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The Crimea War saw the advent of routine use of anesthesia in surgery.

Russia as well as the Allies (France, England, and Turkey) were somewhat reluctant to use chloroform because of frequent overdosing. Sometimes the nearly dead man could be brought back to consciousness by shouting his name into his ear and then giving him a large drink of wine. Alcohol (booze) was thought to combat shock and was still routinely used for that purpose in the U.S. Civil War.

Eventually Russia’s supplies of chloroform ran low, and when one patient cried out as surgeons began to cut into his leg without the use of anesthesia, a Russian surgeon punched him in the face.

At least one French soldier refused chloroform when his arm was amputated because he wanted to watch.

Antique Bone Saw circa 1850

Bone Saw circa 1850


The Protagonist:  Slumped-Shouldered Gloom

The leading man or woman is the character whose story lies at the novel's core.  Ideally thatFinal Front Cover HDIGH small size jpg character should be someone whom the reader can relate to or is cheering to success. I mean, really, who wants to read about losers? 

So why did I pick a milksop to write about in How Did I Get Here?  The most interesting event in Andrey's lackluster childhood was a year-long bout with anxiety-induced hiccups.  His spiritless teenage years weren’t any better; his notable exploit was hooking up with a neighbor girl in the church bell tower.

What does an author do when faced with a main character who is a cynical, horny, insipid recluse?  In writing How Did I Get Here?  I was confronted with a protagonist whose childhood resulted in an adult who didn’t engage people (including readers!) 

My response was to write the story from a present-tense, first-person point of view, enabling the reader to understand what was going on inside Andrey’s head, which was a lot more interesting than what his outward persona portrayed.  In entering Andrey's thoughts (and enjoying hefty doses of his wry sense of humor), my goal was to keep you, the reader, entertained in the midst of a gruesome war.

Geenleaf Collage

Author Pens a Book
Publisher Brings It to Life

Why does the author get so much credit for a book?  Yes, the author puts the words on paper, but creating a book requires a synergistic team of professional editors, proof readers, designers, and typesetters, plus gurus in distribution, marketing, accounting, and legal issues.  Each and everyone has to cooperate, communicate, and stay on schedule.

 How Did I Get Here? materialized into a first-class book only through the hard work of the employees and contractors of Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, Texas.  My deepest gratitude goes to every one of them.
Some members of my incredible Greenleaf Book team
Greenleaf Collage Cropped


 Ask people what they know about the Crimean War and you’ll undoubtedly get a blank look.  Mention Florence Nightingale and you’ll at least get a nod.

In November 1854, 35 British female nurses encountered a nightmare of human suffering when they assumed their duties during the Crimean War.  Spearheading the medical effort was Florence Nightingale. Here’s what the nurses found.

      Typhus  Dysentery     Cholera     Malnutrition     Filth     Lice  Fleas      Rodents

      Inadequate clothing     Wretched ventilation    Crushed morale     Overlowing latrines

      Decaying buildings   Inch-thick feces on floor   Cesspool leaching into drinking water

At that time, nursing was regarded as lowly, immodest work performed by servants or the poor, a mere step above prostitution.  It was no surprise that Florence and her nurses met staunch resistance upon their arrival at the military hospital. When they were finally allowed to tend to the patients, one of the nurses, Elizabeth Davis, describes her experiences thus:

I began to open some of their wounds.  The first that I touched was a case of frost bite.  The toes of both the man’s feet fell off with the bandages.  The hands of another fell off at the wrist.  It was…six weeks since the wounds of many of those men had been looked at and dressed.…From many of the patients, I removed (maggots) in handfuls.
Pitting her strong will against the military establishment, Florence set her nurses to work cleaning the hospital and ensuring soldiers were properly fed and clothed. The troops were, for the first time, being treated with decency and respect.  Her work reputedly reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.  The trailblazer was said to have the sharpest mind and the most effective leadership on the British side of the war.
Florence returned to England as a figure of public admiration. Over the following decades, Florence helped establish nursing as a respectable career for British women.  She also trained nurses in workhouses to help treat the needy.  Her goal was to make medical care readily available to everyone, regardless of their class or income.
During the U.S. Civil War, she was frequently consulted about how best to manage military field hospitals.

The genesis of the nursing profession lies on the Crimean peninsula with the Russian Sisters of Mercy, the French Sisters of Charity, and Florence Nightingale’s British nurses.  Headway continued to be made by Clara Barton in U.S. Civil War.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

                                                                                             - London’s The Times
                                                                                               November 1854


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Russian Rulers History Podcast
The Crimean War

Red Square Many people have told me that they knew next to nothing about the Crimean War piqued prior to reading How Did I Get Here? 
If your interest in the Crimean War piqued, check out Russian Rulers History Podcast.  It contains 13 podcasts that cover the gamut of the Crimean War, everything from the role of Leo Tolstoy in the conflict to how the war altered the dynamics of power in Europe.  If you have speakers and an Internet connection, you should have no trouble accessing the podcasts.

