Category Archives: writing

Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

(If you’ve come to my blog looking for the post on what Christian fiction should not contain, it is here. I’m grateful to all those who’ve found it interesting enough to read.)

I’ve been published by traditional houses (Harlequin, Dorchester, Sourcebooks, Bancroft, etc.), and I’ve self-published, a process I’ve enjoyed. After reading an article in the Atlantic by a woman who is in her tenth year of submitting manuscripts (unsuccessfully so far) to traditional publishers, I was scratching my head as to why she didn’t self publish.

She covers that briefly in her essay: “I’ve yet to meet an author who felt their self-published literary novel or memoir generated enough sales to make up for the amount of time and money spent marketing them. And as a literary critic, I know that very few editors are willing to run book reviews for self-published works; I don’t want to spend years writing and revising a book if not even my local paper will cover it.”

I would argue that you’re going to spend a lot of time and money marketing a book published by a traditional publisher. And not every advance is enough to cover that and let you quit your day job. As to reviews…well, they’re getting harder and harder to get even in traditional publishing, and surely an author can scare up some reviews in very local papers or reading blogs. So I don’t quite understand her reluctance to try self-publishing, instead letting her manuscripts languish.

For those who do choose to self-publish, though, it’s good to be realistic about possible outcomes and the process itself. Here are my tips for writers considering self-publishing:

DO be realistic about your goals.

Self-publishing can mean earning more money from your books, reaching more people, and/or snagging more attention for your writing than you’d get if you let your book languish on a computer. Sometimes it means better outcomes than if you are traditionally published. Sometimes. But not always. You shouldn’t go into self-publishing thinking it’s going to make you a millionaire or even allow you to quit the day job. Think hard about your goals as you get ready to self-publish and ask yourself: Do these goals make the entire project worth it to you?

DON’T think you’re going to zoom on to best-seller charts.

When I first self-published some books, I went into the exercise with high hopes. I’d read the stories of other authors making much more money in self-publishing than in traditional publishing. After all, traditional publishing’s royalty clauses often mean writers don’t see a dime outside the advance for at least a year, and good luck earning out that advance unless you’re a mega-seller. So, self-publishing, where you earn higher royalties in real time, seemed a better deal.

But as time wore on, and I read more, I came to understand that most big sellers in self-publishing fall into several categories (as the author of the Atlantic article noted): they were well-known authors already, with big followings; and/or they wrote in several genres where authors have more success self-publishing than in others.

If you don’t fit into those categories, you have to realize at the outset that it will be a steep hill to climb to find your readers. But if you’ve been published by a traditional publisher, you might already know that. Few authors are best sellers even in traditional publishing. Just don’t go into self-publishing thinking it’s an instant ticket to bookselling success.

DO take care with your manuscript.

In the early days of self-publishing on Kindle many authors just smacked up MSWord manuscripts on to the Kindle platform, resulting in books with funky formatting, odd spacing and sometimes garbled text. Readers would note these things in reviews but were fairly understanding in those pioneer days. They might not be so patient now, and you’re likely to lose readers if you’re not careful and thoughtful with your presentation.

This means you might need to invest in a few things: a good copy editor, for example, maybe a cover artist, and even a digital upload specialist. It all comes down to how much you can and want to do on your own.

DON’T spend money needlessly.

When you self-publish, you are highly unlikely to get your book into stores unless you work with individual shop owners on a consignment basis. So my advice is to be careful not to throw too much money at cover design for a cover that will most likely only be seen online and often as a thumbnail.

That doesn’t mean you should go for shoddy designs, but you’d be surprised what you can do on your own, buying stock art (for around $50 an image or less) and using design templates available through Amazon and CreateSpace.

Before you complain that stock art is recognizable as such, keep this in mind: many traditional publishers use stock art. You might have even seen these images pop up across publishers and books over the years. Even so, there is so much art available these days that you can avoid overly used images if you choose wisely.

Below are two of my favorite covers (of my own books). I designed them myself using the Kindle and CreateSpace templates, after buying the stock art images. They might not be to your liking — that’s okay – but they do have a professional and evocative look that is in line with the content of the novels. I confess that I like them more than I like some professionally designed covers I’ve received from traditional publishers.

If doing covers yourself isn’t your thing, seek design services. I just wouldn’t pay an exorbitant amount for them when most people will only get to see the covers online, possibly only thumbnails, as I mentioned earlier.

The same is true for other services. I am fortunate to have a critique partner who is a freelance editor as well as author. We usually work out barter or exchange agreements when we need editing services from each other.

Whatever you do, set realistic expectations for these elements of self-publishing. Recognize that even in traditional publishing, stock art gets used. Even in traditional publishing, a copy editor or proofreader doesn’t catch everything.

These aren’t excuses for poor work. But don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic high standard that not even traditional publishers adhere to. Be respectful of your readers and their expectations, yes. But don’t think that a bespoke cover design is going to make a significant difference in sales over a nicely done cover you put together yourself using stock art. Don’t think that spending thousands on editing services is going to catch every flaw.

DO spend time on promotion.

The sad truth of today’s publishing business is that all authors must spend time and even money on promotion. Traditional houses will send out your books for review, will distribute a press release about your book, and will possibly — not always — buy space in bookstores to get your book on end caps, or facing cover out or on tables of new releases.

Other than the special placement in bookstores, though, you can do those other tasks on your own. And even if you are traditionally published, you still might end up doing some of them, sending your book to some reviewers not on your publisher’s list, reaching out to reader blogs, Facebook groups and other social media venues. The point is that if you’re holding out for a traditional publishing contract because you don’t want to do the promotion yourself, you’re likely to be disappointed. You’ll be doing it anyway.

A note about reviews: Publishers Weekly will review self-published material now, through their BookLife program. It’s a highly competitive program (but so is getting a review in traditional publishing these days) and takes a while, but the option is there.

DON’T spend too much money on advertising.

I’ve heard it said that the book business is the only part of the entertainment industry that rarely advertises directly to its consumers. Why is that? Tradition and the challenge of finding readers without spending a heckuva lot of cash on the exercise.

Traditionally, those in the book business have for many years thought of themselves as purveyors of art and culture, not base entertainment. So spending money on advertising seemed base, as well.

If you do get past that mental hurdle,  the challenge becomes finding who your customers are, how to reach them effectively with the right ad, and how to move them to a “buy” once they view the ad.

