WeWriWa—The yearly nightmare

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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 released 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

This snippet takes place in the middle of the night on 17 July 1930, on the eve of a memorial service for Aleksey’s parents. Aleksey and his newlywed wife Arkadiya, who’s now seven months pregnant, have relocated to the suburb of Peterhof to get away from the worst of the summer heat. They’re staying in Znamenka, an estate that’s part of a large complex of palaces, whose owners are now Grand Duchess Anastasiya, her husband Prince Roman Petrovich, and their surviving children.

This night proves to be Arkadiya’s first disturbed night of sleep, as she discovers her new husband is wracked by nightmares every year on this date.

“You’re safe with me, golubchik,” she soothed him as she stroked his sweaty auburn hair. “I can guess what you dreamt.”

“The same nightmare I always have on this date, at exactly this time.” His voice shook. “The White soldiers don’t get into the cellar in time to save me, and the murderers chase my sisters around the room with bayonets before shooting them in their heads.  Then the ringleader tries to stab me with a bayonet, and shoots me in the head when he can’t get past the jewels sewn into my undershirt.  If not for those jewels, my sisters and I would’ve been dead for twelve years.”

Arkadiya laid her head on his chest. “If I could take those bad memories and nightmares away from you, I would.  You didn’t deserve to almost be murdered at thirteen.”

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 Mikhail, his regent and guardian, radically transforms into a revenge-minded autocrat, and expects him to rule with the same iron fist. Mikhail’s behavior as Regent alienates and horrifies an increasing number of people.

As much as Aleksey wants to take power and start making everything right, he’s held back by his youth and inexperience. In order to gain real-world experience outside palace walls, he heads off to the Sorbonne for four years. After graduation, he begins co-ruling 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.

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.

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 just when it seems like Russia has finally come into the modern era, the biggest challenge yet comes when another war breaks out.

And thus begins the most heroic act of his life.

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.

Miscellaneous Imperial Family photos

Because I’ve been singularly working on finishing my alternative history in time for its 17 July release, I didn’t have any time left to put together a proper post. Instead, here are some of my photos of Russia’s Imperial Family.

1922 engagement photo of Prince Nikita Aleksandrovich (grandson of Aleksandr III) and childhood friend Countess Mariya Vorontsova-Dashkova. Their oldest son, Prince Nikita Nikitich, appears in my alternative history, as one of the five princes held as ransom by the Eichmann–Kommando in Budapest.

Tsar Ivan V, Peter the Great’s very handsome halfbrother and initial co-Tsar. Though Ivan was very severely disabled, he had a wife and five healthy daughters, and Peter was always so compassionate towards him. He never excluded him from co-ruling, even knowing it was mostly symbolic.

Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, second surviving son of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. Though he was quite the womanizer and overspender, he was also known as an excellent host, very friendly and cheerful, with gourmet foods and wines by his tables. He and his little brother Andrey were let out of Bolshevik captivity when their captor recognized Boris as the one who’d bought some of his artwork when he was a struggling artist in France.

Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine), known as Ella, Empress Aleksandra’s older sister, widow of Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, in 1887. She later became a nun, and was murdered by the Bolsheviks. In comparison to her sister, she was popular from the moment she arrived in Russia.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, who marries Grand Duchess Mariya in my alternative history. They have eleven children, ten of whom survive. Had they both lived, he would’ve been a great husband for her, since she wanted so much to marry a nice Russian soldier and have a large family. Knowing she was a hemophilia carrier, and such a sweet person, I gave them eight girls and only three boys. Their second hemophiliac son survives into adulthood and plays a very important role in capturing Hitler alive near the end of the war. Their surprise youngest child, Oleg, is the healthy son they’ve long dreamt of.

Found this among a few blurry pictures while going through my downloads to free up space on my computer, prior to reinstalling and updating my OS. I really hope that photo isn’t what it looks like!

Prince Oleg Konstantinovich, Igor’s favorite brother, said to be the most intelligent of the Konstantinovichi siblings. His death in the war in 1914 devastated their father.

IWSG—Miraculously regained momentum

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?
In past years, I remember having felt more inspiration and renewal for writing as spring took bloom, though I can’t specifically recall the same experience in recent years.

Due to my shaken confidence in my usual daily wordcounts, I set my April Camp NaNo goal at only 25K. The first 5,200-odd words came from A Dream Deferred (since I had to finish that chapter before switching gears), but everything else came from my alternative history.

