RSW Third Update


Ready. Set. Write! is a summer-long initiative hosted by Alison MillerKaty UppermanElodie NowodazkijJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk. Each week, participants post brief updates under five headings.

  • How I did on last week’s goal(s)

I pushed through and finished Part I, writing about 7,000 words. As emotionally difficult as it was, I had to do it, not only to fill in that particular gap in the book, but also for my dear protagonist. I’ve felt a suprarational soul connection to him for 20 years now, and now I’m entrusted with giving him a happy ending and being his fairy godmother.


  • My goal(s) for this week

Get some more work done on the barely-completed Part II. As of now, there are only three partly-written chapters. My working table of contents has 13 chapters for Part II, and most of them are set in Paris. I’ve got some research to do into the Belleville section of the Twentieth Arrondissement, as well as the entire Part II to be plotted beyond a general sense of what happens.

  • A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

Worse than the thought of being forever denied freedom was the thought of dying when he still had so much life left to live.  He’d had no control over having been born either sick or the heir to the throne, but he’d also been born to live, and as long as there was still breath within his body, he was going to do all he could to preserve his own life.

  • The biggest challenge I faced this week

I’ll be discussing this more in Wednesday’s post, but after 19 years, I’m suddenly cooling to my style of using accent marks in Russian words and names. Even if I had my own reasons for having begun this habit, and reasons I found to continue it all these years, I just feel like it no longer works for me, looks awkward and pretentious, and actually slows my typing speed down.

  • Something I love about my WIP

The chance to take my protagonist from a sickly, depressed, emotionally scarred, uncertain young man in his early teens to a reasonably healthy, strong adult with his own mind, forging a new path for the Russian Empire and ruling with the right combination of a strong arm and a soft heart (plus a beautiful, compassionate princess to marry). It reminds me a bit of my other major hemophiliac character, Philip Green II (Kit’s firstborn), and the moment when he goes from a boy defined by his sickness to simply Philip, a normal young man who just happens to have a disease.

WeWriWa—Different from the others

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This scene picks up right where we left off, as morganatic princess Arkadiya Gagarina has finally been prevailed upon to dine with Aleksey and his guests instead of going right back to her hotel. Her left-handedness doesn’t go unnoticed, and she explains that’s her natural inclination, not the result of an injury like her limp. She’s a little worried she might have offended His Majesty, given the societal attitudes towards left-handedness.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit into 10 lines.


With his mother and sisters during the Great War, demonstrating compassion for those who suffer, in one of their hospitals

“That’s certainly unusual, but I’m not offended, since my sister Maríya and my cousin Tíkhon paint and sketch with their left hands, and so did my Dyadya Mísha.  God makes everyone a little differently, even if we can’t always understand the reasons why.  It’s not always easy being different, but it helps to build compassion for others who are different or mistreated.  ‘To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others,’ as Giovanni Boccaccio says in the opening of The Decameron.”

“You’re very literate and well-educated.  I’m so proud we have such a national asset on the throne.”

During dinner, Arkadiya mostly listened to Dr. Freud, the Emperor, and the four government leaders discussing both national politics and international events.  She also took great interest in Dr. Freud’s reports on the paranoid, delusional Dzhugashvili, whom she was very, very thankful was still in prison.  Perhaps even more excitingly, the servants took equal part in the conversation, instead of merely standing about serving people or fading into the woodwork.  Tsar Alekséy II was the people’s emperor of everyone’s dreams, like night and day compared to his father and grandfather.


Dzhugashvili, for those who don’t know, is Stalin, who’s been judged far too dangerous and unstable to be let out of jail and rehabilitated like Zinovyev, Kamenev, and several other reformed Bolsheviks. Instead of handing him the death penalty Grand Duke Mikhail wanted, Aleksey wanted to try to cure his mind (from the safety of prison). Carl Jung is also counseling him, though he’s not at this dinner.

BOAN at 100, Part IV (What it’s all about)

Warning: This post contains massive spoilers for the entire film. If you haven’t seen it yet and plan on doing so, you may not want to read all the way through.

The Birth of a Nation takes a similar structure to Gone with the Wind, with the first half set during the Civil War and the second half during Reconstruction. While this is a challenging film to watch in the modern era, for obvious reasons, the first half doesn’t really have much racially-charged material. There are a few things here and there, but by and large, it’s far less uncomfortable for me to watch the first half than it is the second half.

BOAN follows two families, the Stonemans and the Camerons. The Stonemans, from the North, consist of Republican Congressman Austin Stoneman, his daughter Elsie (Lillian Gish), and two sons. The most important of these two sons is Phil. The Camerons, from South Carolina, have three sons and two daughters. Of their five children, the ones who matter the most to the story are oldest son Ben and the two daughters, Flora and Margaret.

