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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

They Could Never Take His Heart


In Sergei Kourdakov’s book he wrote about his good friend Sasha who lived in the children’s home with him in Barysevo.  Food was very scarce in 1963 due to a food shortage and Sasha became so weakened from malnutrition that he could not even get out of his own bed.  One day after school, Sergei went to check on Sasha.
 
“There was no response.  I peeked under the covers.  His face was white and frigid, and I knew he was dead.  My friend Sasha had died alone and no one had even noticed that the life had gone from his little body.
 
Sasha’s death hit me hard.  Of all that took place at Barysevo, it had the greatest impact on me in changing my attitude and outlook on life.  From Sasha’s death, I realized many things.  First of all, that life is the survival of the fittest.  It is a jungle.  The strong will live.  The tough will make it.  The weak will lose or die.”
 
I walked from that room fighting back tears and vowing if this is how life is, I will be the toughest, the strongest, the smartest.”

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 6, pg. 65)
 
I never knew about Sasha until I read Sergei’s book which was published after his own death.  When I read the part about Sasha dying alone it also hit me hard, just as it did Sergei.  It reminded me that Sergei died alone and the memory broke my heart.  
 
Sergei did try to become the toughest and the strongest.  Who Sergei was in the Soviet Union was the person he had to become in order to survive.  He was molded to fit into the role that he needed to be at the time.  But he had a more sensitive side that no one ever knew about, he had a kind heart.  I was able to see that side of him because that was the one thing they could never take away from Sergei.  They could never take his heart.
 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Second Chances


I recently had an email discussion with my brother Keith and his wife Carole regarding writing.  I mentioned to them that writing A Rose for Sergei and even writing a blog were definitely out of my comfort zone, but I would continue to write anyway.  I felt I needed to write about Sergei Kourdakov before it was too late.  In reality I meant before I was too old.  I commented that the reason I wanted to write about Sergei is because I know I would have regretted not writing about him . . . and one should have no regrets in life.
 
Regrets can be categorized in different ways.  One is the type of regret where you don’t have any choice in the results.  Another type of regret is where you do have a choice but you fail to follow through, and decide to do nothing.  That is the type of regret I was referring to.  The one where you say years later, “I should have done this,” or “I wish I had said that.” 
 
Carole* blogs about life experiences and her response from the discussion was poignant, “I truly understand your comment about working outside your comfort zone and at the same time knowing that this is what you are supposed to do.  I can't say that I have ‘no regrets’ in life.  But all the choices that I made have brought me to this point, and it's a very good place.”
 
That response made me think long and hard.  Yes, I will say that I also have regrets.  Those regrets do shape our lives and we learn from them, hopefully for the better.
 
My wish for my blog readers is this:  If you know you have any regret that you can change, because you have a choice, then change it now.  I wouldn’t recommend writing a book for everyone because I am finding it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.  Maybe all you need to do is make a simple phone call or email someone so years later you won’t have to say, “I wish I had done . . . .”  Whatever it is, make that choice and make it happen.
 
Sometimes you get a second chance.

 
*Read Carole’s blog and watch for her forthcoming book:
http://caroleduff.wordpress.com/about/

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You Have to Let Go


A lot of memories came to mind while writing A Rose for Sergei.  There was always a sense of adventure when Sergei Kourdakov and I were together.  It is one of the qualities that drew us to one another.  Some people are born with a sense of adventure and some people acquire it over time.  I was born with it.
 
When I was a young girl I was somewhat of a dare devil; meaning I showed a carefree disregard for risk.  My earliest memory of trying a dare devil stunt was around the age of five.  I wanted to see if I could fly.  I decided that a leap off our shed in the backyard with an umbrella might do the trick.  In my 5-year-old mind I thought the umbrella would break my fall.  After all, it did look like a parachute of sorts.  My Dad was an Air Force pilot so I knew about jets and flying and parachutes at an early age.  I knew a parachute glided you to safety.  So one day I took a flying leap off the shed in our backyard, hit the ground really hard, and rolled with the fall.  My stunt had an abrupt ending; the umbrella was useless.  It was a good lesson.
 
A few years later my family moved to the beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan.  That was where my older brother discovered the thrill of swinging in the birch trees and riding them slowly to the ground.  Of course I wanted to join him in his latest adventure.  I watched one day as he climbed to the top of one sturdy, large tree, at least 30 feet off the ground.  Once he was at the top he jumped over to a smaller tree and rode it gracefully to the ground.  When he reached the ground, he let go and the tree snapped violently upright again, ready for another round of fun.  I knew I could do it, I always loved climbing trees and heights didn’t bother me.  I knew I could keep up with my older brother.
 
