Food will win the war – Campaign on the WWI home front

April 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into the Great War later known as World War I. To mark the anniversary, I’m sharing some information I uncovered as I researched my novel Go Away Home.

When the U.S. entered the war, the country marshaled forces for both the battlefield and home front. One home front initiative was the U.S. Food Administration led by Iowa’s own Herbert Hoover.

Years of fighting in Europe devastated people and farms. The U.S. Food Administration set out to provide food for U.S. troops and our Allies, as well as to feed the people of both continents. Rather than use strict rationing as Europe had done, Hoover choose a food policy based on volunteerism spurred by patriotism. He said:

Our Conception of the problem in the United States is that we should assemble the voluntary effort of the people … We propose to mobilize the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country.”

Indeed, self-denial and self-sacrifice became rules of the day as Hoover orchestrated a comprehensive campaign under the slogan “Food Will Win the War.” Posters, articles, workshops and educational materials blanketed the country, promoting such approaches as Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays.

The campaign appealed primarily to women since they were responsible for raising food and buying and preparing meals. The campaign offered recipes instructing women on substitutions, e.g. corn syrup or honey for sugar, fish or cheese instead of meat. Instructions encouraged stretching critical resources, e.g. augmenting wheat flour with corn or oat flour.

Waste became a public enemy. Women were counseled to stop waste in connection with such food preparation efforts as peeling potatoes, cutting off bread crusts, throwing out sour milk, meat and chicken bones.

The campaign exhorted men and children to do their part, too, particularly when it came to cleaning their plates.

The effort was a success. Over the course of the campaign, domestic food consumption reduced 15% without rationing. Over a 12-month period from 1918-1919, the United States furnished 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.

The campaign continued after the 1918 armistice, sending 20 million tons of food to European allies.

I can’t help but wonder if such a campaign based on personal sacrifice would engage Americans today. What do you think?

 

The “invisible divide” that splinters families and nations

What makes a family? What makes a nation? What holds them together? What tears them apart? My guest today, author Christoph Fischer, explores those ideas in his books, The Three Nations Trilogy.b3-front-sm

I recently read “The Black Eagle Inn,” the third book in Fischer’s trilogy. This book is an intriguing family saga, tracing one Bavarian family from before WWII into the 1970s. Click to read my review.

Christoph and I met through Facebook discussions of indie publishing and writing historical fiction. I’m pleased to have him here today, sharing how the stories in his trilogy developed. Read on!

Family, history and story lines – Christoph Fischer

Writing The Three Nations Trilogy has been an interesting journey for me. I took some actual family stories of which I had only vague knowledge and basic data and placed them in appropriate historical settings. During my research I imagined what it would have been like for my ancestors and their friends and that is how the stories came alive.

My grandmother, originally from Bratislava, cooked differently than Bavarian cuisine. She and my father used odd words and they had a strange accent compared to the locals. On Sundays, we listened to music by Smetana or Slovak folk dance music and although I was born in Bavaria, spoke ( my slightly odd version of) the regional accent and wore Lederhosen, I always felt a little out of place. I always knew that this invisible divide would be a central theme for my books.

The failed marriage of my grandparents in Brno in the 1930s and my grandmother’s subsequent life served as the starting point. When I did my research on Slovakia for “The Luck of the Weissensteiners,” I was naively surprised to find racial hatred at that time someplace outside of Germany. Slovakia even joined the Axis powers, even if it was partially motivated to do so to rid itself of the Czech ‘dominance.’

The blame for all of this was put on the clumsy dissection of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the Great War. Czechs and Slovaks were thrown into a political Union to keep the German minority in those areas under control. Eye witnesses and history texts often talk nostalgically about the golden Hapsburg era and and life in Vienna before WWI, where members of new emerging or would-be nations were living in harmony and peace.

This nostalgic idea needed to be examined more closely and so I did some research and chose exactly that Vienna as the setting for “Sebastian,” the second book in the Trilogy. In “Sebastian,” I told the story of my grandparents’ divorce from my grandfather’s perspective.

Whatever books I read, the supposedly golden era of racial and religious tolerance seemed more glitter and lip service than reality. The Empire had broken and the individual pieces wanted out. Vienna’s upper class lived in a dream world, protected from reality. After the war, a severed Austria had to find a new place in a new Europe. I wanted to portray the positive side of this new beginning. There were missed opportunities and errors made but at least a redundant structure was finally let go. I published “Sebastian” after “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” to show the moment in history isolated with its (sadly) unfulfilled potential.

