Inspiration Part Deux

Inspiration

Dear Readers,

I wanted to expand a bit on the topic of last week’s post and go into a bit more detail. I’m happy to report that my current work in progress is half completed. I’ve written half a novel in fourteen days. The next fourteen will see me finish the first draft. In other news, you may also obtain a copy of my first book on Kindle for a mere .99 cents up through June 9th in order to mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. So if you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

But on to the subject of today’s post. You can see in last week’s post where I talked about the photo that helped launch my current book, but allow me to go into a bit more detail. So as I was looking at the photo and pondering those questions, the lyrics to Runaway Train by Soul Asylum came to mind. Particularly the lines “Can you help me remember how to smile/Make it somehow all seem worthwhile/How on earth did I get so jaded/Life’s mystery seems so faded”. Wow, I thought, I could definitely see a young woman in 1864 trafficked into prostitution as my main character Molly was appreciating those lyrics. Like all 90s kids, I know this song, but I did not have it downloaded on my phone as its never been one of my favorites.

I wanted to listen to it as I looked at the photograph, so I fired up the AppleTV, opened up YouTube, and watched the original video. Though you may not believe me when I say this, I had NEVER seen the video before! It was released in 1993 and we didn’t have cable and I wouldn’t have watched MTV anyway, even if we did. As the video started, Dear Readers, I was absolutely awestruck. I had no idea the subject of the music video was runaway children, going so far as to show photos of actual missing children. Now, Molly did not run away from home. She was sent to America, but through circumstances that you’ll just have to wait to read about, she finds herself forced into prostitution just as runaway teens today are sometimes compelled into those exact same circumstances by traffickers. (And others are outright kidnapped by the same.)

Later that day, I got in the car to run down the corner store to buy my daily green apple slushy. In the truck, I tuned into the Pop Rocks station on SiriusXM, and guess what song came on? If that’s not a sign, dear readers, I don’t know what is. I made the photo/lyric sheet that appears at the top of this post and printed it out to keep next to my computer. I need only look at it and the words come pouring from my head as if they were floodwaters through a breached levee.

So follow the posted link above and watch the original video if you’ve never seen it. Absolutely haunting. That I can tell you.

L.H.

The Photo That Launched 90,000 Words

censored

Dear Readers,

It is said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched 1,000 ships. My current work in progress, tentatively titled Molly’s Song was launched by a face as well. Or, to be more accurate, by a black and white photograph of a young woman. As the image is copyrighted, I cannot include the picture itself in this post, but you may visit the article here and see it for yourself. Scroll all the way to the end of the article, as it is the last photograph, though check out the others and read the article too. It’s quite interesting. Then return to my humble page and read on. Note that the photo is risque, but it is not lewd. It was taken in the 19th Century, so view it in that light.

It’s a fairly straightforward photograph. A young woman is seated in a chair (or possibly a stool) and looking at a photograph. But it is anything but simple, Dear Reader, for you see, the woman is a woman of ill repute (harlot, scarlet woman, woman of ill fame, hooker, whore, ceiling expert, fallen woman, prostitute, or whatever term people use), though today we use the word sex worker. Granted, the photo was taken about twenty-five years or so after the time period I decided to write about in my novel. (Civil War as opposed to late Gilded Age), but while looking at the photograph, I wanted to know the answers to several questions, and the answers I dreamed up formed the basis of my novel.

  1. What was her name?
  2. Where was she from originally?
  3. What color was her hair? (Red, of course!!!!)
  4. What circumstances led to her employment in a bordello?
  5. How old was she?
  6. Who is in that picture she is looking at?
  7. Who gave her the locket she wears around her neck?
  8. What does she dream of at night?
  9. What are her fears?
  10. What does she do in her down time? Does she have any?
  11. Does she ever wonder how her life might have been different?
  12. Is she comfortable with her circumstances? Or does she want out of sex work?
  13. Where is she? City? State? Country?
  14. Does she ever think of slipping off into the night and starting a new life elsewhere?
  15. If she does, will she actually do it? Or merely think about it?
  16. Is she religious?
  17. Does she have friends? Enemies? Regular customers? Customers she hates?
  18. What does she do when she gets angry? Sad? Happy?
  19. When was the last time she cried? Laughed?
  20. Has she ever been in love? When? With Who? What happened?