1. Visit the
Russian Rulers History Podcast website. 
2. Scroll to the bottom of the page.
3. In the Keyword Search box, type Crimean War.  Click Search Now.


Gorky Tolstoy 1900
"Happiness always looks small while you hold it in your hands,
but let it go and you learn at once how big and precious it is.

                                        -  Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)

                                        photograph of Gorky (right) with Leo Tolstoy in 1900








Old Style vs. New Style
Warning: The Following Is Convoluted!

Russia is unique in many ways, one of which is how it measures time.

old dates calendar during nicholass reign russia used the old style julian calendarFor eons, most of Europe used a calendar that dated back to the time of Julius Caesar.  However, the Julian (aka Old Style
) calendar had a slight problem - it was off by one day every 128 years.  Not one to be content with sloppy timekeeping, Pope Gregory instituted the Gregorian (aka New Style) calendar in 1582, which eventually became the world’s standard. 

Russia, on the other hand, clung to the Old Style calendar until 1918.  So for centuries, the date in Russia lagged behind the Western European calendar.  During the 19th century, the difference was 12 days.  During the 20th century, the difference was 13 days.
Here's an example of the confusion.  The Emancipation Manifesto that freed the serfs was signed by Tsar Alexander II on Sunday, February 19, 1861 (Old Style).  The following day, Monday, March 4 (New Style), Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States.

In 1918, the Bolsheviks decided to get in line with the rest of Europe and switched to the Gregorian calendar.  Thus, Russia’s October Revolution occurred on the Old Style date of October 25, 1918, but the event is now remembered on November 7 (New Style).
Imagine doing research on the 1850's Crimean War in preparation for writing How Did I Get Here, in which one of the military forces used Old Style while its opponents used New Style.  In addition, there's inconsistent use of the two calendars by books, articles, and online references.  Then try to coordinate the actual events (some New Style, some Old Style, and some not designated as either) into a fictional story in which timing is crucial. 
 My forehead is still black-and-blue from beating it against my desktop!

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While I was conducting research for Who Is to Blame, my first novel in the Petrovo series, I kept bumping into this thing called the Crimean War (1853-1856) which pitted Russia against England and France.  It became the setting for my second novel, How Did I Get Here.
One of the reasons the Crimean War grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go was the staggering carnage on the battlefield, with an even greater number of fatalities due to disease, malnutrition, and winter exposure.  Not until World War I would more people die as victims of war. 
In his book, The Legacy of the Crimean War, anthropologist Robert Edgerton sums up the Crimean War with this statement:  "Perhaps the most fundamental lesson to be learned from a look back at the Crimean War is how easy it is for nations to blunder into wars that serve no purpose or cannot be won."
Two thumbs up for Edgerton's book - not as a book about war, but for its insights into the human reaction to war's atrocities.


           A sparrow in the hand is better than a cock on the roof

 English equivalent:  
           A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
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Where did the Romanovs get their coffee?

                                                                                     ~ Tsarbucks

 Alexander II small



Tsar Nicholas Alexander Romanov

The last tsar,  1868-1918


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Hollys book club



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If you were a female Russian serf 150 years ago, you could expect to:    

     -  have several miscarriages

     -  give birth to 7 to 8 live babies

     - bury 2 of those babies within the first year of life

     -  have 4 or 5 of them celebrate their 5th birthday

Convalescent Lemoch Carl x small






Kirill Vikentievich Lemokh

The Convalescent





Sig email Eliz Andrey 283x


How Did I Get Here? is the story of a cynical, funny, very horny Russian medical student during and after the 1850's Crimean War.

Listen to the first 3 minutes of the story and watch the video trailer at

Available at major on-line retailers in paper, eBook, and Audible. If you prefer to support your local bookstore, they can order the book for you.


Am I the only one who became stupefied just a few chapters into Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina?  The story has at least 30 important characters, plus a plethora of non-essential characters.  It’s over 800 pages in length and was originally published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877.

Below is the cover page of the first volume of Anna Karenina.

Anna Karenina











Dan Smith Oolite AndreySometimes you just get lucky.

I experienced that marvelous quirk of fate when I contracted with video-wizard Daniel Smith of ooLite Media to produce my video book trailers.   Knowledgeable, conscientious, flexible, patient, and a great laugh -- what more could I ask for?

