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.

Writing Off Into the Sunset

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Howdy Partners,

I must say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is turning out to be quite the gaming experience. It’s a bit more involved than the first game was, but that isn’t a bad thing…as long as you remember to feed your horse. I’ve always been a fan of Westerns, both print and screen. Perhaps that comes from growing up in Texas. I drive a truck. I have a nice pair of rattlesnake skin boots. We even had a horse when I was a kid. I love riding horses. I draw the line at wearing a cowboy hat, though when I worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife, I had to as it was part of the uniform. I grew up watching old westerns on TV, mostly B movies with thin scripts and bad acting. But at least you could tell who the good guys were. They wore the white hats! Who hasn’t dreamed of galloping off into the sunset on a trusty steed with a redheaded saloon girl sitting behind you in the saddle. Okay, maybe that’s just me. Before I digress further, I will now give you my favorite western novels.

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Lonesome Dove. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said. If you want to learn how to create vivid characters, read this book. Captains Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae leap off the page and into reality. In my mind, they are real people. (Note: I see myself as being more like Augustus, but my wife insists I am like Woodrow F. Call…..something about being stubborn……). I first read the book in the late 80s, after I watched the mini-series. I think I was 10 years old or thereabouts. It is a relatively straightforward story about a journey from Texas to Montana, but three is nothing simple about the complex web of characters that populate the pages. I remember sitting in an undergraduate creative writing class and the professor asked us what we thought the greatest American novel was. I gave my opinion that it was Lonesome Dove. The professor sneered and said “Westerns aren’t literature.” I replied “Well the Pulitzer Prize committee disagrees with you.” Needless to say, my grade suffered as a result. The fact that the professor who so readily dismissed the greatness of Lonesome Dove had not published anything himself was not lost on me. If you only read one western in your life, read this book. If you only watch one western movie or television show, watch this one.

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The Son is a remarkable book that follows story lines set in three eras. 1840s Texas. 1915 Texas, when Anglo ranchers fought a nasty border war with Mexican rebels. 1980s Texas, where oil reigned supreme. This book doesn’t skip over the violence, and it is full of action. It is also the best fictional description of life among the Comanche that I have ever read. You’ll learn quite a bit about their life and beliefs from this novel. The chapters that deal with the Texas/Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution shed light on a little known conflict that still affects the relationship between the United States and Mexico today. The patriarch of the family, and the driving force of the narrative, is an all around badass. It is a book that tells the history of a state, a family, and a people. As an added bonus, A&E made a television version as well which is pretty faithful to the book. I’d classify this as a must read for all Texans or those who wish they were Texans.

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Ralph Compton was one of the godfathers of the western genre. His Dawn of Fury (and the subsequent sequels) are among my favorites. They are perhaps not quite as literary as the two books above, but they are action packed and a throwback to the old dime novels. The story involves a former Confederate soldier and his search for those responsible for killing his family in the waning days of the Civil War. With his trusty hound Cotton Blossom, he roams the West dishing out revenge and meeting all sorts of interesting characters, some of them historical (such as Doc Holiday). Admittedly, the books do stretch credibility a little bit, especially when the main character manages to get shot just about every third chapter and yet always manages to survive, despite living in the era before antibiotics. However, that is a small fault and does not detract from the story. The novels in this series are an immerse tale that gets you lost along the dusty trails and boom towns of the Old West.

So, partner, saddle up your horse and gallop, don’t trot, to your local library and read these books. They are perfect company on those lonely nights out on the trail. Just be careful that some low down varmint doesn’t steal them from your saddlebags!

I realize that there are many other wonderful westerns. (The Virginian, True Grit, Riders of the Purple Sage, Blood Meridian, etc) I do not mean to detract from any of them. My top three is exactly that, mine. Your mileage may vary.

Until next time, Happy Trails,

LH

 

Once More Into the Breach

 

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Dear Readers,

It’s been several years since my retirement from the Fire Service, but I’m still not used to being off on holidays. For many, many years, holidays were just another work day. My Thanksgiving Break started yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. I’m not much of a turkey eater, so I have no plans to stuff myself on Thursday. Indeed, my only real Thanksgiving tradition is watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And even then I must avert my eyes whenever they show the clowns. No, Reader Mine, this Thanksgiving I will be tackling yet another round of revisions as I prepare to send my manuscript out for the copy edit. This will be my last substantive edit. The remaining ones will focus on grammar, word usage, etc.