In “The Black Eagle Inn,” I finally turned to my Bavarian heritage and the myth that some areas of Germany were almost unaffected by fighting, bombing and Nazi terror. It is true that there were pockets of land in the Reich that remained untouched while the Allied armies engaged in a desperate race for glory to Berlin.

Distant relatives of mine had a farm and a restaurant business. I once went to a wedding there and I as in awe of this huge ’empire.’ This became the focal point in the last part of the Three Nations Trilogy. This time there is an ethnically homogenous cast, all members of the German nation and yet they, too, have divisions and eventually need to let go of their strict concept of the ‘Nation’ they want it to be and let it evolve in order to stay strong.

Health problems exempted some from military service and many were too old or too young to fight. Strong Catholic affiliation supports the claim of many that they were not involved with the Nazis at all. But how would they live with the culprits of the war, their neighbours, the murderers and spies?

After WWII, Germany became a divided Nation, formally through politics but also internally. How could the entire Nation, the new generation live with the shame and rebuild the country – and rebuild it right?

What makes a nation? Loyalty to a throne, borders, religion, customs, language, shared history? Everyone needs to decide that for themselves. You may experience unity with others through shared national, racial or religious identity, but exclusivity and division will not build a lasting nation.

There is huge danger when the national aspect of one’s identity is over emphasised, as was the case in WWII. Remember the Christmas truce football games been French and German soldiers during WWI? Nationalism and the dubious reasons for the war were easily forgotten. The men felt unified because they shared the same reality of trenches and shells.

author picture Small

Christoph Fischer

Biography:

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he resides today. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels, which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.

Here are all the places you can find Christoph and his books:

Facebook  Website

Amazon Blog

“The Luck of the Weissensteiners”: Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook Trailer  B&N 

“Sebastian”: Amazon  Goodreads Facebook Trailer B&N 

“The Black Eagle Inn”: Facebook  Goodreads  Amazon

Trailer

 

Five steps to editor ready

The editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important – Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou‘s quote resonated with me when I first read it. But I didn’t really get her point until I edited my own manuscript.

After receiving supportive feedback from beta readers and encouraging ‘get it done’ advice at an advanced novel workshop, I set out to edit my WWI-era novel. A little spit. A little polish. I thought I’d be done in a couple of weeks.

Lucky for me my editor couldn’t get me into her schedule for a couple of months. Editing was not a one-time tweaking of spelling and grammar. The more I edited, the more I found there was to do. Here are the five steps I took to get my manuscript editor ready.Editing

  1. Absorbed and acted on beta reader feedback. The honest feedback of readers with fresh eyes sent me back in to add character details, deepen historical threads, and eliminate moments that caused readers to scream, Enough. Editing wasn’t just about commas, capitals and cutting. I also re-wrote, cut, and added.
  2. Searched and eliminated overused words. Using Sharla Rae’s list of echo words, I went through my manuscript front to back, over and over. In the process of finding the words on her list, I spotted other over-used words in my story. This was an insanely tedious task. Even using the Word search & replace function, I could only stomach searching a dozen words a day.
  3. Printed it out. Seeing the words on paper is different than reading them on a computer screen. I actually printed everything out twice. Once as a double-spaced Word document. The second time, I formatted the document as though it was an actual book, in a different type face, with justified, single-spaced lines. Both versions yielded dramatically different editing points.
  4. Read the entire manuscript out loud. We hear things differently than we see them. Reading out loud forced me to slow down and listen. Awkward phrases, poor word choices and duplication stood out when I heard the words. I found it was easy to read so long that I no longer heard. I could only read about 50 pages a day before I wore out.
  5. Remained open to making it better, until …  I venture to guess I went through my entire manuscript start to finish 40-50 times. As late as the afternoon of the day I hit ‘send’ to get the manuscript to my editor, I was questioning, making changes, improving. Asked when she knew she was done writing, Anne Lamott said, “You just sort of realize at some point your OCD has begun to hurt the work.” I was there. I knew I had to let it go.

Recently, I blogged about what I learned about editing during a walk in the prairie with my granddaughter. One of those learnings was: Trust your gut. This is your story. It’s your name on the cover. If you haven’t put everything in it, an editor can’t get it there. I believe that’s what Dr. Angelou meant.