To be honest, I’m very stingy with advertising dollars. I’ve used ads on Amazon (which do move the sales needle on certain books) and on Facebook (no movement there). And I recently bought an advertising package, splitting the cost with a small press that was publishing me, on a radio show targeting Christian listeners, since my book tells the story of a Christian couple struggling with fidelity and faith. This also moved the sales needle.

Again, your challenge here is no different than if you were traditionally published, though: finding the most effective way to reach your readers. And when you’re doing an ad, no one’s going to care much if you’re published by Simon & Schuster or Your Name Books (whatever name you give your self-publishing imprint).

In Summary

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. But it no longer carries a stigma of being “less than.” It takes effort, yes. But in today’s publishing world, a lot of that effort (promotion, in particular) is going to fall on your shoulders even with a traditional publishing contract. Authors need to have realistic expectations about both forms of publishing — traditional or self-publishing. For me, a combination of the two approaches has worked best, allowing me to continue to be in front of readers with material that didn’t fit neatly into traditional publishing niches while still pursuing traditional publishing contracts.

Libby Sternberg’s latest novel Fall from Grace is published by Bancroft Press (traditional publishing) and available wherever books are sold. It has been called a “novel for our times…that will linger in the mind and memory” by Midwest Book Reviews.

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Christian fiction should not contain…

Excuse me while I lick my wounds. My new novel Fall from Grace just received a one-star review (on Amazon and Goodreads) from someone who was offended by its language and the two scenes in it that are sexual in nature (but not overly explicit; I draw the curtain). This reviewer remarked that “there is so much in this book that should not be in a Christian book.”

I suspect the reviewer picked up the book thinking that if it’s marketed as a Christian book, it will fall into what  publishing calls the “inspirational fiction” category. This subgenre in fiction has very, very precise guidelines for what can not be contained in the book. I know the restrictions because my day job is copy editor for a major publisher.

I’ve edited inspirational fiction, and I’ve had to refer to the guidelines to double-check if, say, it’s okay for the hero to say “for Pete’s sake” (nope) or “jeez” (nope) or can he play cards (nope) or drink (of course not). He can’t kiss the heroine below the neck, and there can be no suggestion of the heroine reacting to physical affection except, well, chastely. There can also be no use of words like “heavenly” or “angelic” except in the literal sense. Oh, and no reference to Halloween, either. I could go on. Suffice it to say it’s a very restrictive genre.

Fall_From_Grace_COVERI’m not criticizing inspirational fiction’s restrictions, though. I like the idea that one can pick up these books knowing what’s (not) in them. I’ve written two myself (Kit Austen’s Journey and Mending Ruth’s Heart).

But Fall from Grace, while a Christian-themed book, is not an inspirational. You won’t find it on the shelves of a Lifeway store, for example, which stocks inspirational fiction exclusively.

The reviewer’s claim that there is so much in the book that shouldn’t be in a Christian book got me thinking, though. I would love to see the genre of Christian fiction expand beyond the restrictions of inspirationals. I’d love to see Christian and/or spiritual themes, in fact, woven through more mainstream fiction. While most fictional characters in novels are usually highly secularized individuals, most real people do pray (at least occasionally) and wonder about God. Many even go to church.

Fall from Grace covers sin–adultery. I chose to show one of the main characters in that sin (again, closing the curtain at a certain point) to convey the depth of his fall…from grace. I wanted to show his impulses, what leads him to this act of betrayal, to, yes, have the reader cringe at his sin, to be repelled by it.

The rest of the book, of course, is about whether he can overcome that sin, whether he can climb out of the pit into which he’s fallen. To convey that struggle, I did include bad language (some even spoken by “pure” characters), moral dilemmas, kissing that isn’t sweet (although it isn’t below the neck!) and the very human challenges he and his wife face as they try to figure out: What does Christ require of us?

If that kind of story is for you, then pick up a copy of Fall from Grace. But if you’re looking for inspirational fiction, don’t. Buy my other books in that category instead! (See covers below.) 🙂

To reassure readers who might consider looking at Fall from Grace, it did receive a wonderful review from another source:

“Truly a novel for our times by an author with a genuine flair for deftly created characters and engaging storytelling from beginning to end, Fall From Grace is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.” Midwest Book Review

Inspirationals: Where faith isn't preachy; it's just not hidden     Mending Ruth's Heart_250x400

 

 

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Fall from Grace: Launched!

The book is launched! Fall from Grace was officially released September 1. I hope it finds its readers, and that they like it.

Every author approaches launch day, I’m sure, with the same amount of joyful anticipation and fearful dread. An optimist at heart, I always think, “this is the one.” This is the book that will propel me on to a best-seller list, that will have agents and editors scurrying to respond to my queries, that will result in more and better contracts and a ditching of the day job.

The flip side of this sunny scenario? The book does none of those things.

And yet…and yet, I’m grateful to be a published author, to have people buy and read my books, to have found this “job,” one that never bores me, that always inspires me, that gives my life joy.

Some sweet tidbits from launch week:

Radio interviews:

Author and talk show host Eric Metaxas interviewed me on his show for nearly an hour! Here’s the interview on SoundCloud.

What a thoughtful host he was! I was already in awe of him before the interview for the beautiful, best-selling biography he’d written of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Protestant minister who defied Hitler and paid with his life for it. But Mr. Metaxas is not just intelligent and intellectual; he’s also…kind.

Authors are advised, when doing radio interviews, to mention the title of their book often, instead of just saying “my book” or “my novel.” But Mr. Metaxas handled that for me, saying “Fall from Grace by Libby Sternberg” numerous times throughout the interview. He’d also taken the time to look at my website and knew about my other books and my background. What a delight! I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Another online interview took place with Ed Morrissey, a devout Catholic and leader at the political blog Hot Air. Ed and I have emailed over the years, and I did some writing for Hot Air back in the day. But we’d never actually spoken to each other. So it was great fun talking to him on his show. Here’s a link to that confab.

Last but not least, I did a book signing at Bethany Beach Books Labor Day weekend, while we were there for a big family-vacation reunion. As the signing approached, I began to regret scheduling it since signings can be a little depressing if you’re not a best-seller, and it would take time from moments with my family. But a good reporter from a local newspaper interviewed me beforehand, and wrote this lovely article. And…I snagged the Best Book Signing Photo Ever in my life — me with two of my darling grandchildren!

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All in all, not a bad launch week. I might not be a best-seller (yet!), but I’m a happy writer.

Fall from Grace by Libby Sternberg is available wherever books are sold.

