St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

My second official NaNo experience


I won my second official NaNo with 71,040 words, but I honestly feel as though that weren’t my best effort. Last year I did 74,971 words while dealing with a bad cold which turned into a violent, lingering cough that lasted over two weeks (and continued on and off until about April). This year I didn’t have that to deal with, and yet I still couldn’t equal or top last year’s word count. Even taking into account how I always lose almost all of Saturday and much of Friday, that doesn’t represent what I know I can do under normal circumstances.

I had a respectably strong start, writing 5,073 words the first day, hitting the 10,000-word mark on Day Three, and hitting 15,000 during Day Five.

NaNo Day 10 2015

The 20,000-word mark came during Day Eight, and 25,000 came during Day Ten. With that kind of momentum, I should’ve won a few days sooner than I did, and had at least 75K by the end.

NaNo Day 15 2015

Most days I was at least on par, though there were some days, most notably Fridays and Saturdays, where I was below even 1,000 words. Other days I didn’t write the at least 2,000 words I know I’m capable of. I also lost just about all of the 21st, a Saturday as well as the second day of a Cecil B. DeMille film festival.

On Friday, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church was kind enough to lend their beautiful sanctuary for a screening of the original Ten Commandments (1923), which was accompanied by two live organists. On Saturday, The Madison Theater screened Chicago (1927), Madame Satan (1930), and The Golden Bed (1925). The lattermost film (lost for over 40 years) had its world première, not counting a previous screening at the George Eastman House.

NaNo Day 22 2015

I knew I had to make up for losing the vast majority of Friday and Saturday, and so put in way more effort than usual that Sunday. After learning Cecil B. DeMille had a foot fetish (which explains why his films have so many foot shots), I made Igor’s first sight of Violetta her feet, from the other side of her library carrel. They met a few times as children, but this is their first real, adult meeting.

Since Violetta is (unbeknownst to Igor, but known to the reader from the third book) a polio survivor, it also makes sense she’d gussy up her feet in such beautiful shoes, stockings, nailpolish, anklets, and ankle watches. She’s lucky she can walk, after being almost completely paralyzed and spending a lot of time in an iron lung.

NaNo Day 25 2015

Just as last year, I got my win on 23 November. I’d forgotten that day was Harpo Marx’s birthday (1888), and the birthday of my dear little Amalia (Malchen) von Hinderburg (1932). Maybe that’s why I’ve struck 50K on that day twice now. Our soul sometimes chooses days for us, just like I decided to get born on the fifth night of Chanukah instead of on my original estimated due date two weeks earlier.

I ran myself ragged trying to get my word count up as high as possible on the final day. I even added in my table of contents and the cast of characters to bump it up a bit. That was not cheating, since I did tinker with the TOC during November, and I edited the character list as well. To be fair, I only included as far as characters introduced thus far, not the entire master list.

NaNo Last Day 2015

I seriously was just writing rambling nonsense by the final paragraph, wanting so desperately to get that word count up as high as possible, reach 71K since I was that damn close, and be #2 in my region’s Faces of NaNo graph. Someone made a pretty painful, obvious typo at the end, so I was bumped down to #3. Given her previous word counts, I’m pretty sure she meant 70,153 instead of 700,153!

As soon as midnight struck, I cleaned up what I’d written in the ending minutes. I also planned to delete a scene where Mr. Golitsyn (Ivan’s uncle by marriage and a former prince) goes to visit the parents of his daughter Vasilisa’s new beau Dragomir.  Now I’m not sure I still have the heart to expunge it. It’s not all backstory, and I love the idea of having a scene at The Dakota. It also hints at a subplot which really surprised me.

I quickly got annoyed by having to manually total my word counts, so I pasted all the chapters into a master file, and created separate chapter files. Now I can go back to only writing in chapter files instead of going back and forth.


Violetta’s present to Igor on his 19th birthday, Vasiliy Kondratyevich Sazonov’s First Meeting of Prince Igor with Olga. They were the first rulers of the Ryurikovich Dynasty after only Prince Ryurik himself, and Olga was the first of six women to rule Russia to date.

Violetta and Igor don’t meet till almost 50K in, which is where all the tension and drama starts collecting. I like to think of the first 100 pages or so of a saga as buildup towards the first inciting event, just as songs like “New Religion” and “Eminence Front” start with over a minute of just instruments. It builds your anticipation and hooks you. My conservative guesstimate for this book is 350K, so that first 71K is just a drop in the bucket.

WeWriWa—Heartbroken Beginning


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP.  I’ve now moved onto sharing from the opening of my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. It’s a miracle this story I began at just thirteen years old developed into a much more mature story over all the years I was writing and editing the first draft. Staying with this story all those years, and putting so much time into even more edits and revisions over the last three years, really transformed it into the historical saga and complex love story I’m so proud of.

It’s April 1917, and 18-year-old Ivan has just had his heart broken by his 17-year-old sweetheart Lyuba when she turned down his proposal of marrying and immigrating to America. Ivan’s close friend, 17-year-old Aleksey, has caught him crying in a broom closet and has just given him a handkerchief to dry his eyes.


“If only people really knew how overly sensitive you are.”

“Not too long ago we skipped gymnasium and spent the day at Patriarch’s Pond,” Iván says wistfully as he wipes his eyes and follows Alekséy outside. “We were watching the swans and talking about how they mate for life.  When a swan finds its soulmate, the two swans swim together and their beaks form a heart shape.  Well, you can’t kill a swan’s pair bond, and my beautiful swan will be back where she belongs no matter how long it takes.”

“You’d have to be willfully blind to miss how she’s always looked at you.  I never bought her charade of preferring that short, chubby Malenkóv.  Anyone who knows what’s what can see Lyuba only has romantic feelings for you.”


Had I started this book at older than thirteen, I doubtless would’ve given my hero anything but the most common male name in Russian history, but the name Ivan just suits who he is. He’s solid, dependable, loyal, reliable, rather old-fashioned, hard-working, with a quintessentially Russian soul.  He occasionally comments how he hates having the most common male name in history, and there’s also the frequent symbolic contrast between Tsar Ivan II, the Meek, and Tsar Ivan IV, Grozniy. He was named for Tsar Ivan III, the Great, yet he too often is either too meek or lets his volatile temper get the better of him, thanks to his traumatic childhood.

Grozniy actually translates as “dreadsome,” “fearsome,” “awe-inspiring,” “menacing,” “threatening,” NOT “terrible.” That’s a horribly misleading, downright inaccurate translation of Tsar Ivan IV’s appellation, and one of my pet peeves. He definitely went over the deep end after his belovèd first wife died, and did lots of terrible things, but he was very enlightened at the start of his reign.  He corresponded with Queen Elizabeth I and helped to modernize the Russian Orthodox Church, for example. He also had a traumatic childhood he never really recovered from. The false translation “Terrible” gives a very false impression of who he actually was.