Top 10 Discoveries About My Book

Joe’s Post #180

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

Are you surprised how your book turned out?

Now, spoiler alert, this is a longer post than normal. Get into your comfy underwear, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, put your feet up on the dog and continue.

Yager’s War has come so far since it’s inception back in 2016, but my first historical novel has finally been sent off to my first readers – Two professional writers, and one person who lived through that time.

Oh, but that seems so long, ago, now. A lifetime. And in that lifetime, I learned a lot about my story, which kinda surprised me since I thought I pretty much knew everything about it when I sat down to write it.

So, what did I discover?

1) I discovered that I can’t eat well and write. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with the novel, per se, but if anyone is looking to write a character in a novel who writes for a living, it’s a good trait. Not a healthy one, but something odd. Quirky. Stupid. Peanut M&Ms. Pop. Pizza. Oddly, I didn’t drink. Sorry Hemmingway.

2) I discovered that I sat down to write this because I love history and World War II history in particular. But it’s not a love based on battles, but stories. It’s something that’s not being taught a lot in schools. It’s all about facts, maps, (wait, I love maps, too), and dates. Even without a specific person, there is a narrative that thrills me. The massively outnumbered Jews who fought the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. The 500 Spartans at Thermopylae. The Alamo. Then it hit me. I love the underdog. The few who stood up when it mattered BUT died in the end. All knew they would die, yet still fought the fight. That leaked into my novel in a big way (and will certainly be a major part of the second and third novels.)

3)

Iron Lungs. Therapy for polio. But it looks like something out of a horror movie.

I discovered a lot about things we understand now, understand back then. Polio. PTSD. Asperger’s. They’ve all existed since the beginning of time. Like the Queen of England. But we’re only now understanding them fully and I was surprised at the complexity of each one of those subjects.

 

4) I discovered ‘what to keep in and what to take out’ was tougher than I ever thought. Yanking out a whole subplot ain’t easy, my friends. It’s like trying to yank off a skin tag, it’s quite painful and wants to snap right back. I can still use a lot of what I wrote or imagined in my next book,

5) I discovered I could fall in love with one of

Amelia Anderson. (AKA-
Bryce Dallas Howard)

my characters. It’s amazing how much a story can change even from the 2nd draft, to the third. I yanked out some decent writing about my character’s interaction with a family to explore a love interest and I fell in love with that love interest. Amelia “Amy” Anderson, a brilliant red-head with Sherlock Holmesian Asperger’s. Socially awkward. Kind. Driven. Beautiful (of course, cuz, you know, I’m a guy.) I dream about her now. Don’t tell my wife.

6) I discovered it’s tough to choose what research to use and what not to use. I had to cut research out. Oh, that fine line between having authentic historical details and way, way, way too much information… it’s so easy to cross because information is so fun! (You know what I’m talking about, Paula!)

7) I discovered that I could make myself cry while writing. Not, oh god, this is terrible, but I moved myself at some of the tragic scenes. Maybe no one else will shed a tear, but it’s odd that I could actually get in touch with emotion. Without whiskey. Thanks to Don Maass for making me live in the pain for a while.

8) I discovered, much to my horror, that it was not as much fun, sometimes, to do research. Now, this really shocked me. I love learning new facts. Like did you know that the Kaiser, the Imperial Emperor of Germany, fled to Holland? And had the nickname of the Woodchopper? But trying to get all my facts right, like what soap the Dutch used for dishes or what goods were sold in the Waterlooplein market, well, that took a bit of work and I often got distracted tracking down other details.

9) I discovered this is not, at its heart, a who-killed-Roger-Rabbit story. This is a Jewish

Lest we forget

story. Again, a bit of a shock. Not that I didn’t have Jewish elements in it, but on the last rewrite, it really hit home how much I needed to tell the Jewish story here.

10) I discovered it’s a feminist novel. This came as the biggest shock. BIGGEST. Like finding a spider in your underwear.  Both of my main female characters are strong, independent women in a time where such things were not the norm. Maybe it was all the women in my life who influenced that. My mom who went to university and graduated as the only woman in her class. My wives, Margot and Corinne. My inherited great Baba, who designed and built a frigging church.

But all those discoveries aside, the novel will get one last polish from my first readers, then it’s off to the agent.

It is the best thing I have written, but something not achieved without great pain and anguish. Ask my wife who’d find me wandering around the house muttering, “No, that won’t work, won’t work, my precious, he has to die, yes, die but how, dammit, how?”

