Molly’s Song is Finished!

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Dear Readers,

Eight months ago, I came across a photo of an unnamed prostitute taken in the 19th Century. Enchanted by this photo, I found myself falling for the young woman. As I wondered about her life, where she came from, and what her hopes and fears were, I got the idea for a novel. So I am happy to report the following.

I have previously blogged quite a bit about my work on my second novel, Molly’s Song. I am happy to report that at 5:22 pm (CST) on Saturday, November 30, 2019, I typed the final word of the first draft. Now, it’s just a first draft, and there is much work to be done on the editing front. I typically make three passes over it myself before I pack it off to my editor, which I will do in March. When I get it back from her, there will be more revisions, and then a copy edit in July. I’m aiming for a release in the early fall of 2020. However, despite all that is still to be done, finishing a first draft is the most important thing, as nothing else can take place without a finished draft.

To complete the draft, I isolated myself at home over Thanksgiving Break (my wife was out of town), and knocked out the final ten chapters in four days. If you are keeping track, that means 30,000 words in four days as my chapters usually range around 3,000 words each. All told, this draft has take a lot out of me. I felt great when I started working on it this summer, but then by body decided to act up. I’ve had a horrific semester dealing with spinal pain, knee pain, etc. But it is almost over. Only 9 more days. Throughout this never-ending hell that my body forces me to live in, I had to find it within myself to finish the book. So I’m quite happy that I managed to pull it off.

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One of several photos of my “Molly”. This is the one that first caught my eye.

So what is next? Over Christmas Break, I shall be working on an original script for a 50 minute radio drama to be submitted to the International Radio Playwriting Competition hosted by the BBC. The challenge is to write the script for an original radio drama. The winner gets a trip to London to watch the play being recorded and it will air on BBC World Service radio. As a big fan of radio dramas, this is right up my alley. So I have a couple of weeks to figure out a plot that will work.

And the next book? Molly will get another two books devoted to her story. But first, I have another tale to tell. We will travel to Russia on the eve of the Great War, and bear witness to the winds of change which sweep away the old world. It is the story of a struggle to survive amidst the turmoil of the Revolution. Over the next five months, I’ll work on outlining the plot and I’ll begin writing in May when the spring semester ends. I should be finished with the first draft by mid July.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. Thank you to all who have followed along on this journey. And, by way of another update, I received the audio proofs for the Audible version of So Others May Live. It is, of course, amazing. It should hit the shelves around New Year’s, so stay tuned for more updates.

P.S.: Yes, Dear Readers, I know falling in love with a girl in a 130 year old photo isn’t “normal.” All I can say to that is that writer’s aren’t normal anyway. And I can’t shake the feeling that I knew this girl somehow. Maybe…I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. But there you have it.

What’s In A Dream

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Dear Readers,

At the risk of making myself sound crazy (okay, crazier…), I am going to share a story with you. It is something that I have not often spoke about and, in fact, today I shared it with a couple of classes for the very first time. Seeing as how I wasn’t laughed out of the room, I guess it went okay. You see, Dear Readers, it involves something that there really isn’t any logical explanation for, or at least one that makes sense. I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say that perhaps there are some things that simply defy our puny attempts to explain and define them. So here goes.

It all started on the night of November 29/30, 1986. I was a young lad of eight years old. I awoke in the middle of the night from a particularly vivid dream. In my dream, I was present at a Civil War battle, though at that time I didn’t know which one. When I say it was a vivid dream, I could still smell the smoke from the gunpowder when I woke up. Black powder has a distinctive smell and, given my age, I didn’t know that. However, the smell matched what I would later smell on many a field as a reenactor. I guess I chalked the dream up to an overactive imagination. Until the next year when I had the same dream on the same night. And the next year. And the next. And every year that followed. No doubt on Friday night, I’ll have the dream again at the age of 41.

As I got a bit older, I learned that I was dreaming about the Battle of Franklin and was seeing the battle through the eyes of  Confederate soldier. I could describe the battle in such a way that it would appear as though I had been there and I knew details about the battle that I could not have learned in any other way (since I had not, at that time, read anything about it). So how, Dear Readers, can one explain this? I admit that I’m at a loss for words. Some have told me that I must be remembering a past life, but if we truly live multiple lives, why can I only remember this one? Another explanation, and one that intrigues me, is that I am actually seeing the memories of an ancestor who was present at the battle and, for some reason, he has seen fit to gift me his memories. Though the dream is fairly traumatic and I could do without it, to be honest. But is there some other answer?

