The Salt Mines

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Dear Readers,

I can’t believe the first two weeks of the semester have already gone by. That means only fourteen more to go! It’s odd, really. Given how much pain I was in over the summer, I dreaded going back to school this fall, something I’ve never done before. As it turns out, I was so busy that first week to feel much of anything other than exhaustion. Then we got a three day weekend owing to the Labor Day Holiday. I woke up hurting that Saturday morning and have ever since. Still, being in front of a class does provide me with a needed distraction, so I’m making due as always.

So what’s on tap for the future? Well, my work in progress Molly’s Song got rather badly stalled for over a month. I’m starting to buckle down and work on it again though, albeit at a slow pace owing to my other commitments. Currently, I have written 19/32 chapters. I hope to have it finished by Christmas Break. I’m also working on something kind of fun, though to what end I have no idea. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a radio adaptation of So Others May Live. I don’t know why, really, since we don’t really do radio dramas in the United States anymore. But who knows. Maybe BBC4 Radio might be interested since they still produce new radio programs.

In November, I’ll be giving a public lecture entitled A Terrible Beauty: Ireland in the Great War as part of a local library’s Friday lecture series. I previously gave a presentation about the Romanovs a couple of years back and over one hundred people showed up to listen to me beat my gums for an hour! It made me feel kind of important. Or maybe the people were so bored that day that hearing my lecture actually sounded like it might be fun. But Ireland and World War One are both subjects I enjoy talking about, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity. If any of you are in the Greater Houston area and would like to come meet/hear me, I’ll post specific details in another month or so.

I’m waiting for the final audio files of So Others May Live to approve and submit to Audible, so hopefully in the very near future the audiobook will be available for your perusal. It’s going to be really good. I can assure you of that fact. In the meantime, if you are looking for something to listen to, try the series Inspector McClevy, a radio drama set in Victorian Edinburgh. It ran for 12 seasons (though they call them series across the pond) and it is available on Audible in 2 series sets. I binge listened to it this summer. My wife listened to some of them with me, but refused to hear any more after one episode ended with the line “Never trust a red haired woman.”

If it seems that I am blogging infrequently during the semester, it is because I am. Given all my limitations, the long days I put in make it tough to come up with new content. That said, I will do my best to have a new post up every weekend. And, of course, any special announcements will garner their own post too.

Until next time, friends,

L.H.

Summer’s End

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Dear Readers,

I have reached the end of the summer, at least for me. I start the fall semester on Monday morning. Up at 0500 home around 1630. Five days a week. Two hour round trip commutes. Five face to face classes. One online class. Ten office hours (which I spend in vain waiting for a student to visit). Paperwork. Committees. Grading. You get the idea. Back to the salt mines it is! I enjoy it because it keeps me busy. I’ll blink and it’ll be Thanksgiving. I thought now that the summer is over, I might reflect on how I spent my time off.

Starting on the Monday after final exams in mid-May, I embarked on writing the first draft of Molly’s Song. Initially, it was to go to my editor in mid August. I was making tremendous progress writing 3K words a day every single day of the week. I hit the 2/3rds point and only had seven more days of writing left when I realized there was a fatal flaw. A flaw so fatal that all that I could do was ditch the entire draft and start over from scratch. I took one day off to refocus and then started anew. For a while, I made steady progress and was only a couple of weeks behind schedule. Then I hit a snag more due to exhaustion from so much writing. I took two weeks off and planned on getting back to work, but then my summer classes started.

I enjoy teaching summer courses at the college. Usually, I teach during Summer 2 so that I get the first half of the summer off, which is what I did this time around. Summer classes are always good and so are the students. It’s a bit more laid back an atmosphere than what you see during the fall/spring semesters. Some of the students are ours (by that I mean the community college where I work) and others are visiting students from universities who are taking advantage of our cheaper tuition and stellar faculty. I usually have some familiar faces in class who took a different course from me in the previous spring. This summer was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed my students and the courses and they all did very well.

I got very little writing done due to the teaching load during Summer 2, but I did manage to take Molly’s Song past the halfway point. I had to push my editorial deadline back to mid September. And then it happened. Mid-way through the summer course, I developed severe, crushing pain in my knees. Given my existing destroyed spine, any time something happens that affects how I walk (like damaged knees), it sets of a cascade of pain that eventually makes my back lock up. It was bad. Very bad. To make matters worse, the mental demons I fight grow stronger when my pain does. On the day of final exams for the summer, I broke my pinkie finger. For the next week, I moved as though I was in a fog. I completely shut down and I didn’t so much as say a word to my wife despite sharing a small (900 sq foot) house with her. She understands and so when I get like that, she gives me my space.

