Gwen Tuinman

Novelist Speaker Advocate


Writing Craft

Rasputin’s Daughter

header photo rasputi

Intrigued is the word that best describes how I felt after discovering this photo. The moment I saw the face of Grigori Rasputin, my mind zipped back to 1978. Suddenly, I was 14 years old again and leaping around the living room while “Ra Ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen” boomed from the hi-fi speakers. Each time the music skipped, I’d race over to the reset the needle on the vinyl album and begin the song again.

This photograph leaves me with so many questions. Who would look so pleased about publicly aligning herself with such a man?  Matryona Grigorievna Rasputin, daughter of the Mad Munk, is the mysterious subject of the photo. She changed her name to Maria — a more socially upward and marketable name.   And yes, it is a look of pride she’s wearing as she shares the frame with her father’s image.

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Maria Rasputin 1899-1977: Photo credit: Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Maria was born in a Siberian village in 1899 to Grigori Rasputin and Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina. After her father’s notoriety spread, the family moved to St. Petersburg where she attended a private school and socialized in royal circles.  She was 17 years old at the time of her father’s death. How does one survive the exploits of a an infamous parent?

She broke off an engagement, to a Georgian officer, to marry an up-and-comer who was a great admirer of her father. Maria made this decision based on the advice of people who claimed they’d communicated with Rasputin’s spirit during a séance.  He’d reached out from beyond the grave, they said, to tell her that this marriage was meant to be.

Her new husband turned out to be philanderer and an unscrupulous con artist with a knack for making poor financial choices. He died of tuberculosis in 1926, after they’d fled to Paris. Maria supported herself and their two children by working as a governess. She unsuccessfully sued her father’s murderer; the Paris courts dismissed the case and declined involvement in a crime stemming from Russian politics.

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Maria Rasputin: Cabaret Dancer, Animal Trainer, Mystic Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
Maria Rasputin continued to lead an eclectic lifestyle. She danced in cabarets in Paris, France and Bucharest, Romania. In the 1930’s, she toured Europe and the United States with Ringling Brothers Circus as an animal trainer and lion tamer. Crowds were attracted by promises that she controlled wild animals with the same hypnotic powers that her father had exacted on the Russian royal family.


Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
She was mauled by a circus bear in Peru, Indiana, but soldiered on until the show reached Miami, Florida where she worked as a riveter in a shipyard during WW2. In 1940, she met her American husband and was granted U.S. citizenship. In the late 1960’s, Maria announced her psychic powers and identified Anna Anderson as being the illusive Anastasia Romonav — a claim she would later recant.


Maria published three memoirs detailing the life of her father and his relationship with the Russian royal family. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said, “My father was a very kind, very religious man. Always he think of others — never himself. Many people were jealous of him.” Maria would tell her grandchildren in the years to come, that their great grandfather was a “simple man with a big heart and strong spiritual power, who loved Russia, God, and the Tsar”.
Maria Rasputin being interviewed by a journalist from the Spanish magazine Estampa in 1930 Photo credit: Wikipedia


So many questions and creative thoughts are swirling through my mind. I’m sipping a cup of tea as I write, trying to think of how to funnel them into one succinct paragraph. I think I’ve arrived at the two words to begin with — resilience and tenacity. No matter what life threw at Maria Rasputin, she bounced back covered in sequins, arms raised above her head, and radiating that “look at me world, I’m back” kind of smile. I find myself reflecting on the nature versus nurture question and heritable traits.

My impression is that she was a larger than life character. Surely, Maria must have inherited some of the personality traits that moved her father from poverty to palace. There are aspects of this woman that will most certainly inspire my pen.



 “They ask me if I mind to be in a cage with animals and I answer, “Why not? I have been in a cage with Bolsheviks.”” ~ Maria Rasputin

What are your impressions of Maria Rasputin? Is there some trivia you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.



Continue reading “Rasputin’s Daughter”

In the Henhouse

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The henhouse. The chicken coop. The roost. What do I know about chickens? Not as much as I thought I did. For instance, I’ve always believed there was a rooster strutting through every barnyard flock of chickens. Turns out I was wrong on that account. If you want eggs for breakfast, you only need hens. But, if you want a brood of chicks, you’re going to need that rooster too — and perhaps some ear plugs. I’d also imagined that roosters sallied forth and crowed once at sunrise, then hung it up until the next day. Not so — they’ll crow intermittently throughout the day. Continue reading “In the Henhouse”

Self Editing–Where Rules Meet Intuition

Fraulein Kussin and Mrs Edwards

I’m trying to make friends with the process of self editing — again.

