Workshop Episode 49 (Guest Hosts: Conor McCreery and Anthony del Col)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 48, with Myke Cole and Tim Niederriter Conor McCreery and Anthony del Col – creators and evil geniuses (genii?) behind the “Kill Shakespeare” graphic novel series (and all the astonishing treasures emerging from it) – return to the big comfy chairs at the Roundtable to lend their unique and insightful creative mojo to a workshop of a tale offered up by John w. Campbell Award candidate Anatoly Belilovsky. Anatoly brings a tale of small Siberian town at the turn of the century that features transforming locomotives, the magic of Kabalah, and none other than the mad monk, Rasputin! Even a fussy Internet couldn’t hold us back from diving into the wonderful possibilities of this intriguing idea. And you know – with such marvelous components and such a cast of workshoppers – the Literary Gold can’t be far behind. (and you can explore more creative jewels in Conor and Anthony’s Showcase Episode!)

PROMO: The Reader Writer podcast

Workshop Episode 49 (Guest Hosts: Conor McCreery and Anthony del Col)

[caution: mature language and themes – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this and all our episodes on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio!

The Fabulousity of Conor and Anthony…

  • Check out the remarkable “Kill Shakespeare” graphic novel series
  • Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood
  • Stage Productions of “Kill Shakespeare” are touring the globe (as in the planet, not the
  • A Feature Film screen play is in the works
  • … as is a Mobile Game and an Enhanced Graphic Novel!


… and savor some stories from Anatoly:

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Comments (13)

Hey Guys. I had a couple thoughts, after listening to this workshop episode. First, Anatoly, let me say what an interesting story idea you have. I am sure you will have great fun writing this one.

Rachael definitely needs more agency. Rachael is so focused on what she wants to learn I definitely see her trying to gain knowledge on the sly. I believe Dave touched on this briefly. What if the Rabbi is educating her, so she is literate (he is a teacher, and this would assuage his need to teach), and her literacy stokes the flames of her curiosity. The Rabbi keeps her busy with labor intensive chores, which he believes will exhaust her, so she cannot dig deeper then he is willing to teach, and also will prepare her for the trials of life, but it is not enough. She spends time, either while he is away, or when he sleeps to read and teach herself what she can of Kaballah. Then when the clues come forth, Rachael is able to figure things out without the Rabbi leading her to the answers.

It also seemed to me that the resolution came very quickly. I know this is not meant to be a full novel, and the quick telling of what happens will not contain all trials, but I think that it is important for her to fail a couple times. There should be a try/fail cycle so the resolution does not come to easy, as perceived by the reader.

I’ll second the thought that this story may work really well if it is after Rasputin’s supposed death. Considering how difficult it was to kill him, maybe he grew tired of the attempts, and played dead to stop these attempts. This would fit if he and the Rabbi were both immortals. Maybe they have a long history. This could help fit into the possible connections Rachael has with Rasputin, and why the Rabbi refuses to teach her Kaballah.

Okay, I think that’s it. Thanks for the consideration.

Thanks for the input, Mike! Actually, you’re idea that both Rasputin and the Rabbi are immortals has some good mojo. And maybe they don’t realize that… until they confront each other in the town. Anatoly had discussed that using Kabalah to affect the universe was not a good idea, so maybe they both had “dabbled” and basically fell out of the “main flow” of the world. They’ve jumped the existential track and are now enigmas outside the natural order. The Rabbi has embraced it, but Rasputin desperately seeks to influence the world merely as an affirmation that he still “exists”. Maybe he’s trying to get back into the universal groove somehow (or maybe he just wants to die). The trick then would be to entwine Rachel’s destiny with theirs.

I was actually intrigued by the notion of her being Rasputin’s bastard daughter. The man rutted like a bull if historical accounts are to be believed. The idea that there is a whole tribe of his illegitimate progeny wandering around isn’t hard to conceive (ba dum dum… I’m here all week, folks). 😉

These speculations are fun, but I think they maybe a little outside the story Anatoly wanted to tell. The idea had almost a fairytale simplicity to it and seemed to be more a vehicle to discuss Kabalistic precepts than an involved fantasy tale (if he joins us here on the comments, maybe he’ll jump in and elaborate).

I like your ideas. I think Anatoly’s end vision will be wonderful, either way. This was such a fun overall concept to run with. It’s hard to pull back on the reins.

“Rasputin’s bastard daughter?” Dave you are making Rasputin into Darth Vader (and Rachel into Luke). Let it go.

Actually, I was trying to develop some “connective tissue” between the characters, establishing Rachel as a character with unique status and deadly potential (thus reinforcing the Rabbi’s reticence to instruct her), a strongly motivated desire for her to pursue and examine Rasputin (thus providing an opportunity to explore BOTH characters through her perception of him AND giving the the author a strong and motivated character through which to explore that intriguing fellow), and establishing an emotional barb for Rasputin himself, given his past of using women as a vehicle for his own aggrandizement, that could reveal depth and relevance to the character (as opposed to “he just wants to manipulate people for no reason”).

Personally, I think it affords a rich and fertile terrain to explore the various themes we touched on during the workshop and gives the characters more depth and agency within the story. That’s just my perspective, of course, but it really captured my imagination and – as happens so often during these workshops – some ideas and concepts take root and can be explored in other projects.

Not every villain who breeds is Darth Vader and not every spawn of a villain is Luke… dismissing something as “done before” would leave writers with damn little material to work with.

Maybe it is best if we agree to disagree 🙂

I have a lot of thoughts on this so I am going to split them into separate comments.

My first thought is about why the rabbi doesn’t teach Rachel Kabalah. My thought is it’s not that he won’t teach her Kabalah it is that he can’t.

