Thursday, November 19, 2015

Do Stories Matter?



For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to make sense of our world. The horrors inflicted on nations, people and children. The streams of refugees that are paraded across my screen, and then the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut. 

Not only does it make me question where we as human race are headed but it also makes me question my own path. Here I am sitting behind my computer happily making up stories. Sure some are stories of people struggling, or people living in war time, or teens using psychic powers to find missing parents, but still, I’m just here making up stories. 

What value does that bring to the world? Shouldn’t I be out there physically helping those in need? Nursing the sick, or building bridges, or raising money?

By chance I came across this quote from Stan Lee, comicbook (he prefers it as one word) writer that put it in perspective for me.

I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain people, you're doing a good thing.
STAN LEE, The Washington Post, July 23, 2010”


Perhaps writing stories is not such a bad thing. Perhaps that is helping others in some small way. I know books were alway a place where I found solace as a child, and even now, a good book can change my mood. So … maybe I am helping, just a little. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Another interview

If you've ever wondered about my journey to publication. Or which literary character I'd like to have dinner with, wonder no more. Click the link below to find out.
You'll also learn how I feel about vampires, and who I think should play the leads in one of my novels.

Enjoy!

https://nickypeacockauthor.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/interview-with-lynn-hooghiemstra/

Monday, October 12, 2015

Interview

The below link will take you to an interview with me. Everything you ever wanted to know about "Tales from the Fountain Pen" explained. 

There will also be a give-away of one copy of the book, so if you haven't read it yet this might the opportunity to get it and enjoy it. 

Let me know what you think of the interview too.

Thanks!



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Doldrums


Aside from it being an interesting word, Doldrums, and a nautical phenomenon. “A colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm.” According to Wikipedia. 

It is also a real state of being and one many writers and artists can probably relate to. 

That sense of listlessness after completing a project before you start that next one. It also indicates a time of recharging, even if you don’t feel like it. You wonder if you’ll ever start that next project. Or which one to start next. 

You could say I’m in those doldrums right now. “The Coming Storm” is out there actively working to bring me an agent + book deal and I’m debating starting on book 2 in the trilogy or finish up an action-adventure book I started writing six months ago. 

Sometimes it’s good to do something completely different, but then again, I do want to know what happens next with the Detweiler kids who I kind of left off the coast of Morocco in the first book. But I also want to know if my FBI team catches the bad guy. 

I think what this kind of situation calls for is just to relax and let the right answer come. I’ll do more research into WWII Morocco and write my daily quota on the action-adventure, unless I feel inspired to start chapter one of the sequel to "The Coming Storm". The stories are all there and in time I’ll write them, no need to rush and trip over myself to get them all done one after the other. 


Life runs more smoothly if we accept the cycles of ups and downs, activity and rest. I’ll admit it took me many years to learn that valuable lesson. 

Stay tuned for two interviews with me coming up this month! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Waiting

A clock tower in Amsterdam
Have you ever noticed that a good portion of life consists of waiting? That’s in addition to the time you spend sleeping where very little gets done either. 

This month has seen its fair share of waiting for me:

Waiting for the school strike to be over so my offspring can start his senior year of High School.
Waiting for agents to get back to me after submitting my manuscript to them.
Waiting for my publisher to get back to me with edits on my novel which comes out Dec. 15th.
Waiting for my new passport - not that I’m planning any big trips, but I like to be ready just in case. 
Waiting for friends to be free for a coffee date.
Waiting for the cat to finally come in off the front mat.
Waiting for Netflix to get season 10 of Supernatural.
Waiting for the delicious cake I just baked to cooled off enough to slice.
Waiting for my elbow to heal up after spraining it so I can write at full speed again.
Waiting for Mercury to go direct again … those retrogrades can really mess you up…. 

As frustrating as waiting can be, it does give me time to reflect, to think through the next step. To get some much-needed rest and plan. 

While I wait, stories develop and play, like movies, in the back of my mind. Characters come to the forefront and fade away again if they don’t fit the story. All in preparation of the next books. 


So I will reluctantly admit that waiting isn’t all bad because it gives me time to step back and prepare for the next big thing ... which hopefully doesn't keep me waiting too long. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

What's In A Name?


Well, a lot actually. Especially when it comes to book titles. 
I’ve just finished the final edits and proofreading of my latest novel (not the one coming out Dec. 15th) and I find the title is completely wrong. 

Initially I called the book (the first in a trilogy) “In one Night” because I was absolutely certain the event it refers back to would take place at night. Well, the muses thought differently. That particular event took place during the day, but many other events took place under cover of dark. 

Dilemma: what to name the book? So much happened in the gathering storm of WWII in Strasbourg, France, and at night. 

Brainstorming with trusted readers led the following different options:
- The Gathering Storm
- Out of Darkness
- Before the Dawn
- A Way Out
- The Tempest of War
- Torn Apart
- A Family at War
- Under Cover of Night
- Seeking Safe

Not sure yet which one to choose, but please feel free to let me know which one you like. I’ve included Chapter 1 below so you can get a feel for the book. (Don’t worry Jay, I won’t give any more of the book out)

