Happy release day to And Aleksey Lived!

With gratitude to Hashem, and in loving eternal memory of the nineteen people murdered on 17 and 18 July 1918, one hundred years ago today and tomorrow, I announce the release of my alternative historical saga. I’d initially planned to release it 12 August 2016, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but it was nowhere close to being finished by then, and my focus had shifted to other projects.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that delayed its completion and release for so long. What more fitting release date could there be but my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

I hope I’ve done this beautiful, innocent boy literary justice and not made him regret choosing me as his author from the other world. He deserved so much better than being forever thirteen, and deserves to be remembered as more than just the sickly, murdered heir to the Russian throne.

Once I’ve made enough money from sales, I’ll use some of it to make donations to the National Hemophilia Foundation and National Hemophilia Federation, in memory of Aleksey.

Sometimes, the greatest heroes are those no one expects.

Aleksey, the miraculously rescued boy Tsar, knows he may not have a long life, but he’s determined to do all he can, as long as he’s alive, to bring his empire into the modern era and rule with love.

But since real life isn’t a fairytale, there are a number of obstacles standing in his way.

Aleksey’s uncle, Grand Duke Mikhail, his regent and guardian, is determined to show everyone who’s in charge, and prevent another uprising. Mikhail, who was once very mild-mannered and hoped for a constitutional monarchy, radically transforms into a revenge-minded autocrat. He severely punishes the Bolsheviks, unleashes deadly pogroms, and throws family rivals into the Shlisselburg dungeon.

As much as Aleksey wants to take power in his own right when he’s a legal adult, and start making everything right, he’s held back by his youth and inexperience. If he rushes into power as soon as he’s of age, that might set the groundwork for yet another disaster. In order to gain real-world experience outside palace walls, he heads off to the Sorbonne for four years. When he returns home with his degree, he begins a co-rulership with his uncle.

Shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday, Aleksey is finally compelled onto the throne in his own right. Determined to endear himself to the people and demonstrate how modern and compassionate he is, he begins granting sweeping reforms. However, before he can be formally coronated, he’s ordered to find an Empress. As much as he’s always wanted a family like everyone else, he’s terrified of leaving a young widow and orphans, or passing down hemophilia to another generation.

Arkadiya Gagarina is the least-likely Empress anyone could imagine. Not only is she a morganatic princess, but she’s also seven years older than Aleksey, walks with a limp, and carries several large, hidden burn scars. Regardless, Aleksey wants her and no one else. Though the initial plan is to have a celibate marriage for the sake of appearances, and adopt a boy to be legally installed as heir, the feelings Aleksey and Arkadiya have for one another grow stronger and stronger as their wedding day approaches.

Aleksey’s choice of a bride endears him even further to the people, and the reigning couple’s popularity increases even more with the birth of their first child. But though it seems as if the dynasty is stronger than ever, and Aleksey’s sweeping reforms have finally brought Russia into the twentieth century, the biggest challenge yet comes when another war breaks out.

And thus begins the most heroic act of his life.


Fun with formatting

One of my favorite parts of the writing process may very well be the formatting aspect, both in setting up documents and at the end, while preparing documents for publication. I love how it lets me use the left (non-creative) side of my brain for a change.

I assumed I had to go back onto my 11-year-old computer to format my alternative history and hyperlink the table of contents, like I’ve done with every other manuscript, but Word just wasn’t cooperating when I C&Ped it into a pre-formatted 6×9 template. It kept going into spinning pinwheel of Death mode when I tried to change certain pieces of formatting, and inexplicably changed certain sections into Helvetica.

The newest version of Pages can hyperlink to bookmarks within a document just like Word, though it’s a more time-consuming, less straightforward process. I also discovered how to custom-set the size of the pages within a document, set mirror margins (facing pages) and the various margins on every page (inside, outside, etc.), make the right and left pages different (to allow for headers with page numbers on alternating sides), and so many things I thought only Word could do.

When I justified the entire document in Pages, my 0.3″ indents were retained, unlike in Word. I only had to re-center my headings, a few of the front matter pages (with quotes, the dedication, and publication information), the numbers and three-asterisk markers denoting sections within chapters, and the headlines and bylines of newspaper stories.

I then changed my chapter, part, and back matter headings to Wellingborough Text, the typeface the title page, cover, and “The End” are in. I want everything to match.

I’ve set the release of my print copies for 12 August, what would’ve been Aleksey’s 114th birthday. I don’t want to rush through the rest of my formatting just so both formats come out on the same day. I still have to set it so no page numbers or other headers appear on the first page of each part, and to set page numbers as footers on the first page of each chapter.

