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#AtoZChallenge – Z is for Zar

Nicholas and AlexandraOK. I know I’m cheating a little, taking out the “T” you normally see at the beginning of the Anglicized version of this word, but I really struggled with finding a word related to Dust to Blood that began with Z for this final installment of the A to Z blogging challenge. After all, this is a story about Dragons, NOT Zombies. (And a quick shout-out/thank you to @MrsPickle_ who helped brainstorm this entry with me one night when I really should have been editing…)

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And there is a scene in the second half of the book where Anne and her group visit the Ipatiev house to see the location where the last Russian Tzar and his family were gunned down, so it’s a legitimate reference to my book.

Since this is the last in this series of blog posts, though, it’s also a nice transition back to my regularly scheduled programming. I read Nicholas and Alexandra when I was in 9th grade as part of a school assignment. While it’s billed as a non-fiction biography, though, the story read as part political and religious intrigue and part gripping horror.

It made quite an impression on me, both for the fact that I had seen how the revolution and counter-revolution had played out in the Soviet Union, but also because of the terror of those final days, where you didn’t know whom to trust, and everything was so outside the experience you had been raised to expect. For anyone with an interest in Russian history, and how the Romanovs came to their bloody end, this is recognized as the standard biography to draw you into that story. It’s well-written and worth the read even if you’re more interested in the tragedy of parents trying to find a solution to heal their hemophiliac son.

#AtoZChallenge – Y is for Ya ne ponimayu

I don't understand peopleMy penultimate A to Z blog challenge post. What a month! Doing 26 posts in a month seems like a mini NaNoWriMo–but I’m pleased with the background bits I’ve been able to share about Dust to Blood.

So today’s post reverts to language study, and another one of the very early phrases any beginning student learns: “Ya ne ponimayu” … “I don’t understand.”

When I did a Google image search for this phrase, then, I discovered some wit in Russia captioned this adorable cat picture with “Ne ponimayu ya lyudey” … “I don’t understand people.”

While we’re at it, I want to say “Thank you (very much)!” (in Russian: “spasiba” Бпасибо!) for everyone who has been following along. I hope, someday, to also be able to say “You’re welcome!” (in Russian: “pazhAlusta” поТалуйста!) for sharing some basic Russian phrases with you and helping you explore a small corner of this fascinating culture.

Since Russian is the 8th-most-spoken language in the world, with an active population of 144 million speakers, some of these phrases might actually come in handy sooner than you might think.

#AtoZChallenge – X is for Xarasho

HarashoI won’t claim I’m not cheating a little with today’s X entry for the A to Z blog challenge, but the Cyrillic spelling and pronunciation for the word of the day could easily be represented by an X (update: Here it is in Cyrillic, so you know I’m not lying: Π₯ΠΎΡ€ΠΎΡˆΠΎ). So I’m running with it.

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I also have no idea how this particular banner came up in a Google search for the Russian word “Harasho”–but huge, red, bombastic, and prominently featuring Lenin was a common feature of my time in Moscow, so I’m posting it for its memorabilia effect. Not that you can actually see the Cyrillic “XCH” sound represented there (think: clearing your throat for this one–a loudly aspirated aitch sound with a bit of uvular involvement).

(Hey, it’s my blog, I can do what I want, right?)

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As for how this fits in to Dust to Blood? One thing I noticed when we lived in Moscow was that the verbal tick of many beginning English speakers there was that something was “guuud”. I don’t know if part of that is because they tend to use harasho to also mean OK (as in, “can you do x?” respond affirmatively with “harasho”), but it’s stuck in my head all these years. So it became a character element for me too. Similar to “da” (yes).

Or the Russian people are much more optimistic than any of their literature, fairy tales, or philosophies would have you believe. I’m not sure which is more ironic.

#AtoZChallenge – W is for Cold War

Cold War FlagsI struggled again, coming up with my 23rd entry in the A to Z blog challenge. There wasn’t anything obvious in Dust to Blood that would work for a W entry–until I took a step back with the help of my husband. He was right to point out that the backdrop for this story is the end of the Cold War. There were a lot of heady emotions as first the Berlin Wall fell, and then slowly, the remaining heavy duty hard-liners crumbled under the desire of their populations to pursue more open and democratic politics.

The Cold War kicked off in earnest at the end of WWII and found its name via the talents of George Orwell in the British paper, The Tribune. It was the formative back-drop for the Baby Boom generation, and by the time Gen Xers like me came around, it was such a fixture as to have entrenched itself in the collective psyche to such a degree nobody expected the world to be able to exist in anything other than this bipolar state.