My writing goal has always been to tell the best story I can, as well as I can. When I launched my manuscript into my editor’s hands, I was proud of the work.

What steps have you found helpful in editing? Please share. I know there are always ways I can make my editing process better!

Why do we smile?

Line up for a photo. Someone says, “Say cheese!” Everyone grins. It’s automatic, isn’t it?  But it wasn’t always so. Until 1900,  smiles in photographs were as rare as hen’s teeth.

My grandparents, c 1890

My great grandparents, c 1890

Research into early 20th century photography for the WWI-era novel I’m writing led me to a fascinating article titled “Why We Say “Cheese”: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography,” by Dr. Christina Kotchemidova.  (To read the entire article, click here.)

Among the reasons Kotchemidova shares for the grim faces in 19th century photographs:

  • Bad teeth. No one wanted to show off a mouth of missing or rotted teeth. It was only with the rise in dental care that Hollywood stars led the way in showing their pearly whites.
  • Etiquette and beauty demanded a controlled mouth. A small mouth was considered more beautiful. At most, a contained Mona Lisa smile could be acceptable. Photographers urged sitters to say “prunes” to draw mouths into the appropriate shape.
  • A grin was considered low class – characteristic of peasants, drunkards, children, and halfwits. The only illustrated example of a person smiling in American 19th century art is Huckleberry Finn – an Irish peasant child.
  • The exposures were long. Maintaining a smile for the extended period of time sitters had to remain still was difficult if not impossible.

Changing society’s views on smiling in photographs didn’t begin in earnest until Kodak introduced the $1 Brownie camera in 1900, putting cameras in the hands of the masses. Even then it took a sustained marketing campaign to convince people that being photographed was something that could be fun. Kodak advertised heavily in national magazines, touting the ease and joy of capturing vacations, outings and picnics. The Kodak girl was everywhere, and she seemed to enjoy herself tremendously when she was taking pictures.

Kodak GirlIn addition to the joy of picture taking, Kodak set out to make the task of the “sitter” joyful, too. Kodak instructed professional photographers in how to lure people in, adopting terminology such as “studio” in place of “the operation room.” They encouraged photographers to do in-home photographs so people could relax in their own surroundings and to focus on taking photos during holidays, a time when, presumably, people are already happy.

Kodak sponsored photo contests, promising photographers both recognition and cash for participating. The winning pictures were used in Kodak ads, so the measure for “good pictures” was entirely a function of the advertising ideal. Over the decades, Kodak judges invariably rewarded pictures showing smiling faces.

By the 1940s, Kotchemidova says, “the smile was essential to popular photographic culture.” At least in the United States. Not all cultures appreciate smiling for the camera or even being photographed at all.

So when someone tells you to “Say Cheese!”, remember it wasn’t always so. And if you choose not to smile, now you have some historical reasons not to. Or to say, “Prunes,” instead.

“Food will win the war” – Women & WWI

WW1 - Be Patriotic - PosterMy novel set during WWI has had me digging into how the war affected Americans in their everyday lives. A popular women’s magazine of the era, Ladies Home Journal showed that even before the United States entered the war in 1917, Americans were feeling the impact.

Articles in the February 1915 Ladies Home Journal described “fundamental lessons coming out of the war.” Among them:

  • Every American was being taught economy
  • Women were urged to look for products “Made in the United States of America” and to “Buy American”
  • People were urged to “think of the other person”
  • Readers were advised of the need for humility and interdependence
  • The magazine suggested that, “we’ve wrongly fostered a war spirit in children” (by giving children war toys for Christmas)

All of those actions were voluntary. In 1917, after the U.S. entered the war, what had been left to volunteer compliance became the purview of the government. Congress passed the Food and Fuel Control Act, also known as the Lever Act, and President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order creating the U.S. Food Administration.

Herbert Hoover, former head of the Belgian Relief Organization won the job of Food Administration administrator. He accepted no salary, arguing that taking no pay would give him the moral authority to ask the American people to sacrifice in support of the war effort.

With the authority of President Wilson, Hoover became a “food dictator,” regulating the distribution, export, import, purchase, and storage of food. “Food will win the war,” Hoover proclaimed.

