The Dowager Empress and the Duesenberg


Empress Mariya Fyodorovna, née Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar of Denmark, 26 November 1847–13 October 1928

Princess Dagmar, called Minnie, was the fourth child and second daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark (Father-in-Law of Europe) and Queen Louise Wilhelmine Frederikke Caroline Auguste Julie (of Hesse-Kassel). Her closest sibling was her older sister Alexandra, Queen of England from 1901–10. Indeed, their sons Nikolay (Nicholas II) and George so resembled one another as to be frequently mistaken for one another.

In 1864, Princess Dagmar was betrothed to Tsesarevich Nikolay of Russia, Tsar Aleksandr II’s heir. Nixa, as he was nicknamed, was cut from the same liberal, reforming cloth as his father. Alas, Nixa took sick on a tour of Southern Europe, and died of meningitis on 24 April 1865, aged only 21. Dagmar was heartbroken, not only over the loss of Nixa, but also because she’d become so emotionally attached to Russia and her would-be parents-in-law.


Engagement photo with Nixa

Nixa’s last wish was that his younger brother Aleksandr (Sasha) should marry Dagmar, and in June 1866, they became betrothed. She was warmly welcomed into the Romanov family, converted to Russian Orthodoxy, took the name Mariya Fyodorovna, and became Tsesarevna after her marriage to the future Aleksandr III on 28 October/9 November 1866. By all accounts, this was a very happy, loving marriage. Unlike many previous Tsars, Aleksandr III never cheated on his wife, and was a loving, involved father.


Their marriage produced six children—Nikolay (Nicholas II), Aleksandr (died at 11 months of meningitis), Georgiy (died in 1899 of TB), Kseniya, Mikhail (the short-lived final Tsar, by some views), and Olga. After they assumed power in 1881, they moved from Anichkov Palace to Gatchina Palace. During her reign as Empress, Minnie really shone at court, and the Russian people adored her.

In 1919, she and her daughter Kseniya’s family escaped the new Soviet Union on the HMS Marlborough, sent by her nephew King George V. Though a woman of her stature didn’t make it a habit of mingling with commoners, she was such an inspiration and help to her subjects while they waited for rescue. Her final act on Soviet soil was refusing to get on that ship unless all the wounded soldiers and any civilians wanting to escape were also evacuated. The British listened to her!

She ultimately settled in her old summer home Hvidøre, south of Bellevue Beach in Klampenberg, Denmark, with her favourite sister, Alexandra. She passed away at age 80, having outlived four of her six children.


In my alternative history, after the restoration of the monarchy, the Dowager Empress returns to the Mariyinskiy Palace in Kyiv, and, as in real life, isn’t afraid to give her opinion on her late daughter-in-law Alix and how royalty should behave. She doesn’t have a cordial relationship with her one living daughter-in-law, Countess Natalya Brasova, since Natalya is a twice-divorced commoner instead of a royal princess of the blood. She’s also horrorstruck Aleksey wants to go to the Sorbonne instead of immediately coming to the throne in his own right and marrying as soon as he’s of age.

Copyright Stahlkocher

The luxurious Duesenberg (manufactured 1921–37) is far and away my most-desired antique car. I love it so much, I frequently write it into my books. I’d be like a pig in slop if I ever actually owned one of these beauties. Who wants to start out with a fairly affordable, easy to find Model T when you can have a beautiful Duesenberg?

In my alternative history, Aleksey receives a dark blue Duesenberg as an 18th birthday present from his oldest sister and brother-in-law, Grand Duchess Olga and Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich (the younger).

IWSG—My second official NaNo


Today is the November meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which convenes the first Wednesday of every month to discuss our latest pressing worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

This is my second year officially doing NaNo, though I started books in November 2010, 2011, and 2012. Had I known you only need to write 50K and not just a book complete at that scant length, I would’ve been officially participating long ago! If you want to friend me on the NaNo site, my screen name is Russophile–Estophile (with an N dash).