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Tender moments

Do novelists have favorite scenes in their books? I do. These are usually the episodes I can barely restrain myself from writing, climactic moments I’ve mulled even from the time I put the1 first words on the computer screen.

Sometimes, they distract me from the day-to-day plodding through the story, and I end up writing them early, way before my characters stumble into the dramatic scene, changing them to more perfectly suit the story once I come to them in the time line. Then I fit them in, a puzzle piece in the jigsaw.

These are the moments that authors look forward to when rereading the book over and over through the editing process, when having to look at your own words so many times scares you because you fear your story is too boring, too banal, too everything but good. At least, you think to yourself, there’s that big scene coming up that I know will deliver, no matter how many times I reread it.

But for my September release, Fall from Grace, the scene that I treasure most is not melodramatic. Not even dramatic, actually. It’s a moment of stillness when my main characters, Eli and Ruth, have settled in Dover, Delaware, not far from their original home together. And even though they have come to a place of detente with each other, doubt and frustration simmer beneath the surface. No spoilers there, for those who want to read the book but haven’t yet.

In this scene, Eli, the man who’s sinned spectacularly, in ways that shamed his wife, now works from home as a consultant, and their daughter is in school. And while he first rebelled against this new life, he now finds peace in it.

It was fall. Light streamed through the window, and the sweet smell of mown hay wafted through the screen along with cozy warmth. It was Indian Summer here, a balmy-warm respite between the air-conditioned prison of summer and the heated jail of winter. He’d promised to take Becca apple-picking after school. He looked forward to it.

Haven’t we all be in that place, where  a stillness after a struggle or challenge of some kind drenches us in a kind of grace, a feeling of peace and rest…even as we realize our struggles might not be over or new challenges are ahead?

But how sweet to rest in that moment when it finds us–and I do think it finds us, not the other way around. How tender those moments are.

So whenever I had to reread Fall from Grace during first line edits, then copy edits, then final proof, I looked forward to that spot in the story where one of my characters was blessed with a time of grace.

I felt blessed to receive a lovely notice of Fall from Grace in the Midwest Book Review this week:

“Truly a novel for our times by an author with a genuine flair for deftly created characters and engaging storytelling from beginning to end, Fall From Grace is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.” Midwest Book Review

Like all authors, I hope my book does well. And I hope readers experience Eli’s moment of exquisite peace many times in their lives.

Fall from Grace is available now here. And at other bookseller sites. If you’re in Bethany Beach, Delaware over the Labor Day weekend, stop by Bethany Beach Books on Sunday, September 3. I’ll be signing copies of the book from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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Why didn’t I start writing earlier?

I’ve often told the story of how I started writing fiction seriously in my forties. In a nutshell, I was going through a period of “self-unemployment” (I was self-employed as a freelance writer/communications specialist), and was in a period of transition between clients, wondering if I should continue down the same path. My sister, who knew how much I loved writing, kept telling me I should write romance novels. Finally, I listened to her. I bought some romance novels, read them, thought “I can do this,” and the rest is history (uh, learning it’s not so easy being the first step).

Why did it take me so long? Why did I pursue two music degrees instead of studying writing or something comparable?

SloaneHallFront

A book I’m very proud of.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious that I should have pursued writing fiction as a career earlier. I loved storytelling from the time I was a girl. I remember writing a play with my sister, something melodramatic, as a child. I penned short stories as a teen and young adult. The most exciting assignment for me in high school English was when the teacher asked us to write our own ending for John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which we were in the middle of reading. My heart was on fire penning that story, something that today might be called fan fiction.

And I continued writing fan fiction before it had that title. I wrote Star Trek stories. I wrote a story based on the television show Here Come the Brides, part of a birthday “gift” for a friend (I wonder how much of a gift it was to have to read my story!). And even after I went off to college, a music conservatory, I loved writing. I still remember the praise from the conservatory English professor for a story I’d written for a class assignment.

I even wrote stories in language class. When our Italian teacher gave us an assignment to write something about Easter, I didn’t pen some dry tale using vocabulary and tenses suitable for Italian 101. I decided to write a real story of an Easter memory as a child, something with humor and poignance. The teacher loved it, laughing as she read it, even as her red pen hovered over all the mistakes I’d made. It didn’t matter. I’d written a story that touched her. I aced it.

Yet none of this pushed me toward pursuing writing fiction as a career. Neither did actually making a living as a writer. You see, at some point, I ended up working in a PR office where my writing skills were noticed and valued. I was promoted, and then when I left to stay home with my growing family, I continued as a freelance writer, eventually picking up a number of trade organizations as clients. Yet, even getting checks for my writing didn’t convince me that maybe I should give writing fiction a try professionally. Not even that.

Why not? I think a large part of my reticence to embrace this career was rooted in my middle-class upbringing. Oh, it wasn’t that being a writer would be viewed as a pipe dream in my family. After all, my parents lovingly embraced and encouraged my singing aspirations. But something in me believed that people like me, people from a working class family, with no knowledge of the classics outside of school, didn’t become novelists. That was for folks who went to places like Yale or Harvard or Princeton, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s alma mater.

Come to think of it, maybe I thought of it as a man’s career. Or, if you were a famous woman author, you still went to prestigious universities and were from a completely different social set.

I put myself down, in other words, because I thought my background too humble, too suburban, too ordinary to qualify me as a professional storyteller. Keep in mind this was also at a time when suburban life was ridiculed and demeaned, that those of us happily living in our split levels and  modern ranchers were made to feel incapable of serious thought, while hip city dwellers ruled the cultural world.

This unworthiness feeling continued even after some publishing success. Yes, I managed to get published in the romance genre, but I’d never be taken seriously as a serious writer because…well, reread the above.

Fall_From_Grace_COVER

My latest – hurry, get one!

I also think I harbored the notion that because writing seemed easy to me — it always surprised me when I was complimented on my writing because it wasn’t hard for me — that easy meant it wasn’t worthwhile. Crazy, huh?

When I look back now and wonder what would have opened the door for me mentally to pursue writing fiction earlier, I think it might have been a combination of things. Maybe if I’d been exposed to working authors at some point, in career days or just going to book signings, I would have seen it was an entirely accessible opportunity for me. Maybe if I’d read more about the business of writing, the mechanics of proposal submission, for example, it would have taken some of the mystery from the process, made it more accessible. I started writing before the internet age, after all, before such information was at the tip of one’s fingers.