WWI - Food Will Win The War - Poster Hoover reached out to American women in August 1917 with a full-page article in Ladies Home Journal titled, “What I would like Women to do.” Here are some of the ways Hoover urged women to conserve:

  • Don’t throw food away
  • Order small meals
  • Have nutritional balance
  • Stop catering to different appetites
  • No second helpings. No 4 o’clock teas. No party refreshments. No eating after the theatre.
  • One meatless day a week, one wheatless meal a day, no young meat, no butter in cookies
  • Sign a statement of support

Food conservation continued to be a focus of the war on the home front. Another article provided women with these helpful tips:

  • Put two Fridays in every week
  • Use butter substitutes – beef & mutton fat, lard, sausage drippings
  • Eat meals from the garden. Preserve produce by pickling and canning
  • Use things you might have thrown away, e.g. make peapod soup, use outside lettuce leaves and scallion tops for salad, use crushed eggshells to clarify clear soup.

WWI - Eat More Corn - PosterWheat was an important export to Europe, so American housewives were urged to try new dishes using “war flours.” A few recipe ideas:

  • Corn meal and raisin gems
  • Bran drops
  • Golden corn tea rolls
  • Graham nut bread for sandwiches
  • Potato biscuits
  • Corn muffin dessert with spiced apples
  • Corn crullers
  • Graham and rye cookies
  • Steamed corn meal apple pudding
  • Corn and rice muffins
  • Pumpkin biscuits
  • Rice waffles
  • Use one cup of oatmeal in place of one cup of wheat flour in a griddlecake recipe.

In reading these lists, I was struck by how many of them my mother did as a matter of routine on the farm in the 1950s & 60s – cooking with bacon grease and lard, using cornmeal, pumpkin, and oatmeal in recipes. Gardening, preserving, using everything. Occasionally we observed meatless Fridays in deference to our Catholic hired men, but we had broader meat options than city dwellers. The squirrels and rabbits Dad shot were tasty.

I don’t know if those practices held over from the wars or if farm living simply lends itself to them. In any case, women answered Hoover’s call and went to their kitchens to help win the war.

How do you see the differences in writing fiction & memoir?

WritingSince I’ve written memoirs and am close to completing my first novel, when the question of differences in writing fiction and memoir came to me in response to a blog post, you’d have thought I’d be able to respond right off the bat. But, I was stumped. By definition, memoirs (based on the factual happenings in the author’s life) and novels (story made up by the author) are different, but how else?

Without making a conscious decision about style at the time, I blurred the lines between memoir and fiction when I wrote my memoir Growing Up Country as creative nonfiction. As author Lee Gutkind described it, “the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

I use some of the same techniques in writing both memoir and fiction.

Visualization. Before I can write, I have to be able to see the places and people I’m writing about. Recalling the details for my memoir was as easy as closing my eyes and mentally walking into the barn on our farm, smelling new-cut hay, or seeing my grandma’s rolled down nylons.

To write historical fiction set in the WWI era, I had to be able to see the places and people just as clearly. I chose a Victorian house I’d been in often as my character’s home. That way I knew how the rooms flowed; I could imagine the furniture. I visited the Living History Farm in Des Moines where I talked with the interpreters at the 1900’s farm and attended a funeral at the 1880 Victorian house. I found pictures and videos. Anything that would let me immerse myself in the time so that it was as real to me as if I’d lived then myself.

Research played a role in both my memoir and in the novel. My family was the research source for the memoir. Memory plays tricks on everyone and to the extent I could, I verified the details I included about farm life. Research for my novel went to a much deeper level and took on a life of its own. I am thankful every day for the Internet where I can learn to drive a Model T or set up a professional photo studio. 

Though the techniques are similar, the challenges in writing memoir and fiction have been different for me.

Imagination vs. Reality – One of greatest challenges in writing fiction has been that I’m used to writing based on facts. The writing I’d done during 30+ years in public relations and marketing was journalist/business writing – all based on the facts of client products. My memoir was based on the reality of my life. With my novel, even though I started with a few actual places and dates and events in mind, the rest is the product of my imagination.

I’ve come to enjoy the ability to add people and events when the story required them.  When my manuscript was all but complete, I realized the need for another character and a minor subplot.  I was amazed at how simple it was to develop this man, create a life and motivations for him, and retrofit him into an existing story. It took some time, but I’ve come to revel in the freedom of “making it up.”

