Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part I

I ran out of time to put together a proper post for Monday, so I decided to do a quick photo post highlighting some of the real people who feature as characters in my alternative history. This is my primary writing focus these days, since it deserves all my attention.

These are some of the real-life characters I haven’t featured here yet.

Princess Yelena Petrovna, née Princess Jelena of Serbia (4 November 1884–16 October 1962), wife of Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, daughter of King Petar I and Princess Zorka of Montenegro. Yelena studied medicine at the University of St. Petersburg, but gave this career path up after her son Vsevolod was born. Her daughter Yekaterina was the final child born in Imperial Russia.

In my alternative history, she and Ioann have two more children, Lyudmila and Kazimir, and settle back into Pavlovsk Palace. Yelena eventually returns to med school and becomes a doctor, serving as head of the women’s medical team in St. Petersburg’s Mariyinskiy Hospital during WWII.

Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich (14/26 April 1859–24 January 1919), called Bimbo, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. Because he and his siblings were raised in Georgia instead of St. Petersburg, they were much more progressive-minded than the rest of the family. His  traumatic experiences in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78 made him a lifelong pacifist.

Bimbo’s two attempts at marriage were denied, because the first woman was a direct first-cousin (forbidden by Orthodox law), and the second was a Catholic whose parents wouldn’t let her convert. Without a wife or legitimate children, he threw himself into a life of the mind, and became a venerable historian, writer, and scientist.

Like many others, he was horrified at the trajectory Nicholas II’s reign took, esp. the political influence of Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin. In response, Nicholas exiled him. Sadly, this didn’t save him from being murdered by the Bolsheviks.

In my alternative history, Aleksey makes Bimbo his second-in-command because of their shared political beliefs and love of learning.

Grand Duchess Mariya Pavlovna the Elder (née Princess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenberg–Schwerin) (14 May 1854–6 September 1920), called Miechen, the matriarch of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. She had an open rivalry with both her sister-in-law, Empress Mariya Fyodorovna (later the Dowager Empress), and her niece-in-law, Empress Aleksandra.

She and her two oldest sons, Kirill and Boris, made no secret of their ambitions towards the throne. When Tsar Aleksandr III and his family survived a train accident, she lamented that such a chance would never come again.

In my alternative history, Miechen, Kirill, Boris, and their wives are sent to the Shlisselburg dungeon by Grand Duke and Regent Mikhail, and kept there until late 1940. A year later, during the siege of St. Petersburg, Aleksey takes her into his home, the Aleksandr Palace, so she won’t be alone and vulnerable during her twilight years. Whatever underhanded things she’s done and said, she’s still family.

Grand Duchess Yelena Vladimirovna (17/29 January 1882–13 March 1957), Miechen’s only daughter, and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark (22 January 1872–8 February 1938), called Greek Nicky. Due to political turmoil, they were twice exiled from Greece, and lived for a time in France.

In my alternative history, they’re very good to Aleksey while he lives in Paris and attends the Sorbonne, in spite of the bad blood between their branches of the family, and Mikhail’s outrageous behavior towards them.

Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark (née Princess Ingrid Victoria Sofia Louise Margareta of Sweden; ultimately Queen of Denmark), 28 March 1910–7 November 2000. She loved sports, esp. tennis, skiing, and equestrianism; modernized court life; and served as official patron of Denmark’s Girl Guides.

During the Nazi occupation, she often rode her bike and pushed her baby carriage on the streets of Copenhagen, and put the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and the U.K. in the nursery window. These acts made her hugely popular. When her grandfather, King Gustav V of Sweden, demanded she stop it, she angrily told him she’d do no such thing.

In my alternative history, Ingrid invites Aleksey’s oldest niece Isidora and her husband Prince Gorm to move into Amalienborg Palace with her and Crown Prince Frederick, for safety’s sake. She also helps with rescue operations of Danish Jewry.


WeWriWa—Saying goodbye


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when 23-year-old departing soldier Yuriy suggested to his 18-year-old crush Inga that she might be a real American girl and have a returning soldier for a boyfriend by the time they meet again.

Inga said she only wanted her old family, and Yuriy tried to cheer her up by saying the pain of longing isn’t so bad as more time passes, and that after the war she could create her own family who’ll never leave her. He then holds out his hand for a farewell handshake.

“Can’t I hug you goodbye?  You deserve more than a handshake after you’ve been so nice to me.”

Yuriy smiles as he hugs her. “You’re such a sweet girl.  Just make sure not to be too sweet with the wrong kinds of people.  You have to be strong to survive in a new country.”

Inga stands at the door and watches him walking up the street, until she can’t see him anymore.  She was given a very nice friend, what some would call a guardian angel, bearing the same name as her belovèd dedushka, to get her started in America.  But he could only do so much, just as eventually a mother bird pushes a baby from the nest so it can fly.  Now it’s up to her to make good in America.

A to Z Reflections 2018

This was my seventh year participating in the A to Z Challenge, and my fifth doing it with two blogs. I waited till January this year to write the posts for my main blog, and to finalize my list of topics. My secondary blog posts were written in March and on April first.

The first post I wrote was Archangel Michael, and my final post was The Zayande River. Six posts were double topics, with a seventh initially planned. I began writing that second topic, but quickly realized it’d either bloat the wordcount past my desired upper limit of 800 words, or force me to leave out a lot of great, important details. I moved what I’d written into a post in my drafts folder, to be used the next time I do this theme.