All I know is I’m glad I did take the leap eventually. And I’m glad to live in an age now where the things that held me back shouldn’t be stumbling blocks for other new authors.

My latest novel, Fall from Grace (Bancroft Press, September 2017), is now available for pre-order in the Kindle store! Click here to go on over and grab a copy!

 

 

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Why’d I write this book anyway?

Fall from Grace will be released in a little under a month (September 1, 2017), and I just know my fans (all ten of them, ahem) are eager for insights into why I wrote the novel, what kind of story it is, and…other stuff. 🙂 So, here’s a handy Q and A for those who might be interested in picking it up. And it is available for preorder now! Yay! Hop on over to Amazon pronto and get a copy before they run out – here. They do run out at Amazon, right? Right? So you need to be sure to get your order in now!!

What inspired you to write Fall from Grace?

Fall_From_Grace_COVERAs with most novelists, my inspiration came from a “what if” question. I was intrigued by the scandal involving Josh Duggar (of the Nineteen Kids and Counting TV show), and I wondered what if he made his way back to his wife, family, and faith—what would that journey look like?

 

What kind of story is Fall from Grace?

It’s a love story: the love between Ruth and Eli—can it survive? And it’s about Christ-like love—how does one truly live a Christian life, what sacrifices does that entail?

 

For Ruth and Eli, what are those sacrifices?

It becomes obvious fairly early that they both must sacrifice their earlier beliefs about what God expects of them and what they should be doing with their lives. Eli must also confront the sacrifice of possibly letting Ruth go after discovering how deeply he still loves her.

 

How did your religion impact the characters and plot?

I was raised Catholic but now belong to an Episcopalian church (“Catholic light” – all the ritual and one-third less guilt, the old joke goes!). I have worked with evangelical Christians on education issues. And I have a Baptist sister-in-law, as well as Jewish and atheist and agnostic relatives. I have a great deal of respect for all of these people and their beliefs, even when they don’t mesh with mine. My faith journey was a small one compared to Eli and Ruth’s, but I know how one can wrestle with whether to stay in one’s “native” denomination or change, how you can feel a tug back toward your first experience with religion. But Fall from Grace is not about theology or canon law or church edicts. I’m no theologian, and I deliberately kept out of the book characters quoting a lot of Scripture. I wanted the story to focus more on the broader struggle of these two people finding the meaning of love in the personal and spiritual sense, not the “angels on the head of a pin” type of arguments.

 

How did your respect for evangelicals color the story?

As I mentioned, I’ve worked with people whose faith is more Bible-literal, who probably fall more into the fundamentalist category of Christian faith. And they were beautiful people. It always bothered me that they and their faith would often be made fun of or caricatured in popular culture, or that public figures would denounce their views as if they were members of the Westboro Baptist Church. So I wanted to draw a sympathetic portrait of them.

 

At one point in the story, you wrote that Ruth and Eli were looking for a church that was “reasonably comfortable that didn’t offend…” What did you mean?

In the novel, both the very conservative Baine family and the very liberal Protestant minister Rev. Pete Markham use their churches as proxies for political advocacy. Even if they are not preaching it constantly from a pulpit, their implicit message is “You’re not a good Christian unless you believe in ___________.” For the Baines, that blank might be filled with things like “traditional marriage, literal interpretations of Scripture, etc.” For Pete, the blank would be filled with things like “taxing the wealthy, gay marriage, etc.” So they both use a holier-than-thou approach that Ruth and Eli grow tired of. They want a church that helps them explore their relationship with God, with the world, and especially with each other.

 

Have you or anyone close to you experienced a transformation like Eli and Ruth do?

Not in the dramatic way they go through it. I think many people experience transformation throughout life, to one degree or another, and it can be a slow process, not immediately evident during the process itself.

 

Both Eli and Ruth stray from church during certain points in the story. How does one practice religion in times of doubt and hopelessness?

I think the answer is a word in the question: practice. You just keep practicing, putting one foot in front of the other. And you hope that “bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

 

Both Eli and Ruth end up having deeper relationships with their counselors, Frederick and Lisa, and their counselors seem to reciprocate their feelings. How did these relationships affect the counselors, and their roles in Eli’s and Ruth’s lives?

Both Frederick, Ruth’s counselor, and Lisa, Eli’s counselor, end up having feelings for their respective clients. And both counselors, in important ways, help Eli and Ruth. To me, they represented a Christ-like love—nonjudgmental, all-encompassing, pure, and requiring some sacrifice. Lisa, in particular, was a favorite character to write. She was sassy, no-nonsense, and deeply spiritual. You never knew her political beliefs for sure (even if you guessed she was on the same page with Pete). She loved…without hating. In other words, she loved unconditionally, even if she disagreed with those she loved. She didn’t hate them. It would be wonderful to have many Lisas in one’s life.

 

Eli struggles to get over the fact that he’s lumped together with all the “bad guys” in rehab and at counseling, which delayed his progress. Since he was repentant, why’d he fight rehab so much?

I actually found myself sympathizing with Eli when writing his resistance! He wasn’t a pedophile or a sexual predator, yet he was made to join in therapy sessions with men like this, as if his transgression were on the same level as theirs. And if his family hadn’t been celebrities, he might have gotten away with a far more low-key approach to counseling and a faster return to his life, for good or ill. He had to come to realize, though, that his atonement wasn’t relative to others’ sins. It only concerned his own.

 

What do you want readers to learn from Eli’s and Ruth’s story?

Hope. That there’s always hope for change, for something better. That love transforms lives. That God is love.

Fall from Grace is now available for pre-order here and at other e-tailers. 

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“Russian Tropics”: A short story

by Libby Sternberg

A SUDDEN SWIRLING breeze blew the sheer curtains by the veranda in a wild dance, and she had to rush to keep the wind from knocking over a delicate vase of Oriental design on a tall wooden stand by the door. Such foolishness to place it there, but Mister Jasperson liked the way the light picked up its deep hues.

She thought all this in Russian, her native tongue, as she moved the stand and its delicate contents to the corner where they’d be safe. Safe, too, from partygoers later that evening. Or perhaps not. She took the vase off its stand and moved it into a glass shelved china cabinet, carefully closing the door, just as the clock in the parlor chimed three in the afternoon. It seemed to come from far away, even though just a hallway and three walls separated them, but she closed her eyes, letting the soft gong trigger memory.