I lived behind the Iron Curtain from 1978-1984, so most of my childhood memories involve the complexities of crossing very tense borders following specific protocols (“Don’t show the visa! The US doesn’t recognize this as an international border crossing!”). In Moscow, this was less of an issue than watching the new US Embassy being built–with the understanding that the contractors were embedding listening devices in every nook and cranny. My young experiences told me there was no such thing as privacy or secrets. The Iron Curtain fell, finally, when I was half-way through college, so the lessons of Perestroika and Glasnost made an equally deep impression.

All of this exposure has lived on in my dreams over the years, and is how I recognized the setting of my dream when Ivan and Anne first introduced themselves to me. My intermittent Russian lessons for you come from what I osmosed as a 2nd and 3rd grader. And the bogey-man of the KGB and other secret informants are partially brought to you by the fact that even now there is a Stasi dossier available in Berlin that documents that segment of my life.

The fact that there are still closed, totalitarian regimes, then, begs for the ongoing question to be answered: How are they maintaining power when logic indicates they should fail? So I’ll ask that question in books 2 and 3 of the series and see how it plays out in China and North Korea. πŸ˜‰

#AtoZChallenge – V is for Vasily

VasilyI’m grateful to the A to Z blog challenge for showing me the whole daily blogging thing isn’t as big of a grind as I had worried it might be–so long as you have a useful framework and a way to build your posts ahead of time for a more guaranteed timely release.

The timing of the challenge has been a great boon for me as I promote my new book, Dust to Blood. Today we’re back to eye candy with the mid-range aged version of one of the “lost boys” of the book, Vasily. (I feel lucky to have found a collection of male model pictures on Dreamstime that have the ethnic and otherworldly feel these men conveyed in my mind!)

The cluster of names I chose are all common Russian names, but I chose them specifically because their first initials combined to form the acronym I.V.F. It works thematically for a number of reasons I don’t necessarily want to share to avoid revealing a spoiler, but definitely links to the idea that there needs to be some sort of intervention to counterbalance the technological constraints on these men being able to propagate their species.

I hope those of you who have bought Dust to Blood are enjoying reading it so far, and I look forward to hearing my first reader feedback on the book.

#AtoZChallenge – U is for Urals

Ural MountainsI’m getting to the tail-end of the A to Z blogging challenge with this entry for U. This was another easy one: the final third of Dust to Blood takes place in Central Russia up and down the spine of the Ural mountains.

When we lived in Moscow, I remember some colleague of my dad’s sent him home with a polished shard of mottled gray and white rock. Its base was plainly labeled Ural mountains. For whatever reason, that random, touristy bit of nothing grabbed my attention as a second grader, and I’ve thought about the strange, marble-like rock off and on over the years since then.

The Urals stretch from the Arctic circle to Kazakhstan; they aren’t particularly challenging mountains, in terms of height or passage, but they’re quite valuable for their mineral deposits.

Polar Urals with Khanty camp and reindeerPictures of the place somehow remind me of Alaska, with reindeer and indigenous peoples featuring prominently. Then too, this is the western edge of Siberia–synonymous in western culture with the back end of nowhere. All the better to hide the secret, mystical core of the country.

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This will be the last of the geographic tour of Russia for this series of blog posts. The country is incredibly large and diverse and made a great backdrop for my story. I hope both the blogging and the country pique your interest enough to want to read Dust to Blood.

#AtoZChallenge – T is for Tovarishch

Tovarishch StalinFor my twentieth entry in the A to Z blog challenge, I’m returning to a Russian word: tovarishch. The word was appropriated during the Bolshevick uprising in 1917 to designate egalitarian standing within the Communist party. This one should be familiar to anyone with middling knowledge about the Cold War, as there was a great fad for painting people “Commies” by calling them this name in the 80s.

Even earlier, a 1937 film Tovarich, painted the comical situation of an impoverished Russian noble couple trying to survive in Paris, so the word has some history on the US side of the globe, too.

It’s used once in Dust to Blood as an appellation between Russian associates to recall their recent party affiliation and underline a subtle connection between the characters that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent to Anne, an American without the cultural context to understand the codes in operation in their culture.

I hope some of these back-stories pique your interest in the book and the series. If so, don’t hesitate to buy from Amazon or Smashwords.

#AtoZChallenge – S is for Red Slaves

Red SlavesRelease Date is here!

(Pardon me while I go SQUEEEEEEE and run in circles for a moment.)

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And now back to business: It’s the nineteenth day of the A to Z blog challenge, whereby I’m supposed to say something about Dust to Blood that starts with S.

