The US Has Sent Troops To Ukraine To Train Ukrainian Military 

So I haven’t researched this extensively, but the Russian-language media is reporting that the United States is sending 290 military instructors to Lvov, Ukraine to train troops there, including members of the Azov, Yaguar, and Omega battalions, among others. 

The article is here, if you read Russian. Needless to say, the Russians aren’t too pleased about this. I’m not either, considering that the Azov Battalion is known for being especially nasty. They’re pro-Nazi (they use Nazi imagery; I’ll update this post with photos later) and are a rather odious group in general. If my country is actually helping them—well, that’s just appalling.  

Alexander Bortnikov

While reading the Eurasia Daily Monitor yesterday (you can subscribe to it by email here), I came across this quote:

The visit of FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov to Washington in February (, February 20), the visit of Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to the North Caucasus the following month (, March 11) and the recent visit of Sergei Smirnov to Tashkent all indicate that the Russian government is looking for a solution to the problem that the Islamic State organization poses for Moscow. As an ally of Bashar al-Assad, Russia isolated itself from all possible allies among the armed groups in the Middle East and from those countries that oppose the al-Assad regime. Moscow, therefore, is, forced to look for allies against a cruel and merciless enemy, and that enemy has now become the Islamic State.

I wouldn't want to mess with him! Found on the FSB website.
Alexander Bortnikov. I wouldn’t want to mess with him! Found on the FSB website.

I was surprised to see the bit about Bortnikov in Washington, as I didn’t remember seeing that in the news—but, as usual, the Eurasia Daily Monitor didn’t let me down. Alexander Bortnikov was indeed in Washington earlier this year. I’ve followed his career for a while—he’s head of the FSB, one of the post-Soviet sucessors to the KGB—and I can’t believe I missed seeing that he was here.

You can read more about his visit here, but the article’s in Russian. Basically, he was here for some anti-terrorism summit and said that as many as 1,700 Russian citizens may be fighting in Iraq on the side of the Islamic State.

Personally, I think this ought to mean increased cooperation with Russia, since we have a common enemy, but I’m guessing the people who actually make policy don’t see it that way. Oh well.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Outline

Back when I first started writing, I was staunchly anti-outline. I wrote for years and years without outlines—because I felt like they cramped my style—but I also rarely finished anything. At the time, I didn’t think about whether these two things were connected, though they probably were.

Then, starting in mid-2014, I resolved to finally start finishing my books. I finished writing one novel, then another. The first one I finished was not outlined at all. The second one was, but badly. Both novels need a lot of work, but I noticed that writing the second one was slightly easier. The outline was not the best, but it was something.

While working on both of these book, I began outlining a third novel. It’s for a science fiction idea that I came up with in early 2014 and have been thinking about ever since. I started outlining chapter ideas and making a character list. Then, I went a step further and did more note-taking and planning. I ended up with pages and pages relating to the world I planned to write in. This book takes place in the distant future, so I made a timeline of what happens between now and when the book starts since there are a lot of changes between now and then.

I started working on this book at the end of March. I recently passed the 20,000-word mark, right where I usually start to lose momentum. I haven’t lost any momentum this time, though. I am still just as excited about this book as I was when I started writing it, which is remarkable. I know where the story is going and how I’m going to get there. My chapters are longer and more fleshed out. The outline is helping me out so much.

So if you aren’t an outliner, I’m here to try to convince you to see the light, like I did. :) An outline will:

  • Help you plan and focus your story
  • If you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or another genre that requires a lot of world building, an outline (and taking random notes about your ideas) can help you flesh out your world.
  • You don’t have to worry about keeping track of all the threads of your plot. It’s all written down, which makes it easier.

Don’t agree? Try writing your next book—or even a short story or novella, if you’re still not convinced—with an outline and see how it goes. And remember, just because you’ve outlined something doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. My outline has actually changed a bit as I’ve started writing and had some new ideas for the story.

Do you outline? Do you have strong feelings one way or another? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday Music: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major

Welcome back to Wednesday Music! I know we didn’t have it last week, which is sad, so I have an extra-good piece for you today: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216. This is the first Mozart violin concerto I learned to play. I started working on it when I was seventeen.

First, here’s a little bit about it:

  • It is considered the first mature violin concerto Mozart produced. I’ve never been completely sure why people say this, as I think his first two concertos for violin are perfectly fine. The slow movement for this concerto is a lot more difficult than those of No. 1 or No. 2, though. Maybe that has something to do with it.
  • The opening orchestral theme of the third movement is what gives the concerto its nickname “Strassburg.” I confess, I’m not sure precisely why this concerto has this nickname, but there you go.
  • A theme from the third movement was used in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, when the two main characters play a duet. This section of the concerto isn’t written as a duet, but they arranged it as a duet for violin and cello and it worked out very well. (Just ask my mom. She knows I love that scene. We both saw the film an embarrassing number of times.)

Or click here to watch on YouTube.


