IWSG—2017 plans

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

This month, the IWSG question is:

What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

There are so many so-called rules I wish I’d never heard! A lot of folks without much writing experience seem to latch onto these rules and make everyone else follow them, without understanding when they truly need to be followed vs. when it should be the writer’s call.

I understand, e.g., overusing adverbs and non-standard speaking verbs, but sometimes they’re really necessary to bring a scene to life more vividly, and to conserve wordcount.

The “show, don’t tell” rule also annoys me. While I agree it’s lazy and simplistic to point-blank tell the reader everything, some things need to be established early on in order to fully understand a character or situation. Gradually dropping hints won’t have the necessary effect.

Sometimes it’s also necessary to condense the events of a longer period into a wraparound narrative segment, so as not to bloat the wordcount. Not everything needs described in minute detail, particularly when they’re not the most crucial parts of a storyline.

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In 2017, I plan to continue blogging more about subjects related to my writing and love of history, instead of focused on writing topics. A bunch of really important films turn 90 this year, so I’ll be writing about them. I’m most looking forward to my series on Metropolis (my first-ever silent) and The Jazz Singer.

This October’s vintage horror film series will include Freaks, Häxan, The Unknown, The Lodger, The Cat and the Canary, Nosferatu, The Mummy, and three Georges Méliès films from 1897.

My music-related posts will include the 50th birthday of The Who Sell Out, The Monkees’ Headquarters, and The Hollies’ Butterfly, as well as the 35th birthday of Rio.

I’d like to finish up my “A Primer on XYZ Names” series I’ve been running for the last few years. Planned future installments will include Swahili, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Finnish, Hawaiian, Medieval Slavic, and Tajik. My ultimate goal is to put all these posts together as a book, with expanded commentaries and names lists.

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I’d like to finally have the book formerly known as The Very First ready for release this year, along with revamped covers for Swan and Little Ragdoll. In addition to improved covers, I’ll also be doing some minor tweakings. The Twelfth Time is also long overdue for release.

My primary writing focus will remain on A Dream Deferred and Branches, though I’d also like to get back to my alternative history. If it’s not ready by August, I think a really appropriate (if sad) release date would be 17 July 2018, the Russian Imperial Family’s 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

I also have an idea for another alternative history, focused on my love Dante. I’ve been interested in writing some books set during the High and/or Late Middle Ages for awhile, and making it about Dante would be the icing on the cake.

What are your writing, editing, blogging, and publishing plans for this year? Do you think you’ll get around to all of them, or do you have just one or two major goals you absolutely want to accomplish?

Grigoriy Yevseyevich Zinovyev

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Grigoriy Yevseyevich Zinovyev, né Ovsey-Gershon Aronovich Radomyslovskiy Apfelbaum, 11/23 September 1883–25 August 1936, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Grigoriy Ye. Zinovyev was born to Jewish dairy farmers in Yelisavetgrad, Ukraine (now Kirovohrad). From 1923–35, the city was renamed Zinovyevsk in his honour. In his early life, he adopted several monikers, before finally settling on the name Grigoriy Zinovyev. He studied history, literature, and philosophy, which perhaps led to his ultimate interest in politics. In 1901, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, and joined the Bolshevik branch of the party after its 1903 inception.

Zinovyev quickly became one of the leading lights of the Bolshevik movement and one of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin)’s closest associates. He spent the first three years of the Great War in Switzerland, and returned to Russia on the same sealed train as Lenin in April 1917. However, he opposed Lenin’s call for an armed uprising against the Provisional Government, and they had a falling-out.

After the October Revolution which put the Bolsheviks in power, he continued making himself unpopular with Lenin. He and Lev Borisovich Kamenev wanted to negotiate with Vikzhel (the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railwaymen). Vikzhel threatened a national strike unless the Bolsheviks shared power with other Socialist parties and kicked Lenin and Trotskiy out of the government. Negotiations began, but Lenin ultimately succeeded in stopping them. In response, Zinovyev, Kamenev, and several others resigned from the Central Committee. Lenin never forgot or forgave, even in his Last Will and Testament.

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Zinovyev’s political career wasn’t over, however, and he was elected to the Central Committee at the 7th Party Congress in March 1918. He also became a member of the Politburo and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Though he enjoyed great power through most of the 1920s, he ultimately was targeted by Stalin, put through show trials in 1935 and 1936, and murdered on 25 August 1936. Kamenev was also a victim of these show trials. They were taken to the Donskoy Crematorium, and their ashes dumped into pits.

