Don’t write what you can’t understand, respect, appreciate, or like

I’m planning a series on how to write about body modification, to start in May, but then I realised one of my points of discussion could be expanded into a full post, beyond just body modification.

One should never write about a topic one lacks any real respect, understanding, passion, or even basic interest for. To use my starting example, if you truly believe the majority of body modifications are sinful, mutilation, disgusting, stupid, etc., you have no business including them in your story. The same goes if you’re convinced those of us with mods, or who like mods but personally don’t have a lot, are just mindlessly following a trend, rebelling for the sake of rebelling, trying to be edgy or cool, depressed, mentally ill, or will automatically regret the mods at some arbitrary age.

It’s one thing to have a character espousing views you don’t necessarily share. I have characters who, e.g., have said some very Sinophobic, racist, anti-Catholic, sexist, or anti-Semitic things. If this character is just misinformed, a typical product of a certain time and place, or a straight-up bigot, that’ll show through. Normal readers won’t assume that means the writer holds those hateful views too.


However, when you’re imbuing a story so strongly with your own beliefs, that’ll show through too, and will alienate many readers. This is one of the numerous reasons why I can’t stand the late fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks’s books. I have no problem with the facts that she was extremely conservative and very strong in her Mormon beliefs. Those were her genuine beliefs, and we all have to live our own truths.

What I dislike is how she overwhelmed all her books with these beliefs, projecting them onto every single character, pretending these were their beliefs. I’d have more respect for her if she’d at least been honest about her authorship, seriously toned down the obnoxious preachiness and unrealistic depictions of modern teens, and made these characters Mormon. Then at least it wouldn’t seem like some over the hill psychiatrist pretending to write in teens’ voices and having non-Mormon characters using such obviously Mormon-only language and concepts so often.


If you lack basic knowledge about what you’re writing about, you either aren’t the right person to be writing that story or character, or it’s not the right time yet to write this book. I’ve been there and done that, and now cringe at how certain characters come across. I’d never intended any offense or inaccuracy, but when I barely knew anything about observant Judaism, Sparky just came across as some shrill, overreactive PITA with a serious chip on her shoulder about other religions. She also did things a member of the Conservative movement, let alone an unmarried girl, wouldn’t have done in the 1940s, like covering her hair. I’m really embarrassed at this and many other examples of poorly-researched characters and storylines, since I’m not a bigot or ignoramus at all!

Maybe this is unreasonable and holier than thou, but it kind of annoys me when I see people writing about subjects they don’t seem to have a longtime passion for. As a Russophile of over 20 years, for example, I doubt every single writer who chooses Russia as a setting, particularly a historical setting, has that kind of passion for the language, people, culture, literature, art, and history. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have a drop of Russian blood, but I’m a Russophile down to the very core of my soul. So I can kind of tell if someone chose that setting just because s/he thought it would be interesting, only has a passing interest, or thinks it might be trendy.

On that same note, you never want to make your story look like a huge pile of fanwank. Don’t show off all your research or passion for the subject. Make it a natural part of the book, instead of some comprehensive history lesson or swoonfest. And don’t just ram it in there for its own sake, like using a novel set in the 1960s as an excuse to name-drop as many bands and songs as possible, or using a novel set in the 1990s to waltz down memory lane.

WeWriWa—Joyless Christmas


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, as Grand Duke Mikhail tries to cheer up his morose 14-year-old nephew on Orthodox Christmas 1919.

One of the many reasons I’ve long been so drawn to Aleksey and haunted by what might’ve been is my natural pull towards dark horses and underdogs. This was one of the unlikeliest heirs ever, this sickly young boy many people didn’t expect to survive into adulthood or be healthy enough to rule in his own right. But the will to survive is a very powerful thing, and sometimes the strongest people and greatest heroes are those we least expected.


Grand Duke Mikhail in 1898, four years after the unexpected loss of his father


Mikhaíl took a seat beside his nephew and put his arm around him. “I lost my father when I was fifteen, not that much older than you.  It’s a very big adjustment to have to get used to, but you must do it.  What other choice do you have?  I also hated how my childhood was over so prematurely, but I did the best I could.  Now would you like to open some presents early?  I bet that’ll make you feel a whole lot better.”

“I doubt any of these presents were bought by my parents before God took them away from me.”