I managed to get out for our bi-annual before the semester lunch with my best friend (really more like a brother) AJP. He always manages to make me feel better. Usually by sending cat pictures. The following Monday, I went to a knee doctor who prescribed some anti-inflammatory creams for knees which does seem to be working a little. Tuesday was an in-service day at the college, so I spent the morning listening to some presentations. One was on positive professional and personal pathways which I badly needed to hear. I determined to take that to heart and slowly the cloud over me began to dissipate. Wednesday we had division and department meetings which are always fun because we have some good people in both. Thursday was a work day and so I prepared my stuff for the upcoming semester. Friday was a two hour drive down to the main campus for convocation followed by a two hour drive home, with a pit stop by my office along the way. Which brings us to today.

I’m still in a lot of pain (usually my pain levels range from moderate to murderous and I’ve been on the murderous end of the spectrum for several weeks now). Each night I have to encase myself in ice. I liberally apply my prescription cream in the morning and again in the evening. I have some medications too which I take at night. It takes the edge off, but nothing more. That’s okay because the pain reminds me that I’m still alive. I’m trying to stay focused on the good and not the bad. I’ve dove into a huge Turkish historical drama called The Magnificent Century on YouTube in the evenings. (It has a hot redhead in it). Of course, I have Anastasia to help me in the evenings. My wife Elizabeth also helps. I will refrain from answering if I love my cat or my wife more.

My spring semester was very difficult since I fractured another vertebrae right before the semester started, though it was six weeks before I finally found out why I was in so much pain. This time around, it is my knees and back. It seems like there is always something before each semester starts. However, I’m going to try my best to keep a positive outlook. I’ll try to get through one day at a time. Given how busy the long semesters are, I probably won’t finish Molly’s Song until Christmas Break and will send it to the editor after the new year. I’m probably looking at a release in the Fall of 2020 rather than in the Spring of 2020 like I originally intended. That’s okay though because it is going to be a damn good book. Better even than So Others May Live.

Oh, and the Red Sox have played like chicken fried crap this summer too, which also sucks. No World Series for them this year. Ah, but football season is here! My Saints have a preseason game tonight. High school football (my true love) starts next week. And also tonight, we have college football start. Football….how I’ve missed thee! My wife is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. So y’all pray for me.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting my new students on Monday and Tuesday, seeing some of my former students, and hanging out with my co-workers who are seriously kick ass people to be around. They, and my students, make going to work fun. I don’t think of teaching as a job any more than I think of my fire service career as a job. They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, and I haven’t worked since I was a kid sacking groceries at the Krogers.

So for all you teachers or students following me, I’d just like to say “May your classes be good or your detentions short.” Stay tuned for updates concerning the audiobook version of So Others May Live. In the meantime, for those of you who like to listen to novels, the greatest novel ever written, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, Quiet Flows the Don, is finally being released on Audible! I think it is the abridged version, based on the length, but it will be out on Monday and you can find it here. Some Sholokhov is better than no Sholokhov! You better believe I’ve already pre-ordered it.

If you’d like more regular updates than you’ll probably get on my blog over the next couple of months, follow me on Instagram. Or Facebook. Though I am also on The Twitter, I really don’t use it to post very much. Instagram and Facebook are your best bet. Also, if you’ve read So Others May Live, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d consider leaving an honest review on Amazon. Even if you hated it, that’s fine too. Tell me why. I’m a big boy. It won’t hurt my feelings. Should you enjoy podcasts, I urge you to check out All Bad Things. It’s a podcast about disasters.

Until next time, take care of yourself. And each other.

L.H.

The Silver Screen Part Two

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the somewhat lengthy delay between posts. My summer classes started a couple of weeks ago, and so I’m spending a couple of hours in the car plus four hours in a classroom during the week. It’s been tough to find time for much of anything. But enough of the excuses. Shortly after the release of my novel, I wrote a piece about the actors/actresses I’d most like to see play the four main roles. If you’ve forgotten it, check it out here. Now, I shall turn my attention to the minor roles. I’ll do this in two parts though. Today’s post will cover the Berlin story line and I’ll write another piece next week which will cover the story line in England. So let us sally forth and select a cast of characters! As before, it is imperative that the person must be relatively close in age to the character.