Ukraine Recognizes Nazi Collaborators; Poland And Russia Condemn This

Maybe it's just me, but that red and black flag is a bit too similar to a certain modern political party's flag for comfort... Source
Maybe it’s just me, but that red and black flag is a bit too similar to a certain modern political party’s flag for comfort… Source

For what is probably the first time ever, Poland and Russia are on agreement about something. And what did it take for this unprecedented event to take place? Nothing less than an attempt by Ukraine to recognize the legitimacy of certain neo-Nazi groups in WWII-era Ukraine. From the International Business Times:

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko was greeted by a group of pro-Russian Ukrainians chanting “Murderer!” and “No to fascism!” in Odessa Friday, a day after his bloc in parliament passed a bill recognizing controversial World War II-era partisan groups as so-called freedom fighters, according to the TASS Russia News Agency. The groups are revered by some in Ukraine because they defended ethnic Ukrainians in the chaos of World War II, but many pro-Russian Ukrainians consider them terrorists who willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany to fight the Soviet Union.


The bill would recognize groups such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Stepan Bandera’s so-called Banderite as legitimate combatants in World War II and as freedom fighters who fought for Ukrainian independence. Some of those partisan groups are believed to have participated in the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Ukraine, as well as the carrying out of bombings and kidnappings against the country’s postwar Soviet government. If the bill were to become law, it would grant veterans of these groups social benefits and make them eligible for state awards. It would also make it illegal to deny the legitimacy of their actions, according to UAPosition, a Ukraine-centered media site.

Ukraine’s current nationalist elements such as the Right Sector strongly identify with Bandera and his fellow partisans, who they say laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism. While most far-right Ukrainain groups are fragmented and remain largely on the fringe of Ukrainian politics, the Right Sector was visible in the Euromaidan movement, and it participated in a handful of volunteer paramilitary brigades that played decisive roles in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine during the past year. Critics of the Euromaidan movement alleged the nationalist presence was indicative of the fascist, anti-Russian principles of the movement and the pro-European government that came into power as a result of it.

What the article doesn’t say—disingenuously, in my opinion—is that Russian politicians aren’t the only ones up in arms about this: some Polish members of parliament are, too. This article from Rossiskaya Gazeta (that literally means “Russian Newspaper”). Politicians from the opposition group “Union of democratic leftist forces” have called for the Polish foreign ministry to officially say something about this law.

And thus, for perhaps the first time ever, Russian politicians, Polish politicians, and I, your humble correspondent, are all in agreement.

Honestly, I think it’s kind of scary that this stuff is debatable here in the West. I’ve read some articles that actually defend the groups that the Ukrainian parties are trying to rehabilitate. Bandera’s forces and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, were, in my opinion, a bunch of nasty collaborators that don’t deserve any of this recognition.

Here’s another interesting idea: ever since this “revolution” took place in Ukraine, people have been telling me, both online and offline, that the far-right elements don’t actually hold sway over many people and aren’t a major player on the political field. I don’t mind considering this idea—I’m open-minded. But when I see stuff like this, I can’t help but think that it looks a lot more like my original thoughts were accurate. Just saying.

Spring Cleaning?

The Daily Post says we bloggers should consider changing something about the look of our blogs in order to re-energize for spring. What say you, readers? Do you think I should change my blog theme? Or should I stay with this cheerful yellow?

Quarterly Writing Report, 2015

I’ve been meaning to write summaries of how my writing is going because I started tracking my daily word counts again. I did this for a couple of months back in 2012 and was insanely productive, then stopped. (I think I stopped because of applying to grad school, but that’s a subject for a different post.) As part of my private New Year’s resolution to write more consistently, I’ve started tracking. Unfortunately, I forgot to post updates about this, so I’m going to combine January through March into one post—a sort of quarterly report like publicly traded companies have to put out!

So here it goes: some fabulous writing statistics.

In January, I wrote a total of 16,420 words, which is 530 a day on average.

In February, I wrote a total of 24,802 words, which is 886 a day on average. February is notable because I wrote every single day of that month, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, even when I did NaNoWriMo.

In March, I wrote a total of 13,492 words, which is 452 a day on average. March was a difficult month that included a lot of editing, so that’s why I didn’t manage to write as much. Plus, my mom came to visit—who wants to stay holed up writing when you can go to your favorite museum with your favorite person, right? <3

In all, that's 54,714 words written in the first three months of 2015, an average of 608 words per day. Not too shabby, right?

Obviously April isn’t over, so I can’t give a full report yet, but it’s off to a great start with over 10,000 words written so far. Those are all for my latest novel, a science fiction work with political themes that I outlined extensively at the end of last year. In fact, of all the books I’ve written and partially written, it’s the one that has had the most planning. I think this is a good thing because I know the world, characters, and plot very well, which I hope will make for a more compelling story.

If this post hasn’t convinced you to join the Writing Challenge, I don’t know what will! (The Writing Challenge is a community of writers on Twitter who commit to write at least 500 words a day. Most people don’t manage to do it every single day—I know I certainly don’t! It’s a great community of people who encourage you to write consistently.)