When I mentioned to Daniel that I needed a sound studio to record my audiobooks, he pointed me in the direction of Peak Recording's  Gil Stober, who became the guru overseeing the making of my Audible books. Ditto, ditto, ditto for all the good things I said about Daniel.
Peak Recording Feb 2018 Gil Jane John cropped
Gil, in turn, lined me up with actor John Hosking to narrate the Audible version of my books.  More dittos, but add a voice that flows like warm caramel.



Elena, my publicist, recently requested that I answer a Q&A about my life.  When I asked her why, she replied, “People are interested.”

My face scrunched into a giant question mark.  Why would people be interested in plain Jane? But Elena’s a pro at her business, so how I could I refuse?  Below are my answers to a few of her questions.


Why do you think are you drawn to books?

My attraction to books can be traced back to my days of pigtails and anklet socks.  Although I was raised in the quintessential modest house, my parents splurged on one item: a wall of built-in bookshelves.  Among my earliest of chores was a twice-a-year dusting of the shelves and their contents.  While flicking the feather duster, I daydreamed of the day I’d be old enough to actually read the novels and Readers Digest Condensed Books.

Jane 7th Grade cropped


What did you read while growing up?

When I reached junior high, I put the Nancy Drew series behind me. Being a typical girlie-girl, I became enamored by the first adult, mainstream novel I read, Gone with the Wind.

During my teens, things changed (as they tend to do). I gravitated toward science as well as James Harriot’s All Creatures Great and Small stories. That combination lead to a fulfilling 30-year career as veterinarian.


Do you have a favorite author?

If only I could be as talented a writer as Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo!  During a seminar on writing fiction, the instructor told us that taking pen in hand and writing and re-writing good passages from favorite books would promote brain neuron connections that would improve our own writing.  I must have copied the same passage from Nobody’s Fool several hundred times.  If you were sitting here with me right now, I could recite all 672 words for you!


What insights do you want your readers to glean from How Did I Get Here?

I hope readers find several take-home messages.  First, the old adage, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

Second, malevolence and injustice can mold a child, but fortitude plus a helping hand can remake the man.

Third, every person is obligated to give back to society.  And not just according to what he received from it, but at a higher level.

Fourth, an enhanced understanding of the demons of war as manifested in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD on bench



Final Front Cover HDIGH small size jpg


How Did I Get Here?

2nd in the Petrovo series


While I was conducting research for the first novel in the Petrovo series, I kept bumping into this thing called the Crimean War.  Eventually, I realized it simply had to be the backdrop of my next novel for 3 reasons.

First, the Crimean War was the proverbial guinea pig for a myriad of innovations (such as, railroads, trench warfare, telegraphs, surgical anesthesia, medical triage, nurses) that forever changed the nature of warfare.

Small Map of Crimean War Brown CroppedThe second factor that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go was the War’s magnitude as a gruesomely ugly historical reality.  Although the battlefield carnage was hideous, an even greater number of fatalities were attributable to disease, malnutrition, winter exposure, and incompetent leadership.  Not until World War I would more people die as victims of war.  

Third, the War forever altered the power in Europe.  Never again would tsarist Russia be considered indomitable. 

Because the Crimean War had little influence on the United States, most history classes tend to skim over it.


What makes a good book cover?

Front cover Who to BlameFirst and foremost, the cover is a sales tool.  In a flash, it must convey enough information to grab potential readers.  An appealing cover communicates the book’s genre as well as the age and gender of its readership.  Is it a laugh-out-loud coming-of-age story?  Or a dark cyberpunk fantasy?  The artwork must be harmonious with the type font and size and needs to be unique but not out in left field.  A well-designed cover conveys a broad concept rather than fine details.  It must be legible even when viewed as an Amazon thumbnail. 

My publisher supplied me with several options.  I quickly learned that asking the opinions of friends merely complicated the issue.  Their opinions were scattered all over the map.

 Ultimately, the two covers below didn’t make the cut.                                                                               

 4 covers 6.16.16 1 4 covers 6.16.16 2                       



Reapers Alexei Venetsianov 1820s As a reader of fiction, I often find myself wondering, “How did the author come up with THAT story line?”

During my initial research on Russia's  serfs, I stumbled upon the Russian Orthodox prohibition of a person marrying the child of his or her godparents.

“Hummm….interesting," I thought. "That fly-in-the-ointment might weave into an engaging story line.  It provides conflict as well as a moral choice. Plus it’s a little known fact.” 

The complication ended up being the common thread that held fast from the page 1 to page 301 of Who Is to Blame?.