A primer on Slovenian names

Though I’m first and foremost a Russophile down to the very core of my soul, I’m also, more generally, a Slavophile. In no particular order, the other Slavic peoples I feel the greatest love and passion for are the Czechs, my own Slovakians of course, the Bulgarians, the Serbians (whom I may possibly share ancestry with), and the Slovenians. As I’ve posted about before, I love the Slovenian national anthem, and my old “Super-Speical” box came from a wine distributor in Ljubljana.

One of the midwives in Little Ragdoll, Radana Zupan, is Slovenian–American, and the progressive, left-handed tutor in my second and third Russian historicals, Božidar Brinarsky, is half-Slovenian, half-Slovakian. Mr. Brinarsky was a schoolteacher in Slovenia for 15 years, and taught in various Manhattan schools after immigrating in 1913. His father is Slovakian, and his mother is Slovenian. Not only does he tutor Fedya after he’s pulled out of school due to horrific abuse from an anti-left-handed kindergarten teacher, but he also teaches Fedya and Ivan proper left-handed handwriting, so they don’t slant or smudge anymore. He also tutors the left-handed Dmitriy, Anastasiya’s son, as well as later teaching left-handed writing to Violetta, whose right arm and hand were paralyzed too badly to recover when she had polio.

Slovenian alphabet:

Slovenian uses the Roman alphabet, though like the other Western and Southern Slavic languages, it features a few letters which may be unfamiliar to the average English-speaker. Č is CH, Š is SH, and Ž is ZH.  J is of course pronounced like a Y, and C is TS. A few words and names of foreign origin use non-Slovenian letters such as Ö, Ü, Ć, and Đ.

Slovenian surnames:

Because Slovenian doesn’t natively use the soft Serbian letter Ć, surnames may use both Ć and Č on legal documents, so many people technically have two legal surnames. For example, Božić and Božič. However, in contrast to other languages, Slovenian surnames ending in -ič don’t necessarily take a patronymical origin. Most Slovenian surnames differ by geographical origin; e.g., the Slovene Littoral region has many -čič names, such as Miklavčič and Gregorčič. Besides -ič and -čič, many surnames also end in -nik, -lj, and -lin. Origins include patronymics, animals, geography, employer (e.g., Kralj [King] for peasants working on a king’s estate), ethnicity, and Medieval settlement patterns. Surnames ending in -ski and -ov are usually of foreign origin.

Women’s surnames don’t take feminine suffixes on legal documents, though in everyday speech and writing, feminine suffixes are regularly used. For example, Kralj becomes Kraljeva and Novak becomes Novakova.

Common Slovenian names and their nickname forms:


Adrijana, Jadranka
Aleksandra (Saša)
Ana (Anica, Anika, Anita, Anja)
Anastazija (Nastja)
Antonija (Tonka)
Apolonija (Polona)
Bojana (Battle)
Božena (Divine)
Branislava (Slava)
Cecilija (Cila, Cilka)
Cvetka (Flower)
Damijana, Damjana
Darija, Darja (Darinka)
Doroteja (Teja, Tea)
Draga, Dragica
Dunja (Quince)
Dušanka (Soul)
Elizabeta (Špela)
Frančiška (Francka)
Gaja, Kaja
Helena, Elena, Jelena (Alena, Alenka, Jelka)
Iva (Willow tree)
Ivana (Ivanka)
Jasna (Sharp; Clear)
Jerneja (Neja) (Bartolomea)
Jožefa, Jožica (Pepca)
Julija, Julijana
Katarina (Katica, Katja)
Klavdija (Claudia)
Ksenija (Xenia)
Ljerka (Lily)
Ljuba (Ljubica) (Love)
Magdalena (Alena, Alenka, Majda)
Margareta, Marjeta
Marija (Maja, Marica, Mojca)
Marina (Marinka)
Mateja, Matija (feminine form of Matthew)
Milena (Milka)
Milica (Milka)
Mirjam, Mirjana
Miroslava (Slava)
Nada (Nadja) (Hope)
Natalija (Nataša)
Neža (Agnes)
Pavla, Pavlina
Radana (Happy)
Rozalija (Zala)
Silvija (Silva)
Slavica, Slavka (Glory)
Stanislava (Slava)
Tatjana (Tjaša)
Uršula (Urška)
Vera (Faith)
Vesna (Spring)
Zdenka (Create)
Zdravka (Healthy)
Željka (Desire)
Živa (Alive)
Zlata (Gold)
Zora (Zorka, Zorica) (Dawn)
Zvezdana (Star)


