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.


Nevskiy Prospekt



Nevskiy Prospekt, 1880s

Nevskiy Prospekt, the main thoroughfare of St. Petersburg, could perhaps be compared to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Unter den Linden in Berlin. Even today, it’s where the majority of the city’s shopping and nightlife are located. The famous street, which runs three and a half miles from the edge of the Neva River to the Aleksandr Nevskiy Monastery, pulsated with even more life in Tsarist days.


Horse-drawn tram on Nevskiy Prospekt, 1899

Nevskiy Prospekt was like Iverskaya Chapel, teeming with people from all walks of life. Members of the Imperial Family could promenade alongside outlaws, prostitutes, starving artists, murderers, factory-workers, soldiers, and sailors. No matter what time of year, the street was always packed with traffic, be it sleds, automobiles, trams, troikas, landaus, carriages, bicycles, or coaches. It wasn’t unusual to see the mingling of long-haired, dark-frocked priests; peasant women with scarves over their heads; high-ranking officers in their dress uniforms; and high-society ladies draped in ermines, silks, and diamonds.


Postcard showing Yeliseyev Emporium (note the pre-Revolutionary letters I and ѣ)

Some of the most famous buildings on Nevskiy Prospekt include The Passage, a venerable old department store; the Aleksandr Nevskiy Monastery, containing the Theological Academy of the Russian Orthodox Church and several cemeteries; Aleksandrinskiy Theatre; Stroganov Palace; Yeliseyev Brothers, an emporium; a dozen churches of various denominations; Gostiny Dvor, an arcaded bazaar; many hotels; bookstores; Gambs Brothers, which sold housewares; the Russian National Library; and Chicherin House, which went through many uses.


Nevskiy Prospekt, 1874

The Admiralty, which housed the Ministry of the Navy, was at the northern end of Nevskiy Prospekt. Anichkov Bridge runs over Fontanka Canal.  Each corner of the bridge contains a rearing bronze horse held by a groom. Legend has it that sculptor Peter von Klodt was so angry over Tsar Nicholas I’s demands and how he gave several first casts to his brother-in-law, he retaliated by depicting the Tsar’s features in the swollen groin vein of one of the horses.


Crossing between Nevskiy Prospekt and Mikhaylovskaya Street, view of Volysko-Kamskiy Bank

St. Petersburg was a quite international, not-very-Russian city in Tsarist days. The city was largely designed by foreign architects; the court spoke English, French, and German better than Russian until fairly late in the Imperial era; quite a few members of the Imperial Family used English and French forms of their names; many foreign languages could be heard along Nevskiy Prospekt; and many magazines and books sold along Nevskiy Prospekt were in a veritable cornucopia of languages. Many store windows displayed signs advertising which languages were spoken there.


Nevskiy Prospekt as it appeared in the days of Nicholas II’s coronation

Maslenitsa (Butter Week), which corresponds to Carnival and falls eight weeks before Easter, was also celebrated along Nevskiy Prospekt. There were many stalls selling blini and blinchiki (small, thin, dessert-like pancakes) soaked in butter, along with other festival foods and products such as roasted nuts, hot drinks, live birds, puppets, gingerbread, satin ribbons, jewelry, and bright, elaborate fabrics and wooden toys.


Nevskiy Prospekt near Kazan Cathedral

From 1918–44, it was renamed Proletkult Street, and then changed to Avenue of the 25th of October. Today, the original name has been restored. Obviously, the name is taken from the Neva River, which also gave its name to Russia’s greatest national hero, Prince Aleksandr Yaroslavovich Nevskiy.

Modern view of Yeliseyev Emporium, Copyright Potekhin

Nevskiy Prospekt features in my alternative history, and will also feature in both of my Russian novel prequels (1889–97 and 1897–1917). The first prequel will open on Nevskiy Prospekt in December 1889, as young sisters Yekaterina and Margarita Iosifovna Gammerova (Lyuba’s mother and aunt) window-shop and daydream about all the things they’ll never be able to buy.


Stroganov Palace along Moyka Embankment, Copyright Florstein

What’s Up Wednesday

Happy heavenly 95th birthday to my favourite writer and one of my heroes, the late great Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn! Your life and your writing will serve as a legacy and inspiration to me and the world for all time. I’m a better writer in part because of you, and if I hadn’t discovered you, there’s no telling if I would’ve had my Russophilia reawakened so powerfully and gone back to my first Russian historical novel. My ultimate dream is to have a Ph.D. in Russian history, with a special focus in GULAG and the Great Terror, because of you.

Also, happy 114th birthday to Lyuba, née Amy, the female lead of my Russian novels. She has the same birthday as Aleksandr Isayevich on purpose. She’s one of my most complex female characters, right up there with Cinnimin.
WUW Winter

What I’m Writing

Baruch Hashem, done with writing for my courses. For a little while, I can focus on fictional writing. I’m up to 537,000 words in my WIP and Chapter 69. I decided to move the title “Homefront Services and Sacrifices” to 69, and renamed 68 “The Pain of Separation.” I looked at how it was shaping up, and felt that title applied more to the events that came a bit later in the timeline. I also wanted to rein in the length and keep it focused on the same general events and theme.

On top of the general homefront drama of 1942, there’s also going to be some polio near the end of Chapter 69. No one dies, but it will necessitate closing or delaying Father Spiridon’s church camp, which the college-aged characters normally work for. I already have a polio survivor among my cast of characters, Kittey Vishinskaya, who was 11-17 in the first book. (Don’t even ask what the original story was behind her becoming crippled and gradually relearning to walk!)

