Early last week, I received the “proof “of my book from my publisher, but it came in pdf format rather than the usual printed copy. A pdf is an electronic version of my book that, when viewed on an electronic screen, appears exactly like the printed book will look; think reading something on a Kindle, a Nook, or a tablet. It’s a standard format and most electronic devices will read it with no problem. A “proof” is the first version of a book produced by a professional book printing business that is meant to be reviewed by the author for the purpose of making sure everything is correct before more copies are printed.
In the past, I’ve received printed copies of the proofs my books that came directly from the printer. I went through each one, word by word, marking the changes or corrections needed and then typing them into a Word file. It was cumbersome because I have to record the page number and paragraph number, and then have to write “change such and such to read like this:”, followed by the different words that I wanted. When finished, I emailed the corrections file to my publisher and he makes the changes to the printer’s file.
No matter the format, the proof typically will have several errors introduced by converting the text from a Word format into a ready-to-print format. My publisher will insert the text file (provided by my editor) into his book composition software (there are several packages; I don’t know which one he uses). He then sets the different font styles, adds the chapter headings, page alignment, page numbers, headers, footers, page breaks, different margins for the spine side of the page versus the outside of the page, etc.; adds the beginning pages (the title page, the copyright page, the dedication page, blank pages); adds the end pages, if any (the author’s biographical note, for example); and then prepares the cover in a different file. Those two files – the text and the cover – will be sent to the professional printer who is producing the book.
My proof had about thirty or so errors – lack of paragraph indents, missed spaces, too many spaces, incorrect chapter headings, italics used in the wrong places, incorrect punctuation marks, and others. Overwhelmingly, the errors are related to transcription and formatting.
Only two or three concerned words or sentences that I chose to replace or rewrite. I’ve written before about giving up my liberties to do wordsmithing before this point in the process, but sometimes I don’t see problems until I’m reading my words in a book format. I want to make the book to be absolutely the best book that I can, so I make the changes, anyway. My publisher and editor understand and have learned to expect a certain small number of changes that I cannot resist making.
I went through the file twice (which took a lot of effort; the finished book has 305 pages), indicated the corrections using a “notes” feature of the pdf reader (which allowed me to append a text message with the changes to a specific location in the pdf file itself. It’s like an electronic Post-It note.), and then returned the file to the publisher. I’m hoping to see the corrected pdf, and maybe even a printed copy of the book, sometime this week.
At which time, I will celebrate.
Unfortunately, I then get to sit around being irritated. I will have a physical book in my hands but even I won’t be able to buy a copy from Amazon until November. I wrote about this in a blog a few weeks ago; it’s no surprise, but it’s no less irritating.
I’m looking into buying several of my books from my publisher at a discounted price and offering them through my website. I don’t want to do it. I would have to put in a lot of money up front, hold a certain level of physical books at my house, take orders over the phone or through email, accept credit cards over the phone, provide receipts, package the books, mail them, and then pay county and state Gross Receipts taxes. I’d probably have to also get a town business license.
It would be better to find a business that already sells things and get them to sell my book, giving them a cut of the revenue. Regular bookstores (my town doesn’t have one anyway) don’t do that sort of business for the same reasons they don’t sell self-published books. I don’t currently know a local business that would do it, but I’m looking; I’ve got one good lead that I will follow as soon as I have a printed copy to show them. It may also be that my publisher would sell individual copies, but they haven’t done so in the past.
I’m going to find a way to do it. It’s a shame to hold an incredibly timely book in my hands that no one can buy for six months.
Today is the 75th Anniversary of the discovery and liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp a few miles outside of Munich, Germany. Begun in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, it would terrorize over 200,000 Jews, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Gypsies, Slavs, disabled men, women, and children, political leaders, and more than 3,000 Catholic Priests during its twelve-year existence. More than 40,000 would die from outright murder, starvation, sickness, beatings, or other brutalities. When it was found, the German SS had abandoned the facility and left more than 32,000 sick and starving prisoners behind. The US Seventh Army assumed responsibility for the camp, treating the sick and starving prisoners until they were able to leave.
We should never forget.
I read a book this week about the German submarines (called U-boats, short for Unterseeboot) in the North Atlantic that were disrupting the shipping of food, fuel, and supplies from the United States to Britain. The war between Britain and Germany had begun with the invasion of Poland in September of 1939, but it was with the fall of France in the summer of 1940 that Britain had been forced to rely on transatlantic shipments for all of her oil, most of her raw materials and much of her food and supplies. In total, a 3,000-strong merchant shipping fleet had brought 68 million tons of imports to the country each year, of which 22 million tons was food.
