Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moscow, part 1

I've been getting some writing done lately, which is amazing considering I went through about a two year slump. I was so twisted up between editing my first novel and trying to figure out which of the next two novels that I wanted to work on (not to mention a couple of short stories I wanted to polish up) that I ended up not getting much done on any of it.

I'm six chapters in now on my science fiction prequel to The Shard. You could check out the first three chapters on bookcountry.com if you like (though in the meantime I have switched the order of the first two chapters), or easier yet use the link on the right to the six chapters on Authonomy. It would be nice to get some five or six star reviews to counter the writers there who go around giving rivals one or two stars.

A large part of the inspiration for this story came from the four years that I lived in Moscow, from October 1993 to October 1997. I thought I might tell a little bit about that. **disclaimer: everything in these posts is strictly my own personal experience, and none of it can be taken as the view of the US government.

I started working for the State Department in August of 1993. They first sent me for language training at the Foreign Service Institute in Rosslyn, Virginia, which I thought odd since I had just completed three years of Russian language at the university, while these courses were starting at the beginning. Anyhow, I did eight weeks of that before they shipped me off to Moscow.
My mother was really nervous about me going, because events had really gone to heck there just at the time I was scheduled to go. You see that picture of the Russian parliament building smoking from all the tank fire? That building is directly across the street from the newer part of the American embassy (behind and to the right of the parliament in this photo). See those nasty tanks? Yeah, it was a fun time.

I was warned when I arrived that there was a real danger from sniper fire. One of our marines had been clipped in the neck from a huge empty lot across the street. Many believed it was the KSV (KGB) who were using the opportunity to harass us.

At first I was housed at a French hotel. The first year I was there they had me working night shifts. I would take the shuttle at 10 PM and return at 7 AM. One night in November I was waiting to depart on the shuttle. It was snowing, and the driver was standing under the hotel entrance smoking and waiting for 10 so we could leave. Across the street was a row of kiosks. Suddenly three black cars (Volgas, I think) raced up together and screeched to a halt across the street. Several guys hopped out, ran to one of the kiosks, and started spraying bullets into it with some sort of automatic rifles. It only took fifteen seconds or so before they had all hopped back into their cars and sped off.

The shuttle driver and I looked at each other and silently agreed that it was time to go, regardless of the official departure time. I learned as time went on that Moscow at that time was very similar to Chicago in the 1920's. Mafiosi were everywhere, and there were assssinations and bombings just about every day. I didn't write anything down, but I certainly internalized many of the mafia stories from those years, and I began piecing some of them together into the first inklings of a story. It wasn't meant to be science fiction at the time, but later when I was trying to improve a sci-fi plotline, the old mafia story seemed to fit right into place.


  1. ohman. that's intense. so glad you're ok.. but wow...

  2. That's not your average experience. Yeah, you might want to put that in a story, Ted. :D

  3. (Picks jaw off floor) To call your experience 'scary' would not do it justice. It looks like you can have the information to write one heck of a story though.

  4. This is absolutely fascinating, Ted! I had no idea you ended up there so soon after everything that happened in the early 90s.

  5. I love hearing this stuff! I wouldn't, of course, if I was your mother, but I find it totally fascinating. I have a friend who was there in the mid-80s, but of course in the mid 80s, everything was still mostly stable (at least ourwardly)

  6. I bet that was a LONG fifteen seconds...