While the Stoneman boys visit the Camerons in South Carolina, Phil falls in love with Margaret, and Ben becomes quite attached to a picture of Elsie, whom he hasn’t yet met. Of course, all five of these young men enlist after war breaks out, each group of brothers fighting for his own side.

During the war, the Camerons’ house gets ransacked by a Black militia under white direction, and they’re rescued by Confederate soldiers. Meanwhile, the younger Stoneman brother and both of the younger Cameron brothers are killed in action, so only one son is left from each family. Ben Cameron is wounded during the Siege of Petersburg, and taken to a hospital to recover.

At this hospital, he finally meet Elsie in person, since she’s working there as a nurse. Mrs. Cameron is also there, and with Elsie’s help successfully petitions President Lincoln to pardon Ben from the death penalty. Ben and Elsie of course fall in love, and start courting.

Elsie and Ben are on a date at Ford’s Theater when President Lincoln is assassinated, in a wonderfully-recreated scene. The Camerons are quite unhappy about this, since this brings a premature end to the postwar reality they were getting used to. President Lincoln wanted to pursue a policy of reconciliation between North and South, and not punish the South too severely. That all comes to an end when Andrew Johnson becomes president.

Elsie’s father, the Republican Congressman, visits South Carolina to see how his Reconstruction policies are working out. He takes along his mulatto protégé, Silas Lynch. (I know “mulatto” is considered a bit archaic or even offensive nowadays, but that’s the word used in the film.) The Camerons are quite unhappy about the situation, but Congressman Stone and Lynch are quite pleased. Lynch becomes Lieutenant Governor.

The now-debunked Dunning School of Reconstruction is all over the second half, such as claiming there were almost no whites in the South Carolina Senate, depicting lots of ugly racist tropes as historical truth, claiming unruly African-Americans and radical Northern Republicans terrorized everyone, and justifying the Klan. I’ll go into that more in another post.

Ben sees some kids spooking African-Americans by pretending to be ghosts, and gets the idea for the Klan. Elsie is really upset when she discovers what her boyfriend has done, and breaks up with him. Later, little Flora Cameron (the “dear little one” character D.W. Griffith was so fond of) goes to fetch a pail of water, and is ambushed by Gus (Walter Long in blackface), a freed slave looking to marry a white woman. She runs away and then jumps off a cliff to save her virginity.

Ben has seen his little sister jump, and reaches her in time for her to die in his arms. He swears vengeance, and he and his Klan buddies capture Gus, put him through a kangaroo court, and lynch him, leaving his body on Lynch’s door with a cryptic warning note.

Lynch cracks down on the Klan, and Ben’s father is arrested when he’s discovered with Ben’s costume. Dr. Cameron’s slaves-turned-servants and Phil Stoneman rescue him, and they escape along with Margaret Cameron, the only surviving sister. Their wagon breaks down, and they take refuge in a farmer’s hut.

Elsie goes to Lynch to plead for Dr. Cameron’s release, not knowing he’s already escaped. Lynch then informs her he wants to marry her, and holds her hostage when she refuses. After she faints, she’s put into another room, and Lynch informs Congressman Stoneman about his plans to marry a white woman. At first, Congressman Stoneman is happy, but quickly changes his tune when he discovers Elsie is the intended bride.


While plans are made for a forced marriage, Elsie breaks a window and screams for help, which alerts Klan spies. She then faints again, and is bound and gagged. The Klan, with Ben as their leader, rides to her rescue, and also rescues the besieged Camerons.

African-Americans are forced to disarm, and next Election Day, they’re scared away from voting by the presence of the Klan. We then see the double honeymoon of Phil Stoneman and Margaret Cameron, and Elsie Stoneman and Ben Cameron. The final intertitle pleads for an end to war and an embrace of peace.

WIPpet Wednesday—Igor Comforts Mariya

Happy Wednesday! Now that the weather is mostly nice again, I’m able to regularly go to the pond near my apartment. I discovered a goose family in May, and it’s been so fun watching them grow up. Each time I see them, they’re a little bit bigger and look a little different. Sadly, I’ve had to watch them going from six to five to four.

This is how big they were when I met them:


This is how big they are now:


Tuesday also made 12 years since I got my left nostril pierced. I’d wanted it since I was 12 years old, and when I was an adult and had done a lot of research, I finally did it. I’ve never regretted it, and love how cute, flattering, and discreet it looks, as well as how it’s the side traditionally pierced in India. I’d rate it a 0 on the pain scale, since I didn’t feel anything except some strange pressure. My piercer really found my sweet spot!


WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. The caveat is that excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m sharing 38 lines, since 24+6+2+0+1+5=38.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich (age 24) has come over to visit Aleksey, whom he previously spent a lot of time with at Stavka (military HQ) during the war. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Aleksey’s 19-year-old sister Mariya.