Self editing and I get along well, as a rule. Our end goal is the same; we both want to produce a piece of work that is both engaging and grammatical.

On occasion, our relationship falls to the wayside. 

She hones in on technicalities, and I tend to preoccupy myself with the music of the words. Neither one of us wants to relent. 

Can’t we just meet in the middle?

Here’s the Story

After becoming completely enamoured with a quiet fishing villageDSC_0031 on the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, I sat down and started writing.  At the time, I didn’t know if I was writing a short story or a scene for a novel.  The ideas continued to flow, from St. John’s to Deer Lake, until I’d laid down over 5000 words.  I’ve since developed a novel storyline that incorporates this story as part of a three character narrative.  But I digress.

I read the short story version at an event and discovered that it resonated with the audience. People commented on the voice of the character and the rhythm of the prose. Now, nearly a year later, I’m preparing the writing for submission.  I worry that perfecting the grammar will adversely affect the voice and cadence of the piece.

Self Edit References

I’m reminded that the exercise of self editing extends beyond proofreading for spelling and grammar errors, and requires that writers attend to other details like formatting and word choice, to name a few. My constant companions are Elements of Style and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

These online tips for self editing offer useful content:

It’s time for another editing session.  With a fresh cup of coffee and my two favourite references at my finger tips, I wheel my chair up to the desk. In the end, rules will meet intuition, and I’ll hope I’ve done the story justice.

 *Click the books to view content.

Strunk and White

Self editing for fiction writers

Please leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you!

Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining — A “Show-Don’t-Tell” Refresher


“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
―     Anton Chekhov

What if, in Charlotte Brontë ,  Jane Eyre had written,  “Jane felt frustrated”?  Would we be able to discover that quote in Good Reads in the year 2013?  Fortunately, Jane Eyre chose to show us how the character felt, instead of telling us.

“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so like a wild, frantic bird, that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 

As Checkov so aptly stated, don’t tell me; show me.  The phrase is a common one in writers’ circles, but what does it mean?  This video called Descriptive Writing in Simple Terms is a great primer for “Show-Don’t-Tell”.

Dialogue Tags Speak Volumes:

How many of us have heard, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”?  The tone colours the message.  We can use this idea to create more engaging writing.

“Said” is the go-to of all dialogue tags — use it but don’t rely on it.  Replace “said” with different dialogue tags that convey the tone, mood, and personality of your character.  “I’m so angry,” said Sally  — versus  — “I’m so angry,” Sally shrieked. (Use this strategy sparingly.)

Body Language

Our social interactions are informed by nonverbal cues.  We can replace telling in our writing, with body language that is appropriate to the emotion that our character feels. “Bobby was nervous” versus “Bobby wiped his hands against the front of his shirt, his eyes darting about the room.”

It is important to match the body language to the character’s profile.  For example, a nervous boy may wipe his hands on his shirt, but a nervous business man might loosen his tie and pour a scotch on the rocks.


Reading is a form of escapism. A story should take the reader by the hand and lead them to a place of the author’s creating.  Consider how sensory input informs us in real life.  We use smell, sound, touch, and taste in a myriad of useful ways.  For example, combinations of these senses to interpret our surroundings and to assess the people we meet.  Readers rely on sensory input to do the same thing in our stories.  Telling a list of only what the character sees, will create a one dimensional story.  Appeal to all five senses.

Paint a Scene with Descriptive Words:

A stick figure is a legitimate representation of a person. But the Mona Lisa is a representation made masterful by its realism.  Five hundred years later, we’re still talking about her. In writing, telling is the equivalent to a stick figure.

James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, could have written a stick person version: The scout held Chingachgook’s hand and they cried.

Thankfully, he wrote this instead: “Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in that attitude of friendship these intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.”  

According to Stephen King, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” A point worth noting!

Photo Credit:  Anton Chekhov, (last visited November 19, 2013)

Is there anything you’d like to share?  What’s your latest writing epiphany? I’d love to hear from you.

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