Today, I am pleased to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming — an exciting new non-fiction book for teen readers.
Yep, non-fiction. We don’t see a lot of YA non-fiction, so I’m really excited about this. Plus, a book about the Romanovs? You KNOW it’s gonna be good. Check out our Q&A with the author, then keep reading for your chance to win a copy of The Family Romanov!
Most YA readers tend to veer towards fiction. What about THE FAMILY ROMANOV will entice fiction readers?
It’s such a compelling, heartbreaking and, at times, downright weird story. Imagine this: The Russian royal family is living a fairy-tale existence. The richest man on the planet, Tsar Nicholas II owns one-sixth of the world’s land, thirty palaces, five yachts, an endless collection of priceless painting and sculpture, two private trains, countless horses, carriage and cars, and vaults overflowing with precious jewels. The Romanovs have it all! But Nicholas is a man of limited political ability. He’s simply not suited to rule Russia. And a charismatic, self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin spellbinds his wife, Alexandra. She believes Rasputin can save her hemophiliac son, Alexei, from bleeding to death. Desperate, she will do anything – anything — including handing over the reins of power to the evil monk. Meanwhile, in the palace there also lives four, beautiful grand duchesses – Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. But they are kept isolated from the world by their paranoid and overprotective parents. They don’t attend balls or banquets. They don’t have any friends their own age, or suitors, as they grow older. The have only each other. Living in this bubble stunts them emotionally. Even at age twenty, Olga giggles like a schoolgirl and blushes when she sees an onscreen kiss. With all this craziness going on inside the palace gates, no one is paying any attention to the dark clouds gathering outside them. Starving, war-weary Russians are tired of Nicholas and Alexandra’s inept rule. They revolt, and the Romanov’s fairy tale lives come crashing down, leading to ninety days in captivity, a horrific and bloody mass murder, hidden bodies and rumors of escaped princesses. Wow, if that’s not a great story, I don’t know what is!
The sort of research involved in a book like this seems so daunting to me. Where did you even begin your work?.
The research for this book followed four paths. The first, of course, was primary research. After all, the heart of all research is the firsthand accounts and eyewitness testimonies of those who lived through an historical event. And so I read reminiscences written by the children’s’ tutors, and Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting and Nicholas’ courtiers. I delved into the royal family’s letters and diaries and other personal papers. I read Yakov Yurovsky’s chilling account of the murders; statements from the guards; depositions from the priests and cleaning women who visited the Romanovs in their last hours. All of it was so personal, so intimate. If you think about it, it really is the height of nosiness… and probably the reason I love this sort of research so much. I get to be part detective, piecing together testimony from all that conflicting testimony, and part gossip, reporting on all the juicy details I uncover.
My second path? Secondary source material. There are hundreds of books about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution (although very few for young readers). Dozens of scholars have made the rigorous examination of Russia’s past their life’s work. They’ve written insightful, enlightening histories. And I read dozens of them. For months every night I curled up with books with titles like The Russian Revolution of February 1917 or The Fall of the Romanovs. There’s no denying that my book stands on the shoulders of these works.
My third research path leads to experts – scholars, historians, and other writers. They are, I’ve learned, incredibly generous. All my nonfiction titles have been immeasurably improved by their time and effort. But perhaps no one was more helpful than Dr. Mark Steinberg, professor or Russian, East European and Eurasian studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. While doing research, I came to rely on Dr. Steinberg’s work – his accessible histories of Russia, his impeccable translations of documents recently released from the Russian archives, his re-examination of Nicholas’ leadership abilities, his new and brilliant scholarship on Lenin, his admiration for Maxim Gorky. Can you tell I am a fan? So as the first draft of the book neared completion I approached him tentatively. More than anything, I wanted him to read what I’d written. I wanted his opinion, his knowledge. I wrote him, explaining my purpose and my readership. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped he’d answer. He did… enthusiastically. Over the course of the next six months, he read my draft, made suggestions, pointed out errors, suggested more appropriate source material and forced me to look at the evidence in different ways. He sent along books and articles he believed would help in my work. He re-read portions of the book I’d reworked based on his comments, and patiently answered what must have felt like a tireless stream of questions throughout the entire publication process. That’s generosity!
Last, but certainly not least, my fourth research path leads to travel. I believe it’s imperative to visit the places where the story happened. Landscapes speak and houses hold memories and secrets. This was especially true when writing The Family Romanov. In August 2012 I traveled to Russia where I followed in the Romanov’s footsteps, wandering the shady paths of Tsarskoe Selo and traipsing through the hallways of the Alexander Palace; visiting Rasputin’s apartment; exploring worker’s neighborhoods, Lenin’s headquarters and the dark, dank jail cells of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Just walking the streets and feeling the air brings my biographical subjects closer.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned about the Romanovs and the uprising against them during your research?
Probably the most surprising and important discovery I made during my research for The Family Romanov came while visiting the Alexander Palace. In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate. I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes. Not so. The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway. Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side. It gave me pause. The family was so close to it’s people. They were right there, just on the other side of the gate. The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them. They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony. They could smell their cooking. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe. It gave me pause. Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects? I mean, they were right there. The question led me down entirely new paths of thought. And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”
This is one of several nonfiction books you’ve written for teen readers. Any idea on what subjects you might be tackling next?
I’m tackling William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody next. Actually, I’m in the throes of writing it now. After that, who knows? I’m challenged and intrigued by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. I recently read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s account of those terrible, terrible days when she waited for news of her son. And I’m filled with questions. For me, that’s the first sign that a new piece of nonfiction is brewing.
The 80’s – I was a carefree, college student back then. Believe it or not, I even had purple hair!
Must-have writing snack?
Skinny Pop Popcorn – love that “no artificial anything.”
Favorite Disney movie?
It’s a toss up between The Ugly Dachshund (does anyone remember that one… Dean Jones!) and 101 Dalmatians. I’m a sucker for dog movies.
The beach or the mountains?
The beach along Lake Michigan’s southern rim. There’s nothing I love more than escaping to those endless, sandy shores for an afternoon. I pick up beach glass, hum in my head, and let the world fade away. Ahhh!
Song that can always get you dancing?
“What I Like About You” by the Romantics. Embarrassing, but I pogo to it. The 80’s again, you know?
Name 5 things currently on your desk (or in your writing space), and share a photo, if possible
- A gold bust of Nicholas II I purchased at the Alexander Palace.
- A shadow box of objects and fancies collected by my partner, Eric Rohmann and I, on our many travels. If you look closely you’ll see things like an iguana claw from Costa Rica, an antique glass bead from Venice, Italy, and an animal cracker from the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
- A crystal ball. So far it has not foretold my future.
- A Henry VIII eggcup for holding my paper clips. It also serves as a reminder to stick to the Skinny Pop.
- A two-headed rubber ducky – it’s just weird.
WIN A COPY OF THE FAMILY ROMANOV
Now here’s your chance to win! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form here and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Family Romanov, courtesy of Random House.
U.S. or Canada only. Contest ends at midnight (PT) on Wednesday, July 23rd.
New from Candace Fleming, THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA (Schwartz & Wade / On sale July 8, 2014 / Ages 12 up) offers up non-fiction at its very best. From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost and The Lincolns comes a probing look at Russia’s last tsar, his family, and their crumbling dynasty.
When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew.
Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants—and their eventual uprising—Fleming offers up a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts featuring period photographs and compelling primary-source material that brings it all to life. Tragedy, melodrama, and I-can’t-believe-it moments make this a read that both kids and Romanov aficionados will devour. History doesn’t get more interesting than the story of the Romanovs.
For the comments: What intrigues you about the Romanov family?