What’s Up Next?

Escorted-by-firemen-colleagues-who-volunteered-leave-New-York-City-to-fight-the-Civil-War.

Eight enemy agents slip across the border and make their way to New York City. Their goal? To launch an attack on the city to disrupt the presidential election. It’s a story ripped from the headlines. Of 1864.

That Dear Readers, sums up the plot of my next novel. The first draft is 2/3rds completed, but the more I write, the more I realize that, despite this being a sprawling Civil War epic, I’m painting on too broad a canvas. The original story follows four characters; Patrick, a New York City fireman, Frank, a NYPD detective, Molly, a prostitute, and Thomas, a Confederate agent. All four of the characters end up interacting with one another at various points as the story moves forward, but I came to realize something. Molly is truly the linchpin of the story. In fact, it’s her story.

A recent immigrant to New York City from Ireland, she finds herself compelled into a life of prostitution and vice. Her tale is part tragic, part heroic, and she comes to find it within herself to escape the prison that her life has become. Writing her character allows me to give voice to all the victims of sex trafficking in the 19th Century and today. Though we tend to think of human trafficking as a recent phenomenon, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. Her 1864 story could very well be the story of a person in 2019.

So where does that leave us? I’m dropping Thomas and Frank’s separate story lines as they will appear in Molly’s anyway, and I’m sticking with just her and Patrick. It’s going to require a massive re-write which I will start once the semester ends. The bigger question is this: can I write primarily from the viewpoint of an 18 year old Irishwoman living in 1864 New York and make it believable? I suppose time and the critics will tell.

Stay tuned for more updates.

L.H.

Slaying the Dragon

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Dear Readers,

In my last post, I talked about the question that I hate to be asked and why it is a more damaging question than people realize. Today, I thought I might expound on it by talking a bit about my personal battle with the dragon on my shoulder; the remnants of a career in public safety which still haunt the deep recesses of my mind. I’m not going to talk about the specific incidents which helped make me this way, but rather how I dealt (or to be accurate, didn’t deal) with them. This isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about. Not at all. But I hope that by sharing a bit, maybe it might inspire others who are fighting a similar battle to know that they are not alone and that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was just a kid when I hired on with the fire department. I knew next to nothing about the world or about human nature, but boy did I learn fast. The first call that really stuck with me was my first call involving a child fatality. I remember back at the station that day, I was sitting on the front bumper of the engine. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. One of the old timers, a firefighter with 30 years on the job who had seen and done just about everything came over to me. He slapped me on the back and offered me a cigarette. “Here kid,” he said. “This’ll calm you down.” I’d never so much as touched a cigarette before, but it did help steady my hands. Before long I was hooked. I carried a pack in the rubber strap on my helmet. (Note this was back in the day…….long before departments cared about things like cancer. We could still smoke in the fire station and even on the trucks. It’s changed a bit since then.)

About a week later, I was still having nightmares about that call. I found the old firefighter who had so generously offered me a smoke and said “Hey, is it normal that I’m having nightmares about that dead kid? I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.” He seized my arm and rather forcibly dragged me off to a corner where no one could hear us. “Listen to me, kid,” he said, “don’t say a word about that to anyone. Do you want them to label you a psych case and toss your ass out of here? It’s part of the job. So suck it up, Nancy. Either you can do the job or you can’t.” As I was young and impressionable, I did just that.

In the many years that followed, I had my share of bad calls, as anyone in the fire service does. Dead people. Burned people. Abused people. Neglected people. I’ve held people’s hands as they slipped off into eternity. I’ve lied and told people they were going to be just fine when I knew they had minutes to live. I’ve punched vending machines in emergency rooms when the doctor calls a time of death for a patient we’d done CPR on for twenty minutes en route to the hospital. I’ve looked at the families of a deceased victim and tried to come up with something, anything to say, but couldn’t and so I turned and walked away. I’ve been splattered with just about every type of bodily fluid. I’ve seen families lose everything and held their crying children whose worldly possessions had gone up in smoke. I’ve known the thrill of making a save, but also the lows of losing someone. I’ve attended funerals of fallen firefighters. On the job, I broke ribs, fingers, and my back. I’ve learned to accept the severe physical pain I’m in on a daily basis due to injuries.