This has made me look back and consider all the editing rounds I’ve done to see how many drafts I’ve gone through and which changes were made to each. I save each draft as a separate file, so I can actually track my own progress across the drafts. So here is what I’ve done so far (and this has stretched over many months).

Draft One: Took about a year to write. Afterwards, I put it aside for several months before giving it a full read through and marked changes, mostly to character, story, plot, etc.

Draft Two: Incorporated those changes, plus the changes my wife suggested after reading the first draft. After completing Draft Two, I again put it aside for a couple of months before giving it a fresh read to prepare a third draft, which is what would go to my content editor.

Draft Three: Most of the changes here were to language, dialogue, and cleaning up “Americanisms” as my characters are not American. In between Draft Two and Three, I also chased down some lingering research issues and incorporated that into this book. And then came the content edit!

Draft Four: This is the first draft to incorporate editorial feedback from someone other than myself or my wife. I received excellent feedback from my editor and during my first pass through the draft, I added in the suggested big picture changes which were easier to include. Then I set the book aside for a few weeks while I made copious notes based on the more detailed feedback.

Draft Five: This was probably the most substantive of all the drafts. Whole chunks were slashed or re-written. I delved deeper into the psychology of the characters, based on suggestions from the editor. This helped bring them into sharper focus, I think. Or rather, I hope. I tweaked the timeline of the book as well. I also printed out a full copy so that the next reading could be a physical one. I then let another six weeks pass before having another go.

Draft Six: My wife read Draft Five, her first reading since the original draft, and made notes on the pages. Once she was done, I gave it a read through and made my own notes. Most of the changes going into Draft Six involve fixing typos, removing redundant words or unclear/awkward phrasing. I’m trying to clean up as much as I can so to maximize the benefit of the copy edit.

So how many more drafts will there be? Two. Draft Seven will be the first round of the copy edit and Draft Eight will be the second round. By mid January, it should be submission ready. I’ve identified seven presses which accept historical fiction submissions without needing an agent. If I strike out there, I will self publish the book. But that’s still quite a ways down the road.

I’ll get there eventually. Sooner, in fact, than it appears.

L.H.

Mightier Than the Sword: My Favorite Civil War Novels

Dear Readers,

To sort of piggyback off of yesterday’s post, today I shall endeavor to discuss my favorite works of Civil War fiction. Keep in mind, that all I am saying is that these are my favorites. I am not saying that they are the best. Whether or not a person likes a book or not is a personal thing. I’ve read bestsellers that I did not like and I’ve read obscure books with only a few hundred copies published that I think are, or should be, classics. My personal collection of books is well over 2,000 volumes and around 500 of them are Civil War specific, so I’ve read every standard work and a whole lot of non-standard works, fiction and non, on the subject. I shall endeavor to tell you a little bit about why I like each of the books described below and where I was in life when I read them, as that may have something to do with why I enjoy them so much.

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Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith was the first Civil War novel I read. The winner of the 1958 Newbery Medal was published the previous year. As I remember, I read the book when I was in third grade which would put it around 1985. This is a young adult novel and the protagonist is sixteen years old. What I enjoyed about this book is that you got to meet a large cross section of people; from Union soldiers to Cherokee Confederates, to civilians caught in the middle. Since the novel involves action in and around the Indian Territory, it covers something left out of the vast body of Civil War literature which tends to focus on things further east. I can longer recall what brought me to read Rifles for Watie. I have a vague memory of doing a book report on it, but I don’t know why I selected it. If I had to guess, it was probably a combination of the cover and the fact that it was about the Civil War.

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Love and War by John Jakes. This is book two of his North and South trilogy and this is the volume that covers the actual war itself. (North and South covers the Mexican War through the Secession Crisis while Heaven and Hell covers Reconstruction.) Though to be honest, you should really read all three in order. Jakes paints on a vast canvas. Too vast, I think, for me to truly capture the essence of it. The novels provide an in depth look at the events of the day through the eyes of two families, the Hazards and the Mains. There are a few differences between the mini-series (which was good in an 80s miniseries sort of way) and the novels. But honestly, they are so significant as to detract from the story. My introduction to these books came from television. I remember when the first miniseries aired in 85 and the second in 86. My grandfather recorded them on the VCR, and I watched them quite a few times. I did not read the books until I was in high school in the early 90s. I found them at a library book sale for a quarter apiece. It was pocket change well spent. As I mentioned yesterday, this book taught me that when writing about the Civil War, try to go for the lesser told tale rather than rehashing the same things that have been written about a million times. I also learned that well written historical fiction can be as educational as it is entertaining. Finally, Jakes taught me how to write complex characters that accurately reflect the temperament and mindset of the era in which your books is set. Jakes wrote quite a few other books. I have copies of all of his historical novels and I cannot recommend them enough. He is my biggest inspiration as a writer of historical fiction.