Reapers. Oil-on-cavas by Alexei Venetsianov; late 1820s


Four thousand miles from where President-elect Abraham Lincoln was counting down the final hours before his inauguration, Czar Alexander II rose before dawn and stood contemplatively by a window in the Winter Palace. This morning he would grant freedom to Russia’s serfs, one-third of the Empire’s population.

Alex II and LincolnAbraham Lincoln is regarded as the Great Emancipator; however, Tsar Alexander beat him to the punch by liberating the serfs in 1861, two years prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Russia’s emancipation freed 23 million serfs, whereas Lincoln’s actions liberated 4 million slaves.

Due to the sheer power of the Autocracy, Russia’s milestone incited few and relatively minor cases of civil agitation. Compare this to the situation in the United States where a great civil war claimed the lives of an estimated 620,000 men (2% of the US population).

Both Lincoln and Tsar Alexander were killed at the hands of assassins. On March 1, 1881 – nearly 20 years to the day after freeing the serfs, Alexander was riding through St. Petersburg in a closed carriage when two young radicals hurled bombs. The Emperor died just a few feet from the spot where he had signed his decree of liberation.

 Reading of Emancipation

Reading of the Emancipation, painted by Boris Kustodiev in 1907



I always thought creativity was first and foremost when writing a novel. Wrong! There’s untold amounts of tedium while sitting at the computer. Below is what the second copy edit with my publisher looks like. Three more rounds of editing to go before HOW DID I GET HERE is released in May. My eyes are crossed from overload and my fingers are crossed that every blunder has been fixed. 


Example of Editing


Final Front Cover How Get HereMy next novel in the Petrovo series contains the story of the little-known Crimean War  (1853-1856) seen though the eyes of a cynical, funny, very horny medical student. 

It's a war story that's written in intimate human terms that appeals to both women and men. 

Plus you'll be able to catch up on some of your favorite characters from Who Is to Blame.

The book will be available in May in print, Kindle, and Audible.



Izba Man Woman outside 300x290Although most of my blog posts are light-hearted, this one delves into an exceptionally unsavory aspect of peasant Russia.

You may recall from Who Is to Blame that a peasant household was composed of as many as two dozen people. Males were born and lived their entire lives in a single-room izba (hut). As patriarch of the family, the eldest male held all authority tightly in his grasp. At the bottom of the hierarchy was the young bride, dictated by tradition to live with her husband’s family.  The snokha (daughter-in-law) gained a modicum of clout only after she’d proven her worth for a decade or two in the izba as well as in the fields, plus added sons to the household.

Imagine a lithe, 17-year-old female and a 40-year-male, no blood kin to each other, living in the tight quarters of a single-room izba.  Although the cramped hut was also occupied by other family members, plenty of opportunities existed for the patriarch to be alone with his daughter-in-law (not only in the izba , but also the barn, woods, etc).  If her father-in-law asserted his demands, the young woman had no choice but to submit.

Snokhachestvo (the illicit sexual relations between the patriarch and his daughter-in-law)  was so pervasive, the peasants referenced it in a riddle.

I poke and poke.
At night I can’t see.
let me try in the daytime.

              Answer: Lock & Key

A man who made sexual advances toward his son’s wife committed a crime in the eyes of both the government and the Russian Orthodox Church. Punishment (if administered) was fifteen to twenty lashes. The patriarchal power structure of the peasants made the behavior difficult to curtail.  Barbara Apern Engle gives the following account in her book, Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia, 1861-1914.

After learning of his father’s actions, the son had hesitated for over a year before he brought his case to light, and when he did, it was to charge his wife with adultery. “I didn’t want to disgrace my father,” was how he explained his delay.

Emancipation of Russia’s Serfs in Comparison to U.S. Slaves

Two years prior to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Tsar Alexander II put an end to serfdom. However, the Empire experienced none of the unfathomable carnage of the U.S. Civil War. Due to the sheer power of the Autocracy, Russia’s milestone was met with relatively minor cases of civil agitation.  Compare this to the situation in the United States in which roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.

The Crippled Serf Vasily Polenov c. 1878The Crippled Serf c.1878,  Oil on canvas-Vasily PolenovWas the emancipated serf happy with the terms of his freedom?  Not one bit. Although he was granted personal liberties, those freedoms came with a heavy price tag.  Not only was the serf granted an amount of land inadequate for his subsistence, he was shackled for the remainder of his life with high payments for the land he was “given.”

On the plus side, the serf was able to continue living under the same roof as before.  And in the not-too-distant future, he would have access to free rural medical care and his children could acquire an elemental education.  Plus he had the vision that someday his offspring would legally own the land his family had tilled for generations.  During the ensuing couple of decades, the serfs gradually became part and parcel of Russian society.