Chapter 1
Strasbourg, occupied France
August 1940

The train sped through the gathering twilight. In the distance, lightning forked over the Vosges Mountains; a summer storm would break soon. The heat of the day was already blowing away as Thérèse rocked back and forth to the train’s rhythm, staring out at the darkening landscape and wondering what they might find. Her seventeenth birthday last week seemed a long time ago.
Mme Colliers, their housekeeper, had returned a month or so earlier. She had not been sent far, just to one of the small villages near the city, whereas the Detweiler family had been ordered to Bordeaux, to Uncle George’s goat farm. Well behind the Maginot line, to safety. But now they had been told to go back home. 
A few days before they headed back they had received a long letter from Mme Colliers. She said things weren’t so bad under the occupation, or the ‘annexation’ as she referred to it. She told of how most of the pipes that had burst over the winter were now repaired, though when she’d first gotten back to the city she had to fetch water at the fountain twice a day. The chamomile stood waist-high in the streets, growing between the cobblestones, and feral cats roamed everywhere, left behind by their owners when they’d been told to evacuate. 
The letter had been cheerful, carefree. Only toward the end did Mme Colliers add a warning to Professor Detweiler. 
“Dear Professor, I urge you to simply follow orders given at the station. And remember to speak German now.” 
What orders Thérèse could not imagine. Surely her father would not be expected to become a German soldier, would he? He was a well-respected economics professor, not a soldier. That last line had kept her up for most of last night. She worried. As the middle child she somehow had taken it upon her shoulders to assume responsibility for her family’s well being after her mother had died two years before. 
“Papa?” Thérèse turned away from the window and looked at her father on the bench opposite her. Her little sister, Amélie, was curled up on his lap, asleep. “Papa, what will it really be like?”
Professor Detweiler sighed. He could still remember when Strasbourg and Alsace were returned to France in 1919. He’d only been a young student then, but he could still recall the acrimony expressed by many of his parents’ generation who wished to remain German. He forced a smile before answering in as reassuring a tone as possible, “I’m sure it won’t be all that bad. They got the water back on and the chamomile trimmed.” 
Thérèse nodded and turned back to the window. She didn’t believe him. Only a few nights ago she had overheard her father arguing with Uncle George about returning. George had said the Germans could have it back as far as he was concerned and he couldn’t understand why Jacques Detweiler, professor of economics, who could have his pick of university positions all over Europe, would want to go back and live under an oppressive regime. 
“You don’t know it will be oppressive and if I leave what sort of example does that set for my children, my fellow Alsatians?” Professor Detweiler had argued. 
“What are you talking about, you fool? You’ve already lost your wife and now you’ll expose your children to these German … Well, you’ll expose them to danger. They’ll take one look at Sophia and want to marry her off to some German officer,” George had said.
“That’s absurd. Marshal Pétain has assured everyone that this is a peaceful handover and that he’s received guarantees that the citizens of Alsace will not be harmed.”
“Oh, how naive you are! After all those years at the university you still don’t know how the world works. You should take these children to London or Marseille at the very least. Or leave them with me!” With that uncle George had left the house, seeking solace in his pipe and with his goats. 
What, truly, had been the point of leaving if they were expected to return anyway? Who cared if Marshal Pétain had urged Alsatians to go home and not make trouble? As the premier of the Vichy government he had ordered them to just go along with the situation. Thérèse didn’t think the French gave in to a foreign military that easily. It made no sense to her. 
“You worry too much,” Bertrand, her oldest brother said, he’d been watching her and enjoyed pointing out that once again she took too dim a view of things. To him everything was an adventure. 
He gently nudged her to see if he could get a smile out of her, but she ignored him and kept staring out of the window with a worried frown on her forehead.  
The floodlit spire of Strasbourg Cathedral loomed up ahead like a beacon and Thérèse felt her heart quicken. She pushed back her long, dark, wavy hair and moved closer to the window. How she loved her city. Perhaps that was how Papa felt too and why he had decided to come back.
Through the open window she could smell the unique perfume of the city in summer; a faint scent of musk, mixed with dusty summer heat before rain. Like the pelt of an animal resting after a successful hunt. There was something of an old lion about the medieval city at the crossroads, her mother had always said. Some days Thérèse really missed her mother. 
It was not raining yet when the train pulled into the station. Thérèse caught a brief look of  concern on her father’s face, which he quickly hid behind a smile. He kissed the sleeping Amélie on her head and gently woke her up.
“Come along, my little ones,” he said, far too cheerfully.
“Papa …” Bertrand sighed. 
“You will always be my little one, Bertrand, even when you’re old and gnarled like those trees in the Orangerie you’re so fond of climbing,” Papa teased him. 
Amélie giggled and Thérèse couldn’t help smiling at the image of Bertrand with his wavy blond hair as a gnarled old tree.
It lightened the mood and for a moment Thérèse thought perhaps things might not be so bad after all. At least she’d be home with all the familiar things: the books in Papa’s study, the piano in the front room and the lilacs, linden and elderberry trees in the walled-in back garden. Marianne, her best friend, would be back, too, in the house across the street. She looked forward to afternoons reading or talking with Marianne in the shade of the trees. Yes, she thought, things would be all right. 
“Thérèse, can you help me?” her older sister, Sophia, asked sweetly. “My leg hurts from the long journey and I can’t carry all my bundles.” 
“I’ll help,”Claude offered. He was a year younger than Thérèse. Claude was the family peacemaker and very aware that Sophia would take any opportunity to be unpleasant to Thérèse. Why, he couldn’t tell, but his mother had once said that Sophia would grow out of her meanness. That was a few years ago and Sophia was nineteen now, so when would she grow out of it?
Thérèse was glad of Claude’s help; this way she could hold Amélie’s hand so Papa had his hands free to carry his suitcases. 
Once off the train they were, for the first time, confronted with soldiers in grey woolen uniforms. There were so many of them. Where had they all come from? Just a few months ago Germany had marched into Alsace; surely they didn’t have that many soldiers stationed in Strasbourg? Did they?
The first strains of heavy German music could be heard coming from outside the station. 
“Music, Papa?” Thérèse asked.
“It would seem so,” Professor Detweiler said.
“Why?”
“To indoctrinate us,” a young man standing in front of Thérèse said. He’d half turned around and almost whispered his answer. 
The closer the crowd descending from the train came to the doors leading out of the station, the closer together everyone walked. It was as if the soldiers methodically moved in to create a tight knot of people, forcing them ever closer together. It made people visibly uncomfortable. Faces became flushed from the heat of bodies packed close together, eyes darted from side to side in near panic and small children needed to be picked up so they wouldn’t get crushed. 
Thérèse had the impression that the number of soldiers had doubled since they’d stepped off the train. They stood so close together now that you could barely see between them, their gleaming rifles almost touching; all along the line every other one would urge calm and obedience in a loud, German voice. 
“Pupett!” Amélie cried. “Papa, ma pupett!” the frightened little girl, squeezed against unknown legs, unable to see, cried out in panic. Somehow she’d become separated from her most prized possession, her doll. 
“Papa!” she shrieked in panic, her voice echoing through the cavernous train station. Somewhere in the crowd another child started wailing, scared by Amélie’s distress. 
“Here, Thérèse,” Professor Detweiler handed her one of his suitcases and with one arm scooped up the distraught little girl. 
“There, there, little one,” he said soothingly, pressing her to him. 
“Hey you, what do you think you’re doing? Shut that child up. Now!” one of the soldiers barked. A beefy, red-faced young man, no older than Thérèse, and clearly someone with no patience with children. 