In my alternative history, Zinovyev is thrown into prison along with all the other Bolsheviks following the restoration of the monarchy and Grand Duke Mikhail declaring martial law. In August 1929, when Aleksey finally comes to the throne in his own right, he discovers his uncle’s last will and testament demands Ulyanov, Trotskiy, Zinovyev, Kamenev, and Dzhugashvili (Stalin) be hanged publicly.

From all newspaper accounts, the first four have become model prisoners over the last eleven years. It doesn’t seem fair to have them suddenly hanged so much time later, and Aleksey not only has them pardoned, but has them taken to the Aleksandr Palace for a private (but guarded) meeting. He explains he’s about to grant a constitution, and wants them to serve in his government.

Courtesy of State Museum of Political History of Russia

During all the time he’s had to prepare for coming to the throne in his own right, Aleksey has done a lot of reading and research, determined to find out why his parents were overthrown, what made people hate his family so much, and what drove people to Bolshevism. He’s gained a greater understanding of what went wrong, and how many of these people were initially motivated by understandable reasons. If only there’d been a more understanding Tsar and the kinds of reforms they desperately sought, they wouldn’t have done the half of what they did. They weren’t born evil, and they’re far from unintelligent. Zinovyev becomes the Minister of Education, a role in which he shines, and helps to bring many much-needed reforms to the Russian Empire.

At the end of Part IV, 13-year-old Grand Duke Nikolay (Kolya), named for the grandfather he’ll never know, asks his father why he did it. Aleksey says he was motivated by love, sympathy, empathy, and forgiveness. He could’ve chosen to hate and become a ruthless autocrat in response to what happened, but instead, he chose to understand what motivated them, to see them as fellow humans made in the image of God, and to rule with love and understanding.

Ultimately, Zinovyev and the others weren’t beyond forgiveness. All they needed was a Tsar who ruled with love in his heart, who saw his subjects as his friends, not impersonal masses. As Lao-Tzu said, “Sometimes the softest thing in the Universe/Can overcome the hardest thing in the Universe.” And as the final three intertitles of Faust say:

The Word that rings joyfully throughout the Universe,
The Word that appeases every pain and grief,
The Word that expiates all human guilt,
The Eternal Word…dost thou not know it?

Tell me the word!

Liebe (Love)

Prince Igor Konstantinovich and the Iverskaya Chapel

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Prince Igor Konstantinovich, 10 June 1894–18 July 1918

Prince Igor Konstantinovich was the sixth child and fifth son of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich the elder and Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Mavrikiyevna (née Princess Elisabeth Auguste Marie Agnes of Saxe–Altenburg). This large, close-knit family of eventually nine children (of whom eight survived into adulthood) stood in stark, welcome contrast to the decadent, dysfunctional antics of many other members of the extended Imperial Family.

Igor and his siblings were the first to be affected by a new law passed by Tsar Aleksandr III, dictating that, henceforth, only the children and male-line grandchildren of a Tsar merited the titles Grand Duke or Duchess and Imperial Highness. This law was meant to cut down on the amount of people getting salaries from the Imperial Treasury. These great-grandchildren and their descendants, thus, were simply to be known as Prince or Princess and Highness.

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Prince Igor (left of centre) during the war, developing into a rather handsome fellow

Igor and his siblings grew up in Pavlovsk, a St. Petersburg suburb. Like all Romanov males, he entered the Corps des Pages military school at a young age, and was taught at home by tutors. He was closest to his brother Oleg, who was killed in action in 1914. Their father, a man of letters, wrote poems and plays under the initials K.R., and founded several literary societies. Because he was so attracted to the old Russian traditions and customs, he gave his children old-fashioned, folksy names which weren’t in vogue in Imperial society, like Ioann, Tatyana, Oleg, and Igor. They represented a romantic ideal of Russia as it was.

Igor and his brothers Konstantin, Oleg, Ioann, and Gavriil served in the Izmaylovskiy Guards Regiment during the Great War. They served with distinction and became decorated war heroes, well-liked by their fellow soldiers. Igor earned the rank of captain. However, he fell sick with pleurisy and pneumonia in 1915, and still wasn’t well after he returned to the trenches.