FromHereA snowy evening, dim and gray. A fire roaring to keep her boudoir warm. Her father coming in with a gift for her after he’d returned from a trip to St. Petersburg. The clock chiming, the same velvety percussion floating through the hallways as if time itself were reaching out to tap them gently on the shoulders. Warning them.

That was the last time she saw him. While she’d been still recovering from fever, her mother had bundled her up and given her to the care of her uncle Fyodor, and they’d crossed endless miles of snow-covered fields in a fast-moving sled until the snow melted and mud prevailed and, oh, she had trouble remembering it all, only the awful, gaping sense of loss and fear and hunger. Her parents, absent. Her home, in the past. Comfort and ease, gone. Even the last gift her father had given her—a silly stuffed bear—no more. They’d carried only clothes and jewelry and some other things of value. And by the time they’d reached Istanbul, her Uncle Fyodor had taken most of the valuables and used them, she now assumed, for bribes and payments to get them away from the murdering revolutionaries.

She’d seen him one night in their tiny hotel room, prying the diamonds and rubies from her small tiara, the one she’d worn to court. He’d looked up, embarrassed. His hand had shaken. “Little one, fear not. I shall buy you a new crown some day. Write your mama now.”

And write she did. Letter after letter.

 

Dear Mama,

When will you and father join us?

 

No one had ever answered.

First, it had been on to Sicily, then up to Paris, and then to London, and finally, finally, on a ship to America. At each stop, she’d thought they’d stay and begin what she’d assumed would be the long wait for her parents to find her. And each time they moved on, she would say, “But, Uncle Fyodor, how will Mama and Papa know where we’ve gone?” And he would look at her with such warmth and pity and pat her head and say something like, “They will always know where you are, little one. Their hearts will know. But go write them now just to make sure.”

 

Dear Mama,

It is so hot here in this country of Florida. So hot that I think how much I want to be on a frozen lake midwinter, and you know how much I hated the long winter. If you kiss this letter, know that your lips touch me, as I have dropped several tears on it already. When will you come?

 

And yet, here in this wild and tropical land, in 1933, she still tried to put together pieces of why they’d stayed. Her Uncle Fyodor, bless his soul, had died almost as soon as they’d stepped off the boat. He’d contracted a cough on the journey. And it was but a mere five months later that he was gone. In between gasps, he’d told her he’d intended them to land in New York but something had gone wrong and…. She asked him, on his deathbed, why hadn’t her parents come, too.

And he’d patted her hand—too tired to raise his to her head now—and said, “They loved Mother Russia, little one, and I could only travel with one of you. Your brother and sister—too small,” as if she should understand. Loved Russia more than they loved her? How was that possible?

She was fourteen when he died in early 1920. Now, she was nearing thirty. A Russian royal. Unmarried. Alone. Unloved. Lucky to be alive. Was she?

She watched storm clouds way on the horizon, gathering over the sultry water like a snowy army ready to march. More wind blew. Strange gusts that hurried, then calmed. Weather was coming. Stillness followed by churning. Stillness…then rampage.

She couldn’t help it. She waited. After all these years, she waited. Hoping they’d gone to Paris where so many Russians had settled, or New York. She wrote to refugee centers, Russian enclaves. And she still wrote to them.

“Alexia, did you put the flowers in the parlor? Mr. Jasperson said he wanted the orchids moved there.” Rose, the housekeeper, stood in the doorway, her voice carrying no judgment and yet all judgment.

She turned and smiled, almost curtseying. “I am getting them now. The wind is blowing the curtains.” She spoke in simple sentences, her words still heavily accented. Mr. Jasperson liked her accent.

“Change into a fresh uniform, too, before the guests arrive,” Rose added as she passed her. “Your black one with the white lace.”

Black silk and white lace. The finest things she owned, and they belonged not to her, but to her employer. She’d escaped one commune to live in another, she thought as she rushed to the parlor, the big “living room” on the other side of the house that covered its entire length yet was still not as large as the entry hall to their home in Chelyabinsk. But in this land of wide windows and blowing curtains, clacking shutters and blinds, it felt as large as the ocean.

When she’d lost her uncle, she’d been frozen by fear. They’d been staying in a cheap hotel, so hot it felt as if a fireplace blasted its warmth at them every moment of the day and night, and you could never move far enough away from it to cool yourself.

Uncle Fyodor had been trying to get in touch with someone ever since they’d docked. A Mr. Welch or Walsh, a friend of a friend of a friend of a cousin of a brother of an aunt…it was so confusing, the chain of acquaintances and relatives. This Mr. W owned …stores, restaurants, banks? She didn’t know. All she knew was that her one protector was fading away, and she counted every second as a cocoon against the Horrible—the moment her protector would be gone. In those awful days, she no longer mourned her family. She was consumed by the present fear of losing Uncle Fyodor.

And lose him she did. Gone on a breeze, like this one, a rushing storm coming in from the east, winds so fierce they took rooftops off, and she sat trembling, holding his hand long after its warmth had perished with him.

But this new catastrophe meant she was no longer alone in her despair. A fresh group of refugees was created by the storm—homeless, without loved ones, in mourning and sorrow. Just like her. Authorities found her and found a home for her. At first, an orphanage where she was set to work in the laundry, exhausting days, bad food, and sleepless nights. She began picking up the language then, and she married.

 

Dear Mama,

I met a man at the orphanage church. He is big and stout with red hair. He brings me special foods and always asks how I am doing. I tell him of you and father and little Pytor and Magda. And he listens so well, even when I forget and start to speak in Russian. When you get here, perhaps you can live with us…

 

Rob Saxon, a man with dreams. She did not love him, but, oh, she did love being loved by him. He protected her, made sure she was comfortable, and he only got angry when no baby appeared in the years that followed. Five years. In a small bungalow by the water’s edge where he would fish when he wasn’t using his boats for other things. Running liquor she found out after he didn’t come home one night. He’d gone down in another storm.

The storms always brought change, she thought as she moved the delicate orchids to the airy parlor. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

***

“Alexia, we’ll have to move the bar inside. Bring the punch bowl. Jorge will get the cart.”

She nodded to the housekeeper and went on to the veranda to start bringing the crystal bowl, not yet filled with sparkling liquid, inside. Hugging it to her gray uniform, she stole another glance at the darkening sky. The army of clouds had advanced. Now it loomed large over the opening to the cove, with only the smallest strip of blue sky in hasty retreat. The wind had picked up, too. So much so that even her stiff skirt danced about her ankles as she walked.

But still, she smiled. It was exciting, was it not, to face the storm?

