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Tour: Leningrad: The People's War (Leningrad #1) by Rachel R. Heil

Book details:

Book Title: Leningrad: The People’s War

Series: (Leningrad, Book 1)

Author: Rachel R. Heil

Publication Date: February 5, 2021

Publisher: Independently Published

Page Length: 326 Pages

@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @HeilRachelR, #CoffeePotBookClub, #BlogTour, #Leningrad, #WorldWarII,


Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Leningrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.

University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive.

As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be.

Leningrad: The Peoples War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a historical fiction writer who has been self-publishing for the last three years. My first series, Behind the Darkened Glass, followed an SS officer and his wife during the twelve years Hitler was in power. After that series concluded, I started my Leningrad series with Leningrad: The People’s War, which I’ll tell you more about a little later. I have wanted to be a writer for most of my life, and having an opportunity to share my stories with others has been an extraordinary blessing. Some of my favorite authors include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paullina Simons, Pam Jenoff, and Ellie Midwood. I reside in Wisconsin, and when I’m not writing I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, shopping, and following up on the latest news about the British Royal Family.

Do you have a day job as well?

I do! I’m a grant writer at a university where I help faculty and staff put together grant applications that are submitted to federal agencies. If approved, the faculty gets funding to do research projects. The irony of my day job is that I can’t be creative at all and have to stick to the data.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Oh gosh, there were quite a few. But the one that started my love for history and had me writing my own “stories” was Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady by Ellen Emerson White. It was part of the Dear America series that was very popular in the late 1990s, early 2000s. I still have a copy of the book and always will.

When was that point in your life that you realized that being an author was no longer going to be just a dream but a career you were going to turn into reality?

I remember it very clearly. I was in my third year as an undergraduate, and I was going through the notebook I keep where I write down all my story ideas. For several years I had been writing my own stories, but just for my mom to read. As I was reading through each idea, I had this moment of “Why don’t I start my writing career now?” I knew I always wanted to be an author but never had a timeline of when that would happen. Of course, I was worried I wouldn’t have the time, but I realized that if I didn’t start it now, I would keep coming up with excuses to put it off. It just seemed like the right time, and I started writing the manuscript for my first book that month.


When did you start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I started writing the minute I realized there was a program on my dad’s laptop that allowed you to write anything you wanted. From there, I began writing my own stories that I would share with my family. They could hardly be considered novels or anything like that, but it was a start. I finished my first published book in 2018, and I self-published it a year later.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I wanted to write in the genres I had loved since I was a kid: historical fiction and romance. That’s pretty much all I read, with the exception of some thriller/mystery books. Maybe one day I’ll write my own historical mystery, but I’m sticking with historical fiction and romance for now.

Where do you get your ideas?

Primarily through photos, whether they are historical photos or stock images. I love going through websites and marking photos that I find interesting, to go back to later. For example, the character of Tatiana Ivankova, the main protagonist in my Leningrad series, came from a stock image I saw on a free image site. I have also gotten ideas from films, documentaries, and visiting different places. I was happy I brought my “story notebook” with me to London when I went a few years ago. I got quite a few while I was there, just from walking the streets, listening to little trivia pieces from our guide, and even going into an antique store. I really do get ideas from anywhere.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Not when it comes to ideas, but during the writing process I’ll get stuck on a scene or where I want a plot theme to go. I find it best to remove myself from it for a day and then return to it. That time away helps a lot.

Are you a planner or a pantser?

Planner, with a capital “P”.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The biggest challenge I faced was getting my name and book out there. I was fortunate enough to connect with a very kind, generous author who was able to introduce me to some groups on social media, but promoting my work and putting my name out there was a challenge simply because no one knew me. Another challenge was navigating the publishing process, such as uploading the manuscript to Amazon or Kobo. What is a mobi file? What do you mean the manuscript isn’t formatted correctly? All those little things that pop up during the process that you don’t really hear about was overwhelming and, at times, challenging, but I took each problem one at a time and reached out for help when I couldn’t figure it out.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I don’t think so. I’m still very proud of my first novel, and there isn’t anything I would change.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

Leningrad: The People’s War is the first book in a three-book series set during the Siege of Leningrad, one of the longest sieges in history that took place during World War Two. The story is told from the Russian and German perspectives. Tatiana Ivankova is a university student who, after a brave act, is volunteered into a female unit that is tasked with protecting the city as the Germans draw closer. Heinrich Nottebohmis a German officer leading his unit to the doorstep of Leningrad but, along the way, begins to question what he is being ordered to do.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

While Tatiana and Heinrich’s core storylines are fictional and created in my imagination, a lot of what the characters witness, experience, and hear from others is based on survivors’ testimony. With any of my books, I want to create an authentic, realistic portrayal of the situation my characters are in, and therefore I incorporate as many historical facts and stories that I can. Unfortunately, many of the brutal things that happen to my characters in the book did happen to Leningraders.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I love writing the endings, particularly the “Epilogue”. To me, that is where everything comes together and where the characters’ stories come to an end.