But while I was still on the job, I never truly dealt with any of that. I just ran from one call to another, to another, to another. I never took the time to adequately decompress, because, as that old smoke eater had told me, you can either do the job or you can’t. It was like a jack in the box. Pressure kept everything inside, but within a month of me hanging up my helmet, the pressure was released and out popped jack.

It all started one night in October of 2013. I woke up in the middle of the night screaming and drenched in sweat from a nightmare. The nightmare was about a call back in 2001. One that I hadn’t even thought about for over a decade. That call was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a few weeks, I was having nightmares every single night about a myriad of calls I’d stacked up over my career. During the day, I’d go teach my classes at the college and most people assumed I was my usual self. But they didn’t see what was just below the surface. As soon as I got home, I’d lock myself in my room and turn up the music to try and force everything out of my head. I stopped talking to my wife. And when she tried to initiate a conversation, I’d answer in a dickish way. Honestly, I’m not sure why she didn’t leave me as I gave her ample opportunity and reason.

And then I had a flashback during class. That was one of the scariest (not to mention embarrassing) things that ever happened to me. Then it happened again. And again. Things continued to spiral out of control. Finally, my wife sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that getting help was no longer an option. I had to do it, or I wasn’t going to make it. I knew she was right, and so I sought out counseling. It took a long, long time to get to where I am now. Three visits a week for a few months, then twice a week, then twice a month, then once a month, and now, as needed. 15 years of trauma can’t vanish overnight. I think all told it was 18 months until I was somewhat “normal”, not that I even know what normal is anymore.

I still have my struggles. There are still days in which I’m followed around by the ghosts of victims I couldn’t save. There are still nights in which I can see them, gathered around my bed staring at me with accusing eyes.  I still get irritable or angry for no reason. I’m easily startled. I do not react well to sudden changes, especially if they involve things I’ve planned. There are days when the last thing I want to do is interact with anyone socially or at work. There are times when a person is looking at me and talking that I can see their lips moving but I cannot hear them because I’m focused behind them, where I see a scene from my FD days playing out all over again. People who don’t know me very well probably thing I’m an asshole at times. But I’m that way for a reason. I didn’t choose to be like this. It isn’t about what’s wrong with me, it’s about all the things that happened to me.

All that said, I have far, far more good days than bad days. The true hero of my tale isn’t me. I’m no hero and I never was. I just did a job and got a paycheck. I like to think I was good at it and made a difference when I could, though I more often felt like that little Dutch boy trying to hold back a flood with his finger. No, Dear Reader, the hero of my tale is my wife. The long suffering redhead who has stood by me through it all. When I say she’s my savior, I mean that literally. Read the Author’s Note in my book for a better explanation of my feelings. They are things that I cannot express to her verbally, and so I dedicated my book to her and then wrote a paragraph about her in the Author’s Note. And on the nights when I’m having a nightmare, my other girl (cat), Anastasia, licks my face until I wake up.

My purpose in writing this is to simply say that if you are struggling, know that you are not alone. I thought I could handle it all by myself, but I was wrong and I could have easily ended up making a permanent decision from which there is no turning back because of it. It takes far more courage to admit you need help than it does to act like you can face it all yourself. I also tried to channel some of my emotions into writing, both my novel and a few other pieces. If you read my book, you’ll see hints of my own struggle in both Michael and Karl’s character. I found that to be very helpful to my own personal situation.

Remember this: You are only beaten when you admit it.

L.H.

Please Don’t Ask

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The camera caught me in an unguarded moment. We all have our demons. 

Dear Readers,

This post has nothing to do with my book (available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover!), which I’m sure you’ll find a welcome relief. In fact, it isn’t about writing or history at all. It’s about a question. A question which I frequently find myself being asked (as in once every few months). Though the person asking never asks it with malicious intent, it nonetheless invokes strong emotions in me. So consider this a PSA. The scenario usually unfolds like this:

“So you are a retired firefighter, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?”

Do you really want to know? Do you really want that inside your head? Because I’d gladly give it to you if it meant it would be out of mine. Do you want to know the sound a person makes when they are on fire? Do you want to know what it is like to hold a teenager’s hand and have them say “Please don’t let me die”, and you promise them that you won’t, even though they are fading right in front of you and there is nothing else you can do. Do you want to know what it is like to keep working on a drowned toddler, though they are too far gone, for the sake of their parents who are standing over your shoulder. Do you want to know what a body looks like when it has been ejected from a vehicle and said vehicle has rolled on top of it? Do you want the smells? Blood, piss, shit, burned flesh, vomit, or my least favorite, blood mixed with alcohol. Do you want to see what an explosion does to a body? And these are just a few examples. I could go on, but I won’t.