In the fall of 1940, hoping to starve England into submission, German naval high command authorized a total blockade of Britain, giving U-boat commanders the mandate to attack ships without warning or prior approval from superiors. Five years earlier, Germany had signed an agreement barring this kind of unrestricted use of submarines as weapons of war, but that agreement had been quickly forgotten.
The U-boats became very good at achieving their goal, mostly due to one man: Karl Doenitz, the Commander of the U-boat fleet. Doenitz had been a U-boat Captain and believed fervently that defeating the ability of Britain to receive goods from America would win the war for the Third Reich. To that end, he helped develop and mandate attack strategies for U-boat commanders to use against the large convoys that Britain and the Allies deployed for crossing the Atlantic. It was Doenitz who created and implemented the infamous “wolfpacks” that hunted the northern sea.
A Game of Birds and Wolves, written by Simon Parkin, is the story of the development of the German submarine fleet and its strategies, the terrible toll they extracted on Britain, and the development of Allied tactics to counter those strategies. It is a fascinating story about Gilbert Roberts, a retired British naval officer who had tuberculosis, and his team of two dozen or so women (called Wrens, the British naval equivalent of American WACs) who designed, implemented, and taught game-based battle strategies to the ship captains and navy escort commanders responsible for getting convoys back and forth across the North Atlantic.
The ‘game’ that Roberts and his team created is very much like Milton-Bradley’s game Battleship. They used the linoleum floor of a large building in Liverpool to create a basketball-court-sized scale map of the North Atlantic. Using captured intelligence from Germany, assembling radio messages between submarines, and the experiences of actual Allied encounters with the wolfpacks, the strategies used by Doenitz were finally realized. The team then replicated actual submarine attacks, designed counter-strategies, and played out ‘games’ on the floor, using little carved figurines of ships, submarines, and even clumps of steel-wool to represent fog and smoke, all moved by the Wrens according to player instructions and all moved according to a timer that replicated durations of real time. Even the most hardened naval commanders came to appreciate the value of using the game.
The climax of this back-and-forth struggle of strategies culminated in May of 1943. Over sixty U-boats and a hundred surface vessels and aircraft from the United States and Britain clashed for seven days near the coast of Greenland. The wolfpack used its time-honored strategies and the convoy and its escorts used the strategies developed by the gaming team. It was the costliest submarine battle that Germany would fight and the U-boats would never again dominate the North Sea.
In the book’s epilogue, Parkin relates the story of his grandfather being the captain of a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic during the last week of June, 1943, one month after the sea battle. For the first time in three years, he saw no German submarines during the crossing.
If he had been watching during that last week of June, he may have seen the Queen Mary and her convoy passing in the other direction. The luxury liner had been refitted as a troop carrier and was carrying several thousand soldiers on their way to join the war in Europe. My dad was one of them.
I am especially grateful to Gilbert Roberts and his remarkable Wrens for making my dad’s war experiences much more than they might have been.
I want to recommend a fine book for anyone to read, but an especially important book for people who are or who want to be writers.
Mockingbird, by Charles J. Shields, is a portrait of Nelle Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
It is an engrossing description of one of America’s most famous authors, including her grandparents, her parents (her father was the model for Atticus; her mother was emotionally unbalanced), her family (two sisters, and a brother who served as the model for Jem), her growing-up environment in Monroeville, Alabama, and her neighbors (including the very young Truman Capote, who became Dill; an elderly woman who became Mrs. DuBose; and a persecuted man in a dysfunctional family three doors down from her house who became Boo Radley), and her later life.
Shields does an excellent job of describing Nelle’s schooling, up to and including an almost finished law degree, and then her years of working jobs in New York City as she spends her free time as a writer. Under the tutelage and grace of a good editor and good friends, she worked full-time on To Kill a Mockingbird for a year, submitted it, was accepted, and while the proof was being created, took a month to serve as a “research assistant” to Truman Capote as he began his five-year stint in writing In Cold Blood. Shields takes the reader on the full journey of her friendship with Capote and its eventual demise.