She moved the heavy bowl to the table in the dining room, its starched white linen cloth caught by the breeze so that the corners flapped as if waving to the room. Four at a time, she moved the glasses, too, until, at the very end of her mission, she watched as the light white cloth on the outdoor table floated away, toward the sea, caught on the wind. No one was there but her. Rose had disappeared to the kitchen; Jorge had not yet come to execute his task.

Off and away the cloth went, sailing over the lush green lawn and the roiling water, so dark and fantastic that it no longer looked real but like something from a painting. She would not tell anyone where it went, and she was confident, in the party bustle, that Rose would not miss it until much later, and then she would be embarrassed not to remember what happened to it and say nothing.

As she placed the last of the punch glasses on the indoor table, she noticed from the corner of her eye that Jorge had entered and now silently moved the bar cart inside, careful not to upset any of the bottles. She scurried to help him, but he shook his head. His manhood would be diminished by aid from a woman. Such a proud man! About her age, with language skills worse than hers. She often felt sorry for him. She suspected it was this pity that kept him from going after her. It was her weapon.

After Rob Saxon had died, she’d thought she would once again be thrown to the wolves. She’d briefly contemplated returning home. The country surely would have calmed down by then. She found a tiny community of other Russians. She started attending the Orthodox church, and she supported herself by cleaning houses. When the bungalow was sold by the bank because payments were due, she moved into a small room, not unlike the one she’d occupied with Uncle Fyodor, and she waited, hoping to meet another Rob, or find another Uncle Fyodor, or hear from her family that they were at last coming. She wrote letter after letter home, telling her mother where to find her, then telling her, no, stay where you are because I will come to you, and then going back to her original plan.

Her idea to go back to Russia was stymied by her own fears. She learned of Lenin’s death. She knew what any change of leadership meant—death, fear, violence. She could not go back now, not until things settled again, until tempers cooled. Where would mother and father have hidden? Or would they have made some bargain with the revolutionaries? Father was good at bargaining. That was the fate she’d settled on, with her strong, capable father giving up land and houses, offering to supply his guidance as the young leaders took over the new duties of governing. Surely they would have seen how valuable his talents were. Surely that would have saved them. She became ever closer to some in the little congregation, especially a woman her age, Ludmilla. Beautiful porcelain skin, dark hair, blue eyes. Cheerful and fun.

She liked Ludmilla so much that she confessed to her one day her royal background and her desire to return home for her parents. She confided her hope that her parents still lived and prospered, they with their important skills, they would surely be necessary in the new Russia.

And instead of sympathy, she received…cold shock. “You!” Ludmilla said, pointing a shaking finger at her. “You, all of you! You killed my Ivan, my Dmitri, my Sasha!” she cried, rattling off names she’d never mentioned before. Names, Alexia discovered as Ludmilla rambled on, of the girl’s brothers and father and beloved fiancé. They’d been killed by the Tsar’s soldiers in a courtyard, with nothing to defend themselves but broomsticks and shovels, Ludmilla screamed. And screamed. A wail so intense, so frightening, that Alexia knew she would act on it. Deport her, perhaps—telling American authorities she was here without proper documents? Alexia was never sure if Uncle Fyodor had handled all that correctly. Alert Russian authorities to come for her here in America? It was possible. Those murdering savages would roam to the ends of the earth to stamp out her line. And now, it was the Ludmillas of the world who controlled the guns, and she who had nothing but a broomstick.

She felt just as unsafe in her little Russian enclave as she had on the journey with Uncle Fyodor. And she knew she’d never go home.

 

Dear Mama,

How I long to hear from you. I can only imagine how difficult things must be. But you must know that I have a comfortable home here and will welcome you—all of you, even our cousins and distant aunts and uncles—once you find your way out of the country. I hope you’ve been safe and fed well, and that my brother and sister will remember me when we meet again. Please, try very hard to leave. You will love this land as much as Russia…

 

But, another storm blew in, not as fierce as previous ones, but big enough to rattle the windows of her little boardinghouse, to cause damage her landlord didn’t want to fix. So she kicked out her tenants, Alexia among them, and closed. Alexia hoped Ludmilla would assume she had perished in this latest rain.

Again, Alexia became a nomad, but this time she was grateful. No need to explain to Ludmilla why she would no longer show up at church. No need to tell anyone anything. She was safe in her anonymity.

It was at that time that she’d gone to the fortune teller. Ludmilla herself had recommended her, had claimed she’d helped her see a brighter future. Desperate for the same predictions, Alexia had visited her, as well, going into a dark closet of a room in the back of an apartment near the fish stalls. The place had reeked of rotting fish, and she’d nearly been sick. The woman had looked at her palms, had tsked and hemmed and hawed and finally said:

“You were born in storm. Storms will guide you. Love will find you in a storm.”

But the next wind blew her here. She’d cleaned the Jasperson estate for the weeks leading up to the storm because their regular maid had gone off to marry. Mr. Jasperson, Rose had informed her, was unsure whether to bring someone on full-time or to keep using her on an as-needed basis.

But Alexia, buffeted by so many winds by now that she was strong and bold, had told Rose that if Mr. Jasperson wanted to hire her, he had better do it soon because she had two other offers she was considering. Within the day, she’d gotten the job.

Of course, by then Mr. Jasperson had noticed her. He’d commented more than once on how pretty she was—her blond hair like wheat, he’d said, her figure like a sculpture, her bearing like royalty. He’d encouraged her to go swimming from the dock and had even paid for a swimsuit. He’d watched her, she knew. Puffing on a cigar, hand in his blue linen jacket pocket, clear brown eyes staring from a pale face framed by light brown hair now beginning to thin. He was nearly twenty years her senior, never married—rumors flew as to why that was so—a tycoon who’d made his money in “this and that.” As far as she could tell, he’d dabbled in anything that would make him money, from selling fine art to investing in films to opening hotels and running factories. Rose said most of his money had come from a factory selling kitchen gadgets, things you needed no matter what, Rose said, even when money was tight.

Mr. Jasperson was nicer than Rob, sweeter. He smiled more, for one. He loved to laugh. And he could sing. When he had friends over, he would often be at the piano while one of his guests played, and he would sing beautiful songs in foreign languages—Italian mostly, she recognized. And she knew they were opera arias, even if she didn’t know the names of the pieces or the operas themselves.

