Dark Raven: A Sneak Peak!

Me

Dear Readers,

Another semester looms on the horizon. Classes start on Tuesday, and I’ve been battling horrific back spasms since Thursday. Lucky me. (And this is after feeling relatively good over the break). After the incredibly taxing, in a physical sense, semester I had in the fall, I find myself terrified of what the upcoming semester will hold in store. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But enough of that. Let’s move on to a more cheerful topic.

As I endure the painful slings and arrows of editing Molly’s Song, I’m also putting together my next project. Right now, I’m doing my own rounds of edits to Molly’s Song, and it goes off to my editor on March 16th. Fitting that, a novel about a young woman from Ireland, goes to the editor the day before Saint Patrick’s Day. Funny how that worked out! When I get it back from her, I’ll spend another couple of months working through her suggestions and then send it back in June or July for the copyedit. Right now, it looks like it will be published in the late October through early November time frame, but I might hold back for a Christmas release. But time will tell. A lot can happen between now and then.

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Editing sucks. It’s entirely necessary, but it sucks. I’m having a lot more fun working through the outline to book three, tentatively titled Dark Raven. Where to begin? How about with the title? I got the idea for the title and, indeed, for the book itself from an old Cossack folk song called Чёрный ворон, друг ты мой залётный. (Literally: Black Raven, You Are My Friend, Stranger but more accurately Black Raven: You Are My Unexpected Friend/Guest). In the song, a raven comes to visit a young woman. In his beak, he is carrying a human hand. She recognizes the hand, by a ring on one of the fingers, as belonging to her sweetheart who is off fighting in the war. Cheerful, isn’t it? You can listen to the song here if you’d like. Speaking of musical inspiration, here’s the other song that provides the basis for the latter portion of the novel. It is called Теперь все против нас. (All Is Now Against Us) It is the story of the doomed White Russian cause. It is quite haunting and you can listen to it (with subtitles) here is you’d like.

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Now that you have the lyrical inspiration, let’s talk structure. As you know if you’ve followed my blog for more than ten seconds, my favorite novel is Mikhail Sholokhov’s Тихий Дон (Quiet Flows the Don) which I opine about ad nauseam. Did I mention that my wife got me a first edition English translation for Christmas? Anyway, as I decided how I wanted to split up the story, I decided to give a tip of my papakha to my favorite writer. It will be divided into four parts called: Peace, War, Revolution, and Civil War, just as Тихий Дон is. (The similarities stop there. He won the Nobel Prize. And Sholokhov I ain’t.) In my novel, Part One: Peace covers from December 1913 to July 1914. Part Two: War covers August 1914 through December 1916. Part Three: Revolution runs from January 1917 through December 1917. And last but not least, Part Four: Civil War takes us from January of 1918 through December 1920.

This novel will cover a lot of ground, both in time and distance. Consider that my first novel So Others May Live (now available in audiobook format!) takes place over the span of 48 hours and is roughly 96K words, so one that covers seven years will be a bit on the long side. Both So Others May Live and Molly’s Song are 32 chapters long (Molly’s Song takes place over an 18 month period). Right now, I have Dark Raven plotted out to be 50 chapters. In a marked departure of how I normally do things, with each book broken into parts with equal chapters, Dark Raven is not equally divided between the four parts. It is sketched out to be 8 chapters for part one, sixteen chapters for part two, ten chapters for part three, and sixteen chapters for part four. I try to keep my chapters around 3K words, so if you are doing the math, you’ll see that comes to 150K. Longer than either of my first two books. But I think there is a rule that Russian literature or literature about Russia has to be long!

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Length aside, it is a fairly simple story. It opens with a chance encounter at a Christmas ball, the last before the war sweeps away everything. Count Vladimir Ivanovitch Lavrov (Volodya) a young, cocky officer in the Chevalier Guards meets Yevgenia Nikolaevna Kutuzova (Zhenya). Their lives are forever intertwined from that moment on, through war, revolution, and civil war. From the salons of pre-war Saint Petersburg to the bloody battlefields of World War One to the frozen tundras of Siberia, this book will take you on an adventure. (Plotting it has already been an adventure, so writing it will be too). The dedication will be the following: “To Maria, my guardian angel. Я люблю тебя, мой голубоглазый ангел.”

