Russka Review

3-star rating
Russka novel cover

I have mixed feelings about this book. Certainly, Edward Rutherfurd’s 760 page doorstop of a novel has its good points, but ultimately I came away unsatisfied.

“Ambitious” is a good way to describe the effort. After all, in order to tell “The Novel of Russia,” as the book is subtitled, Rutherfurd chose to cover the period from 180 A.D. to 1990. To make this Michener-esque task manageable, he follows generations of the Bobrov family (and a few others) through each major historical period of this vast country. Of course, that means that he also ends up with a vast, Game of Thrones-size cast. Generally, he handles this well: the major characters are all well developed and distinctive, which is no small task. More on the characters later.

The book starts slowly, and by the end of the first chapter, about a small village located at the edge of the Russian steppe, and the future site of one of two towns named Russka, I almost put the book down. I simply wasn’t interested in the characters or their subsistence farming life. The quality of the writing was just good enough for me to be willing to continue.

For the next several chapters, Rutherfurd follows the development of Russia through the eras of the fall of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the rise of Constantinople and the Orthodox Church. He clearly did a lot of research on these eras, and wants to make sure readers see the full result of all of it. I could have done with less. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, who was just as terrible as Ivan in his own ways, get their turns on stage.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 21 & 22, 2012

Welcome to the first multi-day edition of Great Stuff. There’s lots to share, so off we go…

Let’s start with some posts on craft, shall we?

  • Joe Moore’s (@JoeMoore_writer) post Fried Catfish and Grits isn’t about food; it’s about setting written so well (in Ace Atkins’ The Lost Ones) that it gave Joe a hankerin’ for those southern staples. He then goes on to discuss ways to make your setting details contribute to the story.
  • Kim Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) video on How to Use Foreshadowing to Jazz Up Slow Scenes tells the tale of how fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss uses foreshadowing to keep his readers engaged through what Kim calls “[a] couple hundred leisurely pages of everything going pretty much the protagonist’s way.” A COUPLE HUNDRED PAGES!!! That’s some serious foreshadowing!
  • Next, David R. Gillham (@drgillham) provides 5 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. While the title says “historical” and Gillham does indeed focus on that genre, what he suggests applies to just about any genre: “Fiction = friction,” “Using language or accents” to name just two.

OK, enough for craft, how about the business side of things? Sure!

  • We’ll start with Alan Petersen (@AlanPetersen) discussing 3 Really Good Self-Publishing Ideas and 5 Hilariously Bad Ones on The Book Designer. I don’t know if the the 5 bad ones are hilarious, really, but they definitely are bad. And the good ones? I’ll summarize them this way: if you want to make money (from your books), you’ll need to spend money (on getting them ready) first. Just do it wisely.
  • Speaking of bad ideas, M. J. Rose (@MJRose) discusses how not to commit Social Media Suicide on Writer Unboxed. Of course, don’t write stupid things is part of her prescription. So is not going crazy on social media. Seems being smart about how to use social media isn’t so easy, at least for some folks.
  • So how do you market yourself effectively on social media (and elsewhere)? Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) offers a set of Resources to help you figure that out. While he includes himself, he does also list Steven Pressfield of The War of Art and Dean Wesley Smith’s web site, which includes the tab “Think Like a Publisher.” Hmmm. Have to check that out myself.
  • Finally for this section, Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) wonders, Does the Publishing Industry Care Too Much About Writing Quality? This is a continuation of the discussion about the quality (or lack thereof) of indie-published writing. Seems to me the answer is clear: the publishing industry cares (as it should) about making a profit. The books that sell lots of copies but aren’t “quality” writing in the eyes of self-appointed experts are the very books that allow publishers to sell the “quality-writing” books that don’t make money. This shouldn’t be an either/or question. The answer is both/and. IMHO.

So much for the business side, let’s close with a couple of personal life posts.

  • Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) writes about Dealing with Impatience: what might cause it, why it can be a problem, and what you can do about it if it’s a problem for you.
  • Karen Jordan (@KarenJordan) offers some tips on Taking Time Out on WordServeWater Cooler when something–maybe it’s that impatience–gives you a “flat tire” on the journey of life.