“Shhh, ma petite,” Papa said softly into Amélie’s ear. 
“Do not speak French, mein Herr! This is now German land,” another barked order shot over the crowd. 
Professor Detweiler hadn’t realized how his voice had carried. Everyone was now quiet, stunned by the order. Even the other child had quieted down. Why could he not soothe a frightened child in the only language she knew? It was absurd and the professor was getting ready to argue that point when a ripple of movement through the crowd caught his eye. Beside him Thérèse was all but holding her breath, her eyes wide in fear. 
Quickly and quietly a doll was handed forward until it was in Bertrand’s hands and he handed it up to Amélie. 
“Ah, merci, Bertrand,” the professor said without thinking of the language he was using. He was just immensely relieved the doll had been found and Amélie was happy again. 
“I warn you, mein Herr. No more French!”
Professor Detweiler turned to face the young soldier, fully intending to give him a piece of his mind, but when he noticed the frightened faces around him and the raised weapons pointing in his direction, he understood he was no longer a man who could speak out in public. In that instant he understood how things would be from now on and the look on Thérèse’s face when he looked down at her, told him she knew too. So, instead of speaking, he merely nodded his head meekly. After another breathless moment of tension the rifles were finally lowered. 
Thérèse had no doubt these young men would have shot her father, simply to make an example of him. It proved that the information she’d read in the letters a student smuggled out of Krakow, Poland, for a colleague of her father’s was all true. 
Amélie was clutching her doll, secure in her father’s arms. But the fright was far from over for everyone else. To be told they could no longer speak French, not even to soothe a child, had stunned many in the group. Particularly those of the younger generation. A young mother clutching her baby had tears in her eyes. 
A cold breeze blew into the station and a loud crack of thunder rattled the rafters. It made people hurry out of the building; though nobody wanted to be out on the square in a thunderstorm, they had no choice. The soldiers closed ranks behind them and herded them into what Thérèse could only refer to later as a holding pen. The frightened citizens were pushed toward a stage set up at the far end of the square.  Outside the holding area, they could see the waiting buses that would take everyone home. 
“Marshall Pétain said nothing about this,” a voice near the professor said in a whisper. It was the same young man who had spoken to Thérèse earlier. 
“Silence!” several of the soldiers ordered as more and more murmurs of surprise and disgust rippled through the crowd. People were tired and weary after their travels and eager to get home, but they were held captive in the holding area. The stage filled with officials and the band played, until a medal-bedecked officer stood and signaled for the band to stop.
As the man moved forward to the microphone, the first drops of rain came down. For a moment the scent of summer rain suffused the square, but soon the heavens opened up with another loud crack of thunder. The gathering, shivering in their thin summer clothes, huddled close and waited. 
“I am Herr Robert Wagner, leader, your Gauleiter of all Alsace-Lorraine, the new Gau. I will be instructing you in the plans of our Führer. You are now once again citizens of the glorious German Reich. From now on you will salute, like so.” The man paused to make the Nazi salute and waited for the crowd to copy him. 
“You there!” a soldier barked at the professor. “Sieg heil!” he ordered. “You must.”
“I cannot. If I do, I shall drop my child,” Professor Detweiler said, in French, clutching Amélie who burrowed against his chest to try and stay dry.
“Speak German!”
Reluctantly the professor repeated what he had said in German. 
On stage Herr Wagner began a long-winded explanation of the coming glories, of the new rules and decrees for the city and the region now that it was finally back where it belonged with the German fatherland. 
The rain came down in a steady stream and a lowly soldier stood on the stage holding a large umbrella over the speaker and the microphone which amplified the bombastic voice as it droned on, ever louder to be heard over the weather. 
“We will now all joyfully return to the German ways. We will do away with all public displays of offensive and decadent French propaganda. Stores will carry only German products as we return the city to German glory. A pearl in its crown.
“From now on you will all speak German. You will be punished if we catch you speaking French.” He tried to sound like a kindly school teacher as he waggled his finger at the crowd as if giving a warning to mischievous children. 
“Schools will now teach only in German. Children, you will all receive beautiful new textbooks,” he went on. “We will bring you new teachers. You won’t have to listen to the lies of your French teachers anymore.” The voice droned on as the crowd stood shivering, waiting for the time they could go home. This was not what they had expected. 
“Papa?” Thérèse said, leaning against her father’s tall frame. She was scared and the realization was sinking in that this was not something her father could make go away with just a few words of comfort. He could not go up to Herr Wagner and argue with him. He would have to accept the new status quo along with everyone else. 
The professor managed to shift Amélie after putting down his suitcase, and with his free arm, he embraced Thérèse and pulled her close. This was not what he had wanted for her, or any of his children, and he regretted his impulsive decision to return. It was always like that when arguing with his brother, George. He would do the opposite of what George suggested. 
“We’ll be home soon. Mme Colliers will have something hot to warm us up and take the bad taste out of our mouths,” he whispered in French. 
He noticed the young soldier watching him, glaring at him to make sure he complied with the new rules. The soldier, just a boy, seemed very eager to pull the trigger on his shiny new rifle. It was unsettling, especially now that it was made clear that his two sons would be expected to show up for military training without delay. They were to be trained as German soldiers and expected to go where the German army sent them. 
Perhaps he could find a way to get a dispensation for Bertrand so that he could continue his medical studies, but what about Claude? He would be sixteen in only two short months and there was no reason the professor could think of that might keep him out of the German army. 
After what felt like an eternity the list of rules was done. Herr Wagner thanked the crowd for their loyalty and promised glorious times ahead. They were finally allowed to leave. Though it soon became clear not everyone would be going home. There were more lists with names of who would go where. A number of families were sent to the villages in the country, or back out to Vichy France. 
Not since Napoleonic times had Strasbourg seen such an efficient and detailed bureaucracy. But which criteria were applied to determine who went where? No information was given. The professor overheard someone asking why they were being sent back to the country to live with a dreaded uncle, and was dismayed by the answer: “You are not to question the wisdom of the Führer.”
To move things along smoothly the band now played a selection of German folk songs. Many were well known in the Alsace region as they far predated any kind of empire. Some were centuries old. Thérèse didn’t like them. Sophia, on the other hand, would have gladly broken into song. She loved nothing so much as singing, especially before an audience. She did have one of the clearest sopranos, but her clubfoot, a common problem in the region, would keep her off the world stages. At least that is what her mother had decided and had told her from early on. 
The professor still remembered the tears, but his wife had explained to him the necessity of that lie. Given Sophia’s love of adulation and praise, along with her beauty, the world stage would have turned her into a monster. She already used her siblings as it suited her and none, except Thérèse, stood up to her. 
Thérèse looked around as they stood in line to leave. From the shop window of the pharmacy across the square she caught the pharmacist’s daughter watching. She had seen the girl at her school, a shy, petite girl who often helped behind the counter after school. Now the girl spied on the proceedings from behind a poster welcoming the Germans. 
What was happening to her city, Thérèse wondered? Had the pharmacist put up the poster because he was glad the Germans were here or had he been ordered to put it up? 
Thérèse knew what she would write in her diary that night. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sit - Stand - Walk