After Nelle wins the Pulitzer Prize, and after the movie comes out, there are a few years when she accommodates being famous, and then resolves to shun public life. She lives either in Monroeville with her sister (who remained a practicing lawyer into her nineties) or in a modest brownstone in New York City, and even though she completes the manuscript of a second novel, it is stolen and she never finds the desire to start over. To Kill a Mockingbird would be her only book until an earlier book manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, is discovered and printed after her death.
It's fascinating to read about someone who is very gifted and yet so internally ordinary. She never relinquished who she was to fame and stayed faithful to being a small-town Alabama girl.
The most interesting part to me was how she was able to create such a powerful story out of the circle of her young life (which was, more or less, only an area around her house that was not much more than two blocks long and a block wide), and to turn her authentic childhood acquaintances into famous literary characters – Atticus, Scout, Dill, and, of course, Boo Radley. These were real people that she grew up with and she rendered them with few embellishments.
Her work is an example to us all in both writing her book and in boldly living her extraordinary life. I encourage you to find the book and spend some time with it.
Is everybody tired of being at home? I take my hat off to parents who have school-aged children at home. Even though school systems are making huge efforts to accommodate remote education, I can imagine that teenagers are feeling confined both physically and intellectually, and have considerably more time on their hands that they didn’t normally have.
Fortunately, I’m hearing that reading books is making a comeback, and on-line sales of books are booming.
If you have mid-school kids (ages 10 to 14, plus some older ones) who need good books to either read on their own or to be read to, consider the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. There are currently nine books featuring a fourteen-year-old boy and his seventeen-year-old sister, both of whom live with their parents in Bluff, Utah.
Each mystery book begins with the first chapter being set in the past. Something happens and the reader is left with a mystery. The subsequent chapters are in the present, where my two heroes find themselves in a separate mystery or social crisis that is somehow linked to the mystery in the past. Solving one requires solving the other.
Each mystery takes place in a real, find-it-on-the-map location, all (except one) within a day’s drive of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each story is relatively true to the geography, the history, and the culture of the location. Each story is also independent; you can read the books in any order. They are all exciting books, and are family-oriented with family values.
The one book that isn’t local to the Santa Fe area is the result of a visit that I made to an elementary school in Houston. The class wanted nothing to do with me because I had no story that featured pirates. Well, New Mexico has a lot of interesting characters, but no pirates. So, to answer their needs, I wrote a story that occurs on the island of St. John in the Caribbean and features Blackbeard. It turned out to be one my more clever mysteries.
You can find descriptions of each book, book reviews, and photos of the locations on my website: DonaldWillerton.com. Each book is available from Amazon.com and can be ordered through my website.
The Ghosts of the San Juan (#1) won First Place in the Southwest Writers 2001 Contest, and a Finalist Award in the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
The Lost Children (#2) won the Juvenile Book category in the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
Outlaw (#6) and The Lady in White (#7) received Finalist Awards in the 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
The Lake of Fire (#5) won Honorable Mention in The 2019 Eric Hoffer Book Award contest.
My editor for Teddy’s War, my new novel about World War II, returned her edited version of my manuscript on Tuesday. Yea! She and I then talked (on the phone; stay-at-home rules plus our usual coffee shop meeting place is closed) for 3 hours on Tuesday afternoon, 5 hours on Wednesday, and an hour on Thursday morning, working through a list of questions that she had written down regarding specific words, sentences or paragraphs in the text. She also had some questions about the story itself, usually regarding how much a reader was going to understand or appreciate the information I was using.
Here's a survey: if I use the terms in the context of World War II, how many of you know what a grease gun is? What a deuce-and-a-half is? Who Sad Sack was? Who Willie and Joe were? Can I use those terms without explaining what they mean or who they reference?
When we were done, she created a pdf of the file and taught me how to use the “notes” feature in the pdf reader to indicate changes that I would like to see. Following this, I launched a marathon editing session of my own that eventually involved almost 25 hours over the next three days of my going word-by-word through the text, making changes for correctness, conciseness, smoothness, and completeness. I made three passes through everything, including one pass where I went backwards through the chapters.
I finished with about 100 changes to be made, which, using the “notes” feature, will take my editor less than an hour to put into her Word file. I deleted more words, phrases, and sentences than I added. In my mind, at least, the resulting manuscript will be near perfect in both content and structure. I am very happy with the effort that she put into it, her final result, and my final result. The book reads much better than what I had initially written. It is a helluva story.
