Category Archives: Book Research

The ‘Atlanta Beltline Guy’ Talks Future of Cities in Where We Want to Live

Where+We+Want+to+LiveToday, The Writing Well is celebrating Earth Day a few days late with this insightful interview with Atlanta urban designer Ryan Gravel, author of Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities, a book that will inspire anyone who has grown up in the sprawl of America’s suburban areas where communities were designed around cars instead of people.

I first met Ryan while researching my own book, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist GuideI couldn’t write about living in Atlanta without quoting the “Atlanta Beltline guy,” as he’s known around town. The Beltline today is a $4 billion infrastructure project that will add 40% to the city’s green space by converting Atlanta’s abandoned 22-mile-long freight rail corridor into a  transit greenway.  It’s also, as I was to learn while researching Atlanta’s many intown neighborhoods, a cultural phenomenon that is redefining the fabric of the city, bringing people and institutions together and fueling economic growth.

“The Beltline has its own culture,” Eric Champlin of AtlantaTrails.com said, and his enthusiasm for the Beltline was echoed by dozens of other residents I interviewed.  For Ryan, it was his graduate thesis while an architecture student at Georgia Tech, and his vision of what he would love for Atlanta to be, inspired by what he’d seen firsthand after living for a year in Paris.

“His book is part memoir, partly an argument about what’s wrong with suburban sprawl and partly an argument about how infrastructure shapes our society and how – from roads to rivers – it can be thoughtfully repurposed,” writes Alex Bozikovic in his March 18th review of Ryan’s book in The Globe and Mail.

I am inspired by Ryan’s passion for Atlanta, but I agree with The Globe and Mail reviewer that Where We Want to Live has a much broader perspective, with examples of what other cities here and abroad can do to make their communities more livable, more equitable, and more sustainable.

Ryan holding both our books.

Ryan holding both our books.

In my book, he credits the people for Atlanta for making the Beltline happen, saying, “The only reason we are doing this is because the people of Atlanta fell in love with a vision for their future.” He predicts Atlanta will be a very different place in 20 years — “redefined.”

Our books’ were published a month apart, and we exchanged signed copies last month at his office in Ponce City Market, a short walk from the Beltline’s Northside Trail. During our meeting, I asked him about his writing journey, including his goals for Where We Want to Live and what he’d like to be doing in five years. Here’s what he said.

Q. Why did you write Where We Want to Live?

Ryan: There were several things I wanted to accomplish — one, I am fascinated with the role of infrastructure. It is the foundation of our culture, our social life,  I am fascinated with that relationship. I see it as an under-the-radar kind of tool for social and cultural change, which is exciting. The other thing is I know the reason it [the Beltline] is happening is because the people in Atlanta fell in love with this vision for their future. They empowered it and made it. They obligated their political leadership to build it. They made it happen — people did it. But if you’re 25 today, you were barely a teenager at the time we were doing that. So you might not see the Beltline that way. I wanted people to see it that way. We’re still in the very early stages of it. Its successful implementation requires them to remain involved to maintain that sense of ownership of the project.  I think that’s the only way we’re really going to be successful.  It has to be done well and right and be done for everybody  — it has be done in a way that fulfills the vision.

Q. Were you surprised by how residents of Atlanta have embraced the Beltline — did it become something much bigger than you thought it would ever be?

Ryan:  Yes. I was just a kid [when I first envisioned and began working on getting support for the Beltline].  I understood this from a technical side and an architectural side of what it would do.  It is doing that but the degree to which people have fallen in love with this thing has been just insane. It’s great. I’m in love with it because they’re in love with it.

Q. How is your book different than other books in your genre?

Ryan:  I think it’s different because it’s a narrative — it’s a story. Most books about planning and cities are bulky technical books. They’re sort of case studies and best practices. They’ve got a catalog of ideas outlined that are helpful but are more technical. This really tries to tell the story of the role of infrastructure in our lives and that it matters,  and that we might want to think more carefully about it. I think people could fall in love with infrastructure more broadly. If people fall in love with the places that they live in, they would be much more careful with some of the decisions we make.

Q. How has the Atlanta Beltline fueled your passion for reclaiming infrastructure? Did it happen before that?

Ryan on the Atlanta Beltline's Northeast Corridor. Photo by Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Ryan on the Atlanta Beltline’s Northeast Corridor.       Photo by Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Ryan:  Our success [with the Beltline] has definitely fueled my fire. The other thing that it’s allowed me to do is travel and share our story nationally and increasingly internationally. I see that not only are people fascinated by what we are doing, but they also are doing some pretty interesting things themselves. The Beltline is part of a much larger story. Another thing I wanted to accomplish with the book is to put the Beltline in a much larger context– that this kind of change is happening everywhere. Atlanta is definitely a leader in this space, but it’s happening everywhere. This is part of a much larger cultural movement — in 30 years, we will have completely reshaped the way that we build cities.