The obvious thing would have been to talk about the Soviets–a rather megalomaniacal bunch who incorporated a large number of Central Asian states and annexed the three Baltic states. Then created the buffer zone behind the “Iron Curtain” with the Eastern European satellite states. Their implementation of central planning has forever made me leery of “strategery” and the idea that top-down models work. However, they had 8,649,500 square miles in which to try their ideas, and a decently long run at state-hood despite significant repression of their people. I lived there from 78-80 (in Moscow), so have some first-hand experience of what that’s like. I was in elementary school then, and my dad was a diplomat, so I had a regular view of the “Mili-man” (police man) in the little cubicle down by the road into our apartment complex, daily visions of my parents talking to “Ivan” since we knew our apartment was bugged, and intermittent stories like the one from my friend who once lifted her telephone handset to call and listened to a recording of her dad’s business conversation.

All of that is merely the backdrop and inspiration for my novel, though. Dust to Blood is planned to be the first in a trilogy I’ve named Red Slaves (with a little help from my love). The underlying premise is that the Communists, in their drive to eliminate religion and spirituality in their people stripped them of something profound. My creative self turned this into an exploration of the flip side of that argument: What if they had stripped that sense of the magical to siphon the power of magical thinking and being into their own power structure? What if they were using the magical beings of their country as the meat batteries for staying in power when the repression and terror they inflicted on their people aught to have inspired counter-revolution long since?

Since there are still two deeply repressive Communist regimes out there, the story all but demands a follow-on that incorporates visits to North Korea and China. They will be a little more challenging for me to write, as the closest I’ve been to those countries is Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and airport stop-overs in Seoul and Tokyo. However, I ran across an article in Discovery News about Mount DOOM that has pointed my literary feet in that direction. I will have faith that the follow-on appropriate locations will appear similarly to those books as the ones I wasn’t aware of in Russia for this first installment of the series.

And I hope that this story appeals to enough people that it makes sense to invest the time and effort to develop the next ones. Let me know what you think!

#AtoZChallenge – R is for Rasputin

RasputinMy eighteenth post in the A to Z blog challenge was obvious from the beginning. Dust to Blood posits strange religious practices begun under Grigori Rasputin as part of the reason Ivan and his cohorts have dust as blood–and no memories much older than the timeline of the book.

Rasputin was a charismatic mystic active in the court of the final Tzar of of the Romanov dynasty, Nicholas, and his wife Alexandra. He was trained as a monk in the Russian Orthodox Christian tradition, which meant he was still free to marry. He had three children by his wife, and an additional child outside the bounds of matrimony.

He is a greatly controversial figure in Russian history already, with some blaming him for the fall of the Romanovs. Others worry about his affiliation with the Khlysty (a banned religious sect of “flagellants” who were accused of reaching states of spiritual and physical ecstasy through their activities). He was murdered in December 1916 by a group of right-wing politicians worried about his ongoing influence at court.

Everything about this man speaks to the mystical past of Russia, including the legend of his cremation, where stories say he sat up in the fire. He’s revered as a righteous man in many quarters, though myth and legend surrounds most of what is known of his life.

And then there’s Boney M’s song “Rasputin” to take you from the sublime to the ridiculous, and enjoy a bit of a throwback and a laugh while you wait with me for tomorrow’s release.

#AtoZChallenge – Q is for Quest

Galaxy QuestI struggled for a long time coming up with my 17th post for the A to Z blog challenge, following my theme of introducing my new book, Dust to Blood. There aren’t a lot of words that begin with Q in the first place, and I wasn’t going to cheat at this late stage. Then I got deeply into the edits, and realized there were quite a few times Anne described herself as being on a quest. The quest morphs a little over the course of the story, but she and her friends certainly put enough miles on that the quest ends up being at the same time physical, metaphysical, mental, and emotional.

And then I went looking for an image to represent quests. There are a lot of games and other software out there that are tagged with quest, but then I found this old image of Galaxy Quest. Who can give up a chance to hijack their blog in this direction? Certainly not me. Any movie that includes Tony Shalhoub, Alan Rickman, and Sigourney Weaver is bound to be a winner in my book, and the many times I’ve seen this movie and it’s made me laugh underline why it continues to rank highly in my all-time funniest films list.

How does this tie in with my book introduction, you ask? Primarily because I hope my story builds a fantasy world that makes people wonder whether there’s truth to my fiction. To a certain degree, because of the vivid nature of the dream that inspired the story, I wonder myself. And there were a few bits of subtle funny that made me giggle as I wrote them.

I hope you enjoy it too, when it comes out Saturday. πŸ™‚

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