Maríya came into the library, limping as she had since her discharge from the hospital.  Just as when she’d returned to the family in August, her large, saucer-like blue eyes were still drained of vivacity.  She barely glanced at their visitor before continuing on to a nearby shelf.

“How are you feeling, Maríya Nikoláyevna?” Ígor asked. “I didn’t get a chance to speak with any of you at your parents’ funeral, but I hope you don’t think it’s too late to convey my utmost sympathies and condolences.  Three years on, I’m still saddened by the loss of my dear father, and the loss of my dear brother Óleg haunts me four years later.”

Maríya pulled a book off the shelf and began limping out of the room.  When the book slipped out of her hand onto the carpet, she burst into tears, and Ígor jumped up to help her.

“Are you feeling alright?” Ígor turned away and coughed. “I’m sorry, my health hasn’t been the same since I had pleurisy and pneumonia three years ago.”


“Life is just so meaningless and useless since my parents were murdered!  How can any of us go on living and pretending to be happy when there’s no more life for our dear parents?  I should’ve been killed too, not just shot in the leg and left with a limp.  It would’ve been even better had I died of measles last year, and been spared everything.  This palace feels so empty and melancholic without my parents, and I have nothing to do with myself anymore but read, crochet, knit, and go for walks.  I don’t even have much of an appetite, and have no heart to draw or paint.” She stumbled towards the nearest davenport and flung herself down, weeping so hysterically her entire body heaved.

Ígor trailed after her and had a seat on the davenport.  He timidly touched Maríya’s shoulder, then immediately removed his hand.

“Please forgive me, Your Imperial Highness.  I don’t know what I was thinking, just that I wanted to help you when you’re so upset.”

“You’re a family friend, not a stranger.  There’s no offense taken.” Maríya pulled herself up and wrapped her arms around Ígor, still sobbing.


Ígor hesitated for a moment, then put his arms around her in return. “You were always so sweet, happy, and cheerful, even in the worst of times.  Is there anything that would make you cheer up and be as happy as you used to be, besides the impossible feat of bringing your parents back to life?”

“I was too sweet and happy.  Now I know what being too good got me, almost being murdered.  Nothing that made me happy before makes me happy now.”

“Sure you’ll be happy again.  With enough time, you won’t feel so sad all the time anymore.  If you still love children, maybe you can come over to my brother Ioannchik’s house to play with his two children.  And if you still like soldiers, I bet you could visit some hospitals for the fellows still recovering from their war wounds.  You’re old enough to be a real nurse now, not just have a hospital in your name.  Even if the war is over for us, there are still plenty of guys with serious injuries.”

She began to calm down a little bit.

RSW Second Update


Ready. Set. Write! is a summer-long initiative hosted by Alison MillerKaty UppermanElodie NowodazkijJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk. Each week, participants post brief updates under five headings.

● How I did on last week’s goal(s)

I didn’t finish Part I as hoped, but I did break the 100K mark. Ever since going back to this story in November, it’s been hardest to write the Part I chapters, since they’re closest to the real-life murders of my characters. I’m writing about these people readjusting to their old life when they were really in dignityless graves. I did the most work on Part III by far during NaNo, and a bit on Parts IV and II. I had to start Part I before, and I have to finish it now, but it’s just emotionally challenging.

● My goal(s) for this week

Finish Part I and start doing more work on Part II. I recently made a table of contents, so I know what goes where, and I decided Part II will span August 1922–August 1929. At least half of it is set in the Belleville section of the Twentieth Arrondissement, and then it returns to St. Petersburg.

● A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

[Grand Duke Mikhail, the Regent] “And that’s another thing.  You and his sisters really need to stop calling him Baby.  That’s a really embarrassing nickname for a fourteen-year-old.”

The Dowager Empress shook her head. “Perhaps captivity made you all go balmy, on top of how Baby was already coddled too much by his mother.”

“Who are you to talk about coddling when you’re still calling him Baby, like he’s two years old?” Natálya asked. “That’s a very big disconnect in thought and behavior.”

● The biggest challenge I faced this week (e.g., finding time to write, getting sick, having writer’s block, etc.)

It can be a little depressing and creepy to think about how so many of my characters were murdered in real life, and didn’t have these miraculous rescues and happy continued lives. There have been times I’ve been too overwhelmed by emotions to write, thinking about what happened to my protagonist in real life. There were tears pouring down my face as I wrote the freeverse poem which opens the book.

● Something I love about my WIP

Getting to do so much research into late Imperial Russia, after so many years of being immersed in Russian history from 1917 onwards. I certainly have studied a lot about the Ryurikovich and Romanov rulers, but I never really did a lot of research into the palaces, the cathedrals, and people outside of the Tsar’s immediate family.