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Look Away & Until the End by Harold Coyle tell the story of two brothers separated by war and forced onto opposite sides by circumstances largely outside their control. Coyle was an Army officer and is best known for his World War Three novel Team Yankee. I read his Civil War novels when I was in high school and identified with the main characters, largely because they were of similar age to me. One common theme you might see here is that I read a lot of books in high school. I rarely read things that were assigned for a class, preferring to find my own books instead. My teachers, thankfully, largely tolerated this since I read a whole lot more than most of my classmates. Though these books do contain the usual Civil War clichés, the action sequences are well written and the characters are believable. The situation which separates the brothers and sets them down the path to end up opposing one another in the war is plausible as well. These are not dense, heavy reads. In fact, if you are a fast reader, you could probably finish one of them in a night. I would also suggest that if there is a young person in your family who likes to read, and who you would like to get interested in the Civil War, give them both of these books. They will no doubt find them interesting. Who knows, said young person might become the next great Civil War historian or novelist.

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The Black Flower by Howard Bahr tells the tale of the Battle of Franklin and its aftermath. This was among the most horrendous engagements of the entire war, though it is largely forgotten outside of enthusiasts of the Western Theater. Bahr was an English professor, and this novel is, what I would classify, as a literary novel. It’s written in a way that I could never dream of doing myself. It won the WY Boyd Award for military fiction in 1998. The funny thing is that it came out around the same time as Cold Mountain. While Cold Mountain won the National Book Award and was eventually made into a movie, not to mention being mentioned on national television programs, The Black Flower got no major media coverage at all, despite being (in my opinion) a much better book. I will admit to a certain bias though. As I’ve written about before, I’ve had a reoccurring dream of the Battle of Franklin for most of my life and so I am pre-disposed to like ANY book written about the battle, fiction or non. Lastly, the one thing that I enjoyed the most about this book is that it manages to show both the horrific and the absurd, both present on Civil War battlefields. You can find the account of my recurring dream about the Battle of Franklin here.

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I saved the best for last. Paradise Alley (2002) by Kevin Baker is one of the finest Civil War novels ever written, though the events on the battlefield are somewhat removed from the story itself. Instead, it tells the story of the worst instance of urban unrest in American History. It has entered our lexicon as the “New York City Draft Riots” though, as I discuss here, it was really a full scale urban insurrection. To call it a mere riot does not do it justice. It seems as if the Draft Riots are known outside of Civil War circles merely because of the movie Gangs of New York. While the movie nails the setting and costumes of 1863 Manhattan, it falls flat on the history itself. Still, some knowledge is better than no knowledge. Back to the novel. Baker does an incredible job describing the environs of lower Manhattan in the summer of 1863, along with those who inhabit it. We see a cross section of people, so the reader is exposed to various viewpoints both political and social, all accurate for the time period. His descriptions of the Great Hunger in Ireland are among the best I’ve ever read in a novel. One of the ways this book inspired me is that the author goes for all of the senses. He describes how things look, feel, and smell. (Smell often gets left out of fictional descriptions.) For this reason, it my own writing, I try and make sure the nose is duly assaulted by the odors of the past. As an Irish-American, I feel that Baker does justice to both our triumphs and our tragedies. Though discriminated against themselves, the Irish in this country could be quite racist in the 19th Century, though no more so than society at large. Paradise Alley is a book I have recommended to people time and time again. I’ll continue to do so in the future. If you’d like to read a post I wrote about the Draft Riots, you can do so here.

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I am aware, Dear Readers, that I have left The Red Badge of Courage, The Killer Angels, and Gone With the Wind off the list. Yes, I have read them all. Yes, I own copies of them all. In fact, I have a first edition Gone With the Wind. These books are classics and I do not seek to diminish them in the slightest. They are simply not my favorite Civil War novels. As this list describes my favorites, those three do not make the cut. I’d be happy to hear what your favorites are, especially if they are lesser known titles. I’m always on the hunt for more things to read. In fact, I’m presently reading This Scorched Earth by William Gear. I’m enjoying it because one of the characters is a Civil War era doctor and during my time as a reenactor, I portrayed, among other things, a Civil War surgeon (both Army and Navy). His novel doesn’t shy away from the more brutal aspects of the war either. So add that one to your list if you enjoy Civil War fiction.

Happy Reading!

L.H.