The next step is the publisher transferring the final Word file into Quark, which is publishing software; reformat the text for appearance, including page size, text size, font type, pagination, page numbers, and special features (like italics, underlining, different margins); add in the front pieces – title page, copyright page, blank pages; and then put the cover on it, including the front page with title and author, and the back page, with the text, bar code, and pricing.
The next time I see the book, which may be a month or two, I will be able to hold it in my hand. That will be the “proof” of the novel and I will review it for any printing errors. I’ll return it to the publisher and he will incorporate it into his final publishing file and give it to the printer. He’ll then notify the distributor that it’s ready to sell.
The editor and publisher have asked that the book include two special, back-of-the-book features: an interview with the author (me!) about writing the novel and a list of questions that can be used for book clubs. This is exciting to me because it sounds like they consider my book worthy of the features and also that there will be an audience who will appreciate the features. I will work with my editor to create these.
The bad news for the month was the publishing schedule. The initial projection was that the book would be available on Amazon on November 1st. Whoa! This year is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the war in Europe (VE Day), the liberation of all the concentration camps, the end of the war in the Pacific (VJ Day), the Trinity Test, the dropping of the bombs, the Nuremburg Trials, the return of the soldiers, and a slew of other dates that celebrate the end of the war. Waiting until this year is over to publish a WWII-centered book seems like a disadvantage to me.
Ignoring the fact that COVID-19 may prevent many of the activities, I was expecting the book to be published by early summer so I could take advantage of the many military veteran activities, newspaper articles, magazine stories, and media reports that would occur. I don’t honestly expect to participate in these things, but I wanted to identify the people (especially the military) who were talking, hosting, or were heads of the organizations involved, and get them a copy of the book. I’m hoping that they will then talk about it to others who would be interested.
I wanted printed books to give them, not a sheet telling about a book that wouldn’t be available for several months.
The problem, by the way, is not the publisher or the printer, but the distributor. The book distributor is an organization that front-ends the publishers to the sellers. Amazon and Barnes&Noble, for example, don’t buy books from the publisher, but from the publisher’s distributor. Distributors work on their own schedules that define when books are released to the sellers.
I expressed my concerns with my publisher, who negotiated with the distributor, and the publisher has decided to print the book by sometime in July and have it available for preview, give-away, and selling-by-hand before the books become available from seller outlets on September 1st. That’s three months earlier and I can live with that. Given COVID-19 slowing down businesses everywhere, no one will be surprised.
The problem with my living in a “socially distant” society is that my creativity goes to zero. I’m not sure if it’s directly related to being forced to be “socially distant” because I’ve always been relatively that way, but being forced to stay away from people and places (especially places to eat) is feeling vastly different from it being a simple choice on my part.
Being isolated is not the same as feeling isolated. I rely on seeing life to write stories about it and if I’m prevented from seeing (touching, talking, hugging, listening, sharing), it’s as if I’m waiting for someone to restore my password or something. Just waiting. Not working, not thinking, not feeling like I’m on a vacation, not using the time to dream – just waiting. It’s not freedom or extra time off. It’s like being constantly reminded that I’m boring.
The Tucson Festival of Books was canceled so verbally selling my books at large gatherings remains to be tested. My regular meetings of the New Mexico Book Association have been canceled. The New Mexico Book Co-op meetings have been suspended. My regular writers’ group in Albuquerque is also on hold.
The community of writers that I like being part of is trying to convince itself that we can still socialize and support each other without physically being around each other. I don’t think it’s going to work. Even if you don’t overtly visit with individuals, there is a connectedness that develops when you’re surrounded by a group of people with similar interests. I don’t think having an “electronic closeness” will satisfy us.
There have been some positive things happening.
My novel editor, whose regular job is being a high school teacher, is at home for a while (NM schools are closed for three weeks). I’m expecting her edit of Teddy’s War may be completed by the end of next week, so I’ll be getting back to it. A preliminary book cover has been developed and I think it looks great. Wait until you see the historical photograph that was used.
I’m working on the tenth Mogi Franklin mystery, called The Death Train. It features the Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, with a bank robbery and murder happening in 1942. The plot is tied up with the troop trains that were used during World War II to move soldiers around the country. I wrote it two years ago but was not satisfied with the plot and put it on the shelf. I’m now rewriting it for publication sometime this year. I’m not sure what to change to make it on the par with the other mysteries, but I’m working on it.