In August of 1879, American banker Wharton Barker had a conversation with Alexander II.  Barker quotes the Tsar as saying:
 “I did more for the Russian serf in giving him land as well as personal liberty, than America did for the negro slave set free by the proclamation of President Lincoln. I am at a loss to understand how you Americans could have been so blind as to leave the negro slave without tools to work out his salvation. Without property of any kind he cannot educate himself and his children.  I believe the time must come when many will question the manner of American emancipation of the negro slaves in 1863.”

Do you think Alexander was accurate in his appraisal?  One thing I suspect most of us agree upon is that reform requires time to manifest its desired effect.  There’s no quick fix for turning a wrong into a right.Prior to Tsar Alexander’s 1861 Emancipation Manifesto, one-third of Russia’s population were under the direct control of another man.


book quote 1024x572A 2016 Yale University study found that people who read books lived about 2 years longer than those who don’t.  Although the study found a correlation between reading and increased lifespan, the researchers did not identify the cause.

However, according to Josie Billington at the University of Liverpool, “Reading not only helps to introduce or reconnect readers to wider life systems and more broadly shared meanings. It can also remind people of activities or occupations they once pursued, or knowledge and skills they still possess, helping to restore their sense of having a place and purpose in the world.”

Moral of the story:  Cozying up with a book-a-day keeps the Grim Reaper away.


Worobec book 189x300Did Who Is to Blame make you want to dig a little deeper into the lives of Russia’s peasants?   I can’t recommend a better follow-up book than Peasant Russia.

Although Dr. Christine Worobec is among the world’s leading historians of tsarist Russia, she penned this non-fiction book in a style a layperson both understands and enjoys.  She laid a foundation using both primary and secondary sources, then she underscored her point by inserting a concise, factual vignette.

If you want an incisive view of Russia’s peasant society during the latter 1800s but lack the desire to slog through textbooks, this 250-page paperback is for you.


Gogol Russian Postage Stamp 2009Gogol on Russian Postage Stamp 2009“Whatever you may say, the body depends on the soul. ”

Nicholai Gogol

novelist, short story writer, playwright (1809 – 1852)

Government InspectorCover of The Government Inspector, which lampoons the corrupt bureaucracy under Nicholas INikolai Vasilievich Gogol is best known for his short story “The Overcoat” & political satire Dead Souls. Like many creative geniuses, Gogol had a reputation for eccentricity.

In 1836 Gogol published “The Nose,” a short story about a nose that detaches itself from the face of a St. Petersburg official & wanders around town, leading its own independent existence. Gogol was so ashamed of his own nose, he often covered his face with a purple cloth.

Gogol was haunted by taphophobia – fear of being buried alive. As preventive measures, he slept sitting upright & his will requested that he be buried only when his body was clearly decomposing.







Balmy weather makes June a popular month for weddings in the Northern Hemisphere.  However, 19th- century Russian peasants preferred to take their marital vows following the autumn harvest, when food, rubles, and time were more plentiful.

The night after the wedding, the family often eavesdropped to ensure things got off to a good start. And the next day, was there blood on the bedding?

Once married, a peasant woman was required to always cover her sensual hair and put aside her single hair braid for matronly double braids.

Planning a wedding?  Pick up a few decorating ideas from these images!

Sorcerer Wedding Arrival of Sorcerat at Peasant wedding by Vaily Maximov 1875 610x379Arrival of Sorcerer at Peasant Wedding by Vasily Maximov 1875

village wedding in the tambov province 1880 Andrei Ryabushkin Resized 610x259Village Wedding in Tambov Province by Andrei Ryabushkin 1880


TolstoyIn 1862, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy began writing a book that would take six years to finish and eventually be called War & Peace.  The epic story is considered one of the greatest novels ever written, remarkable for its dramatic breadth and unity. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters.  Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia, hand-copied as many as seven complete manuscripts before Tolstoy considered it ready for publication. Although writing kept him busy, he still found time to father 13 children.

Cover War Peace in Russian


Joan Champie dinner2 300x225Slavic Spread

I received these photos from my friend Joan in Ohio. After reading Who Is to Blame, these Yellow Springs gals put together a multi-course meal of traditional Russian food.  An unbelievable feast!  What I wouldn’t give to have been able to share that culinary evening with them!
Joan Champie zakooski 300x225→ Zakooski  (appetizers)beet salad, baklazhan (an eggplant delicacy), sprats, pickles, bread
→ Soup – pickle soup, chicken broth with potatoes and carrots and pickle bits
→ Main course –  kotletti (a ground meat pattie) and kartoffel (potatoes boiled, buttered)
→ Dessert – Russian tea cakes and tea
It was all washed down with wine and (of course!) vodka.

