IWSG—A plethora of progress


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 do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I love stepping back in time to another world which now lives only in memory, like 1840s Boston, 1890s St. Petersburg, or 1940s Manhattan, with all the bygone fashions, demographics, architecture, cost of living, cars, films, streetcars, social movements, technologies, etc.

I finished the surprise two new chapters and epilogue for the book formerly known as The Very First. Not counting front and back matter, it’s about 90K. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K. I’m really proud of the work I did on this radical rewrite and restructuring.

Coupled with the fact that the book formerly known as The Very Next went from 25K to 75K, after another radical rewrite and restructuring, I’ve started thinking maybe my Atlantic City books aren’t meant to be as short as I thought they were.

Granted, by my standards, 75–90K is still pretty damn short!

Ignore the obviously non-Russian names like Amy and Leon, and the pretentious use of accent marks. I was only 21 when I made these notes.

I was inspired to type up synopses for my planned future sixth Russian novel, along with both of the prequels. (You can now find them on the About My Russian Novels page, either in the drop-down menu or the page itself.)

I also came up with titles for all three, and started pulling ideas together for the seventh book, to be set from 1966–sometime in the Seventies. Lastly, I finally typed up the Cast of Characters section for the second prequel, from the handwritten family-by-family pages I made at 21.

The Wrangels are now the Vrangels

Finally, I finished the hiatused Chapter 33, “Quintuple New Leaves,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It clocked it at my longest of this book so far, at 17,282 words. Prior, my longest chapter was the 17,247-word “Union with a Snake” of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

Pages counts hyphenated words, like twenty-two, as two words, so I know the wordcount is slightly higher than it really is.

Chapter 34, “False Paradise,” is going very quickly and easily. I think I’ll have an easier time from this point out, though I also still need to get back to my alternative history for a 17 July release date.

I’m confident I can finish writing and editing it in time if I approach it very strategically. Part I is done, Part II is 99% done, Part III is at least 85% done, and Part IV is maybe 25% done.

This beautiful little boy is counting on me to give him the happy ending he was cruelly denied in real life. I have an obligation more pressing than merely finishing what I started already.


IWSG—Plans for 2018


Welcome to the first installment of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group for 2018!

A total stranger recently misinterpreted one of my Tweets and jumped on me like an attack dog, assuming both my religion and politics. She never apologized after I explained several times I was writing from the POV of a character and that this is a writers’ hop.

I also recently did a guest post about Dr. John Money and David Reimer for 4thWaveNow.

I was recently in the odd, difficult position of having to pass on an offer of interest. Though I haven’t taken part in any trad-pub contests in a few years, I took a chance and pitched the book formerly known as The Very First during the latest Pitch Madness.

I was excited to get one like from the managing editor of a publishing house, but further research revealed this would be a very bad fit. Though I’ve significantly watered down or removed the age-inappropriate content I only included to be controversial, there are still a few spots they wouldn’t consider “clean.”

Removing or radically reworking them just to curry favor and potentially get published would alter the story in unacceptable ways. It would distort and misrepresent my voice.

That publishing house is also an imprint of a very conservative religion’s book company, and has a censorship board. G-rated content isn’t who I am at all. My character Cinni says several times that real life isn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting, and that that kind of life never existed for many Americans.

I thought I only had to finish up my unplanned chapter on The War of the Worlds radio broadcast and do some final polishing, but I instead saw an awesome opening to add two additional chapters after what I always thought was the ending.

Though I’ve carefully edited this book to feel more suited to upper MG, the ending felt too simplistic, easy, sudden, more suited to a younger readership.

The new chapters are about Sparky’s first Thanksgiving, and the experience of being Jewish when everyone around her celebrates Christmas. There’s also an Epilogue in January 1939, at her favorite brother Barry’s bar mitzvah. The new and improved reason for the nickname Sparky will be revealed then.

My guesstimate for the final length is 80K, which is super-short by my standards. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K.

I also need to finish my alternative history about the rule of Tsar Aleksey II. My initial plan was to release it on what would’ve been his 112th birthday, 12 August 2016, but that obviously didn’t work out. A release date of 17 July 2018 would be so appropriately bittersweet, since that’s his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Getting back to work on my fourth Russian novel would also be awesome.

My planned blog posts for the year will again feature films and albums celebrating landmark anniversaries, including:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
October (1928)
The Crowd (1928)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Duck Soup (1933)
Thriller (1983)
Colour by Numbers (1983)
The Birds, the Bees, and The Monkees (1968)
The Wedding Album (1993), this year’s feature for Duran Duran Appreciation Day

My October series on classic horror films will include The Invisible Man (1933), West of Zanzibar (1928), The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and several Georges Méliès films.

I’m also going to feature the radio play of The War of the Worlds (1938). As I recently discovered, the so-called mass panic was far, far, far less widespread than we’ve been led to believe. It’s also an awesome story perfect for Halloween.

Finally, as you might’ve seen in my second banner, I’ve added an index page cataloguing my posts by nine major topics—book reviews, film reviews, album reviews, misc. book-related, misc. film-related, misc. music-related, historical topics, writing advice, and names.

What are your writing and editing plans for this year?

IWSG—2017 plans


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.


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.


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


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.

1908 mug shot

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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Ikon of the Blessèd Virgin of Iveron