And speaking of Maria Nikolaevna, she will have a cameo appearance in the novel at a couple of spots when her path crosses with one of the characters. A couple of posts ago, I shared a link to a video I made about her. However, yesterday I went the whole hog and put together a new EPIC one! It’s eleven and half minutes long and has a ton of photos, historical video, and a three song soundtrack. Check it out here if you’d like! I have a ton of photos of her in my office (and only two of my wife). I had a student look at one of them and say, “Is that your wife?” to which I replied, “I wish.” In my defense though, my wife has a history crush on Manfred von Richthofen and has more pictures of him on her desk than of me…and also a Red Baron action figure. So there’s that.

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I spent a good chunk of time over the Christmas Break in preparation for writing this weighty tome. It’s funny, actually. The first week of the break, my wife was still in school, and so I spent five days alone. From the time I got up, the only language I heard was Russian as I watched some documentaries and listened to some Russian language audiobooks. At night, my dreams were in Russian. The most amusing part was when my wife got home one day and started talking to me and I answered her in Russian (which she doesn’t speak). I guess they call that immersion? The way I see it, given my affinity for Russian literature and the Russian language, I guess it was only a matter of time before I tackled writing a Russian epic.

As I type, I realize that this post is reaching a length that Tolstoy would no doubt approve of! Dark Raven will be written over the late spring and summer, though I may start earlier since I pretty much have everything I need to get started. Oh, remember when I mentioned that my wife got me a first edition of Тихий Дон for Christmas? That wasn’t all. She also got me a complete set of commemorative postcards issued in the Soviet Union in 1974, still in the original package, that coincided with the release of a two volume illustrated edition (which I already have). And…my favorite part…a shirt which says “This guy loves Aksinia Astakhova!” (The main female character in the book).

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Until next time, comrades, I will leave you with a line from the song mention above, All Is Now Against Us, which sets the tone for this novel: “We don’t have a place in this Russia mad from pain/And God no longer hears us whether we call on him or not.”

L.H.

 

 

Audiobook Release!

 

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Dear Readers,

Just in time to ring in the new year, the audiobook version of So Others May Live is now out! You can find it on Audible here. And even if you’ve already read it, listening to it will be a whole new experience. My narrator did an amazing job. It’s like listening to an old radio drama. You can listen to a sample below:

Have a safe New Year’s Eve!

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.

D-Day 75th Anniversary Sale

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Dear Readers,

In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings, there is a special ebook sale! Several authors are offering their World War 2 novels at the low price of 99 cents! From action/adventure to romance, there is something for everyone in this sale. All of the books are set either during or just before the Second World War. The sale runs from June 5th through June 9th. Don’t miss out! Spend the summer with some great books.

You can see a list of the books with their purchase links here.

Happy Reading,

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.

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.

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.

Booking a Cover

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Dear Readers,

Next week I should have my draft cover designs to choose from. Once I pick the concept I like the best, it’ll be refined until it is perfect. At the same time, So Others May Live will be going through it’s final formatting. I should be able to reveal the cover around April 1st and I’m hoping the book will be available around April 18th (ebook, hardback, and paperback with Audiobook to follow later). At least that’s the date I’m shooting for. I’m using Damonza for my cover design and formatting needs. Everyone raves about them, and thus far they have been really easy to work with. I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what my cover concepts look like.

It has been a long wrong. Two years ago today, March 9th, I wrote the first word of So Others May Live. And now, I’m just over a month away from publication. That’s kind of exciting to think about. I knew that writing a novel was a long, slow process, but I had no idea how much work would actually go into it. In some ways, writing the first draft was the easy part. Revisions, editing, etc, proved to be the tough stage. Clicking “send” to deliver my manuscript for cover design and formatting was both a proud moment, but a scary one too. Rather like dropping your child off for their first day of kindergarten.

As soon as I am able, I will share the final, official cover with you. Until then, happy reading and happy writing.

L.H.

 

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

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Dear Readers,

I’ve been finding it difficult to devote any time to writing of late. There are two reasons. First of all, my teaching load this semester takes up a good portion of the day (and then you can add the two hour round trip commute and the committee meetings to it). The second reason is the severe, unrelenting pain I’ve been in since my fall last month. I already have spinal injuries, but the pain has gotten absolutely murderous over the past couple of weeks. So much so that it has started to rattle my thinking. Furthermore, I cannot sit down for more than 20 minutes or so without even more pain (which makes the commute tough). In the past, I’ve always used a standing desk to write from at home. But even that is uncomfortable now. I have been forced to adapt somewhat, and I have found something that seems to work well.