Joan Champie 300x300JoanJoan Champie book 300x225

Joan Champies Lucia and Andree e1487508085458 232x300Lucia & Andree



John Hasking Gil 2 300x169Who Is to Blame is a complex book to record. Fortunately, Gil at Peak Recording is a pro and a gentleman in every regard. The narrator, actor John Hosking, devoted untold hours mastering the long, tongue-twister Russian names.  Fate was unbelievably generous when it lined me up with these 2 gentlemen!

Jane @ Peak recording 300x225I even have a bit part in the recording. Gil warned me ”Be sure you’re wearing quiet clothes.” Huh? What do clothes matter in an audio recording??  Well… some clothes make a slight noise whenever you move, and the microphone doesn’t discriminate – it picks up everything.  Natural fibers tend to be less rambunctious!


1st 4 min Chpt 2 WITB 300x231First 4 minutes of Chapter 2

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Dead Souls Gogols Cover 201x300The cover of Dead Souls as intended & illustrated by Nikolai Gogol


"The present generation sees everything clearly. It is amazed and laughs at the folly of its ancestors…and self-confidently enters on a fresh set of errors at which their descendants will laugh again later on."


~ Nikolai Gogol in Dead Souls (1842)
   Russian dramatist, novelist, short story writer (1809 – 1852)





Jane Speaking 263x300What a blast being invited to a vegan potluck with the theme of “Russian Food!”

After giving a brief presentation on the history of vegetarianism & veganism in Russia, I overstuffed myself with traditional Russian food, with substitutions for the animal products. You’d never know the difference. It was scrumptious!

Leo Tolstoy:
“Living a good moral life is inconsistent with a beefsteak.”

Have you ever had vegan Russian pizza?

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Baby 300x246

Family 2 150x150

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Rush in Vegan

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We meet the female protagonist of Who Is to Blame, Elizaveta Anafreva, in 1840.  Thirty or so generations before that, Elizaveta’s ancestors were tenant farmers—free peasants at liberty to leave their landlord for a more favorable one. Or they could quit farming altogether and seek income in the cities.

Agricultural labor was scarce in old Moscovy, spawning fierce competition among landlords in need of field workers. To eliminate the troublesome migration of the peasants to greener pastures, the State exercised its autocratic power. Beginning in late 1400s, a series of laws made it increasingly difficult for a peasant to leave his landlord’s estate.

But a shortage of field hands continued to vex the Empire. Wars, waves of Black Death, territorial conquests, rapidly growing urban populations, and a grain-hungry Western Europe generated a demand for Russia’s grain that exceeded its supply. Russia laid claim to some of the richest, deepest, blackest soil in the world. And plenty of it. What it lacked was manpower.

Flogging A SerfFlogging a Serf – Artist UnknownIn response, a hodgepodge of Imperial decrees chipped away at the peasants’ freedom. By the middle of the 17th century, the Anafrev children and their children’s children in perpetuity were born and died on the plot of earth known as Petrovo. Bit by bit, the owner of the estate of Petrovo evolved from landlord into master. Serfdom became a variant of slavery, the difference being a legal formality. Slaves were personal property (like a person today owns a cell phone or flip flop sandals). The Russian nobility, on the other hand, did not own their serfs. But they did possess virtually complete control over their serfs, including the right to administer corporal punishment.

Although the Anafrev family would undoubtedly beg to differ, the progressively restrictive edicts stemmed only partially from man’s appetite to prosper off the backs of others. Serfdom was, hands down, in the best interest of Holy Russia. First and foremost, it boosted Russia’s prosperity through the production of grain. In addition, the serfs bore the brunt of military recruitment, the term of service being, for all practical purposes, a life sentence. A further bonus for the Motherland was a per capita tax levied on the already impoverished serf population.

G. Myasoyedov Harvesting 1887    Harvest Time – G. Myasoyedov 1887Despite living under their master’s thumb, serfs were granted considerable autonomy. For instance, they typically selected their own spouses and were responsible for their own sustenance and personal property. The residents of Petrovo kept their village neighbors on the straight and narrow through the establishment of civil rules and punishment of wrong-doers. Master and serf worshiped the same God in the same church.
Early in the 19th century, the gap widened between the rural gentry and their laborers as enlightened European culture was assimilated into affluent Russian society.  As the arts and sciences took the forefront, over three-quarters of Mother Russia’s population continued to be denied an education, thereby condemning peasants to short lives rife with superstition and ill-health. Along with the other twenty million serfs, the Anafrev family was typecast as benumbed and passive sufferers, the embodiment of drunkenness, venality, and fatalism.

For further reference, see the highly readable non-fiction book, Unfree Labor by Peter Kolchin.