Also planning in my head for the future prequel. I’m even toying with the idea of doing two prequels, one from 1889-96 and the other the planned 1897-1917. It might be fun to show how Lyuba and Ivan’s respective parents and aunt and uncle grew up, before they got married and became parents in their late teens. Also, if Lyuba’s maternal grandpap died in the influenza epidemic of 1889-90, which began in St. Petersburg, that could go a long way towards explaining why her grandmother urged her mother to marry for financial security, not love, and how the family came to be poor when Katya and Margarita were growing up.

What I’m Reading

No time yet to start in on pleasure reading, though the semester is now over for me.

What Inspires Me

9 December marked the 34th anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s announcement that smallpox had been eradicated. I am so, so thankful that my lifetime has never included this terrifying disease, and that the Wikipedia entry on the disease begins “Smallpox was….” Polio is well on its way to being a past tense disease too, relegated to the annals of history.

Modern science and medicine are amazing, no matter what the modern-day science-denialists insist in their woo-filled, scare tactic, easily-debunked propaganda. (Seriously, a number of the vaccine-denialists even deny the germ theory, one of the four foundations of modern biology.) I may have been born in the wrong generation, but I’m so glad I live in a time of such scientific progress, when diseases our ancestors feared are now easily prevented, when penicillin and antibiotics can easily clear up an infection or illness that would’ve killed 100 years ago, when so many things are possible that were the stuff of science fiction only a few generations ago.

What Else I’m Up To

I made some awesome no-bake cookies on the 8th night of Chanukah, my first recipe from my new cookbook Vegan on the Cheap. The chocolate chips were actually milk chocolate, but everything else was vegan.


Melting Earth Balance, the vegan butter I use. I’ve never liked butter, even before I cut almost all dairy out of my diet. It’s the same kind of aversion I’ve had to mayonnaise since about the same time, age eight.


Adding almond milk and sugar.


A day without peanut butter is a day without sunshine. Salt and vanilla extract are also added.




The only non-vegan part of the recipe. I had these from Pesach, when I intended them for the delicious matzah granola I’ve been making every year since 2004. Instead I was lazy and saw some pre-made matzah granola at the Kosher Chopper, and never made my own. Next time I’ll make the homemade granola again, which always is plentiful enough to go several days past Pesach.


Starting to mix.


Nice and blended.


One of the two cookie sheets I filled up. It took longer than the recipe’s suggested 30 minutes for them to fully set, and even a day later, they still were frequently a bit soft. It’s to be expected with no-bake goodies.

IWSG—A Looming Queue

My What’s Up Wednesday post is here and my Horny Hump Day post is here.


It’s time for the monthly meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, where writers share insecurities, doubts, and concerns.

I began my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety, on 5 November 2012, and am finally less than 100,000 words from the finish line, if all continues going well. (I really don’t want to go over 600K with this book!) I’m already thinking ahead to how to order everything waiting in my queue.

I’m committed to taking another break from my Russian characters before getting back to them, so their continuing stories and my writing won’t suffer from burnout or dwindling sparks. And I really don’t want to write another single-volume book that’s so long immediately afterwards. I already know the prequel will be at least 500K as well, since it covers 20 years, 1897-1917.

I’ve already begun pulling an outline together in my head for a future volume that’ll begin in March 1953, with the death of Stalin and subsequent amnesty and defection for Georgiya and Aleksandr. Georgiya also manages to smuggle her aging parents, her much-younger sister Nelya and her husband, and, unwillingly, her adoptive niece Karla out from behind the Iron Curtain. Once in America, Georgiya and Ginny (real name Mikhail) will rekindle their juvenile relationship, marry, and have a second child to be named Leonid, after the brother who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his family during the Great Terror.

But I’ve also got some ideas for a book before then, showing Lyuba and Ivan fulfilling their long-deferred dream of going to university, as their middle children Igor and Ilya go to university in New York and have romances with formerly secondary characters Violetta Likachëva and Milada Yeltsina-Baronova, respectively. It’ll give me a great chance to depict the postwar university experience, as well as what it was like to be a woman, let alone an older woman, at university during this era.

I’m not sure when exactly I should write the prequel. Part of me wants to save it for after the next two volumes are completed, and part of me feels I should have a go at it before publishing the first volume. Since at least Part I will focus on Lyuba and Ivan’s respective parents and aunt and uncle as young couples, and Lyuba’s mother’s thwarted romance with the man she should’ve married over the abusive pedophile, it might be a great chance to get to know them better as characters. While Lyuba’s mother has developed very well without that much backstory so far, it might help with giving greater insights into how she’s depicted in Part I of the first book.

I’m pretty sure the next project in my queue should be my significant editing and revision of my first Max’s House book. I need something short and lighthearted after such a long drama. The book is only about 60,000 words, which is super-short by my standards. Most of the MH books I’ve finished to date are around 50-60K, with a few outliers in desperate, glaring need of liberal pruning.

After that’s done, my next in line project is resuming The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which began as a long collection of stories and wraparound narrative segments. Like Jakob’s story, it’s going to be expanded into a complete novel. I’m thinking that might be around the length of Jakob’s first volume, ~120K. I also really want to get back to Justine Grown Up, but I really need to find people to interview for firsthand details on the dramatic penultimate chapter, “Sing Blue Silver Snowstorm.”

Should I work on something else afterwards, or just go right to the next Russian novel? My queue now includes my long-shelved 18th and 19th century characters, whom I haven’t worked with in over 20 years and didn’t think I’d ever want to resurrect so many years later.