I’m writing the old school way, as in actually writing by hand. The benefits of this are numerous. I don’t have to wait until I am at home and feel like standing in front of my laptop to write. I can write in my office, in between classes, while laying in bed at night, while waiting for an MRI (like I did yesterday), or just about anywhere I go. It’s like having a portable typewriter. The major drawback is my abysmal handwriting, which I’ll have to read when I transcribe the manuscript onto the the computer. As an added bonus, I can edit while I type it up, and so the first typed draft will, in fact, be the second draft.

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As with anything, I get “help” from Anastasia. 

It’s working well so far. It is slower going than typing a first draft though, but it isn’t like I’m on a time crunch or anything. I wouldn’t have time to type it up until after the semester is over anyway, so we’ll see how far along I am by then. Honestly, it’s kind of fun. I feel like a writer of old. I’m using a regular pen, but it would be kind of neat to use a quill and ink. I’d probably spill it all over myself though. After I hit publish on this post, I’m going to lay down on some ice packs and try to knock out a few pages. Athletes must play with pain, and writers sometimes have to write with pain.

Until next time, happy reading and happy writing friends.

L.H.

Loving Your Neighbor’s Wife: Or Lessons From Russian Lit

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Dear Readers,

I just finished reading The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons From Russian Literature. Okay, to be totally honest, I didn’t actually “read” it, I listened to the audio book. (Still counts!) The premise of the book is what caught my eye. A book that sets out to teach life lessons based on Russian literature…..what’s not to like? No one captures the human condition quite like Russian authors. As an Irishman, a people well known for our sense of tragedy, I must admit that the Russians do it even better. But I digress.

The author, Viv Groskop, studied the Russian language and literature in college and spent a year living in Russia in the early 90s. Each chapter of her book discusses a different Russian classic (and it’s author), and boils it down to its essential premise. She illustrates the life lesson with stories from her own experience in Russia. The reader (or listener) can easily apply said lesson to their own life. Such as, don’t jump in front of a train. (Anna Karenina)

If you think about it, we all struggle with certain questions in our life. Why do bad things happen? What if you love someone who doesn’t love you? What if you love someone that you shouldn’t? Is there any deeper meaning in life? Is there such a thing as fate? Luckily for those of you who are literarily (is that a word?) inclined, the pantheon of Russian lit holds all the answers. I think that at some level, most great works of literature examine at least one of these essential questions, regardless of the national origin of the author, but perhaps because of their history, Russian authors tend to do the best job. I guess a certain amount of angst is an invaluable tool for an author.

At only 224 pages, Groskop manages to briefly sum up most of the great works of Russian literature before delving into the answers to life’s questions they provide. If you add up the pages of the works themselves, it would run to thousands of pages, so this book can be used both as a primer on classic lit or as a refresher course if you’ve read the authors discussed. It’s a book that you’ll want to revisit (I’ve listened to it twice) so you can fully digest the material. Perhaps take a note or two, and then look over them should you find yourself pondering life.

My only complaint is that Mikhail Sholokhov is not mentioned. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and his seminal work Quiet Flows the Don is, in my biased opinion, the finest novel ever written. It was the most widely read work of Soviet literature. But, as is often the case, whether we like or dislike an author is subjective. Not mentioning him in the book may have been due to constraints of time and space. It is also true, however, that Sholokhov, fine writer though he was, is not overly popular in some circles. He was very close with Stalin. A member of the Communist Party, he was also elected to the Supreme Soviet. I’ve looked over some university reading lists for Russian literature PhD programs, and he is not even included on some of them. And that, Dear Readers, is a travesty.

So what lesson can you learn from Quiet Flows the Don? Don’t fall in love with your neighbors wife. And should a civil war break out in your country, make sure you are on the winning side.

That said, The Anna Karenina Fix will appeal to lovers of literature, both Russian and every other kind. The book has a lighthearted tone and, if you listen to the audio book, it is rather like sitting back and hearing a story. A story part hilarious and part sad (such as Groskop’s experience at a Russian funeral). So throw on your ushanka, hop on your troika, and raid your nearest bookstore. You’ll enjoy it.

L.H.