What you are actually asking me to do is to relive my worst nightmare. You ask the question, but what you don’t see is that I won’t eat or sleep for days afterwards. You won’t see my hands shaking uncontrollably. You won’t see me alone in the dark, surrounded by ghosts. You won’t see my wife losing sleep to stay up with me. You won’t see me having difficulty performing the most basic of tasks. Sure, it passes eventually. But I’d rather not have deal with it to begin with.

I know, people are obsessed with the macabre. They watch serial killer shows. They slow down to gawk at traffic accidents. But real life isn’t a television show. Trust me, you don’t want what is inside my head. I never thought, as a young firefighter, that all these years later that I’d lose sleep at night over incidents long passed. But I do. I guess that means I’m human after all.

So ask me about the funny calls, and I’ll keep you laughing for weeks. You can even ask me about the most memorable calls, and I’ll gladly share. But please don’t ask me about the worst thing I’ve ever seen. My wife is my best friend. There are some things, however, that I haven’t even told her about. She doesn’t know the answer to that question, and so I’m certainly not going to share it with a stranger.

Some public safety personnel are perfectly okay with answering that question. That’s their business. But just because some are doesn’t mean that we all are. So unless you know someone really well, it is best to avoid asking something so blunt and potentially insensitive. Yes, I know, morbid curiosity and all that, but if we want to tell you, let us tell you in our own way.

L.H.

Post Release Feeling

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Dear Readers,

It’s been one week since So Others May Live burst onto the stage. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an over dramatic way to phrase it. This past week has been hectic, to say the least. The book has been selling fairly well. I’m quite pleased with that, though to be honest, I wrote it because I had a story to tell, not because I expected to be jetting off to Tahiti with the money from a movie deal. As of this writing, Hollywood has not yet come calling. But if they do, I do have my actors picked out.

The amount of support I’ve gotten from the writing community, and my colleagues at the college, has been incredible. Not to mention from readers who are willing to fork over their money to buy something that I wrote. A think an author is eternally in debt to his or her readers. I know I will be. I am also in debt to all those who supported and encouraged me throughout this process. As this was my first foray into the publishing world, being able to ask for advice from authors who had been there allowed me to dodge many slings and arrows along the way.

Also this week, I secured a narrator for the audiobook. She is absolutely amazing. Seriously. I received several audition samples (the script was a few short scenes from the book), and when I listened to her my jaw dropped open. My initial reaction was “Holy [insert unprintable word]!” The characters sounded just like they sounded in my head when I wrote the book. My wife’s reaction was “Wow”. She’s German and that’s about as excited as she gets. It’ll be a while before the audiobook is ready, of course. But when it is, even those of you who have bought the book and read it will want to give it a listen.

The amazing thing to me about this whole process is, as I said above, people are willing to buy something I wrote. Imagine that, little old me from east Port Arthur, wrote a book. I’m an old firefighter. My joints hurt. My back injuries cause murderous pain. I don’t sleep much, partially due to pain and partially due to nightmares. I never thought I’d be able to actually write a book, though it has long been a dream of mine. I pushed through and got it done. So, Dear Readers, I implore you to never give up and keep chasing your dreams.

If you read or if you have read the book, drop me a line and let me know how you liked it. If you have a physical copy of the book, and you have a cat, I’d love to see a picture of the book with your cat!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

L.H.

So Others May Live: The Silver Screen

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Dear Readers,

I’m sure I’m not alone among novelists in pondering who we’d like to play our characters should our book be turned into a movie. Mine never will be, of course, but it is still a fun exercise. Sure, I’d love to see my characters brought to life, but then I’d complain about how the director/producer took my work of art and turned it into something else. I wrote my novel without considering this question, and so I’ve had to search for actors/actresses who fit what I envision when I think about my characters. Once you’ve read my book, please let me know if you concur with picks, or, if not, who you’d pick to play a character and why.

Of the utmost importance of selecting the following folks was age. Too many war films have actors too old to be believable in the role. Also, for Ursula, a redheaded actress was an absolute must as that is an essential part of her character. The only main character not in their early twenties is Karl Weber, who is in his mid thirties. But fortunately, there is a perfect actor for that role.