Just when I’d gotten a nice fresh wind on my alternative history, November started, and it has to go to the back burner once more. Now I feel less inspiration for my fourth Russian historical and more for the hiatused project! I’m not even that keen on the first two chapters, perhaps because I just have a general idea of where I want to go with these framing storylines.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.06.54 AM

Lyuba and Ivan are still the anchor characters, so I can’t not use them, but I have much more detailed plans for the storylines about Igor and Violetta, Ilya and Milada, and Katrin. I at least have a better idea of the storylines involving youngest children Irina, Sonyechka, and Tamara not fitting in at their new schools.

I do know I can win again, since I wrote just shy of 75K last November, and doubtless would’ve written more had I not been felled by a severe cough and cold for like two weeks. I was below par a number of days as a result. Looking at the word count records of some of my other books, I have written at least 50K within any given month, if not much more.

I’ll probably be one of the overachievers in my local writing group again, though not by means of rushing through it. I’m gobsmacked at the people patting themselves on the back for winning within the first 24 hours. I might be able to write 25K in a single day if I had nothing else to do and were really motivated. Usually, I just do a few thousand words a day. It’s not really a challenge anymore if you’re not taking your time, and that’s not fair to the people who take their time to write quality slowly but surely. I’m sure even the 25K I might be able to write in a single day under the best of circumstances wouldn’t be very good.


Name-related question!

Which name do you prefer, Dagmar or Dagmara? I have plans for a character named after the Dowager Empress, whose original name was Dagmar. The Dowager Empress was in the Crimea with this woman’s parents while they waited to be rescued by the British, and she was a great inspiration and help to her people, even if she wouldn’t exactly have mingled with commoners.

Dagmara is the Polish version, and seems like the logical Russian adaptation, while Dagmar is the Czech, Slovak, and Scandinavian form. I’ll probably call her Mara, Marya, Marusha, or Marusya for short, since neither version is exactly a normal Russian name. At least other non-native names adopted into the language sound Russian enough, like Klarisa, Iliana, and Stella.


Are you doing NaNo? Have you done it before, and how many times? How many words do you think you could write within 24 hours under the best circumstances?

WIPpet Wednesday—Violating the Nativity Fast

Fourteen years ago today, I finished the first draft of You Cannot Kill a Swan after 8.5 years! As much work as I did on rewrites, revisions, and edits over 4.5 years a decade later, the fact remains that I still wrote that complex saga between ages 13–21.

I’ve put my primary energies this week towards a final edit of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks. I’m mostly cleaning up some surprisingly infodumpesque dialogue I’m really surprised I didn’t see that way during the previous edits. It’s not really classical “As you know, Bob” dialogue, but more like overstating established information from the first book, and not sounding like realistic, natural dialogue.

I’ve been having continued issues with my third lobe piercings, which are five months old now. I’m hoping the irritation bumps and bleeding go down now that I’ve changed out the initial peacock opal labrets for lightweight French hooks, resumed saline soaks, and iced them down. The labrets feel so much better in my first lobes, which I’ve had for 28 years. My thirds feel slightly better now that they can breathe more freely and don’t have posts rubbing against the back.

After the traumatic experience I had with my seconds and how long they took to finally heal, I take no chances with the health of any other ear piercings. It was precisely because I had such an awful experience with my seconds that it took so many years to get more ear piercings. I still want to fill up both of my ears, but given the difficulties I’ve had with my thirds, I’ve half a mind to postpone the fourth lobe piercings I’d planned for next month and just get my navel instead. I’ve wanted that for a long time, and contrary to the popular image, you don’t have to be 16 and a size 6! Depending on body shape, it can be a bit above the actual navel, to allow for better healing and less chance of rejection.

Meanwhile, my new rook piercing is doing great, and hopefully will continue healing nicely. I went pretty hardcore for my first cartilage piercing, but I love the look of it, and how it’s not yet trendy. Lots of people have helix, tragus, and even conch piercings, but not too many people have rooks.


WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m just sharing 26 lines, for the 26th of August. This scene takes place in December 1918, during the wedding banquet for the three oldest grand duchesses. All Imperial weddings took place in the Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace, and this reception is held in the Nikolay Hall of the Neva Enfilade.

After the three couples have been announced and joined the reception, the food is brought out, and the Dowager Empress is scandalized to see her grandson eating normal food.