I reached my lowball goal on Day 14, validated as soon as Day 20 began, and ended up at just shy of 55K.

This book is written wildly out of order, which I still feel I need to do emotionally, but that strategy also makes it harder to go on a consistent, beginning-to-end emotional journey with these characters. Regularly jumping from Point A to Point D to Point R to Point Z to Point L and back again means I don’t always remember important developments or details.

I finished the last chapter in Part II, and have finished most of Part III. I also did a smidgen of work in Part I, though my primary focus during Camp NaNo was Part III. Once that’s done, I’ll spend May going through from the start, editing, rewriting, and filling in any remaining gaps.

With my rate of progress this past month, I’m confident I can power through Part IV (about 25% done), and then work on these appendices I totally forgot I’d planned.

I also realized part of the reason for my admitted emotional distance (most glaring in Part I) was because I was trying to be too close to third-person limited. That’s just not my natural voice at all, even when a book is unusually (for me) focused on just one or two characters instead of a large ensemble cast.

Thus, I developed some of the secondary characters more, even though this isn’t their story. I also finally figured out what to do with Grand Duchess Anastasiya, who had zero lines in all those words. Her reaction to the traumatic cataclysm is to shut down and barely say more than five words at a time.

Her second-cousin, Prince Roman Petrovich (who survived in real life), has a marvellous effect on her, so much so her uncle, Grand Duke Mikhail (the Regent), realizes what a good marriage match they’d be. Prior, it was just announced they’d married in early 1920.

I do think a more formal voice works for this specific book, but as it stood, it was too emotionally distant. Better to find solutions for it now, instead of going through mental gymnastics to justify it and only belatedly realizing what a snafu that was.

Near the start of April, I changed my desktop picture to feature my protagonist and his sisters. Every time I look at it, I’m held accountable for finishing the damn book already! I have an obligation to the memory of the dead.

IWSG—Fighting for writing

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

This is a perfect question for this month, since I’d planned to address just such an issue. After dealing with so many fits and starts for so long, I finally got to the place I need to be to move forward speedily on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University.

I also finally resumed work on my alternative history, about the rule of Tsar Aleksey II. I’d been really worried I wouldn’t have the same level of inspiration, passion, and motivation I’d been filled with during my first several rounds of work, but I needn’t have worried.

The words automatically, swiftly began flowing from the moment I got back to it, as though that dear boy were right there beside me, telling me exactly how to continue his story. I have a powerful obligation to finish this book for him, and to release it on his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

In both cases, I pushed through to fight to regain my writing mojo the way an ice-skater fights for a landing after realizing s/he’s off-kilter in the air, or had bad form to begin with. Some skaters just give up the moment they realize their error, and let themselves fall like a limp ragdoll, but a skilled skater will do everything in her or his power to save a landing.

Even if a skater isn’t able to land with perfect form, it’s better to have a two-footed, bobbled, shaky, scratchy, hand-down, or far-forward landing than it is to fall. Even in the case of a landing that can’t be saved no matter what, it’s better to fall without falling apart.

The rest of the program can then proceed normally, with much better artistry and athleticism. There will always be difficult patches, but when one is committed to one’s craft, one should reach far down inside to reconnect with the initial spark.

As previously mentioned, a lot of my writing mojo was also regained thanks to writing my 12-part series on the 90th anniversary of The Jazz Singer in November. Fictional words had been so strained for so long, but creative non-fiction brought them back.

I don’t regret the decision I mentioned last month, to stop going to the local writers’ group that hadn’t worked out for me. While there were some very strong writers (like a guy writing a sci-fi comedy), a lot of them needed line-by-line critiques instead of gentle roundtable comments and suggestions.

I’m sure I would’ve been seen as even more of a foreign intruder had I suggested doing full critiques, or given my own honest comments about everything. One gentleman even submitted a freaking tax plan! The librarian hosting another branch of this group rightly refused to accept it, since it was neither fiction nor creative non-fiction, so he took it elsewhere.

Not one person said anything about how inappropriate and off-topic that was. I care less if a character or storyline is political, regardless of how far Left or Right, so long as the writing is strong and the author isn’t doing it to force in her or his own politics, but this was a freaking tax plan!

When was the last time you fought to regain your writing mojo? Any odd stories from a writers’ group?