About Long Winter by Night by Elizabeth Wasden
In many ways, I can trace "Long Winter by Night"'s origins to 1995. I was studying in Moscow and had a month before I returned to the States. I'd seen a fair amount of the city thanks to its Metro system and a cheap student pass, but even the lure of Detski Mir and its amusing latex Yeltsin masks hadn't enticed me to ride the Red Line up to Lubyanka Square. Uh-uh. No way. Thinking about the place gave me bad vibes.
So when friends told me about a kick-ass Futurist museum a few blocks away from the square, I took a deep breath and sucked it up. After an uneventful train ride, I was stoked to hit the museum. Maybe check out Children's World and grab one of those Yeltsin masks.
When we emerged from the Metro, that solid yellow building on the square gave me the fucking heebies. Lubyanka was as unavoidable in twentieth-century Russian history as it was on the square. Words from Darkness at Noon and Sofia Petrovna swirled inside my head. My mind played out flickering images of someone being dragged into Lubyanka's great belly, snow scouring the square, screams echoing across the darkness of night.
People gave it—-the building—-a wide berth. Kept their eyes ahead. Traffic flowed, refusing to bottleneck. Best not to get the beast's attention, even in the brave new world of the FSB. Paranoia rippled through the cold air.
So I looked away and found Children's World and its windows. Sure enough, I could see the Yeltsin masks lined up inside, drooping from thin chrome arms. I told myself that maybe I'd come back before the semester ended and buy one, but I took a last glance at the Lubyanka, stared right at it, and headed away from the square, never to return. After an afternoon with the Futurists, we decided to wander elsewhere and return to the university via the Kitai Gorod station. That was that.
Of course, another person (a more normal sort, perhaps) might perceive Lubyanka as an innocuous yellow building, deduce that it serves some capacity in the Russian federal government. It's across the square from Moscow's most famous toy store—-how could it have been the headquarters of the secret police? That day in Lubyanka Square really impacted my understanding of setting and perception when I considered it later.
In "Long Winter by Night," I wanted to use that individual sense of perception as a key element. It makes sense that prudish Stalin sees Baba Yaga the witch as an "old hag" while the over-sexed Beria would perceive her as sensual and beautiful. Of course, one might also wonder if that perception is true or if Baba Yaga has magicked her appearance to suit the perceptions and desires of her subjects.
Working backwards, the biographies of the early 2000s did much to form my characterization of Stalin and Beria. From the trashy yet eminently readable The Court of the Red Tsar to more academic biographies of Khrushchev and Beria, I had plenty of texts to pilfer. I chose Beria and Stalin specifically because they were the two most powerful men in the Soviet Union in 1941. This fit Baba Yaga's motivations in the "Long Winter by Night" universe. Neither would hold her interest otherwise. Stalin and Beria also shared a complex relationship, one more hate-love than love-hate, which fuels character motivations.
Going further back, the old rumors I first heard in college regarding Stalin's reaction to the German invasion in 1941—-passed out or drunk for a full week, locked up in his dacha bedroom, refused to admit that the invasion had occurred, and so on—-had always fascinated me. There are already so many stories and legends surrounding those chaotic days. Why not add another?
So I did.
I hope you enjoy "Long Winter by Night."