Keith watched as I made my fearless climb up the tree.  As I reached the top he gave me instructions to hang on tightly when I jumped to the smaller tree.  There was one thing he failed to consider though.  He was 13 years old, a young man already, and his height and weight were very different from the tiny frame of a 9-year old girl.  I safely made the jump to the close-by birch tree and held on with both hands as it slowly dipped and bent several feet away from the mother tree.  Then it stopped.  I dangled precariously, stuck in mid air, about 20 feet off the ground.  Too high to let go and fall such a great distance, too far away from the mother tree to return to its safety.  I was in serious trouble and I wasn’t about to let go.
 
I clung to the tree as my brother quickly climbed the larger tree, encouraging me to keep hanging on.  “Don’t let go,” he kept saying.  When he reached the top I was too far away for him to pull me back to the mother tree.  I listened carefully to his plan as I stared into his all-knowing eyes.  I had complete faith that he would save me.  He told me he was going to jump onto the smaller tree with me; together we would ride the tree to the ground.  He knew we would fall fast with the added weight.  “As soon as we hit the bottom, you have to let go quickly,” he warned.  “If you don’t let go then you’ll be carried back up to the top and the force of the snap will send you flying.  Are you ready?” he said.  “Make sure you let go when we hit the ground!”
 
He leaped onto the tree with me and we fell fast and furious to the ground in a rush of air as the sharp sound of snapping branches and leaves crashed around us.  I remembered to let go.
 
It was a good analogy for life.  Sometimes you have to let go to save yourself.
 
 

Monday, April 8, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?


Once I finally committed to writing A Rose for Sergei, the actual sitting down at the computer and getting started on the book was difficult.  Not that I wasn’t used to working and composing letters daily, I started working full time at age 17 for the Federal Government (in 1969).  It was second nature to me – the jump from manual typewriter to electric typewriter to computers came easily.  I knew where to start the first chapter of my book thanks to my co-worker Suzanna.  However, it had already been forty years, a long time to keep a story in my heart.  So I thought, what did one more day, week, or month make?  I was postponing revisiting the heartbreak.

Now I look back with thanks.  It was my lovely daughter, Laura, who asked me almost daily, “Mom, have you started writing your book yet?”  Laura is an editor, wife and mother, smart and talented. She knows about writing.  She also knew I had been procrastinating.  “What are you waiting for?” she kept asking me.  She was pretty relentless, though in the most loving, encouraging way that only a daughter can be.  I was running out of excuses.  “The writing will get easier once you get started,” she added.  And she was right, the writing did get easier.

Laura also persuaded me to start my blog – A Rose for Sergei.  Afterwards she wondered what sort of strange outfit I was wearing in the photographs with Sergei Kourdakov.  She thought I was wearing a child’s romper!  I am actually wearing Hot Pants in the photographs.  They were very fashionable in Washington DC at the time.  I only have a few photographs of Sergei; I didn’t know we wouldn’t have more time together. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Makes a Good Story?

I surveyed several of my avid-reader friends and asked them to describe what makes a good romance book.  Then I simplified the question to, “What makes any story good . . . either a fiction or non-fiction book?”  I didn’t say exactly why I was asking the question.  The truth was that I wanted feedback to check if I was anywhere on target with my writing A Rose for Sergei.  I was surprised by their off-the-cuff answers.  They were really good!  The following list describes what they considered essential for a good book.

     Humorous

     Heartfelt

     Satisfying

     “I like good romance novels.”

     Captivating/Likable Characters

     The book should make you anxious to read the next chapter.

     There should be a twist in the story to capture your attention.

     “I don’t want to read about my life . . . I’m already living it.”


I felt relief after I read their responses.  I would like to think I captured those requirements by default in A Rose for Sergei.  Because it is a true story there is no leeway to make any changes.  I can only tell it like it happened; it is what it is. 
 
Here is the breakdown.  In A Rose for Sergei there are parts that are definitely humorous, embarrassingly so.  I know the story is heartfelt simply because it is a true story.  The “satisfying” response to my survey has me wondering though.  If you are familiar with Sergei’s life you know there is no happily ever after for this relationship.  I will say if you like a good romance story then this is a love story that will touch your heart and soul.
 
Are the characters captivating and likable?  Sergei is more than captivating, and extremely likable.  My boss is also likable, funny and quirky with his New Zealand accent.  Me, I always got along with everyone, worked hard, and was a little na├»ve about love.  I was ever the optimist.  Still am.
 
I think there are a few pages that will make you anxious to jump ahead to read the next chapter.  There is also an element of mystery and intrigue which I always like to find in a book.
 
There is a twist in my story right from chapter one.  I won’t hint at what it is because I don’t want to spoil what happens after that. 
 
And my favorite response of all, “I don’t want to read about my life . . . I’m already living it.”  I can pretty much guarantee that this book will capture your attention.  It added more intrigue into my life than I ever expected.