Q. What are some other cities nationally or internationally you’ve been inspired by?

Ryan: The one we’ve had some real success with is the LA River.  It started as a grassroots  movement in the 1980s to reclaim this concrete channel as some kind

A new generation of Los Angeles residents have rediscovered their river and is fighting to reposition it once again as a central part of a more sustainable future for Los Angeles. Photo by Ryan Gravel.

A new generation of Los Angeles residents has rediscovered their river and is fighting to make it part of a more sustainable future for LA. Photo by Ryan Gravel.

of life-affirming waterway. And they’ve been working at it a long time, but just within the last few months they’ve made enormous progress. The Army Corps of Engineers, which channelized the river in the 1930s, literally paved 80 percent of a 50-mile river with concrete just to approve a $1 billion restoration of one short short section of the Glendair Narrows  [along the Los Angeles River], so it’s not just the physical transformation, which changes not only people’s lives, but changes the way agencies, organizations and businesses relate.

If you look at urban sprawl — it wasn’t some big conspiracy; it was millions of people over an extended period of time making the best decisions that they could for their families with a lot of unintended consequences.  It also was a cultural momentum and, in the process, it fundamentally changed the way we built the world around us. For one, it created entire forms of bureaucracies and business models for new types of housing and new types of food was completely revolutionized.  It was part of the cultural transformation in the 60s.  People separate it out but it was very much tied together in the same way that this is the beginning  of a similar cultural shift that is going to have both intended and unintended consequences.

I’m excited about what is happening — this kind of change — but we also have to be thoughtful, deliberate and intentional so that it supports everybody — that everybody gets to be a part of it.

Q. What do you want people to get out of this book at the end of the day?

Ryan: I would love for people to see the role of infrastructure in their lives. We have a lot of

The Beltline in Fall by Linda Coatsworth

The Beltline in Fall by Linda Coatsworth

conversations with the Atlanta Beltline Project around equity, affordability, environmental justice, mobility and all these things, and it’s great and it’s right and we should. I think we have those conversations around all the infrastructure that we build — all the big highway interchanges, all the things that we do — the big chunks of projects we spend money on.

You look at all the big highway projects — we are spending billions of dollars on massive interchange reconstructions and highway widening and managed lanes, and all those are only for people who drive cars. They are not for people who walk or ride trains, or ride bikes or move around in other ways. They are very limited in their impact and there is no dialogue around affordability. There is no dialogue around what it will do economically to communities. It will support some communities — it will expand economic development in some communities but it will do the opposite in others. I would like to shift the public dialogue so when we make these big public investments that we would have that dialogue. I think it would change a lot of the decisions we make.

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? 

Ryan: The book was a real discovery. I knew there was something to be discovered and I didn’t know what it was. There was a lot of figuring it out. It was my first book. I can tell when I read it that the first two-thirds of the book has been reworked — a lot of chapters shifted around.  Between first pitching the book and the final format a lot of those pieces have been moved around a lot to frame this larger story. The last five chapters were not conceived until all those decisions were made. They were written much faster and read much better — they make more sense. It was a learning experience for me. I became a better writer in the process.  I had a book outline but it kept changing. The transition between things and the logic had to be rewritten several times and it was painful, but I think it was the right thing to do. It made a better book. For example, the Beltline is in the middle four chapters but previously it was told more piecemeal across the book.

Q, What did you learn during the process that will help other writers? What would you advise other non-fiction writers?

Ryan: I had a good editor at a high level and she helped me edit — we cut a good 100 pages out of the book. It was really redundant — partly because I was shifting things around and saying things twice. I would advise writers to get a good editor — someone who can see your story with a broader perspective. I was so in the weeds I couldn’t. I had a couple of readers who gave me different feedback on different topics. One of them helped me with the Beltline section — I wanted to tell an honest story because I wasn’t the only part of the story. 

Q. Have you been surprised by the reception to Where We Want to Live?

Ryan: I was blown away by the launch event. I didn’t know how many people were going to show up. The Carter Center had seats for 470 people, and I thought there is no way we are going to fill it up but we had people sitting on the steps, which was pretty amazing.

Q. What’s next for you? Do you have another book planned?

Ponce City Market, photo credit: Sarah Dorio

Ponce City Market, photo credit: Sarah Dorio

While I was in the middle of it I said there was no way I would write another book — it was so much more work than I ever thought it would be. But, I learned a lot and I became a better writer so I think the next book would not be so torturous.  I love the idea of writing a children’s book. Obviously the key to that is finding a good illustrator. I also have an idea to create a more of a coffee table kind of image book. I have a ton of images from all these other projects around the world. It would be sort of a visual addendum to Where We Want to Live.

I also would love to do an Instagram book of other people looking at infrastructure in a similar way or targeting these projects. That would be a cool way to organize people who are into the future of city-building and graphically hold it together across a lot of different photography.