The Story Arc. Both memoir and fiction have to tell a good story. Structured as a series of relatively independent short stories, my memoir did not adhere to the standard novel story arc. Yes, there is a gentle progression in my memoir from stories when I’m younger to those when I’m a little older, from memories that are more naïve to those that are more mature and challenging. But these progressions are not as structured or dramatic as those of successful fiction.

Learning the craft of novel writing has been an ongoing delight, from inciting incident to crisis, climax, and resolution. In three acts. With escalating pulses. Some writers may know this inherently; I have to learn it. All fun, but a definite difference.

These are the similarities and differences I see in writing fiction and memoir. Writers – What differences do you see?  Readers – This could all be behind the scenes shop talk, but are there differences you see in the way fiction and memoirs are written?

 

What seeds have you planted?

Tulip BrickSweeps of purple hyacinths. Multitudes of candy apple red, neon yellow, and peppermint stripped tulips. Majestic blue and white flag irises. A host of golden daffodils. Like magic, every spring my garden fills with this vast array of flowers and colors.

 

Recently, I woke in the middle of the night thinking about the flowers that burst into bloom each spring and it popped into my mind, You doofus! You prepared the soil, planted the bulbs, cleaned off debris in the fall. You did much to have the spring garden you love. Yet, as every farmer knows, the crop comes like the gift it is.

 

Twenty years ago or more, I opened my mind and heart to dreaming. I made a list, writing down all the things I could think of that I wanted to do someday. I remember two things on that list – bike all the trails in Iowa and write a book.

 

At the time, I knew little of what goes into writing a book, but I assumed, because I was a public relations counselor, that the book would address some aspect of that profession.  Even that seemed an unlikely dream.

 

Biking all the trails in Iowa was, however, imminently doable. I loved biking and could visualize weekend trips to all corners of the state as I pedaled away the miles.

 

It amuses me that the idea visualized clearly at the time is one that fell on rocky ground. Other activities became more interesting. I wasn’t willing to commit the time as more and more miles were added to trail maps.

 

Meanwhile, the idea that was most undefined, the one left to germinate in the dark recesses of my mind, is the one that took root. But, surprise! When the idea poked through to my consciousness, it was not a business book. Rather, I saw signs of a memoir about growing up on a farm in the middle of the country in the middle of the 20th Century. It took work – skill learning, multiple drafts, disappointment, pruning, more effort – to nurture that little sprout into a beautiful book.

 

And it took something else, something I could never have made happen. The right mentors, the right colleagues, at the right time. And time – time for the demanding work of putting one word after another on a page.

 

As with a gardener, a writer is always dependent on things outside of her control. How could I have known that writing down those long-ago dreams is like planting seeds. And that decades later, one would push to the surface. And now, only a few years later, another book, a novel set in Iowa during WWI is about to emerge.

 

In the midst of the flowering beauty of my garden, I bask in the outcome, forgetting what needed to happen for it to happen – seed planted in good soil, time for germination, and a combination of hard work and grace.

 

Whether one seed germinates, puts down roots and grows is a function of so many things. Moisture, seed vigor, nutrients. Over much a gardener has no control. But most certainly, the seed has to go into the ground.

 

Planting seeds. That’s what we do. Whether those seeds go into the garden or take root in my mind.  Whether the payoff is in a few weeks or next spring or decades later.

 

I wonder, sometimes, what else was on the list, but alas, it’s lost. What I have learned to trust, though, is that in this world where there are a million seeds for every plant that grows, so too, there will always be dream seeds I can plant, and then, when conditions are favorable, one will grow. When the season is right.

 

How to spend waiting time? A Robin & Writing Update

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Waiting can be so difficult. That whole “watched pot” thing. Whether it’s 30 seconds to heat up the coffee in the microwave or 2 weeks for eggs to hatch – time just passes so slowly when you must wait for an outcome. I’m in that waiting phase in two ways now – with the robin nesting on my windowsill and with the novel I’m writing. 

Mrs. Red Breast moved from laying to incubating her clutch of four eggs. Though I left the shade up while she laid the eggs, now that she’s nesting, I’ve pulled it down to keep from startling her off the nest. An expectant mama just does not need to be startled or to worry about being startled.