How did you come up with the title?

Well, the title was actually quite a journey. Initially, I wanted the title for each book in the trilogy to come from a poem written by someone who survived the siege. But, that proved to be difficult due to copyright laws and all that, so I had to abandon the idea. As I was proofreading “Leningrad: The People’s War” I read over a scene in which Tatiana is outside the city’s railroad station, and she witnesses a group of people singing this marching song, and they utter the line “We march to the People’s War, the Holy War.” At that moment, I knew that was it.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

I have pondered the idea of doing a sequel book to Leningrad and told from the perspective of two of the key supporting characters. These two particular characters go through something that might interest readers of the series to read about. I haven’t made any definite plans, but it is something I might do in the future.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

To not be discouraged. It’s very easy to get down on yourself, especially when you are starting out, and to get discouraged by negative reviews or people who give your book only one star but provide no explanation. But, you shouldn’t allow some bad reviews to stop you from doing something you love. An author friend of mine gave me the best advice when it came to dealing with harsh criticism, and it’s a piece of advice I would give to other writers; when you read a harsh review, go back to a positive review and read it over. I have a document where I save reviews that made me happy and proud of my work. Whenever I’m down about my work or second-guessing myself, I go back to those reviews, and it really helps.

What does your protagonist think about you?

I think she is, overall, pretty happy with me. I’m sure she would have liked me not to put her through some certain situations, but I hope she would be overall satisfied with the ending of her story.

Would he or she want to hang out with you, the author, his creator?

I certainly hope so! I share some similar interests with Tatiana and believe the two of us have similar temperaments. She has never been to America, so I think she would enjoy me taking her around and showing her some famous Midwest landmarks.

What has been the toughest criticism you’ve been given as an author?

I had one reviewer remark on my first book that the dialogue was “rather juvenile.” At the time, I was a new, young author, and this particular criticism rattled me. But, I try to take all criticism as a learning experience and implement it in my future writing. Ultimately, this was just one person, and I knew I shouldn’t let one person’s dislike for my writing derail my whole writing career.

What has been the best compliment?

Anytime I get a wonderful review from a fellow author, I consider it the best compliment. I respect and admire my fellow authors, so receiving positive feedback from them on my own work truly makes my day, and it is something I don’t take for granted at all.

Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamour to be heard over the others?

The character who needs to grow, whether by learning a lesson or going through an experience to deepen their understanding of the world around them. Those are the characters that need their stories told.

What sort of writing environment do you create? I.e. music or not? Pen and paper or laptop/PC?

Generally, I can write pretty much anywhere, as long as my laptop is charged and ready to go. I do listen to music when I write unless I am writing a scene involving heavy concentration. But, when I do listen to music, I like to listen to music from that era or music used in films that take place during a similar time period or country. For example, while writing Leningrad: The People’s War, I listened to a lot of Dmitri Shostakovich, who wrote “The Seventh Symphony,” a piece of music that Mr. Shostakovich wrote in honor of the people of Leningrad. I also listened to the soundtrack of Enemy at the Gates.

Is there a certain type of scene that is harder to write than other? Racy? Love? Action?

Action scenes are probably the most difficult, simply because they are easy to picture in my head, but when it comes to writing it down, I have to think through each word and ask if the image in my brain matches with what I’m writing down. These are scenes that I have to write and then come back and re-read two times to make sure it flows well and is transparent.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

I appreciate all of you so much. Your kind words and support are something I don’t take for granted, and I hope I continue to write stories that you enjoy.

Is there one subject you would never write about? What is it?

That’s an interesting question that I honestly haven’t thought about. I focus more on what stories I would want to read as a reader as those are the stories I’m most passionate about. I would say that I wouldn’t write anything that occurred past the mid-1990s, or at least not make it the main time period featured in the book. I believe history that happens after that is still developing and still being studied, and I wouldn’t be able to create a highly accurate portrayal of that event. I would also say I would stay away from subjects that involve heavy sexual violence. While I firmly believe it is essential to share those stories and acknowledge the victims, it is a subject I am not a hundred percent comfortable in writing at this time.

How important are the names in your book?

I think they are pretty important. I try to choose names for my characters that reflect their personalities and appearances. I also believe in choosing names that would fit the time period and place. One name may fit a character’s personality, but it wouldn’t be a name that someone would have named their child in the 1940s. As a result, I always do a little research to see what were the top names for the era. So there has to be a balance between a name that fits the character and fits in the era they are in.

Do you read your reviews?

I do, even the not-so-great ones, because I think it’s important. It’s lovely to read reviews where the person praises everything you did and wouldn’t want a thing to change, but I also think the average to not great reviews are just as valuable. They can often provide insight into something you can do to improve the story and maybe even provide suggestions for future work.

What is your least favourite part of the writing or publishing process?

I would have to say the very tail end of the final editing process before the book is published. I want everything to be perfect, and I get a little anxious about missing something. But once the manuscript is finalized, formatted, and uploaded, my nerves settle down, and it’s replaced by the excitement of release day.

Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country's history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.

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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club

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