Russian Life cover cropped 300x300Do you have an interest in the country with the world’s largest land area?  Try Russian Life magazine. I’ve found that it contains slices of just about everything pertaining to historical and cultural Russia. This brainy, funny, off-the-beaten-path publication has been around for over 20 years.

• From religion to fairy tales
• From fine cuisine to sulfur dioxide spewing from a nickel refining plant
• From Moscow’s dating scene to St. Petersburg’s Save the Baltic Seals Foundation
• From Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin.

Per Russian Life, Putin starts every day with a bowl of steaming kasha. If you’ve read Who Is to Blame?, you know that kasha is the ubiquitous buckwheat porridge that has warmed Slavic tummies for centuries.

The magazine’s photography is stunning.  And the publisher’s on-line store has unique items available for purchase, including Russian-themed wrapping paper and matching gift cards.


old AnnaI was told by someone who recently read Who Is to Blame, “Being a woman in peasant Russia – Ugh!”

I couldn’t agree more. In order to be a female Russian peasant who’s content with her life, you’d have to:
- adore your in-laws since you share a one-room hut with all 12 of them
- not take offense at wife-beating, a time-honored tradition
- not mind that your voice is unheard at home or in your village
- find it romantic to share your bed-of-straw with a guy who works in the fields all day and bathes every 2 weeks during the summer and monthly (at best) during the winter
- delight in continuously being either pregnant or nursing
- relish cooking. And pickling. And baking bread. And more bread. And slaughtering and plucking a chicken.
- appreciate that an evening working the spinning wheel provides a relaxing way to end the day
- be an early riser so you can stoke the stove, shovel snow for a path to the barn, milk the cow, gather the eggs,breastfeed your infant, and get the breakfast kasha bubbling before you start your workday.

Oh, and one last thing - - rise above feelings of rejection when, following Hubby’s death, your in-laws exercise their right to send you back to your birth family.


Pasternak“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.”
Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960)

Soviet Russian poet novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russian, Pasternak’s first book of poems, My Sister –  Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language.
Best known in the western world as the author of Doctor Zhivago


Sara Hejl 150x150A writer pores their hearts and souls into their work.  But sometimes that isn’t enough.  Sometimes, authors require a second set of eyes.

I am in debt to literate / literary friends who volunteer reviewed my manuscript in various stages of development.  A “beta reader” is a friend or colleague whose willing   to look over your book’s draft, and point out errors before you submit to agents and to publishers. These kindhearted folks do there best to keep the author from looking like nincompoop with typos & plot holes.

Joan Champie 300x300How many errors did you catch in the above two paragraphs?

To give you an idea how long WHO IS TO BLAME was in the works,  Sarah was in college when she proofread my manuscript, and now she’s a mother-of-two and successful career woman!



Gecko Jon with hat 150x150

 Melinda Miller 150x150

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Thanks to Sarah, Joan, Melinda, Jon, & Holly


A stupendous piece of news arrived this week!  WHO IS TO BLAME was selected as a finalist for the Beverly Hills Book Award.  The organization “celebrates the physical book in print that has always been and will always be a part of our worldwide culture.”

Beverly Hill Book Awards StickerIn selecting finalists, consideration is given to the writing plus the cover and interior design, promotional text, aesthetic components, and other factors that demonstrate outstanding presentation.
A big bear hug goes to my Greenleaf Books publishing team for pulling it all together!




Apple Green 236x300AUDIBLE IN THE WORKS!
As I watched WHO IS TO BLAME being recorded at Peak Recording, I was stunned at how exacting, technical, and lengthy the process is.

The narrator, actor John Hosking, always kept a green apple within arm’s reach.  Imagine the dryness of your mouth if you spoke continually for 4 hours!  A parched palate makes clicking and other weird mouth noises, resulting in an amateurish and annoying recording.  An occasional lubricating bite keeps the juices flowing.

Gil Stobers website 300x199Can’t give enough thanks to Gil Stober at Peak Recording for taking me by the hand and walking me through the process.

Check back here for an update on when the Audible version will be available.


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BOOK CLUB – 15 Years & Going Strong

Hollys book clubFront: Sue, Judy, Linda, Connie, Barb, Back: me (Jane) Margaret, HollyLast week, I had a rollicking good time with a local book club as they discussed  Who Is to Blame.

These women not only crave knowledge, they have a blast in the process.  And they’ve been together over 15 years!
During the discussion, they imagined being an old (40+ years) peasant woman in 1800s Russia – no teeth, poor eyesight, a dirt floor, and sleeping on straw in a single room hovel shared with other 10 people. And sharing that straw with a husband who had the legal and moral right to slap you around whenever he felt the urge.  Being a serf, you had no path out of that environment.  Nor did your children.