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Prince Igor and Tsesarevich Aleksey at Stavka (military HQ) during the war

In April 1918, he fell into Bolshevik hands and was taken to the Urals along with his brothers Konstantin and Ioann; their cousins Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley and Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich; the Tsaritsa’s sister Ella and one of her nuns; and Grand Duke Sergey’s secretary. They initially were held in Yekaterinburg but denied communication with the Tsar’s family, and then taken to nearby Alapayevsk.

On 18 July 1918, a day after the Imperial Family’s murder, the Alapayevsk prisoners were blindfolded, had their hands bound, and were taken to an abandoned mineshaft in wagons. Only Grand Duke Sergey knew they were being taken to be murdered, and tried to resist. They were all thrown alive into the mineshaft, which was full of water. Not everyone died instantly, but they were all dead by the time the White Army reached the area and discovered what had happened.

In my alternative history, the Alapayevsk prisoners are rescued, and Igor becomes Grand Duchess Mariya’s husband.

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19th century view of the Iverskaya Gate and Chapel, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Iverskaya (Iberian) Gate, alternately called Resurrection (Voskresenskiye) Gate, is one of the historic entrances to Moskvá’s Red Square and Kreml. It’s surrounded by Red Square, Manezhnaya Square, Voskresenskaya Square, the State Historical Museum, and City Hall.

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Modern view of Iverskaya Gate and Chapel, Copyright Stoljaroff

Since 1669, Iverskaya Chapel has been home to a copy of the Panagia Portaitissa (Ikon of the Blessèd Virgin of Iveron), which according to legend was created by Saint Luke. The original ikon is resplendent in silver and gold. Tradition dictated everyone visit the chapel to venerate the ikon before entering Red Square, no matter how high or low one’s birth. Prisoners and outlaws could pray right beside the Tsar.

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Iverskaya Gate towers, Copyright Hons084Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

The day before his coronation, the Tsar came to Iverskaya Chapel to venerate the ikon, just like any other worshipper. Coronations were held in Moskvá, the ancient capital, not St. Petersburg, the modern capital.

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Ikon of the Blessèd Virgin of Iveron

Tsar Aleksey II

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When I’m Tsar, there must be no one poor or sad.  I want everyone to be happy.

I enjoy the sun and the beauty of summer as long as I can. Who knows whether one of these days I shall not be prevented from doing it?

I am beginning to see the truth.  At Tsarskoye everyone lied to me…If I become Tsar no one will dare to lie to me.  I will make things right in this country.

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His Imperial Highness Sovereign Heir, Tsesarevich, and Grand Prince Aleksey Nikolayevich Romanov, now Holy Royal Martyr Tsesarevich Aleksey, 30 July/12 August 1904–17 July 1918

This year, my A to Z posts are about people, places, and things from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, about the greatest Tsar who never ruled, this unlikeliest of all heroes. For the last 21 years, I’ve felt this suprarational soul connection to that boy, an obligation to give him the happy ending he was cheated out of in real life. My A to Z posts are lovingly dedicated to his memory.

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Like his four older sisters, Aleksey was a rather large baby, 11.5 pounds (in the days before that was considered worthy of an automatic C-section). As with all Imperial births, there was a cannon salute across the Neva River in St. Petersburg, 301 blasts for a boy. He was named after Peter the Great’s father, even though a 17th century prophecy had said the dynasty would end with an Aleksey as heir. At his baptism, he raised his hand and extended his fingers, as though blessing the people. This was interpreted as a very good omen for his future rule as Tsar.

Though the story goes that something odd was first noticed about his health at six weeks old, it really happened when the umbilical cord was cut. It took two days for the doctors to bring the bleeding under control. He’d seemed so robust at birth, but the evidence was undeniable.

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The hemophilia attacks were more serious and frequent in early childhood, as is common. He got bruises and hemorrhages as he learnt to crawl, and when he was old enough to stand and walk, he received injuries from falling down. A child that young doesn’t have the cognizance to understand he has a serious disease, and how to safeguard against the worst attacks.

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Aleksey had long golden curls as a baby and toddler, but as he got older, the curls turned straight, and the blonde hair was replaced by a lovely shade of auburn with coppery highlights. His eyes were a beautiful blue-grey inherited from his mother. Many people felt he was the most beautiful of the five Imperial children, and indeed he developed into a very handsome young man. Unfortunately, he didn’t smile in many pictures, because he felt very self-conscious about the gap between his front teeth. Corrective dental work was out of the question, for obvious reasons.