Once he sang in Russian—an awful accent, many mispronunciations—and she’d tried very hard not to giggle as she’d gone in and out of the room serving this and taking away that. He’d noticed. And afterward, after all the guests had gone, after Rose was abed and Jorge to his own home, he’d sat on the veranda in the sultry night and reached for her hand.

“You are of the Romanov family, are you not?” he’d whispered into the air, blowing smoke toward the sea. “Perhaps a distant relative?”

But she had learned when to speak and when not. So she’d said nothing. She’d thought of Ludmilla and wondered if word had carried here through some invisible communication, the telephone perhaps, or a wire, or even strangers delivering flowers and food.

He’d looked up at her, his eyes shining in the torchlight surrounding the patio. “You’re trembling. Don’t be afraid, Alexia. We’re both refugees, you and I. I can take care of you. Dear girl, marry me.” He’d been very merry that night, but in a forced way, drinking heavily, which was not his habit. Had someone broken his heart?

She’d remained still. And again, no words passed her lips. By this time in her life, she’d determined she wanted to marry again—but this time, for love. She didn’t care about material things as long as she was comfortable, as long as fear didn’t lurk by her door. She wanted love, the warm, embracing sunshine of it, everything that had been ripped from her when her uncle had ripped her from her bed to escape.

So she said nothing to this man, wondering what she should do. She pondered running away. But then she thought: he wants you, Alexia, so give yourself to him. You’ve done it before with a man you didn’t love. And then you can still wait for the man who will marry you and you will love. The one who will come with the storm.

On another warm night—the nights in Florida were always so warm, so snug and hot, sometimes unbearably so—she’d been bold. She’d slipped into his bed, under cool satin sheets, and she’d waited for him, waited to give herself to him.

When he’d come in and seen her, in the shadows, not turning a single light on, when he’d seen her in the blue moonlight, he’d inhaled sharply and said, in a shaking voice: “You think this is what I want?”

And he’d made love to her, but it had been a task, an act not of love for her as much as gentle pity. She’d seen on his eyelashes the crystal drops of tears when she’d left his bed, and she’d been red-faced with embarrassment for weeks after until he finally put her mind at ease.

“Come, sit,” he had said after breakfast out there on that veranda, with warm, silky breezes coating the air with the salty taste of the ocean. She’d looked to and fro, and he’d assured her Rose was in the kitchen and wouldn’t disturb them.

“It saddened me to get crossways with you,” he’d begun, looking into her eyes with such concern she feared he’d cry again. “I didn’t mean for you to think that I expected…favors. So I will offer the proposal again along with this promise. If you agree to marry me, Alexia, I will accept that alone as your gift to me, along with any kindness and simple affection you can muster. I do not expect physical devotion but I would expect discretion. Don’t answer me now. And whatever your answer, your secret and employment are safe.”

That had been one year ago. And since then, she’d dusted and swum and lived in comfort in this house, in a small room off the kitchen. She’d done her job, she’d enjoyed his parties, his food, and she’d wondered how long she’d have to wait until a love came along, a love blown in by a storm. Would this be the one?

She’d wished she had someone to talk to about Mr. Jasperson, but she was afraid to confide in Rose and certainly wouldn’t divulge anything to Jorge, and she’d stopped going to church. She lived her quiet comfortable life, happy to feel secure on this raft floating in time, each second to the next, wondering… She had written to her mother, of course.

 

Dear Mama,

A very sweet man has asked for my hand in marriage. But I’ve not accepted, waiting now to hear from you. I do not think I love him. I do not know. I wait for a sign. If you came and met him, perhaps you could tell me what to do…

 

The pace picked up as the party time neared. Caterers arrived to work under Rose’s direction with the food, and a barman came to mix and serve drinks. A pianist sat at the baby grand and started playing. Alexia recognized him not as a hired help but as a friend of Mr. Jasperson’s, a man who was often about, sometimes staying over. She smiled at him, and he smiled back.

But as she moved silver trays of caviar and cheeses and fruits and cakes to this table or that, as she followed Rose’s instructions to turn on this light or turn off that one, as she tied back curtains and closed shutters, the storm built.

Sunset was now hidden behind the swarming clouds, and rain began to pelt the house and grounds as if someone were deliberately attacking them with barrels of water. The phone rang again and again, and finally, after only a half dozen guests had arrived, Mr. Jasperson himself came into the parlor, dressed in such a dapper way, as always, in pure white linen, a little wrinkled from the damp, but smelling clean and bright, a soft blue shirt and matching handkerchief in his pocket. He looked around and said to no one in particular, “I’m afraid this is it for the duration, darlings. Everyone else is too cowardly to strike out.”

That seemed to make things merrier, however. And once his announcement was out of the way, the pianist struck up a rousing tune, all banging and fast syncopations, and a couple danced.

She remembered to change into her good uniform, and was pleased to see him smile at her when she reentered the parlor in black and lace, a fresh cap pinned to her hair. Someone wondered if they should turn on a radio to hear weather reports, but Mr. Jasperson said there was no point to that since they weren’t about to escape the weather, were they?

With so few to tend to, he insisted that the servants indulge themselves, as well, so Rose and Alexia and Jorge, as well as the catering and bar staff, all joined in a champagne toast to the “twilight” and were told to eat their fill.

It was near midnight when the mood changed from frivolity to apprehension. So fast was the transition that she realized it had only been a veneer of jollity that had coated the night prior to this moment, with the looming fear just below. The lights went out, and then there was a deafening crash and glass splintering. They all ran to the veranda to see that a chaise longue had been thrown by the wind into a window. But if this weren’t foreboding enough, they also saw that one of Mr. Jasperson’s neighbors had lost his roof—or part of it. The section facing the ocean had peeled away, and slate pieces were blowing round and round in a vortex overhead, as if called upward by an unseen wizard’s hands.

Mr. Jasperson hurried through the wind and rain to the neighbors’ place before anyone could stop him, and a few moments later, he returned, drenched and rumpled but with the elderly couple who lived next door under his wing.

“This place is a bit sturdier,” he said in explanation to the surrounding crowd.

And Alexia wondered: Do I love him after all, this hero?

The party was over, or at least the devil-may-care part of it. They still rallied as one, but this time with boards and nails, sealing up windows to keep shattering glass away, and Rose was told to fetch candles and kerosene lamps for the parlor. Once Rose and Alexia had a comfortable glow going, Mr. Jasperson proceeded with more announcements.