If you will forgive me for mixing religious metaphors; it seem to me that Kabalah is kind of Zen in that it can’t be taught it can only be learned, or rather it can only be experienced. The rabbi cannot give Rachel experience he can only give her mental tools of learning, so that when she has experience she can recognize the Kabalah. It is kind of like how Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel in “Karate Kid”.

I’m not sure I agree that Kabbalah and Zen are analogous. Zen seems more of a way thought, while Kabbalah is actual knowledge that can be taught. I have studied neither in detail so I could be wrong. describes it as “…an incredible system of logic and a phenomenal technology…”.

Could the reason for not wanting to teach her be as simple as it being forbidden? Also referenced in is that this was for centuries a secret teaching only for Jewish men over the age of forty, and was kept as a tradition of hidden knowledge until 1968. As a woman, was she allowed to study? Albeit, this source may be tendentious. I don’t actually know the full history of Kabbalah.

I was suggesting that there were similarities between Kabbalah and Zen, not that they were analogous.

The premise of the story is that the universe has a sense of humor, and Kabbalah is learning to recognize the joke, because if offer the universe a good enough strait-line it will follow with the punch line.

While it does require certain knowledge, it also seems to requires a particular ironic way of thought that may not be “teachable”.

The “forbidden” angle is an obvious possible issue, however that author never mentioned it in his pitch despite it being the easy choice. He seem to be saying that the rabbi didn’t want to teach her Kabbalah because he didn’t want to burden her with the responsibility.

Next though, about Diesel engines.

Dave you are wrong.

According to Wikipedia the Diesel engine was invented in the 1890s.

In first decade of the 20th century Diesel engines were put on ships but not trains, but apparently there wasn’t a specific technical reason for it, it just happened that way.

In fact in 1902 Karl Hagelin came up with the idea of mounting a diesel engine on a river barge and running it along the Mariinsk Canal System in Russia. The resulting Vandal tanker completed in 1903 is one of the first diesel powered ships ever built.

That someone might decide to build a diesel railroad across Russia, instead of a diesel canal boat to travel across Russia, does not seem that much of a stretch.

I think that Act 1 where we introduce the characters is well fleshed out, and Act 3 where the good guys confront Rasputin is well fleshed out, but I think Act 2 needs more.

What if Rachel tries to find the dome? The dome was stolen, one of the ways to prove who is responsible for a “theft” is to find the “stolen goods”. Answering “Where is it?” could lead to “Who?”, “Why?”, and “How?”.

I realize that the reason Rasputin stole the dome was to create strife and unrest among the people, which makes them easier to manipulate. However there are many ways of creating unrest, why choose the dome specifically? I believe you said it was a golden dome. I am going to assume it is gold leaf on the dome, not solid gold. Even a gold leaf dome would use several pounds of gold.

Rasputin does not care about gold/money, he wants direct power over people, but what if he needs money for his plan? What if he needs the gold to finish paying Herr Diesel for the Mech? What if he needs the gold to help fund the Trans-Siberian railroad?

So now Rachel is investigating what happened to the dome (and the gold) and she starts finding clues that tell the reader what Rasputin’s Plan is without any “As you know Bob” exposition.

It gives Rachel some agency before act 3, and it gives insight into Rasputin.


The story that you presented felt like a short story to me. To make it a novella or even novel, you need to add a lot of back story of the characters. You hinted at quite a lot.

I don’t have many suggestions for you, just some questions you might want to think about.

At the top of the story, Rachel utters a curse, but doesn’t know why. Then she notices the dome is gone. Did she have a premonition? Did she sense some magic happening? What is the curse supposed to do? Perhaps it is not a curse, but a ward of protection she cast over her home.

Why is it important the train be a diesel engine? Why is Herr Diesel concerned about the Jews and offers to “help?” Is he meeting Rasputin to further his own goals? Is he hunting Rasputin and offering his scientific knowledge to balance the Rabbi’s knowledge of magic?

The Rabbi uttered “Oh no, not again,” upon seeing the dome had disappeared. That told me he and Rasputin share a history.

In the Jewish folklore I have read, using the Kabbalah exacts a price. What price is Rasputin paying for his magic? Is he using Kabbalah or something else? Has he found a way to make others pay for his use of magic, hence the pogroms and destroying souls?

Rabbis are teachers. I found it interesting that the Rabbi took Rachel on his investigation, not one of his male students.

I also found it interesting that the Rabbi refused to teach Rachel the Kabbalah, yet he explained to her the meanings of symbols and urged her to come up with solutions.

Keep up the good work and good luck with your project.

Wow, that’s a lot of comments! I thank you most sincerely for listening, and for pitching in.

First of all: the Diesel locomotive is not driven by an internal combustion engine. Infernal combustion, perhaps; but its motive principle is that it’s a golem who thinks it’s a horse.

Kabbalah is, literally, “receiving,” as opposed to Talmud which is, literally, “learning.” Whether it’s closer to Zen or Tao, it certainly reminds me of both. There is “theoretic” Kabbalah, which is figuring out the laws of the Universe; and there’s “practical” Kabbalah, which makes twisting a tiger’s tail seem like a perfectly safe and reasonable activity by comparison.

With all the as-you-know-Bubeleh out of the way, I’d appreciate more insight about my characters and plot. Maybe turn it into a supernatural mystery? Make the first mysterious event a smaller event than church decapitation but clearly connected to the train, and have Herr Diesel ask the Rabbi to investigate?

How about “40A” appearing as a graffiti and Herr Diesel getting inappropriately upset about it?

Just thinking…

Comments are closed.