Dina’s New Birds

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For this month’s WEP contest entry, I decided to revisit some of the characters from my alternative history, set in a 20th century Russia where the monarchy was restored. Maslenitsa, Butter Week, is comparable to the Western celebration of Carnival.

Wordcount 981; MPA

Dina gazed around with wide eyes as she walked down Nevskiy Prospekt, taking in all the bright colors on display. Everywhere she looked, there were stalls offering painted wooden toys, satin ribbons, elaborate fabrics, sparkly costume jewelry, puppets, ikons, and all manner of tempting merchandise. In addition to the visual feast, the famous luxury thoroughfare was also blanketed with the delicious scents of warm gingerbread drizzled with vanilla icing, pastries, spices, fruity teas, roasted nuts, and of course butter-drenched blinchiki.

But of all the treats on offer on Nevskiy Prospekt during Maslenitsa, the most exciting were the birds. Each cage was more exquisite than the last, and housed fancier and fancier birds. Dina couldn’t make up her mind as she walked back and forth between the birdcages.

“How many birds can I adopt, Mama?”

Dina’s mother Arkadiya looked away from a blinchiki stall. “Will you still be interested in them a few months from now, and can I trust you to take care of them all by yourself? Birds aren’t as easy to care for as dogs and cats.”

“I’m almost eleven, not a little kid like Shura. My cousins get birds every year, even the ones younger than I am.” Dina pulled her rubles and kopecks out of her blue pony coat pockets. “Papa gave me lots of money before we left.”

Arkadiya smiled knowingly. “You’ve always had your papa wrapped around your finger. I’d be shocked if he didn’t give you enough money to buy this entire avenue.”

“I’ll take really good care of my birds. I want big ones with really colorful feathers. Little birds aren’t as fun as big ones.”

“They also make more noise and mess.” Arkadiya called to her older daughter Eleonora at a gingerbread stall a few feet away. “Elya, would you mind keeping birds in your room?”

“Why not?  It’ll be fun.”

“Can we take them into our schoolroom too?” Dina asked. “They might get lonely if we’re not there all the time.”

“You don’t take your dogs and cats into your schoolroom,” Arkadiya said. “If you get more than one bird, they’ll keep one another company.”

“They should have a really big cage,” Eleonora said. “Birds can’t be very happy in cages their whole lives, just like fish aren’t supposed to live in tanks. God designed them to fly and swim around the entire world.”

Dina walked back and forth among the birdcages. “Now that we don’t have to spend money on the war anymore, Papa can get an architect to add a new room to the palace. What’s the word for a special room full of birds?”

“Aviary,” Arkadiya supplied. “You can ask him, but he might not be able to do that immediately. There are a lot of other things he needs to spend money on more than building an aviary for his pet child.”

Dina stood on her toes and unhooked a large golden cage with three sun conures in brilliant shades of orange and yellow. She set it on the ground and then unhooked another large gold cage, this one housing two macaws in eye-popping shades of sapphire blue. Before Arkadiya could do or say anything to protest, Eleonora unhooked a platinum cage of four parrots in alternating swathes of reddish-orange, blue, and yellow, followed by a silver cage of seven budgies in lovely pastel shades of blue, green, and yellow. Each cage had plenty of bird toys, a water dish, and birdseed.

“That’s all my daughters are getting today, Madame,” Arkadiya called to the bird vendor. “There’s only so much room in our car.”

“You have excellent taste, Your Imperial Highnesses,” the vendor told Dina and Eleonora. “All my birds are beautiful, but these are so much more eye-catching than most of my canaries, doves, lovebirds, and finches.”

“Can Shura have a bird too?” Dina asked. “She’ll be jealous of us if we have pretty birds and she doesn’t.”

“She’s only three and a half,” Arkadiya said. “Shura shouldn’t have any pets at her age.”

The bird vendor reached behind her stall and handed a large stuffed green parrot to the youngest child of the Tsar and Empress, who greatly resembled the murdered namesake she’d never know. “Will that be all today, Your Majesty?”

“Yes, those are all the birds my daughters need. These new pets will keep them busy for a long time to come.”

Eleonora and Dina counted out the money for their colorful birds, and Arkadiya produced the money for Shura’s stuffed animal. Without waiting to be signalled, the servants who’d accompanied the Empress and her daughters came forward to transport their parcels and the birdcages to the deluxe-sized Rolls–Royce they’d arrived in.

