WeWriWa—How it should’ve ended

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

This will be the last sample I’ll share from this book for awhile. These are the final lines, from the second section of the short Epilogue. Like the end of the main text of my magnum opus Cinnimin, it’s also based on the wording of Deuteronomy 34, the final chapter of the Torah. Those final paragraphs always give me goosebumps.

The time had come for Aleksey to die.  He was one hundred years old at the time of his death, his eyesight undimmed, his mind as sharp as ever, his intellect unabated, his overwhelming sense of compassion as strong as it’d been throughout his whole life.  He and his belovèd Arkadiya breathed their last breaths together, holding hands.  Just as Arkadiya had always promised, she’d made it to one hundred seven to ensure Aleksey survived a full century.

The Imperial Family bewailed their passing for forty days and forty nights, in keeping with Russian Orthodox tradition, unable to believe the couple who’d led their empire for so many decades was suddenly no more.

The period of mourning for Aleksey and Arkadiya came to an end.  Following the period of mourning, Yarik was coronated.  Now Yarik was filled with the spirit of wisdom and compassion, because of the lifelong example he’d gotten from his parents; and since he was cut from the same cloth as his father, the people of Russia heeded him and did as he said.

Never again did there arise a leader like Tsar Aleksey II, called Tsar Aleksey the Savior, who was the most compassionate, intelligent, humane, enlightened Tsar who ever lived; lived through ten decades of history; survived longer than any other hemophiliac; who was snatched from certain Death the month before his fourteenth birthday by a last-minute miracle; and who demonstrated a powerful harnessing of might and compassion before all the peoples of the world.

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IWSG—Exhausted

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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:

What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Don’t jump into querying or publication too soon, or declare you’re done editing and revising too soon. I cringe when I see a hit to a post from 2011 or 2012, naïvely declaring I think I’m done editing something that was nowhere near done, or talking about querying the wrong agents or after barely any revising.

Think of it like slowly savouring gourmet chocolate vs. uncouthly gobbling a cheap cookie. You should never rush anything important.

Also, stay true to your own voice and style.

I’m so damn exhausted after preparing four of my five books for print editions! IngramSpark had free title setup during July, to mark their fifth anniversary, but scheduled 26 hours of system maintenance to begin 8:00 PM Central Time on the 31st. I barely made it under the wire!

IS has a very steep learning curve, though I don’t regret going with them over CreateSpace. IS has greater reach, being taken more seriously, and a higher maximum page count. But damn, was that a lot of hard work!

I chose not to put up Swan because it needs a revamped cover and light tweaking.

I’m really grateful my father provided so much help with my cover templates.

I’ve yet to check proofs, but after all the time I spent with these files, I doubt I left any typos or other little mistakes. I went back through my two books about Jakob and Rachel, and only had to do minor tweaking (mostly rooting out overused words and unnecessary pluperfect, esp. in the first book). I also specified Jakob’s father was buried in a copper coffin, to explain how he wasn’t in an unrecognisable state of decay after almost five years.

There were unfortunate errors with my revamped cover for LR, so I had to get a third cover. My revamped cover remains for the e-book, but it didn’t have enough pixels for good rescaling. It pulled pixels from other things, creating a muddied, fuzzy look. The artist also no longer has either the physical artwork or a digital copy.

I went with 6×9 trim for everything but my alternative history, which is 7×10. At 6×9, the page count was just too high for IS parameters. I figured 7×10 was a workable compromise. It’s not a standard size, but not wildly unheard-of either. As someone who reads many saga-length books, I’m cognizant of how page size translates to comfortable, long-term readability and ease of holding.

As I mentioned in several previous posts, once I’ve earned enough from my alternative history, I’ll use some of the money to make donations to the Hemophilia Federation of America and National Hemophilia Foundation, in memory of Aleksey. I didn’t write that book for myself.

When I break even with Little Ragdoll, I’ll use some of that money for a donation to The Bowery mission, which appears several times in the book. I most need to make back this $200:

I won Camp NaNo with a mix of my alternative history, my minor edits on the other books, blog posts, and A Dream Deferred. My goal was only 20K, and I knew I wouldn’t have a giant wordcount due to the timing.

Oh, and my trackpad quit working. At this point, my 11-year-old backup computer is in better shape than this one! My father gave me an external mouse he no longer needs. In addition to that, I enabled touch-clicking.

I’m still interested in doing guest posts to promote my alternative history!