Since my dog passed away I’ve found myself sitting more and walking less. This is not good for anyone, and certainly not for a writer. We have a tendency toward recluse already, however we need the stimulation the natural world brings to inform and enhance our writing. 

So I started walking again, but it’s not as much fun by myself. I noticed things and puzzled out plot points and let my brain expand, but something was definitely missing. A dog! 
Trying to walk one of my cats on a leash was never going to be an option. 

At this time I’m not able to adopt another one just yet - but believe me, the temptation is tremendous - so I did the next best thing: Got hired on as a part time dog-walker through a pet care service. Now I walk a dog every day, meet different dogs who each have their own personalities, and I get away from my desk for a couple hours to stretch my legs and think through stories I’m working on. 

Problem solved. Recluse no more. 

And speaking of stories, the one I put up for sale on my website is selling quite well all over the world. Initial feedback I’m getting from readers is that they like it a lot. 

Next month I’ll add another story, in a different genre. That’s the beauty of short stories, you get to play with different ideas on a smaller canvas. 


Head over to: www.elynnhwriting.com click shop and get your own copy of “Tulip Craze”.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Short Story Experiment


I recently had an email conversation with my publisher, Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads, and learned that the short story market is suffering.

Jay told me that the stand-alone short story market is mostly dead, outside of those few that are published in magazines, but we don’t all fit on the pages of the New Yorker, or the Atlantic Monthly.  For Untreed Reads short stories were their bread and butter for many years, but with more and more people self-publishing books and pricing them at or below the price of a short story, people tend to buy a book over a story. As if 200 pages is always better than 20 pages?

Untreed Reads first picked me up based on a short story, which was later rolled into a novella “Tales from the Fountain Pen”, which is one reason I continue to have a love for short stories. 

The truly sad part about this trend is the loss of short stories as a form of writing all its own. A short story requires a different approach because the writer is constrained by a size limit, or a desire to try something different, to experiment, on a smaller canvas. Short stories are a medium used by many authors to explore different genres and voices. A place to play with characters different from ones we normally put in our books. 

For instance, I can’t quite see myself writing a full-on 300 page murder mystery - just yet - but I have had the opportunity to explore the genre in short story form. The first one was published in an anthology: Moon Shot; murder and mayhem at the edge of space

The second one is “Tulip Craze” which I am offering for sale on my website. 
It’s an experiment to see if people are willing to step outside of the big online retailer(s) where it can be hard to find something, or to see if people are interested in short stories by an emerging author. 

If this experiment is successful, then I will add more short stories to my line-up at www.elynnhwriting.com

Payment is handled through a respected and safe 3rd party, SquareSpace made it easy to set up a web store on my site.  
All personal information will remain confidential.
All sales are final. 
I ask that you please respect copyright laws. Writing is my bread and butter.


Reviews are welcome in the comment section. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Books, but no review



I know it’s been a while since my last book review and you might think I haven’t been reading, but that is not true. Reading still happens daily, except that I’ve been reading only old favorite books at night before going to sleep to decompress from all the research reading.

My novel “In one Night” (working title) is now done and in the final editing stages. My friend with the sharp red pencil has very kindly marked where I’ve missed commas, skipped a word - it’s those little ones like ‘at’, ‘on’ and ‘the’ that sometimes the fingers and eyes skip over - and I’m making the corrections in the manuscript. 

This book, a family drama set mostly in WWII Strasbourg, blossomed into a far greater story than I initially imagined it would and now I find I need to write a sequel! 

Great news, you might say. Well, yes, it is, but I’m having trouble finding good sources of information - books - on what life might have been like in WWII Morocco. I have the basics, and I have found a few books that might give me information I can use, but there aren’t many. 