Aleksander (Saša, Sašo, Aleks, Aleš, Sandi)
Aleksej (Aleks, Aljoša, Aleš)
Alojz, Alojzij (Lojze) (Aloysius)
Andraž, Andrej
Anej, Enej (Aeneas)
Anton (Tone)
Avgust, Avguštin
Blaž (Blaise)
Bogdan (Boško)
Bojan (Battle)
Boris (Bor, Borut)
Borislav (Bor, Slava)
Božidar (Boško) (Divine gift)
Branimir (Branko) (Peaceful protection)
Branislav (Branko, Slava)
Črtomir (Črt)
Cvetko (Flower)
Damijan, Damjan
Danijel, Danilo
Darko (Gift)
Dimitrij (Mitja)
Domen (Dominic)
Dragan, Drago, Dragutin (Precious)
Dragomir, Dragoslav (Slava, Mirko, Miro)
Dušan (Soul)
Edvard (Edi)
Gašper (Jasper)
Goran (Mountain man)
Grega, Gregor
Ignac, Ignacij, Nace
Jadran, Jadranko (Adrian)
Jakob (Jaka, Jaša)
Janez, Anže (Johannes)
Javor (Maple tree)
Jernej (Nejc) (Bartholomew)
Josip, Jožef (Jože)
Julij (Julian)
Jure, Jurij (Jurica) (George)
Karel, Karol (Charles)
Kristijan, Kristjan
Lenart (Leonard)
Lovrenc (Lovro)
Ludvik (Louis)
Marijan, Marjan
Martin (Tine, Tinek)
Matej, Matevž, Matic, Matija, Matjaž (Tjaž) (Matthew)
Mihael (Miha)
Miklavž, Nikola, Nikolaj (Niko, Nik)
Milivoj (Gracious soldier)
Miran (World; Peace)
Miroslav (Miro, Mirko, Slava)
Ožbalt, Ožbej
Pavel (Paul)
Sebastijan, Sebastjan (Boštjan)
Slavko (Glory)
Srečko (Luck)
Stanislav (Slava, Stane)
Stojan (To stand)
Tadej (Thaddeus)
Valentin (Tinek, Tine)
Viljem (Vili, Vilko) (William)
Vincenc (Vinko)
Vitomir (Master of the world; Master of peace)
Vladimir (Vlado)
Vladislav (Vlado)
Zdenko (To create)
Zdravko (Healthy)
Željko (Desire)
Žiga (Sigmund)
Zlatan (Zlatko) (Golden)
Zoran (Dawn)

What’s Up Wednesday


What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog or Erin’s blog.

What I’m Reading

Because I’m willing to learn from my mistakes and admit when I’ve been wrong, I checked out Greg King and Penny Wilson’s The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery. It’s really helpful to me that the authors firmly believed, just as I did, that Anna Anderson was Grand Duchess Anastasiya, and that when they finally started to admit she might’ve been an impostor, they still felt there was no way she could’ve been some Polish peasant. I want to understand, just as they did, how this woman could’ve thoroughly convinced so many people of her story for so many decades, even after DNA tests seemed to indicate the opposite.

However, I’m not a fan of their chosen transliteration style, nor how they “translate” so many proper names! I can handle a different transliteration style if it’s consistent, but don’t refer to Russian-born people with decidedly Anglo names like Serge, Andrew, Paul, and Marie!

What I’m Writing

I went through And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, mostly just copyediting, and did one full revision/editing job on The Very First. Once I got started on TVF, I became much more confident, and the further I got into it, the more I knew exactly what I needed to do. Since I’ve chosen that as my Camp NaNo project, I’m saving further edits and revisions for April, and I can’t wait. I left a number of sections and scenes to get back to, and have all these ideas of how to fix them.

The issue with this particular book is that it’s composed of material from so many different stages of my development as a writer, and I still left in too many bits and pieces of the first two drafts during my radical rewrite and restructuring of a few years ago. I wasn’t emotionally ready to junk some pointless, stupid, cluttery scenes and dialogues then, but now it feels so liberating to highlight and delete. I have copies of the older versions, so it’s not like that material is gone forever.

My goal for this week is to finish going through The Twelfth Time, mostly copyediting at this point. I won’t be doing WUW posts in April, because of A to Z, but I’ll be working hard on getting TVF into the best shape it’s ever been in. And after an 891K epic, it’s a relief to work on something that’s under 58,000 words!

