Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Empty Mind is a Safe Mind Blog Tour + Giveaway
Fact or Fiction in the Russia of Sekret

The Sekret Blog Tour is organized by MacTeenBooks
See the full schedule HERE and below

Find my review of Sekret HERE

I've said this before, but historical fantasy is becoming one of my favorite genres. Especially when it is well researched and set in a background of true world events that give the reader a flavor of the time period. Sekret does well at both of these points.

To discuss this further, author Lindsay Smith has come by today to talk about what's true and false about the setting of her story.

Welcome, Lindsay! 

Fact and Fiction in the Russia of Sekret

When I started writing a historical fantasy about psychic Russian spies, I had to make a lot of tough choices about how much “fantasy” I wanted in my history. I love a good conspiracy theory, and the extreme oppression and secrecy of the Soviet Union’s history coupled with America’s and Russia’s determination to win the Cold War at any cost (including actual research into the possible use of psychic abilities for espionage) made for fertile storytelling ground. But I also wanted to do justice to the reality of Soviet life, and accurately portray the harsh conditions and bewildering truths of the Soviet Union. In most cases, I found that the truths of Soviet Russia were far stranger than any fiction I could have devised!

KGB Headquarters on Lyubyanka Square

KGB Headquarters at Lyubyanka Square
Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #142949 / Vladimir Fedorenko / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Fact (with some liberties taken). First it was the Cheka, then the NVKD, then the KGB—the Committee for State Security—and now it’s the FSB, but ever since “Iron” Feliks Dzerzhinsky (whose bronzed likeness watches over Lyubyanka Square) established the secret police of the Soviet Union, the building has housed offices and even prison cells like those in Sekret. Thankfully I’ve never seen the inside of the Lyubyanka, so I took some liberties in the interrogation and infiltration scenes, but Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes his imprisonment here in The Gulag Archipelago.

Dilapidated Imperial Russian Mansions
Fact. When the Bolsheviks took power during the Russian Revolution, they seized all property for the state, and turned many of the former nobles’ homes into schools, cultural centers, or communal housing. The classic film Doctor Zhivago depicts this process excellently—the lucky nobles who weren’t executed or sent to labor camps during purges now shared their ostentatious mansions with dozens of families who came to Moscow and Saint Petersburg seeking work and a reprieve from the famines that ravaged rural Russia.

By the 1950s, however, most families sought housing in the standardized “Khruschevka” apartment towers like Yulia visits early in Sekret, leaving the state with numerous imperial properties they had little desire or funding to preserve. I envisioned such a house would make a great place to train budding spies away from public view. As for the secret passage Yulia and her friends use to relax in—many nobles did stash away their belongings during the turmoil prior to the Russian Revolution, like this amazing collection of art and antiques recently unearthed, wrapped in newspapers dated from 1917.

East German Launch Site
Fiction (mostly). Most documented Soviet space launches took place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in what’s now Kazakhstan, but when the USSR captured East Germany at the end of World War II, they acquired a number of German rocket testing sites, where Nazi scientists had developed the V2 rocket that the US and USSR ultimately used as the basis for their extensive caches of ballistic missiles. For Sekret, I indulged in some of the more apocryphal claims of secret Soviet space programs: undocumented launches, ultra-secret experimental designs, and, of course, highly secure, undisclosed locations. I used one such site, Kaserne Krampnitz, more for its super-creepy blend of Nazi and Soviet aesthetics than any historical significance in the Soviet space program.

Secret Communist Party-Only Metro Line

Moscow Metro Station 
            Attribution: Marc Veraart on Fotopedia

Fact. Urban explorers in Moscow have only partially mapped the extensive network of tunnels, train stations, and bomb shelters beneath Moscow, but the secondary Metro line, known as Metro-2 and documented in KGB archives as D-6, fascinates Russians today. In The New Nobility, a survey of the FSB (the KGB’s successor organization), Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan devote a whole chapter to the spelunkers’ battles with the FSB over the secret tunnels.

Whether public or secret, the Moscow Metro is an incredible work of art—the “palace for the people” that Stalin demanded—and it continues to inspire Russian artists today. A wildly popular Russian post-apocalyptic book and video game series called Metro 2033 takes place in the train tunnels, including the mysterious D-6 line and the vast network of houses, government buildings, and bomb shelters it connects.

