*all questions from Christine Smith's Know the Novel blog series*
What first sparked the idea for this novel?
Reading Romanov by Nadine Brandes. It is a gorgeous book and if you haven’t read it, you totally should. I was immediately intrigued with all things Anastasia, so the summer after I read it, I wrote a short story about a girl pretending to be Anastasia, which really did happen in the years that followed the Romanovs’ exile and deaths. It won first place in the contest I’d submitted it to—my first win ever.
I developed it into a novel from there. This is the first novel that had really strong plot structure or character arcs. I love looking at how Zakhar changed from my original concept to the book. He started out as this kind of dark moody orphan who lived at the boys’ orphanage near Aleksandra and was constantly escaping. Now . . . yeah, there’s nothing dark about him, he’s basically this sunshine inventor boy who everyone wants to adopt.
Share a blurb.
Where does the story take place? What are your favorite aspects of the setting?
*points to Europe* Right here, right here, right here, right here, everywhere! Not really.
Significant parts of the story happen in Ekaterinburg, Russia; Paris, France; and London, England. It all happens during 1919, so I’m dealing with the Bolshevik Revolution and the aftereffects of World War I. I loved digging into the Russian culture and the lore of Anastasia. I kind of want to try out some of these Russian words now. I doubt they will sound as cool if I try to say them.
Tell us about your protagonist.
There are two, actually, Riley. (If you got that reference, let me know in the comments.)
Zakhar Gavrilov is the side character who stole half the story. His voice came so naturally to me and I had such fun writing him. He’s a sixteen-year-old gearhead with a passion for creating. A passion that often gets him into trouble, but that’s a long story. He struggles to trust people sometimes, but he’s also just so bright and positive even when things hurt.
Aleksandra Shatalova is the actual main character. She’s a seventeen-year-old orphan who knows a good trade when she sees one. She’s very caring and thoughtful, but desperately wants to be loved so that she’s willing to do anything to get it from anywhere.
Who or what is the antagonist?
Again, there are two.
Sasha Zhabina is a twenty-something thief with a grand plan to pass Aleksandra off as Anastasia and also conveniently make money from it. She has an eye for color and design (not that she lets anyone see it) and notoriously clashes with Zakhar in many humorous ways.
Evgenii Arefyev is the real antagonist though. He was the best friend of Zakhar’s father and became Zakhar’s guardian. Now he works as a general in the Red Army. While he does genuinely care for Zakhar and wants to protect him in uncertain times, he allows his desire to make the White Army pay override all of that.
What excites you most about this novel?
Zakhar, honestly. He was so easy to write and came so naturally and vibrantly. Readers connected with him as much as I did and I’d love to see his story out there in the world.
Is this going to be a series? A standalone? Something else?
A standalone with the potential for a sequel, although I think I could write about Zakhar for a very long time.
Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?
I plotted this novel. But as I was content editing it, I learned about Three Act Structure, which explained why a lot of the pacing was off in my story. I overhauled it using a new outline (which left the beginning and ending largely unchanged, but everything in the middle changed. Seriously. I don’t think any of the middle was in the original draft.)
Name a few unique elements of this story.
Is Russian culture not unique enough? While Russia may not be everybody’s favorite right now, they do have a very unique culture. I think Zakhar’s scientific leanings also give it a unique vibe—I was way out of my ballpark on that one and had to do quite a bit of research. And there’s always the nostalgic Anastasia feel.