I am continuing to read books about the Santa Fe Trail and have made the commitment to drive the trail in the fall. It should be a lot of fun. I’ll take two or three weeks to hit all the good spots and I’m planning on using a small RV to make the drive, rather than staying in hotels and buying every meal. I’ll keep a daily journal and will self-publish a cheap travelogue about the trip that will guide other travelers. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail and there should be a heightened interest for learning about it.
I’m going to the yearly Tucson Festival of the Book next week, held at the University of Arizona. It’s the third biggest book festival in the United States. I’ve not attended before and it’s not clear how or how long I will be involved. Saturday and Sunday will have talks, classes, presentations, interviews, round table discussions, and panels, plus a large venue where individual guests, writers, authors, publishers, sellers, distributors, librarians, bookstore owners, representatives from big box stores and other organizations can visit with authors, writers, and publishers, and buy books.
My role is to be at a table full of books for sale, amongst which will be three of my own – The Lost Children, The Lady in White, and Outlaw. Each serves as an example of the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. The table is hosted by New Mexico Book Association officials and will feature books written by the members of the NMBA in Santa Fe. I am a member and I have volunteered to be at the table and talk with people who stop to peruse the books.
I’m betting that shaking hands will be discouraged; I will have to remember to take disinfecting hand wipes.
I will have five copies of each Mogi Mystery at the table, with more copies in the trunk of my car. I can sell each copy (NMBA handles the money) but I prefer to use them to illustrate the form, function, plots, characters, and types of stories used in the series, and then give away lists of all nine Mogi books, with addresses of the distributor and publisher.
I expect to not sell a single copy of any of my books, and expect that no one will be interested in ordering them. Not that the Festival is a worthless trip, but I have been to other venues for selling my books and most of the buyers that I meet, other than random individuals, will be accustomed to buying books recommended to them by national organizations like the American Library Association; the six major publishers (Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin USA, and Simon & Schuster); bookstores like Barnes& Noble; or follow recommendations from best book lists (like the New York Times Best Seller list), Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, and the million book bloggers and/or book reviewers who put out suggestions.
In short, an individual author with a hang dog expression, standing next to a table of typically unremarkable books, holding a never-heard-of book in his hands, doesn’t stand a chance.
Unless the prospective buyers actually stop and talk.
My writing books, as well as other authors and publishers, tell me that personal contact is everything when you’re selling books. Not blogs, not websites, not fancy brochures, not business cards, not bookmarks, and not even the cover or the blurb on the back of the book, is as effective as an author personally telling someone about their book. That’s why I will develop and rehearse a short (under a minute) paragraph about my books – what makes them different from other middle grade mysteries, why they are good to read, and why middle grade students will enjoy them. I’ll also prepare a short paragraph about myself – how I got started, why I write for middle grade students, and what I like most about the series. After that, the buyers typically ask questions.
I’m not, and never have been, Mr. Warmth when it comes to talking casually with strangers, but I will answer honestly and directly, and then, hopefully, ask questions of my own – where the buyers are from, what kinds of books they are interested in, who their audience is, how they like to buy their books, and how successful they have been in the past with picking the right books. If I can make to that level, then my speaking to others will go okay.
And, to be honest, selling my books isn’t really why I’m going to the Festival, anyway. I’m going because I’m a writer and an author and I like to be around other writers and authors, and because I like to be around books and the book business. I like the excitement of people who have created books; I like their stories of how they did it; and I like being reminded that I’m a member of a community of people who write.
First Lt. James Vincent Pelosi flew B-17s and B-24s during World War Two, then flew cargo planes that shuttled food and supplies to the citizens of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In 2014, his son, Dr. James Joseph Pelosi, honored his father and the memories of other veterans by walking the route of the Allied Army from Omaha Beach to Berlin.
That’s 844 miles. He carried 38 pounds on his back – about what a GI would have carried during WWII - with a two-person tent, a poncho to put underneath the tent, a sleeping bag, an air mattress, a raincoat, first-aid kit, flashlight, a few layers of clothing and personal hygiene items, two pairs of socks to rotate and five days’ worth of MREs (army rations), with periodic resupply points along the way.
He wrote about his journey in 2017, publishing Normandy to Berlin: The Trek to Honor the Legacies.