I changed my leading from the normal 2 to 1, which shrank my page count by almost half. I’d planned to leave it in my belovèd Palatino, but came to realize my typographical soulmate doesn’t convey the type of mood I want. Not only does Baskerville shrink page count even further, but it also is very elegant, timeless, literary, and evocative of a bygone era.



I’ll continue writing just about everything in Palatino, but for actual typesetting, I really like Baskerville. I’m also fond of Cochin and Janson. XenonMedium helps with shrinking page count too, but might not be so readable for long stretches.




Do you enjoy the formatting part of the writing process? Do you save the less immediate aspects for last, or do you set everything up when you create a document or chapter file? Do you have a favorite typeface for writing, and does it differ from what you like to see in printed books?

WeWriWa—No shame in imperfections


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which releases 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when soon-to-be-Empress Arkadiya began looking at fashion books and magazines with her future sister-in-law Tatyana, to get ideas for her wedding gown. Tatyana has explained each style of neckline and sleeve, and Arkadiya has said she’d prefer not to show her arms. Though the engagement photographs printed all over the world showed the burn scars on her arms, she wants to pretend everyone has forgotten about that.

Arkadiya also references the limp in her right leg, and the additional burn scars on her stomach and abdomen. She laments how she’ll be such a blemished bride.

Tatyana put her hand on Arkadiya’s left arm. “Everyone in this world who’s lived outside of a glass bubble has scars of some sort, be they physical, emotional, or mental.  Many people who appear physically unblemished are deeply scarred where no one can see it.  After what my siblings and I escaped, and what we saw, our hearts, souls, and minds have been riddled by scars we can never get rid of.  These scars make us who we are, and tell stories of survival.  Hiding them and pretending to be perfect gives a false impression.  There’s no shame in having an imperfect body or state of mind.  That’s one of the reasons Sunbeam likes you so much, because you’re not perfect, and have known suffering on a personal level just like he has.”

Names tally from my alternative history

Since I’ve finally finished my alternative history (at an estimated 405K, not including front and back matter), I thought it’d be fun to have a post totaling up how many times each name and nickname is used, as well as English and French forms used by non-Russophones. This includes titles used in place of personal names. Since the Imperial Family, and their extended relatives across Europe, used many of the same names over and over again, these don’t always refer to the same people.

Aleksandr: 172
Aleksandra: 25
Aleksey: 1,497
Alexis: 37
Alyosha: 185
Anastasiya: 95
Andrey: 48
Arkadiya: 1,404
Arya: 144
Aryechka: 16

Baby: 64
Beatrisa: 4
Bimbo: 73
Boris: 79
Bubnov: 9

Carol: 33
Churchill: 19
Cyril: 10

Denis: 10
Denya: 3
Dina: 67
Dinochka: 4
Dmitriy: 8
Dominik: 3
Dora: 3
Dowager Empress: 109
Dr. Dragomirov: 27
Ducky: 14
Dzhugashvili: 7

Eichmann: 60
Elena: 8
Eleonora: 51
Elisabeth: 24
Ella: 4
Emperor (as a proper noun): 95
Empress (as a proper noun): 235

Frederik: 20

Galina: 9
Galya: 1
Gavriil: 4
Georgiy: 59
Golubchik: 24
Gorm: 15
Günther: 10
Gurik: 1
Guriy: 19

Harald: 8
Helena: 9
Her Majesty: 37
His Majesty: 258

Igor: 157
Ileana: 89
Ingrid: 50
Ioann: 14
Ioannchik: 8
Iosif: 34
Irina: 13
Isidora: 71

Joy: 22

Kamenev: 16
Dr. Katz: 23
Kazimir: 19
Kirill: 59
Klarisa: 17
Kolya: 46
Konstantin: 146
Dr. Koshkin: 19
Kostya: 22
Kotka: 8
Dr. Kronberger: 6
Kseniya: 66
Ksyusha: 7

Lara: 8
Larisa: 47
Lenora: 12
Leonid: 15
Lyonya: 15

Manci: 27
Margit: 7
Margrethe: 9
Marie: 22
Marina: 82
Mariya: 277
Marusya: 7
Masha: 11
Mashka: 5
Matvey: 44
Dr. Merkulov: 126
Michael: 9
Michel: 25
Miechen: 164
Mihai: 26
Mikhail: 509
Rabbi Milhaud: 22
Misha: 151
Missy: 3
Mistress of the Robes: 19
Motya: 16