And what about information on Operation Torch? The first Allied attack on Northern Africa that was to signal the beginning of the US entering the European theatre of war, taking back Algeria and Morocco? 

I could tell you in great detail why I want this information, but then I’d be giving away too much of the book. 

I’ll keep digging, but if any of you knows of a good resource, not just on wartime Morocco in broad strokes, but also the simple details of daily life - the food, the drink, the culture - please let me know in the comment section or email: elynnh2write (at) gmail (dot) com. 


In the meantime maybe I’ll watch Casablanca again …

Friday, June 19, 2015

The writer’s toolkit, or the messy desk


And now for something a little lighter.

I thought I’d list the essentials found in a writer’s toolkit, or on and around her desk. 

* Pens, fountain pens preferred and a few jars of ink in different shades of blue
* Notebooks: I prefer the Moleskine ruled notebook 13 x 21 cm
* Curiosity
* Empathy
* Quiet time and space
* Functioning technology; I recommend having tech-savvy offspring in the house
* Friends who will pull you away for a much needed coffee break
* People to talk to/email with/write to in different parts of the country and the world - it helps broaden the perspective
* Books!! Lots and lots of books. Different genres, subjects, even comic books
* Truly good coffee or tea
* Spell checker, but NO autocorrect! A proofreader with a sharp red pencil helps a lot too
* Life experience
* A love of travel
* Child-like wonder (see ‘Curiosity’)
* Imagination
* Only a loose grip on reality (see ‘Imagination’)
* Sense of humor, especially in handling rejections
* Good snacks, for the purpose of this blog we’ll pretend they’re healthy
* A daily walk, preferably with a dog
* A good cat to warm up the keyboard or your chair for you on cold mornings
* A candle
* A chunk of raw amethyst
* Small vase with a white rose
* Sharp red pencils to give to your editors and proofreaders
* Patience, lots of patience
* Lots of bits of paper (including paper napkins, envelopes and post-its) with notes, story ideas, snippets of dialogue, and reminders to schedule mundane things that are part of ‘real’ life

If I’ve missed anything, please feel free to add it in the comment section!

This blog can now also be found on my website: elynnhwriting.com

Friday, June 5, 2015

Diversity



Writing about diversity turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. I gave the subject considerable thought, which is why this blog post is many weeks later than I promised. 

Much has been said and written in the past couple of years about the need for diversity in books, children’s books in particular, in order to reflect our diverse society in a more realistic way. However, it’s not just a matter of tossing in a few ‘diversity candidates’  and calling it good. It requires far more than that.

Each character an author places in their story comes with its own background which is - or should be - known to the author who created that character. 

By adding characters of different colors, religion, sexual or gender orientation, the author needs to understand the culture this character might have grown up in, not just the meta culture of say, the United States or Europe, but the subculture. What was home like? What are the nuances of the character’s subculture that inform that character’s decisions, drives and motivations? What has formed the character’s psychological make up?

If all that is missing in the author’s creation of characters then you end up simply putting a few more stereotypes on the page. 

Characters need to be woven into your story, yet retain their individuality and come across as authentic. This is why life-experience and travel is a valuable tool in any writer’s toolkit. But that’s for a discussion on what makes a writer. 

All this brings me back to the superhero comic books (from the previous post) - and now TV shows - where I first noticed a more diverse cast. The young artists at DC and Marvel in the 1960s didn’t shy away from including characters of color. In some ways they were the first to bring diversity, along with Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, to the mainstream during a tumultuous time of redefining a culture. A process that continues as more and more people gain recognition and acceptance, even if at times that process feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace. 


As I grow and learn as a writer and as a human being on this spinning, blue ball hurtling through space, I will strive to make the characters in my books more diverse, to mirror the world around me. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Guilty Pleasures (a golden oldie)

No book review this month, I'm still re-reading old favorites while I swim upstream through migraines, car troubles and the stress of end of year testing for my high school student. However, this reposting leads into the next blogpost coming next week about diversity, so stay tuned!


I know what you’re thinking, guilty pleasures must mean sex, drugs and rock & roll, or at the very least chocolate. But you’re wrong. For me a guilty pleasure is reading old superhero comic books.

Yep, SupermanBatman and the Justice League. Preferably from the 1940s and 1950s and some from the early 1960, with an occasional one from the early 1990s.

I do branch out into the Martian Manhunter, the Flash and others as well, but Superman and Batman were the first, and a girl never forgets her first.

For me they continue to provide a cultural history lesson into this country I choose to live in. The early stories of both Superman and Batman were started in the 1930s at a time of great economic uncertainty and much social injustice, not just in the US but across the world. The rise of Nazi Germany created another opportunity for superheroes to flex their superhuman muscles to protect the innocent and the downtrodden.

Throughout the stories you can see the progression of ills befalling society that require clean up. The old stories so clearly illustrate the desire of young men (they wrote and drew these stories and also read them) to believe that there might be someone out there, a little different, a little stronger (okay, a lot stronger), and with unshakable moral convictions of what was right and wrong, who could make their lives better.

For example it’s been speculated that one of Superman’s powers, the fact that bullets can’t hurt him, was put into the story because one of the creators of the hero lost his father to gun violence. (Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1933.)

But the actual super powers are less of what draws me to the stories. The earlier stories show me a country in turmoil trying to find its identity in a world teetering on a precarious cusp between good and evil. The stories, as they progress, show me how America found its place in the world, for better or worse. From almost cowering isolationism, to -initially reluctant - hero of WWII, to ebullient economic super-power. With the launch of the space program stories joined in and added more threats from outer space.  I’ve not read many of the more recent comic books as the extremely exaggerated muscles and profusion of blood and gore are a bit of a turn off, and a distraction to the story for me.

The recent movie trilogy of Iron Man has made me curious about the progression of his story, so I shall delve into those starting at the beginning. Time permitting of course.