I have the greatest admiration for the guy, who is an aerospace biomedical engineer in Houston and was 62 at the time. What an accomplishment! I read about him yesterday and woke up this morning wondering how much rental cars are in Europe. That’s a bad sign. But 844 miles is less than the height of Texas. For a Texan, it’s only a two-day drive.
The reason I was thinking about Europe was that my editor suggested that I be ready to give talks when my war-story book comes out. A local chapter of the Military Writers of America meets monthly in Albuquerque and I can see myself giving a presentation at one of their meetings. The local VFW meetings might also be a venue. I still don’t know much about the war, but my dad’s story would be resonant with many veterans, as well as children of veterans.
In anticipation of that, and out of curiosity, I took my dad’s itinerary and used Google Maps to draw a fair representation of his route from the time he landed in England to the time he boarded a troop ship in France to come home.
After the war was over, when he stepped onto familiar ground back in Ponca City, Oklahoma, he had been gone 3 years and 10 days. He had spent six months in the States, a year in England, and then, from stepping onto Omaha Beach to leaving Europe at the port city of Le Havre, he had spent 485 days in the middle of a war, traveling through France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.
The map with his route is in the photo, with a larger version on the MogiFranklin website.
The letters on the map tell more of the story:
A – He spent 6 months training in Florida, then left Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on board the Queen Mary, on June 23, 1943 and arrived in England (probably at Portsmouth or Southampton) on June 30.
B – He was in England from June 30, 1943, to June 27, 1944, working as an operator of a truck-based aircraft detection radar system.
C - He landed at Omaha Beach on July 2, 1944, and set up his radar system a few miles away, just south of Point du Hoc, next to a temporary airfield created by Army engineers (AF-2).
D – The “breakout” from Normandy occurred around August. His unit followed the First Army out of Normandy, helped them celebrate in a just-liberated Paris, turned north into Belgium and Holland, then back into Belgium. He was in Bastogne from October 29 to December 19, when the Germans began the Battle of the Bulge. The irregular loop on the map shows that his unit stayed close, but not too close, to the front line.
E – After the battle ended in January, 1945, he was linked to the Third Army (Gen. George Patton) as they fought their way into Germany, from January through April, 1945.
F – He moved into Czechoslovakia on May 1, and was there when Germany surrendered on May 8.
G – During the Allied Occupation period after the war, he spent 3 months at the 86th Replacement Depot in Darmstadt, then was stationed at the Furstenfeldbruck Air Field outside of Munich when he received orders to go home.
H – It took a 24-hour bus ride to get from Munich to the port city of Le Havre, but I bet no one complained. He waited a week to board his troop ship.
I – I believe that one of the things he did during that week was to take an Army-sponsored excursion to Mont St. Michel, which was about 3 hours away. A photograph shows he was there.
J – Finally, after 485 days from when he landed on Omaha Beach (about 30 miles away), he boarded a ship in Le Havre and, 178 hours later, walked down the gangplank into New York City on November 16, 1945.
He made it home at 4:00 in the morning on Friday, November 23rd, 1945, just in time for Thanksgiving. His war was finally over.
On Saturday, between viewing short movies at the Santa Fe Film Festival and meeting friends for dinner, I had several hours of free time. True to my nature, I ended up in downtown Santa Fe, looking in the windows of the shops and galleries around the Square and being inspired by the talented potters, painters, weavers, sculptors, jewelers, photographers and other craftspeople who display their works. Some people create incredible art!
I went to the Collected Works bookstore and found two books that I could not resist. One is a storybook about two frogs for my granddaughter, and the other is Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg. Natalie is a world-renowned writing teacher, as well as being the author of several well-known and successful writing books. She lives in Taos, about 90 minutes from my house, and travels around the country hosting writing seminars and classes.
I finished her book this afternoon and am encouraged. Natalie is dedicated to dealing with the emotions experienced by writers and poets as we attempt to reproduce on paper what we see, hear, and feel in our minds. It’s all touchy-feely stuff, but I’m a touchy-feely guy, so I pay attention to her honest and witty guidance. She has great advice on the mechanics of writing fiction and nonfiction, and wants writers to be authentically centered so we can get over the cultural filters that inhibit our describing reality with clarity. I’ve read several of her books and this one is exceptional. Reading her books have made me a better writer.