“Your business is always appreciated, Your Majesty. Enjoy the rest of your Maslenitsa, and tell His Majesty I hope he speedily recovers from his latest injury.”

“It’s only his bad knee again, nothing more serious or life-threatening, but I’ll pass along your well wishes,” Arkadiya said. “I wouldn’t have come here if he were severely injured.”

Dina and Eleonora climbed into the car as soon as Arkadiya joined them. The entire drive back to the Aleksandr Palace, they chattered to their birds and thought up names.

“Can we come back tomorrow to buy birds for Papa?” Dina asked.

“Doesn’t he have more than enough pets already?” Arkadiya asked gently. “He’d adopt an entire zoo’s worth of animals if he could.”

“Papa must feel like a bird in a cage when he’s sick,” Eleonora said. “He knows what other people can do, but he’s stuck.”

“We all learn to adapt to our circumstances and our own version of normal. Even when the body is confined, broad horizons are open to the mind and soul.” Arkadiya reached into the conures’ cage and gently stroked them. “And sometimes the most constricting cages are the ones we can’t see. It’s all a matter of perspective.”

2018 in review

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From 31 December–5 January, all my e-books are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and B&N! You can find the links here.

Though I always feel I could’ve done better, I’m quite happy to have finally had a six-figure NaNo. I’ve hit over 100K in so many non-NaNo months, but that wordcount always eluded me when it most counted. I’m a realistic overachiever, not a humble-bragger trying to win on Day One or aiming for a million words.

I finally finished Part I of A Dream Deferred, at 484K. So far, Part II is up to 172K, and I’m on Chapter 75, up to late August 1950. So far, I’m hopeful the first draft of Part II will be shorter than Part I.

Part II contains five chapters set in Japan (in full or part), as radical Katrin investigates the true aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and overall life under American occupation. As emotionally difficult as it is to research this aspect of Japanese history (possibly the most difficult subject I’ve ever researched, of all the macabre, depressing things I’ve chosen to write about), I loved the chance to finally use a Japanese setting.

Someday, I plan to write a few Japanese historicals, at least one set in the Heian era (794–1185, the last era of classical Japanese history). I’ve been a Nipponophile since age 14, the more traditional type (i.e., interested in history, language, culture, and religion instead of modern pop culture).

At the end of January, I finished the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very First (after believing for years it already ended where it needed to). I’m glad I added in two more chapters and an Epilogue. In 2019, after final polishing, I plan to release both it and the book formerly known as The Very Next.

I can’t wait to finally reveal their new and improved titles! I also came up with a better title for the book formerly known as The Very Last, inspired by a line in a Charlie Chaplin talkie.

I released my alternative history 17 July, on my protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary. I knew I should’ve gone back to it at least several months earlier, to avoid that mad race to the finish line by the deadline, which included final edits. I was embarrassed to catch a number of little errors post-publication (obviously corrected immediately). Never again!

From formatting four books for physical copies, I also learnt a very important lesson about inside margins based on page count and trim size. I only saw them onscreen, not in print, and so didn’t realise 0.7″ is on the tight side for 6×9, esp. with a high page count. I’ll be redoing Little Ragdoll with one-inch inside margins.

I also learnt about the importance of double-checking the left and right headers are correct! Odd pages (including the first page of any book) are always on the right, and evens are always on the left.

I released my second Russian historical on 6 September, after having it finished for years. It just needed one final polishing. I also released Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third book with my Russian characters, on 11 December, in four volumes.

Additionally, I designed a new and improved cover for my first Russian historical. It was a big mistake to use my own artwork for the original 2014 cover, though those were probably the best human figures I ever drew! I also made some changes to the text, for a fourth edition.

In 2018, my Top 10 most-viewed posts were:

“A primer on Russian names” (2,901 views)
“No, I will not get sucked into the cult of Arbonne!” (1,899 views)
“Favorite Decameron stories, Part I” (1,438 views)
“Writing an arm amputee character” (1,226 views)
“The importance of stylistic consistency” (769 views)
“Why I HATED The Book Thief (644 views)
“A primer on Tatar names” (596 views)
“A primer on Yiddish names” (590 views)
“A primer on Albanian names” (496 views)
“A primer on Occitan names” (422 views)

The first four posts are also my most-viewed posts of all time, to date. It’s not even close between the first two, 41,553 to 7,415. I still want nothing to do with Arbonne or any other MLMs!

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.

IWSG—Exhausted

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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.”