So there you have it, Dear Readers. I wanted to know the answers to these questions, and so I set out to figure these things out and thus I got a novel out of it. Or will have one once all the steps have been completed.

For the record, I named her Molly O’Sullivan, of County Galway, residing on Mott Street in Manhattan in the Summer and Fall of 1864.

A Writer’s Schedule

Blog-more-and-stress-less-image1

Dear Readers,

My semester ended with my last two finals on Thursday last. I entered grades and submitted all my paperwork. Friday morning I was up bright and early for a doctor’s appointment followed by a visit to the used bookstore I frequent. But this week starts my summer writing schedule, though I’m breaking it a bit to post this. Given the demands on my time during the semesters, I lack much time to write other than the occasional weekend, but only if I don’t have grading to do. So I must take advantage of the eight weeks I have off before the start of the Summer 2 session when I’ll be teaching two classes. So, Dear Readers, here is how my days go, no matter if it is a weekday or a weekend. I guess it gives me a glimpse into the life of a full time writer.

0730: Wake up and build up the strength to actually get out of bed while checking my social media accounts.

0800: Up for breakfast, either Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal or Wheaties.

0815-0900: Sit on the porch and drink my coffee with my feral cat buddy Cravat Cat while planning the day’s social media posts and waiting for my morning medicine to kick in.

0900-0915: Paying attention to Anastasia so that she will let me write in peace.

0915-1100: Write. With a break around 1030 or so.

1100-1130: Write

1130-1230: Break. I usually have a bit of a lie down to rest my back at this point and watch an episode of something….it varies as to what I watch.

1230-1245: Lunch

1245-1315: Sit on the porch and enjoy a Dr. Pepper.

1315-1500: Write. If I managed to hit my 3K word a day quote in the morning, then I use this time for marketing related things for my novel.

1500-1600: Break

1600-1615: Supper

1615-1730: Write, work on marketing items, or plan the next day’s writing.

1730-1800: My wife is home by 1730 and I sit outside on the porch and talk to her.

1800-1830: Shower, take nighttime medication, figure out what I’m going to watch on TV.

1830-1945: Lie in bed with ice packs on my back and watch TV with Anastasia.

1945-2045: Sit on front porch with my wife and listen to a baseball game on the radio.

2045-2200: Back in bed on ice packs. (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off)

2200-2245: Sit on the porch and listen to an Old Time Radio program.

2300: Lights out.

I’m usually up at least twice in the middle of the night for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Pain and bad dreams rob me of sleep. If I manage 6 hours in a night (though the are non-consecutive hours), I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. This is my schedule from this week through mid July when I’m back to the campus for classes.

L.H.

 

Chosen Men to Me!

sMApyR1m83uhedZDC3vBSmnmicP

“Now you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute. But can you stand?”

Dear Readers,

As another semester draws to a close, I am preparing for my usual end of the semester tradition (each fall and spring). That is, a Sharpe’s Rifles marathon usually followed by a Hornblower marathon. I’ve seen all the films in both series numerous times, too numerous to even count. But they never get old. I enjoy watching Sharpe and the lads give Boney a damn good thrashing every time. And I do enjoy the Age of Sail and nautical fiction, so the exploits of Hornblower are always entertaining as well. I do wish they’d make a crossover episode with both Hornblower and Sharpe. Maybe they team up to rescue a kidnapped Austrian princess from a Turkish harem. Or something like that.

Alas, my marathon cannot start until Friday. I have one final Monday, two on Wednesday, and two on Thursday. And then I have to enter grades and respond to usually 20-25 emails begging, cajoling, or demanding higher grades than those earned. Once all that is over, I can begin the films and enjoy my two months off before I start classes in the Summer 2 session.

Pleasant Notes

So Others May Live

Novel by Lee Hutch

Dear Readers,

My apologies for the slight delay in my usual posting schedule. This is my busy time of the semester as it winds down and we get ready for final exams. Then I get a couple of months off! I’m writing this from my office on campus that looks out over a parking lot and the train tracks. I get excited when a train comes by, since very few students stop in to see me. But I digress. For today’s post, I thought I would give you the play list that I listened to while writing So Others May Live.