“No one is going home until this passes,” he said calmly. “And we’ll all huddle together here, in this room. Food is plentiful. Drink in abundance. And my library is available to all,” he said, gesturing to the many bookcases surrounding the walls. His voice almost demanded calm, and she knew everyone took some measure of comfort from it. He’d changed into a dry jacket and still looked every bit as stunning as he usually did. Alexia’s admiration grew.

His friend sat at the piano again, this time playing softer, sweeter melodies aiming to soothe, Alexia thought. Others relaxed on couches and chairs. Some read, some dozed. But a fretful unease settled on them, and it reminded her of the times on her journey when she’d wondered when it would be over. Even if it were a horrible ending, an ending seemed preferable to the waiting.

As she watched Mr. Jasperson, Alexia realized two things: she’d never uttered his first name, and she loved him. He was so strong, so gentle, so capable and honest and good. And he’d asked to marry her. How foolish she’d been to demur! She could hardly wait to give him her answer now, but he never seemed to be alone. Her heart was bursting with the realization, and she wanted desperately to share it with him, the object of her attention. The fortune teller had been right: the storm had blown in her love.

***

About three in the morning, when the clock tolled its gentle score once again, she thought she finally had her chance. Most were sleeping. The winds seemed to be abating. The night watch would soon give way to the hope of daybreak.

Alexia awoke from a light slumber, shaking free of a shawl someone had placed on her shoulders as she’d slouched in a chair in the far corner. Perhaps he had put it there, looking out for her as he’d always done. She rose on rabbit-quiet feet and glided through the room of sleeping souls, searching, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light of one kerosene lantern in the middle of the table.

She didn’t see him, but she heard him, humming, in the next room. The veranda! Of course, he would be there, facing the storm boldly, fearlessly, a centurion guarding his charges.

She hurried to the door, and yes, he was there. He was still now, hands in his pockets, staring at the churning sea and buffeting rain. Her heart pounded as she started to take one last step, a ballet dancer ready to leap to center stage, to take her place in the spotlight, where she’d always belonged.

But then…another guest intruded, coming from a chair, languorously rising, like the dawn itself. She recognized him. His pianist friend, a bit younger, and sadder, a man who’d always seemed to her to be stealing some of Mr. Jasperson’s cheer, warming himself by it. And he crossed to him, placing his hand on his arm.

“Paul,” he said – Paul! That was his name! Paul Jasperson. She’d heard him called that, of course, but she’d never said it. She mouthed it in the night air. Paul. “I can’t delay. My train leaves in the morning. At least, I assume it’s still a go.”

“I know.” Mr. Jasperson—Paul—straightened, as if this were a blow. And she realized this party had been a going-away fete for the guest, his friend.

“I…wish….” Paul said, and his voice was so slow and mournful, each word its own universe, that Alexia felt a catch in her throat, as if she were saying the words.

I… wish. They were filled with all the longing she herself had always felt, the hope and fear and body-twisting ache of yearning for love and home. I wish, Mama, that you would write back. I wish you could be here with me to share this wondrous land, to see what I have seen, to hear and taste…

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said, and swallowed.

Yes, oh, yes, how she hadn’t wanted to go. She’d wished she could have stayed with her family. She’d wished the world in its storms didn’t rupture and break and shatter things. That tenderness was valued, that even enemies could stand in awe of it and leave it be, a thing as delicate and beautiful as the orchids Mr. Jasperson loved.

And then, to Alexia’s astonishment, the two men embraced, and she felt, hidden just beyond the sheer curtains, envious, wishing it was her enjoying that moment of purest affection, of strength and…passion.

“What will you do?” the man asked Paul.

He shrugged. “Live.”

The other man laughed bitterly. “Is it living to be without me?” When Paul didn’t answer, he went on, his words cutting her. “Like that little Russian princess, you mean? Pretending? For God’s sake, Paul, we might not be able to live in the open, but we can live together.”

At that, Paul’s head turned, and she could see his eyes shine in the light. After a pause, he said. “Don’t make fun of her. She still thinks…she’ll find them.”

“Good god, man. You still waste postage on her letters?”

“Every single one,” Paul responded.

“Letters to the void.”

“Maybe.” He paused again. “I like to think of them as prayers. I can’t and won’t stand in their way.”

Eternity passed.

Dear Mama, she saw herself writing, I thought you were still alive. I thought…this man loved me, body and soul. Oh, Mama…

Her fist flew to her mouth to choke the sob that gathered there. Who knew this secret she’d cherished? Who’d given it away? Who’d betrayed her, embarrassed her, humiliated her?

She swayed with the acceptance of this truth, the breath knocked from her chest.

She stayed until they left the veranda, leaning against the wall, sliding slowly down until she crouched, as if hiding.

She was hiding. She’d been hiding all these years, first from the Bolsheviks, then from the Ludmillas, and always from the truth.

She swallowed a thousand tears. She lived a thousand lives. She wondered how her family had died and hoped it had been quick. She thought of Paul knowing…and knowing she’d refused to believe they were gone, and how he’d protected her from that. Prayers, he’d said. What had she prayed for in those letters?

And then she crept outside and lay on one of the chaise longues herself, as still as she had been when uncle Fyodor was dying, living in each second so as to forestall the worse thing yet to come in the next second, floating once more on that barque between unknowables, exhausted from the effort not to see what was ahead.

The air calmed. The day began to break, a thin pink ribbon of a saving battalion of light come to rescue them from the armies of the dark, raging night.

Her eyelids fluttered, she dozed again and then woke in full sunlight.

Mr. Jasperson stood by her chair.

They’ve all gone home,” he said to her. And he offered her his hand.

You and I are refugees, he’d said.

She looked into his eyes as she stood.

She was of royal lineage. They often married with no love.

And maybe this was a different form of love, after all. His heart and body would never belong to her. Great pity for him swamped her, and she wanted to protect him with the gentle sweetness he’d shown to her. They could cling to each other, refugees, on their raft of pure tenderness. Perhaps that had been her prayer, to find a fellow exile like him.

Yes, she said to him in Russian, I will marry you. I will keep your secret if you keep mine.

He understood…something…he smiled, whispered her name, and kissed her hand.

About this story: This is the final story in a three-tale book, From Here, available on Amazon, written under the name Elizabeth Malin. I was inspired to write this story after reading of where some Russian royalty ended up when escaping the revolution. I was surprised that some landed in Florida. That lit the spark for me as Alexia came to life in my mind.

Libby Sternberg’s book of sin and redemption, Fall from Grace, will be released by Bancroft Press September 2017.

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