I have a growing interest in the Prisoner of War camps that were created and maintained in America during World War II. There were about 700 camps in 47 states that housed a half-million prisoners from different European countries, including Italy, Poland, France, and Germany from 1943 to 1946. A local historian has recently written a couple of articles for the Los Alamos newspapers about POW camps in New Mexico and it’s made me want to know more. It’s fascinating to hear the stories. I mention the camps in my upcoming book, but know little about them. Once I get a break from more prioritized reading, I’ll order a few books from Amazon and see what I can learn.
While surfing Amazon this week, I found a book describing the Allied need for combatting German submarines in the early years of WWII. It tells the story of a British officer and his team of 12 WRENs (the British Navy equivalent to our WACs), and their development of a “submarine game” to model the movement of U-Boats in the North Atlantic. The “gameboard” was the floor of a high school gymnasium where they set up a grid, drew in the countries that border the sea, and then moved “game pieces” around the floor that mapped the encounters of U-Boats with Allied ships. Using decrypted ENIGMA machine messages between the submarines and the German command, the team mimicked the movements, proposed and tested the strategies involved, and learned how to predict their behaviors. The game became successful and allowed the Allies to defend themselves against the U-Boats.
Devising a physical game to discover such important stuff sounded fascinating, so it’s now on my reading list.
This week, hopefully, I’ll also begin laying out the structure for my next novel. I know how it begins and ends, but haven’t the foggiest about what happens in between.
Changing my DonaldWillerton.com website is in the works and may start next month. I will be including the text of the first two chapters of each published book displayed on the website. There will be a button with each book’s blurb that will take you to a pdf-formatted text that you can read straight off your computer screen. I’m hoping that reading the set-up and the introduction to each story will entice people to purchase and read the whole book.
Each Mogi Franklin Mystery uses the first chapter to highlight a historically-authentic, fictional incident that results in an unsolved mystery during that time period. The second chapter introduces a story set in the present day and features my two sleuths, Mogi and Jennifer Franklin. They become involved in a mystery or social situation that requires solving the historical mystery to solve their present-day problem. It takes both the first and second chapters to see the whole plot.
For SMOKE DREAMS, the prologue, set in the Canadian River valley in 1870, plus the first chapter will be featured. The first chapter begins the story in the present day. Those of you interested in the Comanche and Cowboy history of the southern plains will like this book. There’s also a house that’s been possessed by a spirit who will keep you on your toes.
For THE KING OF TRASH, the first two chapters will introduce two parallel storylines that follow ocean-cleaning and homelessness until they suddenly join to become one crisis involving genocide and betrayal. Those of you who like moral conundrums will like this book.
For TEDDY’S WAR, the first chapter is essentially (and may yet be) a prologue to the story, while the second sets the stage for my main character’s journey through World War II. I’ll be recommending this book to children of WWII veterans (like me), to people interested in military stories, and to young adults who would like a good introduction to the European Theatre of WWII.
Other changes will include more photographs related to each book, especially of the San Juan River trip that I did in July, and the trip to London and Normandy that I did in October. I would like to increase the number of photos included in each section of the photo blog.
Meanwhile, waiting for the first edit of TEDDY’S WAR, I’m continuing to read WWII-related books (I’m hooked), some research books on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, a few books on the Shroud of Turin, and guide books that describe the Santa Fe Trail.
Next year is the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail and I’m thinking that driving the roads along to the Trail would be a good and fun thing to do. The Trail officially starts at Boonville, Missouri, and terminates in Santa Fe. It’s about 800 miles by highway (a little more than 900 miles by wagon), and can be done fast or slow, depending on how many side trips, museums, gift shops, and viewing locations you want to stop at. The big thing is to see the wagon ruts that still remain along the trail and to hear tales of the early pioneers and traders.
The trip may also result in a new Mogi Franklin mystery that features the Trail, but I haven’t yet imagined a good plot. If I was smart, I’d get it written so that it was published in time for the Trail-centered events planned for the anniversary. The Santa Fe Trail Association should be hosting several.
I had to spend a couple of weeks decompressing from TEDDY’S WAR. I began writing the story a year ago and have spent a good portion of the time since then with my brain sitting in World War II. It was surprising how hard it was to stop thinking about Europe, my dad, the war, and concentration camps, and to get my mental state back to focusing on other literary things.
I’m sure that you’ve also seen newspaper and on-line references to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. April 29th is the anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, which figures prominently in my story. There were several hundred other camps in Germany and other Nazi-occupied regions of Europe, so you’ll see more liberation anniversaries between now and summer.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.