How About Them Apples?

I’ve mentioned several (or a hundred) times that THE THINGS THEY CARRIED is the first book I read that made me recognize GOOD writing. But, it wasn’t the thing that made me want to be a writer. I guess I’ve always written in some regard. I’ve kept a journal/diary since junior high. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Bricker, had very nice things to say about my 25 page story that she read (I think). In my sixth grade memory book I said I was going to be a successful author. But, I think somewhere inside I didn’t know if I could actually be a writer. A didn’t know any writers. They seemed like mysterious figures no one actually saw. Interestingly enough, it was a movie that allowed me to finally SEE writers.

In 1997, the winter of my senior of high school, GOOD WILL HUNTING was released. I think I saw it three or four times in the theater, quoted in endlessly with my sister and a few friends, and bought the screenplay, the soundtrack (on CD), and the movie poster. Interesting fact: the poster has been with me to six different places and now hangs in the office/porch. And, it’s laminated for extra protection. Sure, the story was good, the characters were interesting, and there were many quotable lines, but it was the first time in my memory that the people who wrote the script got the spotlight. I’d seen the “written by” credit many times but it never clicked that someone wrote the dialogue and scene description. Maybe it’s obvious, but it wasn’t to my teenage self. Maybe because film are something we see and hear and reading is letters on a page.

Plus, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were EVERYWHERE talking about their friendship and experience writing and making the movie. Are the VHS tapes with their multiple television appearances somewhere in my parents’ house? Probably.

Dear Santa

There are bunch of obvious things on my Christmas list this year: an end to the pandemic (I thought we were on our way for a couple weeks back in the summer), for my family to be healthy and happy, and for the chance to welcome THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS into the world in a more traditional way come May. MAN UP was released in April, 2020 and the Instagram party from Story Studio, the chat with YA author Jeff Garvin, and my Facebook Live Launch was thrilling and fun. As much as covid wants to kick everyone while they’re down, it can’t take away the fact that I have a book in the world.

But if I can dream a little and go beyond the things that I never would have thought would be a huge concern of mine at this time two years ago, here’s what I would ask Santa for: to be on a panel of fellow authors at a book festival or writer event (preferably in person), meet the wonderful women who founded HFChitChat (a writing community on twitter devoted to historical fiction, have another DIY writing retreat with my NIAY pals, have one of my books selected for a book club, and enough money to support all the authors I admire so I can buy any book I want.

Might be a tall order given the current circumstances but I’m going all out.

THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS Has a Cover!

Isn’t it beautiful?

Authors like to geek out about their covers. Allow me to do so now:

• The army green: In the original version the words were all in black. The use of army green is awesome.
• The notebook paper with the confetti edges: Sam and Anthony can only communicate via letters while Anthony is fighting in the Vietnam War. It is such a big part of the story and I love it.
• The stick figures. The two boy stick figures. Their little stick heads bent toward one another, holding their little stick hands. One figure even has a flat top and a duffel bag. I almost cried when I first saw these guys. They’re perfect.
• The shadows. I have no idea what to make of the shadow of my two little stick guys but it adds something. I might have my English teacher hat on a bit too tightly here, but I imagine the shadow is cast because of a sunset. A day is ending with something new beginning and neither of the little stick guys know what’s in store. I know what’s in store, and I’m not going to lie little stick guys, it’s going to be rough.

Erica Weisz at Trism Books is an amazing illustrator and artist. She asked me what images and themes came to mind when I thought about the book and she took those phrases to come up with this incredible cover.

Please cross all your fingers and toes and hope that we can welcome this book into the world in a more traditional way come May 7th and you can see this book on a shelf in person.

Danielle Steel, I am Not

I read an article a couple years ago that said Danielle Steele sometimes writes for 22 hours a day, not even taking a bathroom break or stopping for snacks. I don’t remember if anything was said about a bedpan under the desk. This method would never work for me. I love snacks too much and often use them as a reward for completing the smallest of goals. When I taught high school English, my coworkers would say how they spent eight hours at a Starbucks and graded all these essays. Again, not me. I would set a goal to grade two or three in a sitting and then find some snack to reward myself for my hard work.

I wrote Man Up in increments of 400-700 words. Seven hundred words was a pretty good day. Eventually, those hundreds of words over the course of months and months added up to a whole book. The War on All Fronts was written in a similar fashion, but maybe it was about 500-800 words at a time. Apparently my stamina was growing. A couple times I broke the 1k mark.

A member of my writing community introduced me to the Pomodoro Method in which you focus on a specific task for about 20-30 minutes. Several times during the revision of The War on All Fronts I used this method. I found that I could sometimes write 600 words in 25 minutes. If that was the case why wasn’t this book finished a long time ago? I have no idea. But it was the same result as the first book. Those hundreds of words. Those half hour blocks. They eventually added up to a whole book.

Use the bathroom. Eat the pretzels. Scoop the ice cream. And write more words!

Sam and Anthony’s Favorite Songs

Sam and Anthony might love each other but not always one another’s taste in music. If they have some coins burning a hole in their pockets, what songs would they choose to play on the jukebox? Many authors have a playlist that served as background music while writing a book, these are the ones that were on repeat in my head while writing The War on All Fronts.

Sam’s Favorites:

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stoness

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles

“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane

“Hello, I Love You” by The Doors

“Break on Through (to the Other Side)” by The Doors

Anthony’s Favorites:

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys

“Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals

YouTube: Beyond Cat Videos

I would love to ask a historical fiction writer what researching was like before the internet. For my latest book, The War on All Fronts, I made many a trip to the library, conducted interviews, and became good friends with the people at the University of Wisconsin Madison Archives. But Google was my go to when it came to figuring out what day of the week Christmas was on in 1967 or finding out when the Slurpee was invented. YouTube became my best pal when it came to primary sources.

When reading about personal accounts about enduring boot camp in the 1960’s didn’t give me the details I needed, YouTube came to my rescue with a video made during that time that was over a half hour of drills and life on base. When I found out the Walter Cronkite gave a report about the Tet Offensive in January, 1968 that changed many a perspective about the war, YouTube had footage of the broadcast. It also had clips from a PBS special in which Vietnam veterans discussed PTSD, protesters in Grant Park at the 1968 Democratic National Convention recounted their experience, and of course, songs of the sixties.

It’s still a great place to go for music videos, movie clips, and cat videos but YouTube can be a goldmine of information for the historical fiction writer too. Those poor people who conducted research so long ago had no videos of people tripping to distract them, though. I bet they got a ton of work done.