While finishing Draft 5 of Siren Suicides, my 1st novel, I was having a hard time holding back complete scenes that would come to me from Rosehead, my 2nd novel. "Why?" I thought. "Why is this bugging me, when such deep pain of mine is seeking an outlet in the shape of my 1st story?" It was puzzling, until one day I realized that the reason these scenes come to me is because I was ready to move on. I guess in any artistic endeavor there comes a point when you know you're done. You need to stop. You need to start something new. I learned how to write better dialogue, and I couldn't wait to try it out. I learned how to plan and plot and weave in suspension, and I wanted to test it out on a new idea. Above all, I was holding back all the bizarre and macabre and circus-like and extravagant things that I witnessed, the fabric of my childhood, where violence mixed with extreme intelligence, neglect went step in step with exquisite meals, designer dresses, and dance classes. And I wanted to create a character very different from Ailen, (the main character in Siren Suicides), not a raw emotional teenager, but a very polite and quiet preteen who is incredibly smart and broken on the inside. That would be Lilith Bloom, the main character in Rosehead.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGERY.
Why Rosehead as a title? I must step back here and give a little bit of backstory. Where did the idea come from? Well, like I said on my editor Colleen Albert's blog, my ideas come from my past which was so rich with odd eccentricities and simple-minded brutal force, that at times I didn't know what reality I belonged to, utterly confused. In short, I grew up in Soviet Russia where all normal girls would wear the same dress that every other girl in USSR wore because it was the type of dress that all state malls sold. In contrast to that, I would be wearing crocheted concoctions made by my great grandmother (I still have that dress, by the way). Or I would wear exceptionally cute hats that my mother would knit for me (she was and still is a starving struggling artist back in Russia, knitting amazing things that she doesn't know how to sell). I remember being invited over to a friend's house, and hearing my friend roll on the floor in hysterics as soon as the front door was closed (I was leaving) and yelling at her mother that she wants a hat like mine. On top of it, my aunt has cut my hair to a French bob, and almost none of the other girls in class had their hair like mine, they all had braids, or their hair was in long pigtails. This is not all. One of my grandmother's sisters sent me real wooden clogs from Holland, and I think every girl wanted to kill me from envy. That was Soviet Russia. I was aloof and didn't understand why girls didn't like me, so I hung out with boys. Rosehead is the name for a many-sided pyramidal head upon a nail or a nail with such a head. I had severe ADD and PTSD and I want to write about what it feels like to be inside the head of a child like that.
The double world of abuse. Now comes the not so pleasant part. Ever since I remember myself, and I don't remember much, because most of it is blocked out, I was abused in all possible variety of ways, from being constantly yelled at, to being pulled from under bed (where I liked to hide) and beaten, to being painfully smacked on my forehead with a table spoon to make me eat (or having soup turned over my head in punishment), to the most horrific experiences that I only started piecing together about 5 years ago, after launching into a series of panic attacks and becoming suicidal again (I ran away from home at 16 and wanted to kill myself then). I was sexually abused by the second husband of my grandmother, my step-grandfather, a butcher and an alcoholic who just got out of prison for stealing. It was done mostly at his dacha, one of those summer houses everyone in Russia flees to, to escape the scolding heat of the city. They were neighbors, and my grandmother frequently left me with him. My mother was mostly absent from my life, which is a whole another story. I was also sexually abused by my father. He was (and is) a prominent writer and an intellectual who took me for visits once in a while (my parents divorced when I was 4) and taught me lessons, as he would say it, so I wouldn't turn out like my mother, which, in his view, was a prostitute. His plan was to root out of me any sexual desire, which he indeed managed to do, for many many years. He would go into these violent fits and after all done, would kiss my hair and wonder why I was crying, saying I'm silly because he loves me. I escaped into my head. So here again is my wish to describe the double world of a very sensitive child who has to flee reality for one reason or another.
The richness of appearance against the poverty of soul. The juxtaposition of my mother showing up at home once or twice a month, teaching me how to properly eat a grapefruit, how to slice it and sprinkle it with sugar and spoon out the flesh, and then disappearing again, leaving me to being constantly hungry (there wasn't much food in the house, I rather needed chicken and potatoes, not a grapefruit). The juxtaposition of dirt and filth and piles of grimy dishes in the kitchen in the apartment I lived, to handmade amazing knit dresses that I wore. The juxtaposition of my father reading to me out loud the poems of such Russian masters like Pushkin, Akhmatova, and Blok, even Chekhov's stories, and then painfully pinching me, forcefully sticking his fingers between my buttocks for fun, and slapping my face, and then later sexually abusing me when we were alone, claiming later to everyone that I'm a drama queen, an actress, and a liar, that I have my mother's genes and will turn out a whore, when I grow up. All of this often left me in such state of confusion that I couldn't tell up from down or left from right. Literally, I remember trying to burn into my brain which of my arms is left and which is right, and I remember it slipping me. Thus Lilith in Rosehead will be in the world of shifting rooms, appearing and disappearing doors, growing houses and spinning gardens. Since I was a loner, she will be too, with her pet whippet Panther for company (I grew up in that filthy apartment with 4 dogs, 3 cats, rats, mice, and even a hedgehog... oh, and cockroaches).
Sarcasm as a cover for pain. One of the ways I survived all of this was, actually, something that my father's side of the family taught me. Humor. Sarcasm. On the positive side, whenever something drastic happened, there was always a good joke to go with it, and this is what I'm dying to write about in Rosehead, spicing up the dialogue with bitter biting funny sarcasm, the type that hides layers and layers of people's personalities and their life experiences. I mean, I'm itching, I can't wait. Each of the characters will be a grossly inflated version of that or another person I've been in touch with, but they also will be their own people, as opposed to characters in Siren Suicides, who are closely tied to my own relationship with my father. Hence, I can't wait to start on Rosehead because I have no restrictions anymore. It will be drawn from that exuberance of experiences that I had growing up, the macabre, the horrific, the rich, the beautiful, the eccentric, the... the... I'm catching my breath here to stop. To summarize, it will be a feast.
Well, I suppose I need to give a one-liner for Rosehead here. Rosehead is a story about 12 year old Lilith Bloom, who travels from her American hometown to Berlin, Germany, for a big family reunion in her grandfather's house (I lived in Berlin for 4 years in my teens). With the help of her pet whippet Panther she discovers that her grandfather is not just a famous rose grower, but a murderer. He kills women and turns them into roses, hence his incredible success.