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Let’s start with Grace. Her character is in some ways the most important one in the novel, but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you why that is. It’ll be apparent when you finish reading the book. For her character, I’d select the English actress Rachel Hurd-Wood. She’s close to the right age, and she did an great job in the period drama Home Fires which ran for two seasons before it was abruptly canned. She has the right look, or at least I think she does. To me, having already acted in a WW2 series is a big plus. Though she wasn’t really a major character in the series, her character did experience highs and lows, from getting married to then losing her new husband in a tragic accident. As an actress, she handled that quite well and I am confident she could do justice to Grace’s character.

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From Grace, let’s move to her fiance Michael O’Hanlon. This would be a tricky one to cast. While Michael is from Belfast, whoever played him would have to be able to handle that accent, which is kind of specific. I don’t know if my selection, Liam Ainsworthy, can do that, but if so, I’d think him a good fit. He’s done some soap opera work in the UK and I know he isn’t Irish and it might be best to have an Irish actor in the role, but his name is Liam and that is Irish, so it’s close enough. The reason I think he’d do good in the role is that he has a brooding, almost haunted Irish look about him. That is an essential part of Mick’s character and so I think Liam would work in the role, provided he can do a Belfast accent. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. Note, he’s also young enough to be believable in the role.

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Confession time. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. (Go ahead and send me hate mail if you must, but it just isn’t my kind of show). That said, I think Sophie Turner would be perfect to play Ursula. She has red hair (a must for the role), and she’s young (another must). Acting in a series like GOT is no doubt quite a challenge, and is somewhat akin to a historical drama, so I’m certain she could handle portraying a young woman in 1943 Berlin.

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Volker Bruch is an absolutely perfect fit to play firefighter Karl Weber. He’s only a few years old than Karl’s character, and he has done an absolutely amazing job in two big period pieces, Generation War and Babylon Berlin (now on Netflix). In Babylon Berlin, he plays a police detective in the 1920s, so I’m sure he could handle playing a firefighter in the 1940s. He speaks English too, which is kind of important since the movie would need to be filmed in English. Though I had already finished writing the novel when Babylon Berlin debuted on Netflix here in the States, when I saw his character on screen, I thought to myself that he’d do a great job as Karl.

And as a bonus, this would be a great song to play over the closing credits.

I haven’t gone so far as to consider all the minor characters. That would be a bit too much for me, so I’ll just stop with the major ones. Feel free to let me know who your picks would be for characters major or minor. Maybe I’ll revisit this post in a few months with reader picks.

If you haven’t bought a copy yet, So Others May Live is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon and is available for hardcover pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website.

L.H.

 

Book Release!

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Dear Readers,

It is finished! So Others May Live is now out in ebook and paperback. Hardback and audio book to follow. It has been a long road (two years) and the book went through multiple drafts (8), but now it emerges onto the world stage. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous, as even the best books get nasty reviews from some people, but I’m also happy it is finally done. Exhausted, yes, but happy.

So happy reading! And thank you all for taking this journey with me.

L.H.

 

Cover Reveal!

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Dear Readers,

At long last, it is finally coming together. On Saint Patrick’s Day (fitting, that), I received three draft covers to choose from. I really liked the first cover, as it showed firefighters putting out a fire during an air raid. There was only one problem. They were in London, not Berlin. So that one wouldn’t work. I didn’t care for the second draft as it looked a little bit too much like every other World War Two book out there. Nothing made it stand out. That left me with draft three, which fortunately, I really liked.

I requested a few changes to the original version. First, I asked that the font used on the first cover be used on this one. Then, I asked that the burning corner image on the first draft be placed on this one as well. Lastly, I asked that the colors on the helmet be dulled just a bit to blend in better with the background. Thankfully, my cover designer was able to oblige me and came up with the incredible image that you see above. What you actually see there is the ebook cover. There is also a paperback cover, an audio book cover (which is exactly what you see above, just square), and a hardback dust jacket.

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Above, you see the hardcover dust jacket. The front inside flap contains the book blurb. The back inside flap has the “about the author” bit. Typically, the back of hardcover dust jackets contain snips from reviews or advance praise, etc. For mine, I decided to go with something simply and (hopefully) a bit eye catching.

All told, I’m extremely happy with how the cover has turned out. I think it stands out, but also conveys the genre quite well. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this is my first time. We are finishing up the formatting at present and the book will be available on April 18th!

L.H.