A humongous THANKS for the group’s insights and great spirit!


Chekhov Anton 219x300Anton Chekov 1860-1904"A woman can become a man’s friend only in the following stages –
first an acquaintance, next a mistress, and only then a friend.”

Anton Chekov in The Three Sisters, 1900








Barb Reading 208x300A friend sent me this photo, blaming me that her roommate wasn’t helping with the housework because she refused to put down Who Is to Blame !   

Don’t we all love cozy days like this?








Why does the author get so much credit for a book?   Yes, the author puts the words on paper, but creating a book requires a synergistic team of professional editors, proof readers, designers, and typesetters, plus gurus in distribution, marketing, accounting, and legal.   And besides cooperating, each and everyone has to stay on-schedule to meet the deadline.

Well over a dozen people at the Greenleaf Book Group, Austin, Texas, directly had a hand in making Who Is to Blame? into a first-class book.  My deepest gratitude goes to every one of them.

Here are some members of my fantastic team at Greenleaf Books.

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From left to right:
Emilie Lyons,Project Manager
Corrin Foster, Marketing & Branding
Kristine Peyre-Ferry, Distribution
Hobbs Allison, Senior Consultant
Rachael Brandenburg, Designer

Really l-o-o-k at the book you are currently reading – the front cover, back cover, front matter, page layout. Consider how many steps, people, specialties, and processes have to dovetail.  By all rights, the results should be chaos. Instead, the final product is a magical transformation of what the author scribbled on paper months (if not years) ago.
Do svidaniya!
(Until we meet again!)


"All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Lev Nikolayevich (Leo) Tolstoy in Anna Karenina
Russian novelist
Moral & religious teacher
Animal rights activist & vegetarian
(1828 – 1910)

What’s Better than FREE ?

A copy of Who Is to Blame? will be given to 10 people in the Goodreads Giveaway Program.  No gimmicks.  No obligation. However you must be signed into Goodreads to access the Giveaway.  Enter the Giveaway between now and October 30, 2016.

For those unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a free website where book lovers to share thoughts and find books in their preferred genres.  Books aren’t for sale on Goodreads, but there’s plenty of ideas, discovery, and tailor-made suggestions.  Established in 2007, it has 20 million members and is the world’s largest site for book recommendations.

Do svidaniya!   (Until next time)

In the Works – Website Video

Dan Jane Montis Shawl Cropped 300x216A soon-to-be released blockbuster!!  Girls and Their Clothes in 19th Century Peasant Russia!  Thank goodness I found Daniel Smith of Oolite Media. He’s so delightfully cheerful and courteous, he didn’t even make fun of my (countless) on-tape blunders!  Every bit a professional.

And  a huge thanks and round of applause to Monti, leading lady and peasant-impersonator!

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Russian Words Well Spoken

Fyodor Dostoevsky 226x300“All is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most…”


 ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment

Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist, philosopher









18 Years – Keep Trying!

Computer Cropped 265x300People often inquire, “How long did it take to write your book?”
Have you ever had an itch (actually, more like a compulsion) to do something, but despite your very best efforts, it just doesn’t work out?

That’s how I felt after 18 years of attempting to write fiction. Like many aspiring writers, I wrote in my “spare” moments – weekends, before work, on vacation.  I longed to turn my hobby into a second career, which I eventually did (but first I had to reach retirement age!)

Looking back, those early attempts were ghastly. Thank goodness they weren’t published. Then early in 2016, Greenleaf Book Group said, “We’ll take it!”

Do svidaniya!  Until we meet again!

Meanwhile, stick with it – whatever your goal


unnamedRussian novelist, playwrite, poet stipple engraving image by Thomas Wright 1837“My dreams, my dreams!  What has become of their sweetness?  What indeed has become of my youth?”

                   ― Alexander Pushkin in Eugene Onegin

                        Russian poet, playwright, novelist
















One Last Looksee

Porch Editing Serious 169x300I‘m catching some fresh air while giving Who Is to Blame? the final inspection before it goes to press. 

The editing process starts with big-picture changes and over a period of several months, gradually evolves into fine-tuning. Phases of editing include:
            – developmental editing (aka substantive editing, structural editing)
            – copy editing
            – proofreading.  

In some instances, the different hats are worn by the same person.  At my publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, each of these steps involves a separate person, selected because of experience, skills, and expertise. 

During the publishing process, the digital manuscript was shuttled between the publisher and myself 5 times.  The end result is that I’m cross-eyed from looking and looking and looking again at the 106,000 words.

Do svidaniya!
(Until we meet again)