Of course, reading these books is also a great way to stay connected with my offspring.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The spy craft of writing




Many writers will tell you that they build their characters from people they know, have met or have observed and eavesdropped on out in the wild. 

Not long ago I had the opportunity to sit in a chain coffee shop far from home for several hours. I spent it observing the many people coming and going - discreetly, I wouldn’t openly stare as I was bent over my notebook most of the time. 

I would imagine what their lives were like based on various clues I picked up about the clothes they wore, the way they used their cell phones, how loudly they would share information with the barista - you’ll note people will either say something for which they want sympathy or praise - what method they would use to pay for their beverage, how they talked to their kids, etc. You can learn a lot about a person just by observing. 

One individual in particular stood out. 
The more I listened in on his conversation with someone he had just ‘recruited’ for his ‘how to build true wealth’ program, the more he started to sound like the archetype conman, the trickster. 

Since he had set up shop at a table behind me, I made a point of not looking around and only listening. Piecing together the clues from only sound, such as the nervous shuffling of paper when his latest recruit told him about a stint in prison. The rushed breathing and hurried talking when he realized he was losing his recruit’s attention. 

The story as it unfolded was fascinating - for a writer - and using deductive reasoning and a very active imagination, I filled in the blanks of how this story would unfold based simply on an overheard one hour conversational sales pitch. In my story things did not end well for the trickster and judging by the way he rushed out of the coffee shop I suspect he may have thought that as well. 

I imagine spies use similar techniques to piece together information and puzzle out stories, but instead of a high level, secret report, this story might end up in one of my books one of these days. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spinning Straw into Gold



Well, that is the hope, intent and desired outcome anyway.

A renegotiation of the original agreement with my now 81-year old screenwriting client; that shrewd, hardcore minor real estate mogul, has resulted in my have carte blanche to rewrite the screenplay. 

I’ll keep the core idea, but will build a different, more engaging story around it. 

But before I can do that, I will need to go over the notes written all over the original screenplay and sort out what was good, what was deemed mediocre, and what was just plain bad. From there I learn and rebuild. As I mentioned in a previous post, the comments by Wendy Kram, Script Consultant, are like a master class in screenwriting. I just need to take them on board and learn. 

I will create more multi-dimensional characters, like I do in my books. I’ll take the story down to its essence and build out from there. Make the dialogue pop, and make sure there’s far less telling and much more showing. (Watch for future blogposts on “show don’t tell”)

My client has expressed an interest in being involved and has told me some of the things he’d like to keep in there, but I think I’ll sit him down and explain that he wants to cram in too much. We can’t save Detroit, build a new industry, go back to include an exciting chapter on WWII Flying Tigers in China, jump forward to 2020, and solve the world tensions by bringing together China and the US all in one 90 minute film. Oh, and somewhere in there have a big ‘ole Motown benefit concert and a tour of the Detroit auto show. All that tends to crowd out room for character development.


The core idea has to come through, and truly movies rarely tackle more than one issue-idea-action at a time. Unless of course you’re going for a 3 hour long production, but rarely, if ever, does a new screenwriter get that opportunity. Cut your teeth on the standard format and if they like you enough you might be able to go wide and step off the beaten path. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Book Review




Rather than review one book like I normally do, I’d like to pay homage to one of the greats who recently passed away: Terry Pratchett. 

I discovered his Discworld books quite by accident. Some years back I’d picked up a copy of Good Omens to read on a long flight to Europe. This book was a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and more than worth the price of a paperback. 

The back cover indicated it would be a laugh out loud social commentary. A witch from 1655 made a prophecy - right before she exploded - on when the world would end. That date is fast approaching, next Saturday in fact, so the forces of evil and the forces of good are gathering and picking their battle lines. Except things don’t quite go as planned. 

Good Omens made a long, boring flight much more pleasant, I didn’t even notice the poor, crying babies. 

In talking with the friends I visited on that trip I learned of Pratchett’s Discworld series of books  and I gradually started to collect and read them. I very much enjoy the humor, the social commentary and well-developed characters, some of which are so over the top that you have to wonder who or what inspired the author. The books are fantasy writing at its best, and no pesky chapters dividing the flow, or long drawn out descriptions, just page after page of enjoyable - and at times thought provoking - reading. 

Two standouts for me are Mort and Equal Rites

Mort because it makes the character of Death - a very misunderstood man - so human in his need for a break from it all. He finds a young man, named Mort and takes him on as an apprentice. The boy’s father is only too happy to get rid of him because he does not appear suited to anything. Mort seems to do well though as Death’s apprentice, which makes for interesting twists and turns in the story. 

Equal Rites because the story is about a young girl who wants to enter the wizard’s college - which is only for men. She was chosen at birth; a dying wizard wished to pass on his powers to the eighth son of an eighth son at the moment of birth, however he discovers too late the baby born is a girl. The book makes a truly worthy and highly entertaining treatise on women’s rights. 

Of course I also very much enjoyed Soul Music, Reaper Man and Witches Abroad
And as luck would have it, I found one recently I had not read yet. I look forward to savoring Snuff and will try to read it slowly. 

Mr. Pratchett and his awesome talent will be missed, but at least we have his books. 


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Hard Choices


After agonizing about this development in the book I’m working on ‘In One Night’, I finally wrote in the death of one of the characters. 

Rationally it had to be done. It made sense to the story and it fit the plot; driving forward the story and the choices the characters now face. But on a gut level - purely emotional - it was almost as if I’d lost someone close to me.

How could I have done this? What was I thinking? Why did I feel I needed to do this?

Death is never easy. Not in real life and not in fiction. 
It got me thinking about how we’re confronted with death in the media almost daily, so why would one 19-year old fictional character matter to me, a secondary character in the story at that? 

Well, because I created her for one. And, two, her death represented something not just in the story, but also in the greater context of the history the story is wrapped around. World War II left many scars on many families, and landscapes. By losing one 19-year old I suppose I was trying to represent a larger group, a group that often gets overlooked in the counting of lives lost. 

