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

Inspiration

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

L.H.

The Photo That Launched 90,000 Words

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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.

Pleasant Notes

So Others May Live

Novel by Lee Hutch

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

L.H.

What’s Up Next?

Escorted-by-firemen-colleagues-who-volunteered-leave-New-York-City-to-fight-the-Civil-War.

Eight enemy agents slip across the border and make their way to New York City. Their goal? To launch an attack on the city to disrupt the presidential election. It’s a story ripped from the headlines. Of 1864.

That Dear Readers, sums up the plot of my next novel. The first draft is 2/3rds completed, but the more I write, the more I realize that, despite this being a sprawling Civil War epic, I’m painting on too broad a canvas. The original story follows four characters; Patrick, a New York City fireman, Frank, a NYPD detective, Molly, a prostitute, and Thomas, a Confederate agent. All four of the characters end up interacting with one another at various points as the story moves forward, but I came to realize something. Molly is truly the linchpin of the story. In fact, it’s her story.

A recent immigrant to New York City from Ireland, she finds herself compelled into a life of prostitution and vice. Her tale is part tragic, part heroic, and she comes to find it within herself to escape the prison that her life has become. Writing her character allows me to give voice to all the victims of sex trafficking in the 19th Century and today. Though we tend to think of human trafficking as a recent phenomenon, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. Her 1864 story could very well be the story of a person in 2019.

So where does that leave us? I’m dropping Thomas and Frank’s separate story lines as they will appear in Molly’s anyway, and I’m sticking with just her and Patrick. It’s going to require a massive re-write which I will start once the semester ends. The bigger question is this: can I write primarily from the viewpoint of an 18 year old Irishwoman living in 1864 New York and make it believable? I suppose time and the critics will tell.

Stay tuned for more updates.

L.H.

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.

So Others May Live: The Silver Screen

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Dear Readers,

I’m sure I’m not alone among novelists in pondering who we’d like to play our characters should our book be turned into a movie. Mine never will be, of course, but it is still a fun exercise. Sure, I’d love to see my characters brought to life, but then I’d complain about how the director/producer took my work of art and turned it into something else. I wrote my novel without considering this question, and so I’ve had to search for actors/actresses who fit what I envision when I think about my characters. Once you’ve read my book, please let me know if you concur with picks, or, if not, who you’d pick to play a character and why.

Of the utmost importance of selecting the following folks was age. Too many war films have actors too old to be believable in the role. Also, for Ursula, a redheaded actress was an absolute must as that is an essential part of her character. The only main character not in their early twenties is Karl Weber, who is in his mid thirties. But fortunately, there is a perfect actor for that role.

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Let’s start with Grace. Her character is in some ways the most important one in the novel, but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you why that is. It’ll be apparent when you finish reading the book. For her character, I’d select the English actress Rachel Hurd-Wood. She’s close to the right age, and she did an great job in the period drama Home Fires which ran for two seasons before it was abruptly canned. She has the right look, or at least I think she does. To me, having already acted in a WW2 series is a big plus. Though she wasn’t really a major character in the series, her character did experience highs and lows, from getting married to then losing her new husband in a tragic accident. As an actress, she handled that quite well and I am confident she could do justice to Grace’s character.

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From Grace, let’s move to her fiance Michael O’Hanlon. This would be a tricky one to cast. While Michael is from Belfast, whoever played him would have to be able to handle that accent, which is kind of specific. I don’t know if my selection, Liam Ainsworthy, can do that, but if so, I’d think him a good fit. He’s done some soap opera work in the UK and I know he isn’t Irish and it might be best to have an Irish actor in the role, but his name is Liam and that is Irish, so it’s close enough. The reason I think he’d do good in the role is that he has a brooding, almost haunted Irish look about him. That is an essential part of Mick’s character and so I think Liam would work in the role, provided he can do a Belfast accent. If not, it’s back to the drawing board. Note, he’s also young enough to be believable in the role.

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Confession time. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. (Go ahead and send me hate mail if you must, but it just isn’t my kind of show). That said, I think Sophie Turner would be perfect to play Ursula. She has red hair (a must for the role), and she’s young (another must). Acting in a series like GOT is no doubt quite a challenge, and is somewhat akin to a historical drama, so I’m certain she could handle portraying a young woman in 1943 Berlin.

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Volker Bruch is an absolutely perfect fit to play firefighter Karl Weber. He’s only a few years old than Karl’s character, and he has done an absolutely amazing job in two big period pieces, Generation War and Babylon Berlin (now on Netflix). In Babylon Berlin, he plays a police detective in the 1920s, so I’m sure he could handle playing a firefighter in the 1940s. He speaks English too, which is kind of important since the movie would need to be filmed in English. Though I had already finished writing the novel when Babylon Berlin debuted on Netflix here in the States, when I saw his character on screen, I thought to myself that he’d do a great job as Karl.

And as a bonus, this would be a great song to play over the closing credits.

I haven’t gone so far as to consider all the minor characters. That would be a bit too much for me, so I’ll just stop with the major ones. Feel free to let me know who your picks would be for characters major or minor. Maybe I’ll revisit this post in a few months with reader picks.

If you haven’t bought a copy yet, So Others May Live is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon and is available for hardcover pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website.

L.H.