Whether she worries or not, I don’t know. I’m likely ascribing my own emotions to her.  When she’s not on the nest, I worry if she’s abandoned it. Now that we’re experiencing an unseasonal and heavy snow, I worry the eggs will get too cold. I worry whether Mama can find enough food in the brief moments she flies away from her post.

To distract myself from my role as Chief Robin Worrier – I’ve been fortunate to have found the support of several readers who informed me a nest of eggs is called a clutch, and who shared links as well as their own knowledge of robin behavior. I thank all of you for your comments!  A few interesting things I’ve learned:

  • The American Robin is actually in the thrush family. Though immigrants to America named it after the European Robin, they’re not the same. The European Robin is similar in size and shape to some of our bluebirds.
  • Robins don’t listen for worms, though the way the cock their heads makes it appear that they do. Rather, one eye is trained on the ground watching for worms while the other eye is scanning the sky for predators. Here’s a link to more surprising robin facts.
  • American Robins can become trusting of humans; European Robins are not.
  • Even though robin nests look trashy, they are quite clean. Robins keep their nesting area and the nest itself cleared of insects.
  • The jury is out on when and how much the male robin is involved in caring for the young. Apparently it depends on how many babies hatch. Stay tuned. I’ll report on what I see.

I just love learning little things like this. Like Mrs. Red Breast, I am in the stage of anxiously/eagerly awaiting news of my novel, tentatively titled All She Ever Wanted.  This week, I gave draft copies to beta readers. This is the first time I’ve put my novel in front of readers who know nothing of the story and who I trust will give honest feedback on how or if the story works, whether the characters have depth and are believable, how well I’ve established the setting of rural Iowa during WWI. 

While I wait the next month for my readers to read, I’m figuring out ways I can distract myself from my Chief Novel Worrier role and do something productive. One thing I’ll be doing is working on a one-page synopsis of the novel as well as the critical cover blurb. Both of these tasks will require research and study and no doubt the help of others who’ve walk this path.

Writing novels and nesting birds. There are just so many similarities to these experiences. Don’t you think?

Other Robin posts: A Bird’s Eye ViewAnd Then There Were Four

History wrapped in a gripping story – Author David Lawlor

THE GOLDEN GRAVE - David LawlorI’m pleased to welcome Irish author David Lawlor to my blog today. For anyone with an interest in historical fiction, WWI, and action/adventure stories, this will be a treat.  Lawlor’s just-released novel THE GOLDEN GRAVE continues the story of Liam Mannion, an Irishman who fought valiantly in WWI but now is trying to outrun his past. Mannion finds himself back in France with his war buddies reviving the horrors of trench warfare as they pursue a treasure buried during the war.

Though THE GOLDEN GRAVE can be read as a stand-alone story, you’ll be missing a bet if you don’t go back and pick up TAN, too.

Welcome, David!
Thanks, Carol

What’s the most interesting thing to you about writing historical fiction?
I’m intrigued by those times when people were really tested and wonder how I would have fared. Questions like that inspire my writing and my delving into the past. With my first book, TAN, I delved into the world of the frontline soldier and also into the textile industry of Manchester. These things intrigued me.

What kinds of research did you do to ground yourself in the WWI era?
Some of the technical research was tedious. I nearly went mad trying to understand and describe the workings of a textile mill, but I felt it was worth it to give a sense of what my main character, Liam, was going through.

With TAN’s sequel, THE GOLDEN GRAVE, I found the research easier. I had already got a feel for the times – the clothes, the songs, etc., in the first book. I studied photographs and more accounts of trench life. I also researched tunneling techniques and bunker making.

One thing that drove me nuts was trying to figure out how long it would take to pump a water-filled bunker clear using 1920s equipment. Eventually, I contacted the Imperial War Museum and they gave me an approximate answer. It was little questions like those that held me up, not the bigger ones like how the battlefield looked. The other useful tool I had was a documentary about a WWI bunker. It was this documentary that inspired the story.

The research you did really made the time, place and experiences in your books incredibly real. In TAN, you wrote about the burning of Balbriggan, an historical fact. Where does fact end and fiction begin with your writing?
This historic event is the skeleton upon which I interweave my story. For TAN, I studied photos of Balbriggan and walked its streets, talking to locals. One of their anecdotes about the Tans actually made it into the book. The rest of TAN was fairly loose. Sometimes you can get too caught up in the historic detail to the detriment of the story.