This girl wanted so to be perfect, like many teenagers. To fit in and be loved, not defined by an, at that time, common deformity, that she let herself be talked into experimental, dangerous and doomed surgery by a fanatical nazi doctor. That’s all I’ll say. By the time the book comes out I’m sure you all will have forgotten this bit. 

What struck me, aside from feeling grief, was that my remaining characters are at a loss to determine their own next moves. They’re finding themselves reexamining their choices and making rash new ones that can have even greater, disastrous consequences not only for the Detweiler family, but perhaps others as well.   


I’m taking a little time away from writing to work on a translation. This will also give me time to step back and see where the characters go next, because even though my pen’s not on the paper, the story continues in my mind until I get back to the paper.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

And in further screenplay news


After a mix up with the mail, I finally received the marked up screenplay from the script consultant, via my client who sent it from his winter home in Palm Springs on a long and winding journey back to the Pacific Northwest.  

As a seasoned writer, having worked with editors, I’m used to scribbles in the margin and corrections, but my client … not so much. Rather than see it as a positive, he appears to be giving up on the project. I suppose at 81 years of age he was hoping for faster progress and instant success. He feels he’s running out of time, and let’s face it, writing and selling a screenplay takes longer than the lightning fast, mega real estate deals he’s used to making.

But, just because he’s giving up, doesn’t mean I will. Even just glancing over the notes and suggestions I realize I have gold in my hands. Reading through these notes and comments is like taking a master class to me. 

I intend to take the time to absorb the information from the script consultant and turn it around into something stellar. That’s something I’ve always done in my work … take a critique and learn everything I can from it and then do better. 

In order to have the opportunity to do this, I will need to renegotiate the terms of our agreement so I will be less constrained in the story development and writing. I’ll keep my client’s core idea, but will make it more viable. I’ve put too much blood, sweat and tears into this project to just file it away. There are at least 5 unfinished versions on my computer, abandoned but not forgotten. Each one offers something worthwhile to a proper rewrite. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to convince my client … unless of course one of you is willing to option it and let me write that new and viable version. I know he’d go for that. 


Monday, March 2, 2015

March Book Review



Doomsday Book 

Sorry for the delays in posting. February was busy and the book was long!

The Doomsday Book was a great read. It had many elements that I like; adventure, science fiction, history, and strong characters, including strong female characters. 

Set in both 2048 and 1384 (around the time of the black death). A history student at Oxford, Kivrin, prepares to got on a study trip, as many of her fellow students have done and continue to do, as part of learning. 

She gets all the necessary inoculations, clothing and together with her professor she prepares a detailed history for herself, along with a new name so she can blend in. She’s all set to go to 1320’s England and observe how people lived in that time by living among them. Yes, they do have some sort of ‘prime directive’ equivalent they are to observe so as not to alter history in any way. 

Unfortunately, a miscalculation sends her to 1384 right as the beginning of the plague. She arrives at the start of a cold winter, with shortages, and rats in the grain storage. Her professor back in Oxford is unaware of the error for quite some time, but when Kivrin doesn’t return when she’s supposed to, he begins to worry.

In the meantime, in 2048, an archeological dig just outside the city has unearthed victims of the black death who it seems are still contagious. As a mutated version of the plague rages through Oxford, effectively closing it off to the rest of the world, a race begins to figure out where Kivrin is in time and how to bring her back. 

The science seems sound, and the excitement builds throughout the 592 pages, but what really stays with you after reading the book is depth of human behavior and emotion described in a very accessible way. Ms. Willis has an innate understanding of human motivations and psychology. It’s makes her characters seem so very real. 

I won’t tell you the ending, suffice it to say, you’ll stay up late reading just to find out. 


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Imagination



I’ve blogged about imagination before but the subject has come up in several conversations these past few, busy, weeks and got me thinking about it in greater depth. My conversation partners all lamented the lack of imagination in the people they'd recently had dealings with. 

As a writer I take imagination for granted, not in a bad way, I just know I have it and use it in just about everything I do. But like some friends I talked to,  I’m noticing more and more a lack of imagination in the world around me. 

It is a valuable tool, not just for writers and artists. Without imagination we wouldn’t have some of greatest inventions, or the daily tools/toys we use to do our jobs. But in talking to people in business and engineering I see many do not use this tool and, in fact, they often lack the skill. 

Sometimes imagination is confused with visualization or fantasy.

Fantasy gave us 50 Shades of Grey, imagination gave us Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Big difference. Both widely read, both controversial, but each distinctly different in quality of story and writing (and I’ll leave it at that).

Visualization, though closely related to imagination is the end goal of imagination. It is the goal we keep in mind, whereas imagination can show us the steps to get there, the variables, the feelings, the things we might need. Imagination becomes the fuel that lets us work toward that goal.

Engineers, for example, who uses their imagination before creating a 3-D model on the computer, and then in real life, will do so faster and more accurately because they will have already ‘seen’ how things fit together and how they might work. 

Or, similarly, a recruiter who uses imagination to ‘see’ the actual position behind the job description the client gives them will more likely find suitable candidates instead of just those people whose resumes have the words that match the description. 

And finally, imagination allows us all the ability to step outside of ourselves and get a sense of what someone else might be going through. It facilitates empathy and the ability to help others; it is what allows a writer to create multidimensional characters, ones readers can relate to. 

Children who are allowed to indulge in imaginative - unstructured - play grow up to be better problem solvers. Volumes have been written on this alone.

Imagination is essential for success in all things. Perhaps schools, especially those focused on STEM curricula should include a unit on imagining; (re)learning to use imagination in life. 

I’m contemplating creating a workshop, there are several simple exercises that help not only artists and writers, but anyone interested in adding another tool to their kit. Let see if I can squeeze that into my schedule. 



