, irk, worry, bother, preoccupy, disturb.  During the month of October, we are reminded of Halloween and our childhood memories of haunted houses and spooky ghosts.  But that is not the definition of haunt that I am talking about.

I am referring to other definitions of haunt, like to cause somebody unease or regret.  I am referring to the fact that I will never know for sure what really happened to Sergei Kourdakov in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 1973, when his life unexpectedly ended.  That is what haunts my thoughts.

Below is an excerpt from my draft of A Rose for Sergei.  (Sergei was meeting my brother for the first time.  Keith, and his girlfriend, had just picked Sergei and me up to drive us to a party.) 

Sergei and I were sitting in the back seat of the car, relaxing and enjoying the ride through the streets of Washington DC as I pointed out the names of the monuments and buildings we passed.  Keith was engaging Sergei in conversation, politely asking him about the Soviet Union, where he was born, and general questions.  They chatted amicably back and forth until Sergei unexpectedly became extremely uneasy about my brother’s familiarity with his former homeland.

“Why do you know so much about the Soviet Union?” Sergei suddenly questioned.  He spoke in a low, measured, disquieting voice as his eyes darted around the car at everyone, taking everything in.

This is not going well at all, I thought.  I turned and looked directly into Sergei’s haunted eyes.  I felt a cold chill run through me as I tried to comprehend what he must be thinking, that we were taking him somewhere to turn him over to . . . .

Monday, September 30, 2013

Chasing Dreams

Do you remember chasing bubbles when you were a child?  They were a little hard to catch.  You had to run in all directions before any of them escaped.  Sometimes the bubbles drifted high, out of reach as the wind carried them to secret places.  A few fell to the ground and were easily crushed.  They came in a variety of sizes and the possibilities were endless.  If you were lucky, a bubble landed intact and you got to hold onto it with all the colors of the rainbow shimmering in the sunlight.  Then you had to make a wish quickly before the bubble burst into tiny splatters and it was gone forever.

Chasing bubbles is a little like chasing dreams.  Like bubbles, our dreams come in different sizes.  Small hopes and dreams are easily reached.  Our bigger dreams may seem too hard to catch but, with careful planning, they are within reach.  Bigger dreams are worth holding onto to . . . even if only for a short time. 

Sergei Kourdakov followed his dream.  Below are excerpts from his book.  He was making final plans right before jumping overboard from the Soviet trawler, Elagin.  

“I had less than fifteen minutes left for final preparation.  The casual talk on the bridge had used up precious seconds.  Now I had to move fast to make my moves during the few remaining minutes, while the deck was still deserted.  The minute the storm let up, men would be all over the ship, checking for damage.”

“I reached under my bunk and pulled out something I had been working on for some time – a large, waterproof, bag-like belt.  I had made it out of heavy rubber for the outside and waterproof plastic for the inside.  Reaching into my cabinet drawer, I took out the things I treasured most and planned to take with me:  photos of friends, comrades, and familiar places back in Russia, none of which I would ever see again.”

“These few cherished items would be all I carried with me out of the old life into the new . . . .”

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 1, pg. 13)

 Some dreams are worth chasing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Phone Call That Never Came

I celebrated my birthday this month.  It was a wonderful day.  Full of surprises, text messages from friends, lunch with my sister Karen, and dinner with family.  But something felt off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  Later that evening I realized I had been unconsciously waiting for a phone call from my Father to wish me a happy day.  The phone call was never going to come.  There would not be any more phone calls from my Father on special days.  This was the first time since his death that it sunk in for me. 

Waiting for a phone call that would never come reminded me of another time.  It took me back to New Year’s Day 1973.  I was anticipating Sergei’s phone call from California telling me when he would be returning to the Washington DC area.  The last time we talked on the telephone had been on Christmas day.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were not able to spend the holidays together.  And I felt uneasy the entire time we were apart. 

The phone call from Sergei never came.  I was at home alone, in my apartment, that New Year’s Day when my phone rang out loudly.  It was my boss calling to tell me the devastating news of Sergei Kourdakov’s death.  My boss is the one who had introduced Sergei to me and he wanted to spare me the emotional ordeal of finding out at the office.   

It’s strange how one event always brings up memories, even so many years later.  Waiting for the phone call that would never come is heartbreaking.  About 9:30 pm, on my birthday, my younger sister Kelly called long distance. 

“Happy Birthday, Sissy.  I love you!”

It was the perfect phone call.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Life Takes You in Unexpected Directions

Choosing a title for a book can be daunting.  You want something to catch the reader’s attention.  Sergei told me that the title of his book was going to be “Sergei.  That was his choice.  It was a simple title but it said volumes about the unassuming man he was.  His book was first published under the title “Sergei.”  I was shocked when I later found out his book had been republished under a new title, “The Persecutor.”  Sergei would have hated that title, I know that.  He would never have wanted to be known as a persecutor.  So what happened?  Opportunity happened.  The new title had a sort of “shock value” to it.  It was “catchy” and a sure guarantee to increase publicity and sales for Sergei’s book after his death.  
I had a different title in mind for my book but changed it once I started writing.  The title I first considered gave the element of mystery away.  My title, A Rose for Sergei, seems simple, but the significance of the rose was meaningful to Sergei and me.  It will capture your heart.
Sergei Kourdakov and I met under very unusual circumstances.  The events in our lives that brought us together in time were unforeseen.  The events that led me to write A Rose for Sergei were unexpected.  The strange stories circulating after Sergei’s death, however, have caused many to question his motives.  I don’t understand why some people are eager to condemn him.  And I need to speak out on his behalf.  Writing the book was something I never planned to do.
Life has taken me in an unexpected direction.
A Rose for Sergei will be available as an e-book from Amazon in late Fall of 2013.