The Nikolay Hall, the largest room in the Winter Palace

Aleksey could no longer even remember the last time he’d seen such copious amounts of food in one place, or such wonderful food altogether.  Even considering this was during the Nativity Fast, there was still plenty of good food.  The new palace cooks had made tomato soup, potato soup, mushrooms stuffed with walnuts, eggless pancakes, several types of salads, fresh fruit and berries, an eggless apple cake, butternut squash soup, risotto with cashews and oranges, noodle pudding, rice-stuffed tomatoes and peppers, fried potatoes, and a sweet made mostly of some kind of crushed sugar and walnut paste.  Then another cook came over and set down a tray of roasted chicken with turnips, hard-boiled eggs, several types of cheese, and broiled salmon encrusted with pistachios.

“Here you go, Your Majesty.  Your uncle told us to make some normal food especially for you.  You’re so lucky you get to eat regularly during this fasting season.”

“What is this?” the Dowager Empress demanded after the cook had walked away. “This madness has now even extended to violating fasts?  I wish I had the authority to get you another Regent!”


Grand Duke Mikhail and his morganatic wife, Countess Natalya Brasova

Mikhail cut into a stuffed pepper. “Believe me, I thoroughly consulted with the five new doctors about this.  Don’t you want your grandson to live long enough to become Tsar in his own right?  Eating normally year-round could be the difference between life and death for him.  It was madness how his parents didn’t modify his diet enough, and let him keep all these fasts like a normal boy.”

“But that’s not proper Orthodox behavior.  The Emperor must be Orthodox, as must his consort.  Don’t tell me you’re going to find Baby a bride from a non-Orthodox land and not even make her convert.  This Regency just gets more and more insane.”

“And that’s another thing.  You and his sisters really need to stop calling him Baby.  That’s a really embarrassing nickname for a fourteen-year-old.”

The Dowager Empress shook her head. “Perhaps captivity made you all go balmy, on top of how Baby was already coddled too much by his mother.”

“Who are you to talk about coddling when you’re still calling him Baby, like he’s two years old?” Natalya asked. “That’s a very big disconnect in thought and behavior.”


WIPpet Wednesday—Happy Birthday

These are some pictures of the little flower garden in front of the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library. It’s a respectably working-class neighborhood, around the lower Western Avenue/upper Madison Avenue area of Albany, and right across the street from a police station. I often walked over there after school in sixth grade, during my sophomore year, and when I was in summer school for chemistry after sophomore year.






I’ll also be discussing this in my next RSW post, but I finished my chapter-by-chapter notes for my fourth Russian historical and have begun putting together the file with stuff like the table of contents, cast list, glossary, etc. There are no scenes in the USSR in this particular volume, but I still call it a Russian historical because of the origins of the majority of the characters. I can’t wait to finally start it in November!

Given the era (1948–52) and some chapters/scenes in Japan, I’d like to use bomb-inspired titles for Parts I and II. What do you think of Fission and Fallout, Hypocenter and Epicenter, Bright Light and Black Rain, or Pika (Flash) and Don (Boom)? (Pika-don is what the Japanese call the A-bomb.) The Epilogue is tentatively titled “Red Canna Flowers,” after the beautiful flowers which miraculously sprouted amid the rubble of Hiroshima, only 10 days after the bombing.

It doesn’t seem like a lot of people write about this early postwar era, making this a rather underused historical setting. My main storylines will be Lyuba and Ivan’s long-deferred dream of going to university, the struggles of not exactly conforming in this conformity-loving era, the challenge of being a woman pursuing higher education, the spectre of McCarthyism, the love stories of Lyuba and Ivan’s two younger sons, and the unhealed wounds that come with being a polio survivor.


WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m sharing 17 lines, for 12 + 2015. This is at Aleksey’s 18th birthday dinner, 12 August 1922, before his nephew Savva’s fatal injury put a premature end to the party.

Pelmeni are like Russian pierogivarenye is a type of thick dessert jam; vatrushki are cheese pastries; pirozhki are baked, stuffed buns; and syrniki are fried quark pancakes.