You’ve struck the right balance between historical accuracy and characters with a good story, David. How do you go about creating your characters? Are they based on people you know? Is Liam autobiographical?
I suppose I would like to think there is some of me in Liam. The femme fatale, Sabine, was based on a woman I know, (the less said about that the better 😉 ) Ben Sweetman came easily – he’s a gentle giant, like the Death Row character in The Green Mile.

I’m impressed with your portrayal of female characters. What informed how you write about women – in general – and with regard to the war?
I approach female characters the same way as male ones. I wonder how I’d react in their situations. Sabine had to be clever and manipulative to survive and successfully run a bar catering to aggressive, battle-scarred soldiers, so I tried to show that side of her. Equally, I felt Kate, from TAN, was bound to be smart and feisty, given that her father was a successful businessman and she was living through the whole suffragette movement. Women had played an important part during the 1916 Easter Rising. I felt it was natural that their role would have impacted on Kate.

The women are right in the action, that’s for sure. Pacing is a strength in your writing. The story grabs readers and doesn’t let go. What advice do you have for writers (like me) who’d like to improve pacing?
I don’t think I can give much advice to anyone, but I try to see the story as you would a film. I leave little cliff-hangers at the end of sections and I like to flip between scenes quite quickly. I think that can be used to inject pace or to slow things down when events get too frenetic.

When you have a story idea, how do you go about building the story?
I build a clear plot before writing but leave enough room for the characters to take me on tangents. In a new book I’m working on I have one character whose basic role is clear but who I know will be intriguing; how exactly that will be revealed, I’m unsure.

David LawlorI’ll be waiting, David. I’m a fan! I could go on asking questions, but we both need to get back to writing. Thanks for joining us today.

If you’d like more info about David’s take on history, he celebrates the bit players of history on his blog: History With A Twist http://historywithatwist.wordpress.com/

And here are more ways to find him and his books.
Tan (US site) http://goo.gl/HMUKS
Tan (UK site) http://goo.gl/nK1li
The Golden Grave (US site) http://goo.gl/MwZtJ
The Golden Grave (UK site) http://goo.gl/XcMuv

Twitter: @LawlorDavid

On Goodreads:
The Golden Grave http://goo.gl/89pJZ
Tan http://goo.gl/2fb87

The value of a fresh look at writing? Priceless

Bryce Canyon, Utah - Arch

Bryce Canyon, Utah

A fresh read of a manuscript points out all kinds of problems: flat characters, scenes that though beautifully written go nowhere, leaps in logic that were clear to me in the writing but not to a reader. A fresh location can also inspire a fresh look.

A few weeks ago, I met my writing partner Mary Gottschalk in Moab, Utah, for what has become an annual tradition – a week devoted to our writing. 

I’ve written about retreats before, but I was particularly excited about this one. Having given the full manuscript for my work in progress, All She Ever Wanted, to Mary for a complete, start-to-finish read, my goal for the week was to fill in the holes and trim the fat she saw on this read through. She didn’t disappoint. Her critique offered both big picture and fine-tuning feedback.

Reading with clear eyes, she found sections that could be eliminated entirely or reduced to a line or two of backstory. With her comments in hand, I set about hacking entire scenes. Once I embraced the idea of eliminating anything that didn’t move the plot forward in a meaningful way, I found other scenes that were surprisingly easy to send to the cutting room floor.

But it wasn’t all about cutting. In the course of the week, a character who started off as a minor player at a holiday party took on a major role. By the end of the week, Harley was challenging my heroine Liddie to grow up, speak up, and face the reality of how quickly gossip can travel. To accommodate this troublemaker, I wrote new scenes and changed the tone of others.

In addition, I fleshed out the historical setting, adding richness of detail to the story skeleton, based on research I’d been doing. The war in Europe (WWI) had a broader impact on the U.S. than I’d realized it did, years before the U.S. sent troops into battle in 1917. Every American was being taught economy. Women were called to eschew foreign labels in their clothes and buy American. Clothing designs took on military influences.

At the beginning of the week, I hoped to be able to respond to Mary’s comments on the first half of my manuscript. What an adrenaline rush to find that I could tackle the entire manuscript. By the time we were driving back home, I could visualize having my manuscript ready to put in the hands of beta readers by the end of April.

A fresh look and a week with focus let me take some very big steps in that direction.