Monday, September 9, 2013

There's Only One Thing Wrong With You

I remember several years ago when a co-worker told me, “You know . . . there’s only one thing wrong with you.  You’re too perfect!”  You might think that if someone said you were “perfect” that it would be a compliment.  It wasn’t.  It was constructive criticism.  But I wasn’t offended because the kind manner in which the statement was delivered left me wanting to hear the rest of the story.

“I thought most people would want a co-worker that did accurate work,” I replied.

“Yes, that’s true – most of the time,” my friend answered.  “You do want to work with someone who does good work.  But in some cases you don’t always have to be 100% accurate.  Some projects you work on only require 99.9% or even 95% accuracy.  It can hold you back, and slow you down if you aim for perfection in every project you do.  You should save your energy for the jobs that do require complete accuracy.” 

I thought about her answer.  It actually was the best work-related constructive criticism that I ever received and I took it to heart.  It saved hours of frustration over the years and freed me to do my best on the projects that required it.

Striving for complete perfection in everything you do can slow you down and hold you back from your best work.  There were days, when I was writing A Rose for Sergei, that I would stop and remember my friend’s advice.  If I got stuck on when to end a chapter, or wasn’t sure what to leave in or cut out of the book, I reminded myself that it didn’t have to be re-written five times.  I wrote freely, two re-writes would suffice, and my story was told.   

Inspiration can come in many forms, even in criticism, which can redirect you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Throw Me a Lifejacket

Wikipedia defines a lifejacket as a personal flotation device that is designed to assist a wearer, either conscious or unconscious, to keep afloat.

Do you sometimes feel like you are drowning in a sea of information?  The Internet floods us with so much information, accurate and inaccurate, that you need to wade through and pick out what you need.  You might even need a flotation device just to stay afloat.  You gather all of the information you can, and then you make your own informed decision about what is the truth.

Recently I read an article online about Sergei Kourdakov and his book, The Persecutor.  I did feel that a few of the topics covered were based on inaccurate information.  For example, Sergei told many people that he felt his life was in danger and that, if anything happened to him, it would be made to look like an accident.  This is well documented.  So it makes me wonder if the writer just wanted to write a scathing review.  I have to remind myself that there are two sides to every story and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

In my book, A Rose for Sergei, you will not need a lifejacket to wade through a sea of misinformation. 
This is a firsthand account.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When No One is Watching

Each of us has unique qualities that make us interesting or attractive to others.  More often than not, we are automatically drawn to people with a good disposition or a fun personality.  Your distinctive qualities set you apart from other people.  Who you are, however, when no one is watching, is your true character.  Sergei’s true character was always there.  He just never had the opportunity to express it.  And when no one was watching, he planned a new life. 

Below is an excerpt from my draft of A Rose for Sergei.  (Sergei and I had just returned from a party with friends.  We were sitting on the sofa in my apartment in Arlington, VA.)

The soothing effects of the vodka and the late hour finally caught up with Sergei.  It was hard for him to even keep his eyes open.  He leaned over towards me and rested his head on my shoulder.  He was barely awake but he mumbled slightly to ask me if I would call a cab for him.  I reached over and stroked his hair gently off of his forehead, away from his eyes, as I spoke.

“Hey, I’m a little worried about you getting home safely tonight.  You can hardly stay awake.  I’m even concerned for you to take a cab back into Washington DC.”

“No, do not be concerned for me.  I will be okay,” Sergei replied.

But I was concerned for him.  He was so tired.  He looked like he could drop off into a deep sleep any second.  He might not find his way back, even in a cab.  I shivered involuntarily thinking about it.  I hated the scary dark parts of the city.  “Maybe it’s better if you stay here for the night.  You can stay on the sofa and take a cab back in the morning.”

“No, it is okay.  I will be okay.  I am just tired.”  He sat up then and looked at me rather sternly.  “I can take care of myself.  Do not be concerned about me.”

Somehow I felt that my offer to stay on the sofa sparked something in him, even irritated him a little.  He managed a slight smile though as he explained why he needed to leave.

“It is necessary for me to return to the Christian Fellowship House tonight.  I am guest.  If I do not return they will think something happened to me.  I do not want to cause them concern.  They are very kind to have me as guest.”

“You’re right, I understand.  They would be concerned if you didn’t show up.”  I reluctantly called a cab.  I admired Sergei’s conviction to be considerate of his hosts at the Fellowship House.  He didn’t want to cause any alarm if he failed to show up.  It said a lot about his sincerity and his character, and I respected that.  And I loved how honest he was about everything.

I saw Sergei’s true character. 
I was watching.