So many letters had great topics in my working list, but I was unable to use a lot of them due to the interests of wordcount. Other topics I wanted to do were crossed off because I couldn’t find enough information or proper photos in time. I could easily do this theme (people, places, and things from my Russian historicals) at least thrice more!

Discarded topics you may see in future years include the Kabardin horse, the influenza pandemic of 1918, White émigrés, Disease X (radiation poisoning), the Battle of Tinian, and sofreh aghed (a cloth set with symbolic foods and objects at traditional Persian weddings).

I noticed several other people had the same observation I did, that participation this year seemed rather down from past years. Perhaps we were just visiting the wrong blogs, or people didn’t understand how to use the Google Docs form. I’ll admit I had issues with the scrolling on it more than a few times. I wish we had a system that worked for everyone!

View and comment count may also have been down for those of us who didn’t have our posts hyperlinked early enough in the day. We don’t all have the same work, school, or sleep schedule. I know the admins have said they don’t want to bring the old master list back, but I did like the ability to peruse it at my leisure.

Post recap:

Arbat Street
The Crown Colony of Aden
The Empress Hotel and The Emporium
The Fleishhacker Pool and the French Concession of Shanghai
The Garden Ring
Hamilton Heights and Hotel Kämp
Irkutsk, Russia
Juno Beach and the Jewish Hospital of Lublin
Levittown, NY
Archangel Michael
Novodevichye Cemetery and Nansen passports
Patriarch’s Pond
Queens Village and the qalam
Riverdale, Toronto
The Battle of Saipan
The Battle of Tarawa
The Umileniye Ikon
St. Vladimir
Washington Square Park
Xanten, Germany
The Zayande River

Happy 50th birthday, Bookends!

Released 3 April 1968, only 24 hours before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bookends was Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album. I won a vinyl copy for myself on e-Bay as a university graduation present in 2002, after continually failing to find it at any of the record shops in Amherst and Northampton. It was well worth the wait.

The album was #1 in the U.S. and U.K., #3 in Australia and France, and #40 in the two Germanies. Both then and now, the album has generally gotten very good reviews.

Below is the track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Bookends Theme” (instrumental)
“Save the Life of My Child”
“Voices of Old People” (sound collage)
“Old Friends”
“Bookends Theme” (with lyrics)
“Fakin’ It” (released as a single, but only had moderate AM radio success)
“Punky’s Dilemma”
“Mrs. Robinson” (one of the most overplayed songs on oldies radio!) (#1 in the U.S. and Canada; #4 in the U.K.; #5 in The Netherlands; #6 in Switzerland; #8 in Australia, Belgium, and Norway; #9 in New Zealand; #39 in the two Germanies)
“A Hazy Shade of Winter” (#13 in the U.S.; #14 in New Zealand; #30 in the U.K.)
“At the Zoo” (#18 in the U.S.)
“You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies” (B-side of “Fakin’ It”)*
“Old Friends” (Demo version)*

Side One, which ends with the lyrical “Bookends Theme,” is generally considered to be much stronger than Side Two. The songs are deeper, more mature and complex, really setting the mood of a concept album with a stark, moody, black and white theme. It feels like a journey through life.

Side Two starts with two strong album songs (though some people feel they’re weaker than the ones on Side One), and closes with three singles. By 1968, artists had generally moved away from padding albums out with singles.

I also feel the album would’ve had a stronger closing, with a true sense that this is The End, had the final two tracks been switched. “At the Zoo” is fun and whimsical, but it’s not the kind of track I expect such a good album to close with. It’s just kind of there. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” feels more final.

Bookends was so successful, its volume of advance orders enabled Columbia Records to apply for award certification before the LPs had left the warehouse. Its success was due in part to the release, 10 weeks earlier, of The Graduate soundtrack, and because it came in the immediate wake of MLK’s assassination.

Columbia chairman Clive Davis wanted to raise the price to $5.79 ($41 in 2017), a dollar above normal retail, but Paul Simon dug in his heels and refused. Instead, the duo signed a contract extension with a higher royalty rate.

Though my favorite S&G album is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (which was almost the third-last album I heard in this lifetime), I think Bookends ties with Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. as my next-fave. My favorite tracks are “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Old Friends,” “America,” “Fakin’ It,” and “Bookends Theme.” It’s a beautiful musical portrait of 1968, an album I highly recommend.

WeWriWa—Ice-cream parlor


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when 23-year-old Yuriy tended to his 18-year-old crush Inga’s injured knee one final time. They’re now on their way to get ice-cream before he has to get a train back to Canada.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform. He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream, while Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

“I’d ask you to kill some Nazis or Japs for me, but I can see you’re a medic,” the soda jerk says when she brings over the food. “Good luck with saving as many guys as you can.”

Inga lingers over her sundae and egg cream, not sure when she’ll next be able to splurge on a little luxury like this. Once they’re done, Yuriy leaves the money on the table and walks Inga home.

“You’ll be fine,” he reassures her. “You’ve got a new family who’s eager to take care of you, and some new friends. The language comes quicker than you think, if you’re constantly immersed in it. I bet you’ll be a real American girl by the time I come to visit again, and you might have a returning soldier for a boyfriend.”