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I’ll start with Schneider. She’s one of the four young women assigned to Karl’s station as auxiliary firefighters. In a way, her character is the most important of the four as she had more of a rapport with Karl and thus had more dialogue and a, I guess you could say, memorable role at the end of the book. I think I like Dakota Fanning for the role. She did an excellent job in Brimstone and is close enough (five years) to Schneider’s age. I’m certain she could do justice to the character.

The other three auxiliary firefighters do not have major roles, and so who plays them isn’t quite as important as perhaps the others. That said, I think I’d like to see Sierra McCormick, Bailee Madison, and Veronika Bonell in the roles. I’m basing this primarily off the fact that they are the right age and would, in my opinion, look right in the role.

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The most important of the four Hitler Youth boys, whose name we never learn, happens to be the perfect role for a 14 year old indie actor who is from the large city nearest me. His name is Josh Wiggins. I do think he’d be spot on for it. Though a minor character in my book, the youth undergoes a bit of a dramatic change and so the chosen actor has to be able to convey that with few words. I think young Josh would be up to the challenge.

Ursula’s roommates, Monika and Gisela float in and out of the story. We catch glimpses of them at work and in the basement waiting out an air raid. They view the war as almost a source of amusement. Though minor characters, they are important because through conversations with them, we get an insight into Ursula’s views on the world. I think I would like Taissa Farmiga (L) as Monika and Hannah Kasulka (R) as Gisela.

Now let us turn our attention to the three firefighters who work alongside Karl. They have major roles to fill. As you’ll recall from when I wrote about the main characters, I’d like to see Volker Bruch as Karl Weber, station commander. It is important to note that the three other men, Baumann, Frei, and Fischer, are around a decade or so older than Karl’s character. My picks would be Matthias Brandt as Baumann, Til Schweiger for Frei, and Axel Prahl as Fischer.

There are, of course, some other characters (such as the Gestapo agent, Major Bandelin, etc), but this covers the major minor roles. Let me know what you think. And stay tuned for a future update about the the audiobook!

L.H.

 

 

 

The Best Laid Plans

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Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.H.

Inspiration Part Deux

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Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

L.H.

The Photo That Launched 90,000 Words

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Dear Readers,

It is said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched 1,000 ships. My current work in progress, tentatively titled Molly’s Song was launched by a face as well. Or, to be more accurate, by a black and white photograph of a young woman. As the image is copyrighted, I cannot include the picture itself in this post, but you may visit the article here and see it for yourself. Scroll all the way to the end of the article, as it is the last photograph, though check out the others and read the article too. It’s quite interesting. Then return to my humble page and read on. Note that the photo is risque, but it is not lewd. It was taken in the 19th Century, so view it in that light.

It’s a fairly straightforward photograph. A young woman is seated in a chair (or possibly a stool) and looking at a photograph. But it is anything but simple, Dear Reader, for you see, the woman is a woman of ill repute (harlot, scarlet woman, woman of ill fame, hooker, whore, ceiling expert, fallen woman, prostitute, or whatever term people use), though today we use the word sex worker. Granted, the photo was taken about twenty-five years or so after the time period I decided to write about in my novel. (Civil War as opposed to late Gilded Age), but while looking at the photograph, I wanted to know the answers to several questions, and the answers I dreamed up formed the basis of my novel.

  1. What was her name?
  2. Where was she from originally?
  3. What color was her hair? (Red, of course!!!!)
  4. What circumstances led to her employment in a bordello?
  5. How old was she?
  6. Who is in that picture she is looking at?
  7. Who gave her the locket she wears around her neck?
  8. What does she dream of at night?
  9. What are her fears?
  10. What does she do in her down time? Does she have any?
  11. Does she ever wonder how her life might have been different?
  12. Is she comfortable with her circumstances? Or does she want out of sex work?
  13. Where is she? City? State? Country?
  14. Does she ever think of slipping off into the night and starting a new life elsewhere?
  15. If she does, will she actually do it? Or merely think about it?
  16. Is she religious?
  17. Does she have friends? Enemies? Regular customers? Customers she hates?
  18. What does she do when she gets angry? Sad? Happy?
  19. When was the last time she cried? Laughed?
  20. Has she ever been in love? When? With Who? What happened?

So there you have it, Dear Readers. I wanted to know the answers to these questions, and so I set out to figure these things out and thus I got a novel out of it. Or will have one once all the steps have been completed.

For the record, I named her Molly O’Sullivan, of County Galway, residing on Mott Street in Manhattan in the Summer and Fall of 1864.

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.