WeWriWa—Arrival at Yelagin Palace

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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. This week, I’m returning to my alternative history, which, if all goes according to plan, should be released on 17 July, my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

And Aleksey Lived is set from 1918–45 (with a brief Epilogue some decades later), and tells the story of a restored Russian monarchy. One of the many unusual things about the new Tsar is his choice of a bride, a morganatic princess instead of an equally-ranked princess from a ruling house. Radical revisions to the draconian House Laws have made this engagement possible. Arkadiya is also seven years his senior instead of a few years younger.

It’s now late autumn 1929, and Arkadiya, the soon-to-be Empress, has been invited to visit her future sister-in-law Tatyana at Yelagin Palace, on St. Petersburg’s Yelagin Island, to discuss the wedding gown.

Copyrigh Nmgphoto, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Forty minutes later, the Duesenberg drove through the gates of the looming white edifice.  Arkadiya took a few moments to take all this in, before slowly ascending the massive white marble staircase leading to the main entry.  Identical urns were on either side of it, depicting Tritons and Nereids.  Since winter was approaching, there were no plants or flowers in them.  The air was rich with the scent of oranges from the trees in a nearby greenhouse.

The main vestibule was richly adorned with artwork on the ceiling and cornice, along with four stern statues of maidens holding bronze candelabras.  All the simple furniture was dark mahogany.  Several servants in red livery stepped forward to greet her.

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Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part I

I ran out of time to put together a proper post for Monday, so I decided to do a quick photo post highlighting some of the real people who feature as characters in my alternative history. This is my primary writing focus these days, since it deserves all my attention.

These are some of the real-life characters I haven’t featured here yet.

Princess Yelena Petrovna, née Princess Jelena of Serbia (4 November 1884–16 October 1962), wife of Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, daughter of King Petar I and Princess Zorka of Montenegro. Yelena studied medicine at the University of St. Petersburg, but gave this career path up after her son Vsevolod was born. Her daughter Yekaterina was the final child born in Imperial Russia.

In my alternative history, she and Ioann have two more children, Lyudmila and Kazimir, and settle back into Pavlovsk Palace. Yelena eventually returns to med school and becomes a doctor, serving as head of the women’s medical team in St. Petersburg’s Mariyinskiy Hospital during WWII.

Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich (14/26 April 1859–24 January 1919), called Bimbo, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. Because he and his siblings were raised in Georgia instead of St. Petersburg, they were much more progressive-minded than the rest of the family. His  traumatic experiences in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78 made him a lifelong pacifist.

Bimbo’s two attempts at marriage were denied, because the first woman was a direct first-cousin (forbidden by Orthodox law), and the second was a Catholic whose parents wouldn’t let her convert. Without a wife or legitimate children, he threw himself into a life of the mind, and became a venerable historian, writer, and scientist.

Like many others, he was horrified at the trajectory Nicholas II’s reign took, esp. the political influence of Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin. In response, Nicholas exiled him. Sadly, this didn’t save him from being murdered by the Bolsheviks.

In my alternative history, Aleksey makes Bimbo his second-in-command because of their shared political beliefs and love of learning.

Grand Duchess Mariya Pavlovna the Elder (née Princess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenberg–Schwerin) (14 May 1854–6 September 1920), called Miechen, the matriarch of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. She had an open rivalry with both her sister-in-law, Empress Mariya Fyodorovna (later the Dowager Empress), and her niece-in-law, Empress Aleksandra.

She and her two oldest sons, Kirill and Boris, made no secret of their ambitions towards the throne. When Tsar Aleksandr III and his family survived a train accident, she lamented that such a chance would never come again.

In my alternative history, Miechen, Kirill, Boris, and their wives are sent to the Shlisselburg dungeon by Grand Duke and Regent Mikhail, and kept there until late 1940. A year later, during the siege of St. Petersburg, Aleksey takes her into his home, the Aleksandr Palace, so she won’t be alone and vulnerable during her twilight years. Whatever underhanded things she’s done and said, she’s still family.

Grand Duchess Yelena Vladimirovna (17/29 January 1882–13 March 1957), Miechen’s only daughter, and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark (22 January 1872–8 February 1938), called Greek Nicky. Due to political turmoil, they were twice exiled from Greece, and lived for a time in France.

In my alternative history, they’re very good to Aleksey while he lives in Paris and attends the Sorbonne, in spite of the bad blood between their branches of the family, and Mikhail’s outrageous behavior towards them.

Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark (née Princess Ingrid Victoria Sofia Louise Margareta of Sweden; ultimately Queen of Denmark), 28 March 1910–7 November 2000. She loved sports, esp. tennis, skiing, and equestrianism; modernized court life; and served as official patron of Denmark’s Girl Guides.

During the Nazi occupation, she often rode her bike and pushed her baby carriage on the streets of Copenhagen, and put the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and the U.K. in the nursery window. These acts made her hugely popular. When her grandfather, King Gustav V of Sweden, demanded she stop it, she angrily told him she’d do no such thing.

In my alternative history, Ingrid invites Aleksey’s oldest niece Isidora and her husband Prince Gorm to move into Amalienborg Palace with her and Crown Prince Frederick, for safety’s sake. She also helps with rescue operations of Danish Jewry.

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?

IWSG—A plethora of progress

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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 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.