Nastya: 13
Nastyenka: 3
Natalya: 83
Natasha: 19
Nicholas: 69
Nicky: 28
Nicolae: 13
Nicolas: 4
Nikita: 29
Niki: 5
Nikolay: 47
Nina: 44
Ninusha: 4
Novak: 9
Novikov: 3

Odetta: 11
Oleg: 27
Olga: 138
Olik: 7
Olishka: 9
Olya: 6
Oskar: 18
Osya: 10

Pasha: 26
Pavel: 113
Pavlik: 1
Pecherskiy: 26

Rafail: 27
Rafik: 6
Roman: 68
Romashka: 4
Romik: 12
Roosevelt: 20
Roza: 9
Dr. Rybakov: 15

Sasha: 19
Savva: 17
Savvochka: 5
Seidl: 4
Dr. Shirikov: 23
Shura: 50
Shurochka: 2
Sokolnikov: 10
Stefan: 8
Stella: 19
Sunbeam: 55

Tanya: 20
Tata: 22
Tatyana: 174
Their Majesties: 27
Théodore: 70
Tikhon: 10
Tishka: 4
Trotskiy: 13
Tsar (as a proper noun): 547
Tsaritsa (as a proper noun): 44

Ulyanov: 43

Varvara: 42
Varya: 12
Vasiliy: 8
Vera: 24
Victoria: 40
Viktor: 12
Vladimir: 112
Volodya: 21
Vsevolod: 8

Wisliceny: 5
Woolly: 5

Yarik: 113
Yaroslav: 36
Yelena: 96
Yekaterina: 15
Your Highness: 18
Your Imperial Highness: 25
Your Majesties: 46
Your Majesty: 194
Your Serene Highness: 2
Yulian: 10
Yuliana: 36
Yulik: 5
Yulya: 5

Zakhar: 58
Zhukov: 16
Zinaida: 6
Zinovyev: 14
Zlata: 15
Zosha: 7
Zosik: 7
Zosim: 13
Zoya: 58
Zubrovka: 6

When a book’s contents and description are mismatched

Seeing as how I ran out of time to put together an original blog post yet again, this is a book review I wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably in 2003. It’s edited down from 900-some words.

3 stars

I expected more from this book, and was rather disappointed it didn’t delve more deeply into anything. The way it changed names and events was also annoying. It’s one thing to change names, but I dislike composite characters. That doesn’t give us a real picture of these people. So we have people like Jered, who goes from raving anti-Semite to loving leader of his church’s tolerance movement overnight, and Willow, who flits from religion to religion without any real, deep attachments to any of them.

Some of the events actually happened in her third and fourth years of divinity school, but she had them taking place in her first two years to give intellectual background. Why not just write about all four years from start to finish instead of making everything a composite?!

The author is an intermarried writer living in the San Francisco area when the book begins, but she wants to learn more about her native Judaism for material in an article or book. How does she solve this quandary? She enrolls in Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee! Why would you uproot your family and spend so much money on a non-Jewish divinity school to try to return to your roots?

Mrs. Orsborn wants to be in a shul for Rosh Hashanah, and there are a number to pick from. She’s standing at the door of an Orthodox shul, ready to go in, but walks away and goes to a Reform shul when she remembers a bad experience in another Orthodox shul.

You can’t give up because of ONE isolated experience! She could’ve had a beautiful, spiritual experience, but with the mindset that it’d be terrible simply because it was Orthodox and behind a mechitza, maybe it would’ve been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mrs. Orsborn winds up at a fairly new Reform congregation without a permanent building. She also is ready to walk away from that one because it was so crowded and unfamiliar. The High Holy Days experience isn’t representative, since many people are only there then, and the topics of the sermons will be different.

She comes to like this new shul, however, and it’s very dear to her because it split off from the larger Reform shul in the area after the rabbi gave a speech denouncing intermarriage. A lot of intermarried families left to form their own community after that. Tell me how much sense it makes to settle on one shul when you’ve never given any of the others test drives. That was not an informed decision.

Her whole spiritual struggle was nothing more than deciding whether or not to join a fairly standard American Reform shul! If she really missed the atmosphere at Shabbos Shul so much, she should’ve tried to form her own group, not gotten upset the only area shul she ever set foot in wasn’t similar enough to her old shul.

This book was really disappointing. There are better, more compelling accounts of people’s return to their native faiths, not just accounts of waffling over whether or not to join a typical house of worship.