What’s up TWNers! Y’all I am SO excited to be participating in Christine Smith’s Know the Novel linkup this year! Its one of my favorite things from the blogosphere, and since I was unable to be apart of it last year, I’m so glad to be returning to it this year. This linkup is for authors to share about their National Novel Writing Month project, but if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, you can still talk about whatever your current WIP is. I haven’t decided yet if I want to do NaNoWriMo (I know what you’re thinking… uh, Issabelle, November is in like a week), but I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about my debut novel releasing with Sky’s the Limit Press in early 2024 Don’t Let Me Go. Even though I’ve already written the first draft, I’m currently in the middle of the second draft and edits so it’s still my work-in-progress.
1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?
The original idea for Don’t Let Me Go (DLMG) came around the end of the summer last year when I was wrapping up edits for something I’ve been referring to as Project: Defender. I had intended to write a prequel novel for that book, but there was something about one of the side characters who I kept coming back to. I realized his part of the story wasn’t over yet which got me to thinking about writing a sequel (a lot has changed since then 😅). Since Project: Defender was set in 1917-1918 during the Russian Revolution, I thought it would be cool to write about the civil war that followed immediately after. However, when I started doing my research I came across some information about the Gulag (more on that later), and a story started forming from there. I knew I had to write it! A lot has changed from that first spark, but that’s where it all began!
2. Share a blurb (or just an overall summary)!
Here’s the current blurb:
When truth is a crime…
Soviet Russia, 1929: Maksim Lenkov is tired of his past haunting him. An ex-Bolshevik and supporter of the revolution over ten years earlier that toppled the Romanov dynasty, Maksm has never forgotten his guilt over not saving the tsar and his family—especially a certain beautiful grand duchess. Tatiana Romanova had stolen his heart before the Bolsheviks took her life.
Maksim has spent the last ten years hunting down her killers to no avail and doing anything possible to resist Soviet rule. This is why when a young, spunky British girl appears out of nowhere, claiming she has the Soviet secret police on her heels and needs help escaping the country, Maksim is compelled to aid her. Especially since she says to have information that would ruin the USSR’s push for influence on Western Europe and, more importantly, information that connects to one Bolshevik whom Maksim knows well. A man who was there the night of Tatiana’s murder.
This could be his chance to finally avenge the Romanovs and find peace with his past. But is his new ally all she claims to be or could she be an informer for the secret police? When the OGPU draws closer, how far will Maksim go to serve justice? Inspired by true events, Don’t Let Me Go is a gripping, page-turning novel that explores the power of hope in the midst of darkness and the strength of love over evil.
okay i have mixed feelings over how this blurb turned out, but I can’t seem to fix it
3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects of the setting?
The story takes place in Russia in 1929 when it was part of the USSR. I never thought I would ever write a story set in the Soviet Union because my Russian history interest is usually with Tsarist Russia or the Russian Empire, whatever you want to call it. DLMG has changed all of that. I didn’t realize how interesting the history of the Soviet Union is nor how little people actually know about what life there was like. The setting is one of my favorite parts so I have a lot of favorite aspects! First, I just love anything set in Russia. The Slavic culture continues to fascinate me with how it’s a mix between both European and Asian customs. Trying to understand the Soviet culture and world of this time was a challenge as it’s something that’s rarely depicted in books and film so I felt like I was walking in blind, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and the research that’s gone in this book beyond just historical facts. I also just love the atmosphere in DLMG, which has been one of the hardest parts to recreate. This is a point in time where everything’s changing for Russia, and Maksim is caught in the midst of it, trying to figure out how to navigate it all. There’s this strange mix of hope for a better future while also fear that where they’re headed is not a place they want to be.
4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).
Ah, Maksim. The bane of my existence, as I’ve been referring to him. Honestly, though I’d never admit it to him, he’s actually been a fun character to write. This is the first “anti-hero” character I’ve written, and I’ve loved seeing his different perspective and reactions toward things. He’s a clever man who’s not afraid to voice his opinions, though he’s more of a man of action rather than words. He’s also VERY impulsive and rash which tends to lead him to not-super-awesome places. (That seriously, Maks, you could have avoided if you just STOP AND THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING!) He’s got a gruff personality and very rough-around-the-edges, but deep down, he’s got a soft side. (Just don’t ever tell him I told you that!) Maks is a loner and a wandering soul, having traveled through most of Russia. At least everything on the western side of the Ural Mountains. He loves music, hot tea, sunsets, and traveling.
5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?
DLMG has two antagonists. The biggest one is obviously Stalin’s Soviet government. Maks vehemently opposes the Soviet regime so he’s been a man on the run for the last several years, trying to hide from the secret police’s every-watching eyes. Especially from Petrov, a man who had helped kill the Romanovs and an old acquaintance of Maksim. He’s risen the ranks, however, and holds a prominent place of influence in the Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU).
6. What excites you the most about this novel?
Like everything. 😂 I love how different Maks is from any character I’ve ever written, and I love the Russian setting. The whole plot excites me because it feels like the best story I’ve ever told. The plot is tight, the themes fit perfectly, and the characters are so much fun to hang with! Also, I just love winter and most of this book is set either in winter or in very cold places so that’s been fun to write.
But I think what I’m most excited about is to tell a part of history that has been largely forgotten. This book concerns all sort of terrible things that happened to the ordinary Soviet citizen, but a big part of it talks about the Gulag which was a system of forced labor camps from 1918 to 1989 that it’s estimated over ten million people passed through (most of them being ordinary men and women falsely accused of “counter-revolutionary” activity rather than actual criminals) at some point and over a million people died inside. And yet before writing this book, I knew and heard very little about it and most people I talked to didn’t even know what I was talking about! How is it that something that happened not so long ago (1989 marks the year of the last gulag camp closing and that was only 34 years ago!) has already been forgotten? Stalin had adamantly suppressed any news about what was really going on inside these camps from the world at large. He never wanted anyone to know the truth and so far, he’s won. I think it’s time to change that, and I’m excited to bring a forgotten moment in history back.
7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?
DLMG is the first book in the Lost Empire series. As of right now, I’m only planning on writing three books (technically number two is already written, but you get the point), but I do have an idea of a fourth one so if there’s enough excitement for Maksim’s story and the rest of the series, I *might* choose to write it, but if not, I’m also okay to leave it as a three-book series.
8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?
I plansted through the first draft so that’s one thing that makes the second draft easier because I already know most of what’s gonna happen, unless it’s something I changed.
9. Name a few unique elements in this story.
The most unique element is the setting as I can only list like maybe three books that have to do with this specific moment in time. But I also think the plot is very unique for a historical fiction novel. It’s a very fast-paced and thrilling book and a lot of historical novels I read tend to be more slower-paced and character-driven. I like how I’m testing a different way to write historical fiction with this book. (Not that fast-paced historical novels don’t exist, there just aren’t as many of them.)
10. Share some fun “extras” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).
*rub hands together eagerly*
Okay so here’s the Pinterst board:
and my playlist for the book is currently under construction so I’ll just share what I think of as the “theme song” for the novel. It’s called “War of Change” by Thousand Foot Krutch
And finally here’s the current teaser trailer for DLMG.
So let’s keep the conversation going in the comments! Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo? Does this sound like a book you’d want to read? Am I the only person who wastes writing time by scrolling on Pinterest?