And for the record, the actual battle took place on November 30th, and so I have the dream each year on the night before the battle. Odd, don’t you think?

L.H.

The Best Laid Plans

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Dear Readers,

Yesterday, 15 June, should have been the day that I celebrated finishing the first draft of Molly’s Song. The operative word in that sentence is should. The writing gods, however, had other plans. And as they hold me captive, I must do as they direct.

When I reached the 75K word mark, I was excited because I was only five days away from being finished, and plugging along at my 3K word a day quota. It was close! SO CLOSE! Then it happened. I realized, while looking over what I’d done so far, that there were major issues with parts of the plot and that the timeline was blown all to hell. The problem wasn’t with the story itself, but rather the way in which I was telling it. Some key points were overwritten, and others underwritten. Normally, I take care of this kind of thing at the editing stage, but two major issues proved fatal.

So I decided that the only thing to do was to go back to square one. I scrapped the second viewpoint, and decided to focus only on Molly’s point of view. (This is a challenge because, as a male writer, I do not want to fall into the various tropes that many male authors use when they write female characters). I decided to tell ALL of her story, not just one piece of it, as originally intended. In the scope of a single day, I managed to write a 1500 word synopsis of where I wanted the story to go, and also sketched out my chapter outline. I’m pretty minimal with the outlining. It just contains the chapter number and a one sentence statement about what needs to happen in that chapter. This new version has it coming in at 32 chapters and 96K words, as opposed to the original 30/90K split.

I can still finish it by July 15th, which I absolutely must do because that’s when my summer classes start, and they lead right into the fall. I can edit during the semesters, but I cannot write, as I do not have the time during the day and I’m in so much pain by the time I get home that all I can do is lay on ice packs and stare at the TV while Anastasia licks my face. (For the record, she’s my cat.)

Molly, and the whole way I came to write about her, is too important to let slide. I MUST tell her story, but I must tell it the right way. I owe it to her, though she’s fictional, and through her, to all the women in history who have suffered as she did, yet managed to persevere. But it doesn’t change the fact that rather than being finished, I’m six chapters into this new version. Chapter 6 has a major turning point, a dark one, and after writing it today, I feel kind of sick. It’s a dark book, but it contains a message of hope.

And the best part? Molly is too big a character for a single book. So as I work, I’m sketching out the rest of the series (another two books). But before I write another book about her, I have to tackle my planned epic set during the Russian Revolution. A writer’s job is never over.

Until next time, Dear Readers, stay cool this summer.

L.H.

Inspiration Part Deux

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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

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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.

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.

Dickens on the Strand

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I made the drive down to Galveston for the 45th Annual Dickens on the Strand event. Growing up, my parents would take us every year, rain or shine, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of spending the day walking around The Strand and looking at all the people in Victorian Era Costumes. Later, as an adult, I would go with my late friend Robert and we would set up a table and talk to people about Civil War Galveston whilst dressed in Union Navy uniforms. (One year a group of Victorian “working girls” came up to us and said “We love seamen!”)

But I haven’t been down there since Robert passed away as I thought the memories would be too difficult for me. I decided to break my ten year long absence and sally forth to occupy the city in the name of the United States Navy, circa 1862. With me on this trip were my wife and my friend Mike. I wore my US Naval surgeon uniform and with me I had licenses to pass out to women of the town. The US military establishment during the Civil War required working girls to have a health certificate and a license to operate in occupied areas, so I was only doing my part to ensure the health and well being of our soldiers and sailors.

The weather was perfect and the crowd was one of the largest I’ve seen attend. Also, I was particularly happy to see so many young people dressed up. There were tons of pirates there (which isn’t really a Victorian thing, so I’m not sure what is up with that). I also liked all the suffragettes who wore sashes which said “Votes for Women”. A particularly attractive one even asked if she could get a picture with us, which we readily agreed to! Words do not exist to describe the all the wonderful foods available! We had lunch at a German beer garden (at my German wife’s insistence). I’ve never had sauerkraut balls before and Holy Crap they were good! And funnel cakes……how I love thee.

It was a great day and I had a ton of fun. So much fun that my wife had to drive us home….

L.H.