The palace cooks had prepared a feast of sturgeon, pheasant, quail, goose and duck eggs, mutton, French onion soup, pelmeni stuffed with mushrooms and served with sour cream, salads aplenty, stuffed peppers, broiled salmon encrusted with pistachios and orange slices, pirozhki stuffed with minced beef and rice, syrniki served with strawberry varenye, caviar, venison stew, roast goose, tomato cream soup, and vatrushki.  Until he’d been orphaned, Aleksey’s name day in October had always been celebrated more grandly than his birthday in August, but Mikhail felt it important to show the world how modern the monarchy was by putting equal emphasis on birthdays, not just the religious days.  After four years as Regent, he didn’t seem likely to suddenly ease up and grant the constitutional monarchy he’d once wanted, but this was still a form of progress.

“I can’t believe you’re really going to the Sorbonne,” his fifteen-year-old cousin Prince Vasiliy said. “If I were you, I’d be really eager to become Tsar as soon as possible.  It’s your Divine right, something you’re supposed to look forward to getting.”


Prince Vasiliy Aleksandrovich (23 June/7 July 1907–24 June 1989) in 1923

“I’m really eager to be Tsar, but I can’t be very good at it if I’m too young and inexperienced.  Just because that’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean it can’t ever be altered.  I’m glad Dyadya Misha changed the House Laws so I didn’t have to take power when I was only sixteen.  Even if we had some good Tsars of that age a long time ago, it’s a new century, with new realities.”

“You can’t convince me this isn’t sheer madness,” the Dowager Empress said from the end of the table. “You can’t just sign away your Divine rights as easily and passively as your dear father did.  A monarchy can’t sit around waiting for four years while you have fun in Paris.  If you absolutely feel you need more education, you can always have some professors brought in to tutor you in university-level subjects while you govern.  You’ll still get to indulge your bourgeois whim for a higher education while attending to your sacred duties.  Misha can’t keep holding the throne for you forever.  The people will get restless, and might, God forbid, revolt all over again.”

WIPpet Wednesday—Party prematurely ended


Here’s a recent picture of my geese, who are kind enough to let me get really close to take pictures and videos. It’s getting harder and harder to tell the four babies apart from the adults. Their rapid growing-up, over only two months, just drives home one of the things I wrote about in Pet rabbits, chickens, and ducks should be for keeps, not just Easter (my fifth-most-viewed post). The cute baby stage doesn’t last long in animals, and you have to understand and respect how quickly animals mature. A stuffed animal stays cute, unlike a real-life counterpart.


WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. The caveat is that excerpts must be related to the date in some way. There are 15 sentences this week, for the 15th of the month.

These lines are from the opening chapter of Part II of my alternative history. A large banquet is held for Aleksey’s 18th birthday in August 1922, on the eve of his leaving for Paris to study at the Sorbonne. All seems to be going fairly well until his grandmother, the always-opinionated Dowager Empress, starts suggesting brides for him. A distant cousin has the nerve to challenge her wisdom in arranging marriages, and then one of Grand Duchess Olga’s sons suffers a cerebral hemorrhage. This is the fourth generation to be afflicted by hemophilia.


The Dowager Empress (then just the Tsesarevna, the wife of the Tsesarevich) and her firstborn child, the future Nicholas II

“I can’t believe how eager you are to marry off your grandson, after how spectacularly you failed at arranging your own children’s marriages,” some distant cousin at the next table said. “Is this your way of trying to make up for your past mistakes?  I suppose at least you’re making the effort as early as possible, instead of inviting the risk of a romance with a commoner or first-cousin.  God knows, we can’t afford to jeopardize the dynasty with an unequal marriage and let those scheming Vladimirovichi steal the throne.”

A stunned silence filled the room, with everyone frozen.  Just as Mikhail had opened his mouth to finally break the silence, a loud squeal pierced the air.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the cause of the squealling when Konstantin pushed back his chair and ran towards the source.  It was just a question of which young prince had hurt himself, thirty-five-month-old Savva or eighteen-month-old Yulian.

The squealling had given way to an eerie silence by the time Konstantin came back to their table, little Prince Savva motionless in his arms.  Olga, heavily expecting a third child, had turned pale and now pulled herself up.  She and her sisters followed after Konstantin and left the hall.

“This banquet is over,” Mikhail announced. “I’ll deal with the upstart who insulted me and my mother later.”

“Why are you adjourning our party?” another distant cousin asked. “I’m sorry the child hurt himself, but that’s no reason to put a premature end to the celebration.”