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fairy Tales and Screenplays



You might think I’m going off on a Disney trip, but I’m not. Over the past few days I’ve been having an interesting email exchange with a friend on the long-established story structure for screenplays. 

He feels that structure is too limited and is what’s giving us many of the cliché movies (blockbusters) out in theaters today. And he’s correct in that thinking because if your brilliant screenplay does not follow the standard structure, no agent will even look at it. 

And most of us by now have figured out that structure. Some big change/decision after the first 10 minutes, a life altering choice. Then some solid time building up to the conclusion and after the climax, another 10 minutes or so of wrap up to show how wonderfully it all came together (that’s for the happy ending ones anyway) 

I’m oversimplifying things here, but that’s because the structure as taught in screenwriting is fairly basic and simple once you grasp it. 

But what I realized in my email exchange is that the structure has been ingrained in us from an early age, not through film, but through stories told to us as children. The tradition of fairy tales and folk tales goes back centuries in our collective memory, to become part of our collective subconscious, if you will.  

Literacy and sharing stories through the written word is still relatively new in our long human history. Before that we had oral traditions. Stories told to teach others. And of course to keep the attention of the audience there had to be difficult choices that drove the main character on. Tension built, the audience felt fear, excitement and finally relief once the hero was safe. Tears,laugher, fear; by feeling those intense emotions while listening to the story, the lesson of the story was often imprinted on the listener. That’s how you remembered the lesson. 

Hollywood continues that tradition. But, today, do we really still need that very rigid structure for screenplays to tell a compelling story an audience would want to see? 

Of course the protagonist will continue to need challenges and choices to spur him/her on, but that is true of every story. Even the ones we tell each other over coffee. The ones we remember are those that have difficult choices and satisfying endings. 

Little Red Riding Hood learned her lesson about strangers and made it home safe and sound. 

Cinderella was rewarded for her patience, suffering and hard work by going to the ball and meeting prince charming. 


The little mermaid learned a very painful lesson and made a dramatic final choice. Not the one Disney shows you … Hans Christian Anderson wasn’t into happy endings, but he did follow the prescribed structure. Look it up, but bring tissues. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rewriting



One thing many writers don’t really want to talk about is the dreaded rewriting. Why? Well, maybe we’d like you think that our wonderful stories spring fully fledged from our pens onto the paper. 

Not realistic, but a girl can dream. 

Out in the Dark, which will come out in the summer, was written a few years back. I let it sit after it got a bunch of rejections, but last summer I looked at it again and found some areas I could improve, some words I could change. And what do you know… the story is better. Even that first chapter that’s available online, has in fact changed for the better. 

I’m currently working on both more Fountain Pen tales, those are intense, so I take them slowly, one at a time, and I’m working on ‘In One Night’.  ‘In One Night’ is again historical fiction and I was trucking along nicely with it and had 100 pages written, but then I got stuck. 

I looked over the material, read it and reread it. Took out a pen and scribbled in the margins and then put the printout aside for a few months. It was not going where I wanted it to go, but I also didn’t know where I wanted it to go. 

Now I do. Initially it was the story about a family in Strasbourg, France during WWII and events played out at a small castle in the Vosges mountains nearby. A friend living in Strasbourg had sent me reams of research and information which I dutifully tried to fold into the story. But what was starting to happen was that I wasn’t writing the story I wanted to write, I was writing what I thought my friend was expecting me to write. 

Nothing stifles creativity like trying to live up to other’s expectations. It was no longer my story. 

So then, what did I want the story to be? What was I curious to learn and who were my favorite characters? I’ll tell you:

I want to write the family drama of a widowed father, trying to raise 5 children in a time of war and occupation, when French language and culture is systematically quashed under the occupier’s boot. A family of 4 teens and one 4-yr old. A family torn apart by divided loyalties and misguided beliefs and desires. A very human family with an overstressed father, who is no longer allowed to teach at the university unless he’ll teach in German. The two eldest children who don’t want to see that their new friends are wrong. The strong middle child, Thérèse, who sees more than she should and tries to save her family. The birth of the Hitler youth, and how many of the region’s children were sucked into it without realizing, until it was too late, what it stood for. 

That’s the story I want to write. What Professor Detweiler and his children go through, what Thérèse does and the difficult choices she must make. 

And that’s why I rewrite; to tell the story I want to know, and the story I want to share. 

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 9, 2015

January Book Review


The Abyss Beyond Dreams
By: Peter F. Hamilton

I was very much looking forward to reading this book. It promised to be another story in the Commonwealth series (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained and the Void Trilogy came before). I looked forward to meeting up with familiar characters and in that sense I was not disappointed, however, in others I was a little. 

The story picks up a long time in the future and starts with one of the founders of the commonwealth, original inventor of the technology that pretty much opened the universe to humans, Nigel Sheldon, who is on a mission to bring back a sentient starship that landed eons ago on a planet in the void; that ever expanding danger to the known universe. 

The beginning of the book was great, the last 200 pages were great - except the bit about ‘to be continued’ - but the middle many hundreds of pages felt a little like a repackaging of some of the void trilogy but without the depth of character development or story development. 

There were distinct comparisons to be made between the Waterwalker in the void trilogy and Captain Slvasta in the Abyss beyond Dreams. And the Waterwalker was a far more sympathetic character, or perhaps he had a chance to be better developed. 

It’s not like the reading of this book was a total bust, I did enjoy it and I also enjoyed trying to figure out where the author would go and how he would resolve some of plot points set up early on. Also there are recurring themes of poor against rich, social justice vs. totalitarian regimes, revolution, and how absolute power affects individuals. All worthy subjects for scrutiny whether in fiction or fact. 

In the aggregate, assuming this series will also become a trilogy, it was less about the Captain and more about battling the void. If the second book continues along those lines, then I’ll forgive the middle 400 pages of this book and take it merely as background filler. 


Now to wait for the next book and to see if I can figure out where the story will go.