We write books as they’re meant to be written

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.

Happy release day to And Aleksey Lived!

With gratitude to Hashem, and in loving eternal memory of the nineteen people murdered on 17 and 18 July 1918, one hundred years ago today and tomorrow, I announce the release of my alternative historical saga. I’d initially planned to release it 12 August 2016, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but it was nowhere close to being finished by then, and my focus had shifted to other projects.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that delayed its completion and release for so long. What more fitting release date could there be but my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

I hope I’ve done this beautiful, innocent boy literary justice and not made him regret choosing me as his author from the other world. He deserved so much better than being forever thirteen, and deserves to be remembered as more than just the sickly, murdered heir to the Russian throne.

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

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, Grand Duke Mikhail, his regent and guardian, is determined to show everyone who’s in charge, and prevent another uprising. Mikhail, who was once very mild-mannered and hoped for a constitutional monarchy, radically transforms into a revenge-minded autocrat. He severely punishes the Bolsheviks, unleashes deadly pogroms, and throws family rivals into the Shlisselburg dungeon.

As much as Aleksey wants to take power in his own right when he’s a legal adult, and start making everything right, he’s held back by his youth and inexperience. If he rushes into power as soon as he’s of age, that might set the groundwork for yet another disaster. In order to gain real-world experience outside palace walls, he heads off to the Sorbonne for four years. When he returns home with his degree, he begins a co-rulership 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. As much as he’s always wanted a family like everyone else, he’s terrified of leaving a young widow and orphans, or passing down hemophilia to another generation.

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. Though the initial plan is to have a celibate marriage for the sake of appearances, and adopt a boy to be legally installed as heir, the feelings Aleksey and Arkadiya have for one another grow stronger and stronger as their wedding day approaches.

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 though it seems as if the dynasty is stronger than ever, and Aleksey’s sweeping reforms have finally brought Russia into the twentieth century, the biggest challenge yet comes when another war breaks out.

And thus begins the most heroic act of his life.

WeWriWa—No shame in imperfections

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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 releases 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when soon-to-be-Empress Arkadiya began looking at fashion books and magazines with her future sister-in-law Tatyana, to get ideas for her wedding gown. Tatyana has explained each style of neckline and sleeve, and Arkadiya has said she’d prefer not to show her arms. Though the engagement photographs printed all over the world showed the burn scars on her arms, she wants to pretend everyone has forgotten about that.

Arkadiya also references the limp in her right leg, and the additional burn scars on her stomach and abdomen. She laments how she’ll be such a blemished bride.

Tatyana put her hand on Arkadiya’s left arm. “Everyone in this world who’s lived outside of a glass bubble has scars of some sort, be they physical, emotional, or mental.  Many people who appear physically unblemished are deeply scarred where no one can see it.  After what my siblings and I escaped, and what we saw, our hearts, souls, and minds have been riddled by scars we can never get rid of.  These scars make us who we are, and tell stories of survival.  Hiding them and pretending to be perfect gives a false impression.  There’s no shame in having an imperfect body or state of mind.  That’s one of the reasons Sunbeam likes you so much, because you’re not perfect, and have known suffering on a personal level just like he has.”

Names tally from my alternative history

Since I’ve finally finished my alternative history (at an estimated 405K, not including front and back matter), I thought it’d be fun to have a post totaling up how many times each name and nickname is used, as well as English and French forms used by non-Russophones. This includes titles used in place of personal names. Since the Imperial Family, and their extended relatives across Europe, used many of the same names over and over again, these don’t always refer to the same people.

Aleksandr: 172
Aleksandra: 25
Aleksey: 1,497
Alexis: 37
Alyosha: 185
Anastasiya: 95
Andrey: 48
Arkadiya: 1,404
Arya: 144
Aryechka: 16

Baby: 64
Beatrisa: 4
Bimbo: 73
Boris: 79
Bubnov: 9

Carol: 33
Churchill: 19
Cyril: 10

Denis: 10
Denya: 3
Dina: 67
Dinochka: 4
Dmitriy: 8
Dominik: 3
Dora: 3
Dowager Empress: 109
Dr. Dragomirov: 27
Ducky: 14
Dzhugashvili: 7

Eichmann: 60
Elena: 8
Eleonora: 51
Elisabeth: 24
Ella: 4
Emperor (as a proper noun): 95
Empress (as a proper noun): 235

Frederik: 20

Galina: 9
Galya: 1
Gavriil: 4
Georgiy: 59
Golubchik: 24
Gorm: 15
Günther: 10
Gurik: 1
Guriy: 19

Harald: 8
Helena: 9
Her Majesty: 37
His Majesty: 258

Igor: 157
Ileana: 89
Ingrid: 50
Ioann: 14
Ioannchik: 8
Iosif: 34
Irina: 13
Isidora: 71

Joy: 22

Kamenev: 16
Dr. Katz: 23
Kazimir: 19
Kirill: 59
Klarisa: 17
Kolya: 46
Konstantin: 146
Dr. Koshkin: 19
Kostya: 22
Kotka: 8
Dr. Kronberger: 6
Kseniya: 66
Ksyusha: 7

Lara: 8
Larisa: 47
Lenora: 12
Leonid: 15
Lyonya: 15

Manci: 27
Margit: 7
Margrethe: 9
Marie: 22
Marina: 82
Mariya: 277
Marusya: 7
Masha: 11
Mashka: 5
Matvey: 44
Dr. Merkulov: 126
Michael: 9
Michel: 25
Miechen: 164
Mihai: 26
Mikhail: 509
Rabbi Milhaud: 22
Misha: 151
Missy: 3
Mistress of the Robes: 19
Motya: 16

Nastya: 13
Nastyenka: 3
Natalya: 83
Natasha: 19
Nicholas: 69
Nicky: 28
Nicolae: 13
Nicolas: 4
Nikita: 29
Niki: 5
Nikolay: 47
Nina: 44
Ninusha: 4
Novak: 9
Novikov: 3

Odetta: 11
Oleg: 27
Olga: 138
Olik: 7
Olishka: 9
Olya: 6
Oskar: 18
Osya: 10

Pasha: 26
Pavel: 113
Pavlik: 1
Pecherskiy: 26

Rafail: 27
Rafik: 6
Roman: 68
Romashka: 4
Romik: 12
Roosevelt: 20
Roza: 9
Dr. Rybakov: 15

Sasha: 19
Savva: 17
Savvochka: 5
Seidl: 4
Dr. Shirikov: 23
Shura: 50
Shurochka: 2
Sokolnikov: 10
Stefan: 8
Stella: 19
Sunbeam: 55

Tanya: 20
Tata: 22
Tatyana: 174
Their Majesties: 27
Théodore: 70
Tikhon: 10
Tishka: 4
Trotskiy: 13
Tsar (as a proper noun): 547
Tsaritsa (as a proper noun): 44

Ulyanov: 43

Varvara: 42
Varya: 12
Vasiliy: 8
Vera: 24
Victoria: 40
Viktor: 12
Vladimir: 112
Volodya: 21
Vsevolod: 8

Wisliceny: 5
Woolly: 5

Yarik: 113
Yaroslav: 36
Yelena: 96
Yekaterina: 15
Your Highness: 18
Your Imperial Highness: 25
Your Majesties: 46
Your Majesty: 194
Your Serene Highness: 2
Yulian: 10
Yuliana: 36
Yulik: 5
Yulya: 5

Zakhar: 58
Zhukov: 16
Zinaida: 6
Zinovyev: 14
Zlata: 15
Zosha: 7
Zosik: 7
Zosim: 13
Zoya: 58
Zubrovka: 6