The Black Market
Fact (mostly). While physical marketplaces like Yulia visits at the beginning of Sekret were rare and quickly dispersed by the KGB, average Russian citizens maintained elaborate networks of contacts to secure the goods and services they needed for daily life. The workers’ store shelves were frequently empty, and obtaining goods from the State meant lengthy lines (from daily bread lines to decades-long waiting lists for cars and apartments), so Russians bartered, bribed, and begged with one another instead. By the 1980s, it’s estimated that this shadow economy rivaled the official one in scope and volume.

Lenin’s Preserved Body on Red Square

Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square
Attribution: Appaloosa on Flickr. Direct link to image

Fact. Russians love their preserved corpses—Saint Sergei, the patriarch saint of Russia, supposedly lies in a divinely preserved state. (I’ve visited his shrine, though I wasn’t allowed to view the body because I’m not Russian Orthodox.) At the Cosmonaut Museum in Moscow, I’ve seen the taxidermied bodies of Belka and Strelka, two dogs who survived a day-long trip aboard a Sputnik satellite. And while he was “under repairs” on my first two visits to Russia, I finally saw Lenin in his eerie, waxy, polka-dot-tied glory on my third trip. 

About the Author

I’m Lindsay, author of the YA historical thriller, SEKRET (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s, Winter 2014). I’m an ex-Oklahoman and an unapologetic Washingtonian. I have an unhealthy fascination with foreign affairs–Russia in particular–which fortunately pays for my voracious reading habit. When I’m not reading or writing, I can be found nerding out over food, board games, modern history, the Science channel, and all things cheesetacular. I write historicals and fantasies, sometimes in the same book.

·         Read Doppel, a new short story by Lindsay Smith set in the world of Sekret.
·         Download and read (for free) the first five chapters of Sekret.


Sekret Blog Tour Schedule

Monday March 24

Tuesday March 25

Wednesday March 26

Thursday March 27

Friday March 28

Monday March 31

Tuesday April 1

Wednesday April 2

Thursday April 3

Friday April 4



WIN a copy of SEKRET by Lindsay Smith 

Thank you Macmillan for this generous giveaway!
Giveaway is for US or Canada residents only (Sorry, other international readers!)
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This is a great post Lindsay, I love the amount of research that you carried out in order to make your story so realistic. I especially love a story more when I have a proper feel of what the life in the story could exactly be like! Thanks for sharing this post with us!

  2. Thanks for the post and giveaway!

  3. Russia is both fascinating and scary place. I'd love to visit, to see the churches and the squares and everything. An amazing amount of interesting research went into this book! Wow.

  4. That is one heck of a metro station! I was lucky enough to get to visit St. Petersburg recently and their metro stations were incredible as well. All the architecture in Russia is stunning I think, I was just blown away by what I saw. Though we never made it to Moscow, my time in Russia made the reading of this book all the more fun, and Lindsay clearly did a ton of research which really brought the setting to life. Loved this post!

    1. I love the diversity of architecture in Russia! Imperial, Communist, ancient Slavic church style, everything in between. Saint Petersburg's metro stations are great, too, I agree--and so eerie, given how deep underground they had to dig them, since Peter's built on a swamp. :P

  5. Love the pictures, they really add to the post. Thanks for the awesome post!

  6. This is such a fun post! I think my favorite part is the one about the urban explorers and spelunkers--that sort of thing FASCINATES me. I would personally be way too scared to do something like that but I think those that do are pretty cool :) I checked out that linked page and wow--wouldn't it be amazing if they do actually discover the hidden library of Ivan the Terrible's wife somewhere deep below the Kremlin? All those priceless Byzantine texts! :)

  7. I find it so cool how authors can stick to real locations so well! It's very cool that you're weaving fact and fiction together in what seems to be a brilliant book! I didn't know about the urban explorers. Thanks for sharing! :)

  8. (This is Darith L)

    Wow, this book sounds so good! I love me a good historical fantasy! :D I am really intrigued by the whole psychic ordeal.

  9. In-between Tsarina and Sekret, I feel as if YA is doing Russian history a wonderful homage. I love the depth of research shown throughout this post and find it all quite fascinating, so thank you for sharing, Lauren and Lindsay! Unfortunately, the mixed reviews have made me a but wary of this book itself, so I'll be waiting to see how the series plays out before proceeding myself.

  10. SEKRET sounds like an amazing read!!
    Thanks for the chance to win!

  11. Not sure if my other comment went through (yikes), but anyhoo: I'm thoroughly impressed by the amount of research and the desire for authenticity that went into this book. I'm a huge fan of the Russians (Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, and Anastasia particularly), so I'm even more excited for this book now. Especially since I've read much less about Soviet Russia than the Tsar era.

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