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It’s well-known he was a bit of a spoilt brat and holy terror when he was younger, but a lot of folks make far too much of that. The most important thing was that he eventually grew out of it, as most children do. In particular, the gigantic health emergency at Spała in 1912, and the year or so it took to fully recover, really matured him. He was frequently remorseful, and it may have been caused by frustration, constantly forbidden to do things before he could understand why. And what kid won’t get a bit of a big head from practically being worshipped as the heir to the throne?

Brattiness wasn’t the only thing about him. He was also described as golden-hearted, sensitive to others’ suffering, intelligent, empathetic, kind, pious, and strong-minded.

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He was so eager to grow up and become a man, and finally left the childish sailor suit behind for a military uniform when he stayed at military HQ with his father during the Great War. By the final few years of his life, he’d become much healthier and stronger, with attacks fewer and further between. His health only deteriorated at the end because he didn’t exactly have access to the best doctors and medical care in captivity. In normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have been so bored he rode a sled down a staircase. He’d also had measles in 1917, which is notorious for weakening the immune system for about three years afterwards.

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So many things went wrong when Nicholas II illegally abdicated. The Russian people loved their heir, and preferred him to his inept father. Many contemporaries felt he would’ve been a much better Tsar, since he had more empathy, sensitivity, and intelligence, got appropriate experience from a young age, and personally knew what suffering was like.

It would’ve been such a happier 20th century if he’d been allowed to rule, even if he hadn’t lived long into adulthood. He would’ve ruled with love, fairness, kindness, and sensitivity to the suffering of the Russian people. Ruling with sensitivity doesn’t automatically mean being a spineless pushover. I’d like to believe that in some alternative universe, he got the chance to prove himself instead of condemned to be forever thirteen.

My 2016 A to Z themes revealed

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Once upon a time, there was a crown prince. This wasn’t just any crown prince, but a very special crown prince who was born after four girls in a row. Because the inheritance laws of his empire dictated women could only inherit the throne unless all male dynasts were dead or disqualified, his parents had been trying and longing for a boy for almost ten years.

Their desperate prayers were finally answered when their only son was born, a very robust baby of 11.5 pounds who could already hold his head up. A further good omen was when he raised his hand and extended his fingers at his baptism, as though blessing the people. The entire empire rejoiced at his birth, after waiting so long for an heir to the throne.

But unbeknownst to anyone outside of the immediate family, the newborn crown prince was very sick. He was born with a fatal flaw in his blood, a sickness originating with his maternal great-grandmother and passed along to quite a few reigning houses. Because of this illness, the already disastrous reign of his parents headed into an even more troubling trajectory. Though the crown prince had many miraculous recoveries and showed promise of living at least until his twenties if he continued being lucky and careful, the Fates had other ideas, and he was murdered a few weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday.

But what if history had turned out differently?

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My A to Z posts will feature people, places, and things from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, a story about the greatest Tsar who never ruled, the hemophiliac prince who became a great hero against all odds. Because of the miraculous last-minute rescue which opens the book, there’s a much happier 20th century. My A to Z posts are dedicated in memory of Aleksey Nikolayevich Romanov (30 July/12 August 1904–17 July 1918).

You’ll learn about:

The Winter Palace, the beautiful, immense official home of the Imperial Family until 1905.

Aleksey’s loyal spaniel Joy, the only member of the Imperial Family who survived in real life.

Uzbek cuisine.

Why you want to use the word Tsesarevich, not Tsarevich.

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, a morganatic grandson of Tsar Aleksandr II and a very talented, sensitive young poet.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the beautiful, historic shopping thoroughfare of St. Petersburg.

How Easter was celebrated in Imperial Russia.

Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich, Aleksey’s uncle, guardian, and Regent, who has a miraculous rescue of his own.

The Fyodorovskaya Ikon of the Mother of God, the House of Romanov’s patron ikon.

The Lower Dacha of Peterhof Palace, Aleksey’s birthplace.

Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna, Aleksey’s aunt.

Several posts have two or three topics, but I kept each post between about 400–800 words, and loaded each with plenty of pictures. All the non-public domain photographs are properly credited.

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On my names blog, I’ll be featuring names from The Divine Comedy. Many of the names will thus be Italian, but there are also names from mythology and other regions. As some readers might remember, the opening 12 lines of this timeless work of literature were what inspired the title of my third Russian historical, and the titles of each of the four Parts:

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.