What Works for Me

Be consistent with your spellings, conventions, phrasings, etc.! For example, don’t start off using European-style dates, then switch to U.S.-style, and finally go back to European-style for the rest of the book. Don’t alternate between “gray” and “grey.” Use the same transliteration style if your characters’ names are from another alphabet. For example, you wouldn’t call one character Katya and another Tatiana, or one character Kseniya and another Maxim. The only exception would be if the book contains letters, journal entries, etc., in which case these characters might, e.g., use European-style dates while you use U.S.-style dates in the rest of the narrative.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I went to Classy Body Art on Thursday to get my third lobes done. I had such a nice experience there during my recent nostril emergency, and they’ve gotten so many great reviews. Plus, they’re the only local piercing studio which belongs to the Association of Professional Piercers. I wanted to get my third lobes done as a reward for finally finishing Journey Through a Dark Forest. Having a proper ear piercing, with a needle instead of a gun, makes all the difference in the world. My second lobe piercing was so traumatic, with damage lasting for years. The only thing that finally healed it was slight stretching, which removed the damaged tissue. After I lost interest in my minor stretching project, healthy new tissue grew back.

I discovered my right ear is smaller than the left, but there’s room for a fourth lobe piercing on at least the left ear. There may be just enough room on the right ear, but if not, I don’t mind going into the helix or even the conch. I’ve been wanting a conch piercing for 12 years, as well as a tragus piercing.

My 2015 A to Z themes revealed


Two years ago, Mina Lobo started the tradition of the A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal, and it’s been going strong ever since. Click on the above button to go to the A to Z homepage for the full list of participants.

My main blog’s theme is something I got the idea for from the last post of the 2014 Challenge. Some readers might remember that post, about Zagreb, Croatia, included a section on Ivan Vranetić, one of my heroes, a Croatian who stood strong against both the Nazis and Ustashis. One of the many people he saved was his own future wife, whom he had to wait almost 20 years to marry.

Hence, my theme (with four quasi-exceptions) is going to be:

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I’m going to be profiling those brave individuals who’ve been honoured by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, people who risked everything to save the lives of their Jewish friends and neighbours, sometimes even people they’d never met before. Some paid the ultimate price for their heroism; others were persecuted or shamed after the war for their actions; others continued helping people and aiding in the persecution of war criminals after the liberation. None of them did this to try to get any sort of reward, nor did they ask for or expect special treatment. It was just the right thing to do.

Three of my heroes were Jewish victims of the Shoah, and thus aren’t eligible for this prestigious honour. However, they also acted heroically, and did everything they could to save lives and ameliorate suffering. Another person has posthumously gotten several honours and memorials, but hasn’t been named as Righteous Among the Nations due to his complicated role in the war. However, he’s been one of my heroes since I first learnt about him at age sixteen, so I just had to include him.

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These people were both Christians and Muslims, from nations including Egypt, El Salvador, Bosnia, Macedonia, Greece, Switzerland, Albania, and Ireland. Some of them saved tens of thousands of people, while others saved just one family or individual. However, there’s no “only” when it comes to saving a life. As the famous line in the Talmud says:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.  And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Some of these heroes are in alphabetical order by their forenames, while others are alphabetised by their surnames. I chose people with interesting-sounding names, people from places not often heard about in the Shoah/WWII narrative, and lesser-known heroes. A number of these stories will include photographs illustrating some of the places involved, as well as photographs of the heroes when I could find them. All photographs are credited to the best of my knowledge.

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You’ll learn about heroes including:

The Hardaga family of Bosnia, whose good turn was repaid 50 years later during the Siege of Sarajevo

Bishop Pavel Gojdič, a fellow Slovakian who refused to betray his Greek Catholic faith

Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, who risked his life and throne by repeatedly standing up to Hitler and refusing to deport his kingdom’s 50,000 Jews

Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat credited with the largest rescue operation of the Shoah, who saved over half the Jewish population of Budapest

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the first Arab and Egyptian to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations

The Veseli family of Albania, the first Albanians to become Righteous Among the Nations

Malka (Mala) Zimetbaum, who used her prestigious position to save lives and make people’s lives comparatively more comfortable, and later enjoyed a short-lived escape with her Polish Christian boyfriend Edward (Edek) Galiński. On a superficial note, as someone who loves younger men, I also love her for choosing a man over five years her junior!


The theme on my other blog, Onomastics Outside the Box, will be names from The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work from Medieval Italy. Since there are certain letters not used in Italian names (or any of the non-Italian names featured), some days will be wildcards and just feature names I like.


In my alternative historical WIP, the Shoah essentially never happens, as the righteous, compassionate Tsar Aleksey II and Tsaritsa Arkadiya save over nine million people and even shelter many of them in the palaces around St. Petersburg. If only history really had happened like that!