It’s been an interesting journey, combining my deep emotional connection to the Netherlands (based on my visits there and my reading of the holocaust), my love of a good thriller, and my love of books that touch a poignant chord within us all.  But, as any writer should, if someone has a way to make it EVEN BETTER, (my first readers, my agent, my editor, Bob the grocery bagger,) then I’ll kick it up yet another notch.

Because I not only want it to be the best story I’ve ever written, but one of the best others will ever read.

A clear and present danger

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Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!

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Do you know a writer?

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Joe’s Post #48 — We’re not easy to spot. We’re hidden everywhere. In hair salons. In movie theaters. In gyms. In the office cubicle next to you. Some of us are odd looking. Some are gorgeous. But make no mistake, all of us, yes all, are a bit odd. We’re writers after-all.

Because to even do what we do, well, we have to be a little off. A little bit different. A little bit Coo coo for coco puffs.

Or as I like to say, “I live in my own little world”.

So let me give you an insight into spotting one of us.

1) Look for a laptop. We love laptops. We get all twitchy and nervous if we don’t have one in our hands, our laps, or on a table in front of us. We can be found with our laptops at the beach, in coffee shops (duh), sitting on steps, on airplanes, in cars (sometimes while driving), at weddings, at parties, in bed, or on a couch while watching TV.  Older school writers might be found still using a pen and paper, but these are rare sightings indeed and you should approach with caution.

2) We read. A lot. We’ll often be seen with a real book in our hands. Or a kindle-ie thing. But we love to read. It’s what makes us want to write. A few guarantees, if you see someone reading a 900 page fantasy novel, it’s a good bet they’ll have written a novel about an elven maiden and a handsome barbarian. If you see a book group, at least one of them will have a romance novel secretly under construction.

3) We have some very weird things on our computers. Links to autoerotic affixation. Biker Wars. The world’s fastest cars. How to Make a Bomb. Desert locations. Pictures of guns and Russian brides and female ninjas. Now only one of those will be for personal fun, but the rest are for research. I swear.

4) If you know someone who wants you to read something they wrote, it means, well, they wrote something. Hence, a writer. But that best illustrates the most obvious of all writer traits. We want to be read. We are needy that way. We want to be read by our friends and family. By the guy who inked a Hitler mustache on our yearbook photos. By the girl who makes us a tall iced mocha. Oh, we may be shy, but that need is there. By reading what we wrote, you justify our very existence. (Oh, and when asked, just say you love it, that’s it’s the most amazing thing you’re ever read and you’d buy the book. I don’t care if you lie.)

thCA5NKTHM5) We get lost in our heads a lot. Hey, that’s where all the action is. It’s where the woman is taken in the arms by the man she loves and kissed like it’s the last kiss before the world ends. It’s where all hope is lost. Where tears are shed. Where characters are born and die. It’s often a nicer place to be than the world we live in. So we live there a lot. But that means we may have a vacant look about us sometimes. A blank, three stooges stare. It means we are somewhere else for a moment. Some may say this makes us socially awkward. I say, well, yes, but in our head we’re social gods (and very funny.)

6) We mutter to ourselves. We mutter quite a bit, actually. It’s a part of #5. But don’t be alarmed if you hear things like, “oh, right, petechial hemorrhaging, right, that’s why he wouldn’t strangle her,” or, “No, no, she wouldn’t do that on the elevator,” or “Wait, hold on, that’s not his finger in the box.”

7) Lastly, we write. A lot. Sure, we talk about writing. We go to conferences and workshops and critique groups. But, at the end of the day, we write. We sit in a chair, laptop in front of us, and we try to create a world, populate it with interesting characters then make bad shit happen to them. It takes time. It takes concentration. And it takes time away from doing things we love (and doing them with people we love.) It’s work. It’s what we do. But it’s also what we love. It may not make sense sometimes. It may not even make sense most of the time, but we write anyway. I hope our loved ones will forgive us.

So, if you ever see someone pounding away on a laptop, muttering to themselves, paying no attention to the world around them, with a book on the table beside them and a browser window open to “A thousand ways to dismantle a body with a spoon,” don’t panic.

Now, true enough, it’s just as likely they’re a serial killer, or someone truly insane, but it could just be they’re a writer. Trying to write something you’d want to read.

Give them a hug.

They’ll need it.

Especially if they’re a serial killer.

Anyone have any other ways to spot a writer?