Advice from one young monarch to another

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

I’m skipping ahead to Part IV, which is set during WWII, and focuses on Aleksey and his wife Arkadiya’s successful efforts to rescue almost the entire Jewish population of occupied Europe and bring them to safety in the Russian Empire. It’s now June 1944, and Aleksey’s second-cousin once-removed, the very young King Mihai of Romania, has come with his uncle Nicolae to discuss plans for Romania’s defection to the Allies. When Aleksey and Mihai are alone after dinner, Mihai asks if it’s okay to ask a somewhat personal question.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

King Mihai, the last true surviving WWII head of state (25 October 1921–5 December 2017)

“No, it’s nothing prying.  I wanted to know when I should start feeling like the real King, and not an overgrown little kid playing at being King.  At my age, I don’t feel like I deserve to rule in my own right.  Is there a certain age or point where you began feeling you were fully in charge and entitled to make important decisions?”

Aleksey put his hand on Mihai’s shoulder. “If you’re any sort of good monarch, you’ll never have that feeling.  This is a role we were born into, not elected to; but for an accident of birth, we might’ve been much further down the line of succession, or peasants.  You should never forget this is a precious trust you were chosen by God for, and do everything in your power to prove yourself worthy.  Most people want to like, trust, and believe the best of their monarch, particularly at the start of his reign.  Never give them a reason to believe their trust is mislaid, because therein lies the road to revolution.”

We write books as they’re meant to be written

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While I was cramming in my final edits for my alternative history, to have it ready by its 17 July release date, I realized I should’ve gone back to it at least two months earlier. Not only would that have given me the leisure of more time to perfect it, without being so under the gun, but it also would’ve given me time for more radical rewrites and expansions of certain sections.

I wrote this book wildly out of order, with the exception of most of Part IV. I went back and forth between the four parts and different chapters. Part I in particular was very emotionally grueling. All I could think about was that most of these people were murdered in real life, never had these miraculous rescues and happy endings. To avoid being overwhelmed by emotions, I wouldn’t let myself become emotionally close to them.

Parts I and II are rather short; after changing the leading from 2 to 1 and the typeface from Palatino to Baskerville, Part I is only 93 pages, and Part II is 122. In comparison, Part III is 203 and Part IV is 288. Were I only starting this book now, or had I written it in order, without that fear of becoming too emotional to write, I definitely would’ve covered more ground in Parts I and II.

But then I think about how it shows the progression of a life, from age 13–40 (not counting the one-page Epilogue), with all that entails. If Part I had more chapters and covered more events during that first year after Aleksey’s rescue, and if Part II went into more detail about his life and humanitarian relief work in Paris, or the training he receives to rule in his own right after coming home, the book would be even longer than it already is.

Not only that, but the focus would be too rambling, not on the most important events in the storyline. I also like how it naturally builds, becoming more detailed, until finally the climactic Part IV. Everything that came before was in preparation for that greatest act of heroism.

I removed the clunkiest, most obnoxious, most emotionally distant God-mode passages, but I kept or reworked other passages which are in more of an old-fashioned voice than I’ve developed into. In a saga-length book, sometimes it’s necessary to summarize the events of a longer period. It’s not that they’re unimportant, but rather that it’d slow the main narrative down if they were featured in detail.

Part I takes place in a very disconnected period. Everyone’s head is so full of clutter, trying to readjust to a normal world when they’ll never be normal again. So many disparate thoughts are rattling around in Aleksey’s mind, along with the feeling he’s not quite in reality anymore. On top of that, he’s wracked by nightmares, and forced to adopt a much more restrictive life.

He’s physically restricted, either by necessity or choice, and doesn’t have many outside friends. Another consideration was that I didn’t want too much focus on his sisters. How many books have been written about them so far?

He also says many times he was only half-living till he found his wife Arkadiya. The first 25 years of his life were preparation for meeting her and realizing the greatest happiness of his life. His life has meaning because his Arya loves him. Everything in his life, he owes to this most unusual of all Empresses. She awoke his full potential as Emperor.

Greatly expanding or radically changing Parts I and II would’ve made this a completely different story. It’s possible I’ll someday expand them as their own separate spin-off volumes, but I like how the story shows an overall progression to greater and greater detail and intensity.

We can only write each line, scene, section, chapter, part, volume, book, series in that exact way once, and then never again. We write them the way they were meant to be written, even allowing for later revisions. There are so many books I never could’ve written that well, or at all, at another date.

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.