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.

White Russians

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.

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.

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

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.

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.