I know that some writers need silence to work, but I need music. As I do not really watch much modern television (I’m the rare Gen X kid that hasn’t seen Friends, I’ve never seen Pulp Fiction, and laugh at me if you must, but I don’t watch Game of Thrones), I spend a lot of time listening to the radio. Often times this involves listening to old time radio dramas, as I have mentioned here before. But I love music too. Nothing can capture emotion quite like a song. In fact, my favorite assignment I give my students in class is to create a personal playlist for a historical figure. On my phone, I have playlists divided by subject or mood. For example, I have a playlist of songs that remind me of various things that happened during my time in the fire service. I have a Civil War music playlist. A World War 1 playlist. A World War 2 playlist. A 90s playlist. Etc.

So whenever I start writing a book, I create a playlist for that book. Since most of what I do is historical fiction, it obviously includes popular songs from that time period. However, it also includes songs that remind me of or I equate with certain characters in the book. So Others May Live was no different than other things I’ve written, so here is the playlist I wrote the book to, and why each song was included.

Closing Time by Semisonic: The line in the song “Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end” reminds me of Grace and the way the novel ends. (No spoilers!)

Only God Knows Why by Kid Rock: This is my personal theme song. “People don’t know about the things I say and do. They don’t understand about the shit that I’ve been through.” That sums up my life post retirement as I deal with physical and mental scars. But it also could fit Karl’s character as he is haunted by his own experiences.

Bombers Moon by Mike Harding. This could very well be Michael’s story in musical form. The funny thing is that I had never actually heard this song before until after the book was finished. But if they make it into a movie…..it would be a great theme song.

Lambeth Walk: Obviously the characters in England would have known this song as it was popular during the War. In fact, I remember my grandfather humming it to himself sometimes when I was a kid. It is indeed a catchy tune. It’s a nice dance too.

I Don’t Want to Wait Paula Cole: Move over Dawson and Pacy, I like the line in this song that says “And the war he saw lives inside him still”. That’s true of all of the characters in the book, not just Karl and Michael. It is sort of like how when you retire from public safety, you have images from calls running through your head on a continuous loop….or rather I do. I can’t speak for anyone else.

Mein Kleines Herz by Katharina Schutter. Proof that German isn’t necessarily a harsh language! This is not a World War Two song, but rather a World War 2 style song. It is from the excellent series Generation War. The actor Volker Bruch played one of the lead roles and he is who I’d like to see play Karl if they make mine into a series.

We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. Actually, most of the versions of WW2 songs I listen to are Vera Lynn versions, because, well, she’s Vera Lynn. My grandfather liked this one. Grace and Michael would have no doubt known this song, as would his crew.

I’ll be Seeing You also by Vera Lynn. This was my grandfather’s favorite World War 2 song. I remember listening to it with him many, many times. I think it reminded him of my grandmother. Now when I hear it, I think of him.

Lili Marlene by Lale Anderson. The classic German song of the war. It was played on the radio regularly and was quite popular with German soldiers at the front, but also with allied soldiers. Karl and his comrades would’ve known this song well. In fact, I vaguely recall a reference to either the song or the singer in the book, but I may be confusing my book with something else.

Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden by various. I know for a fact this song is mentioned in the novel. It’s a military funeral song which predates the Nazis by several decades. It was played on the radio in Germany during the War, and often times, as in my book, it was played following air raids which does strike one as a bit morbid.

Keep the Home Fires Burning by various. Though normally associated with World War One, this song was also popular during World War Two. “And though your heart is breaking, make it sing this cheery song.” That can sum up the feelings of many young women, like Grace, who must put on a brave face while their loved ones serve in harms way.

A Long December by the Counting Crows. Though the novel takes place in November, it is still close to December, or rather close enough for this song to make sense. “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” Would 1944 see the end of the war? Or would it drag on longer? In November of 1943, no one knew the answer to that question.

There are a few others too, but these are the main ones.

Happy Reading!

L.H.

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

rinrexEBT

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.