I have talked to people about doing an online show about infrastructure where we would share stories — such as the work going along the LA River and talking to people who can envision what that space might become. I think that would be a lot of fun and I think you could do it in a way that would be really interesting for an audience.

Q. What’s your ideal job in five years?

Ryan: I want to research the future of cities. I want to pitch ideas for what that means and host forums and discussions about everything from storm water to automated vehicles — that is, start a real civic dialogue around the infrastructure that we build and that it matters.  One of the projects I am doing is called the Atlanta City Design for the City of Atlanta. We are figuring out how they are going to grow — to become something they want to be. The City of Atlanta is only a tenth of the regional population and they are going to more than double in size in the next 20 years so where is that population going to go?  How do we protect things like the tree canopy and neighborhoods so that we become more of who we are and not less, and we still like it at the end of the day? We are just now starting this — it’s going to roll out over the course of the spring,summer and fall.

About the Author

RYAN GRAVEL is the founding principal of Sixpitch and creator of the Atlanta Beltline, the reinvention of a 22-mile circle of railroads that began as the subject of his master’s thesis. A designer, planner, and writer, he is increasingly called to speak to an international audience on topics as wide ranging as brownfield remediation, transportation, public health, affordable housing, and urban regeneration. Gravel lives with his family in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit Ryan’s author page at: https://ryangravel.com/ or follow him on Twitter @ryangravel.

Susan Crawford’s The Other Widow Confronts Dark Side of Love, Marriage, Infidelity

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Atlanta suspense writer Susan Crawford has a knack for putting her readers inside the minds of her troubled characters. She also knows how to grab readers and keep them hanging in her genre of literary mystery/suspense. I found these observations true when reading Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife, and just as true after devouring The Other Widow, where Susan explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity.

The Other Widow opens with Joe telling Dorrie, a married co-worker with whom he is carrying on an affair, that “it is no longer safe” —moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage.

The story unfolds in the aftermath of Joe’s death through the vantage point of Dorrie, “the other widow,” his wife Karen and Maggie, a troubled war-veteran and insurance investigator, who is dealing with her own demons after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course a hallmark of this author is her lyrical prose that sweeps you into the minds and hearts of her characters, even as the tension in the story builds and takes you closer to a shocking conclusion.

Below, Susan discusses The Other Widow, including her writing process and how she tackles surprise endings, which her latest book certainly delivers. If you are a fan of thrillers that are both character-driven and incredibly well written, you won’t want to miss The Other Widow or Susan’s book launch next Tuesday at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur, Georgia.

Q. The Other Widow is your second novel in the thriller /mystery genre. You have three strong female characters — and plenty of intrigue given the opening chapter and death of the cheating husband. How did you come up with the storyline?

Susan: I thought it would be interesting to write a story that deals with a shattering event and the results that follow – like a broken window with fractures running away from the break. The accident in the first chapter is the catalyst for the rest of the book, the incident that eventually brings to light things that had been traveling under the radar.

Q. What do you consider the best part of the writing process in this type of story — what element or aspect is the most challenging but also the most gratifying when you get it right?

Susan: What I enjoy writing most in this type of story is the characters and developing them in such a way that they almost have to do the things they do in the book. Edward, for example, has expensive tastes and likes to live big – he wouldn’t easily adapt to changing his lifestyle to accommodate a flagging economy and a failing company. Joe’s widow, Karen, has no illusions when it comes to either love or marriage. She’s invested over half her life in a relationship and will ignore the obvious when it comes to her husband’s infidelity. Samuel’s secretive nature and frequent absences become more suspect in light of the recent death of his wife’s lover. These three as well as all the other characters are likely to react in certain ways to obstacles thrown in their paths. I only have to plant the hurdles. They do what they will do.

Q. Of the female characters, which one do you most relate to or feel sympathy toward? Which one do you think had the most memorable voice?

Susan: I relate most to Dorrie. She wears many different hats. She is many things to many people – mother, wife, employee, actress, and friend. She empathizes with everyone, which makes her conflicted because she’s always pulled in different directions. She’s juggling all these aspects of her life, but because she’s ruled by her emotions, nothing is exactly secure. She was drawn to Joe because he saw her not in terms of what she was doing, but of who she was; he touched her on a deeper level. She . . . can almost catch the moments whistling by, quick, shimmering, like skirts on a dance floor, or wind blowing through a jacket in a field. Joe, with his voice like music. Kiss me, like the words to an old song or a curtain flapping in a breeze or sun on a tiled floor. Like a memory just out of reach.  I think Maggie has the most memorable voice because she is a veteran struggling with PTSD.

Q. Writing a thriller with a surprise ending (in this case a couple of twists at the very end) cannot be easy, no matter how creative you are. How do you piece together the ending in a way that keeps readers guessing?  What is your own process?  Do you find beta readers a helpful tool to check your story line and make sure that the plot is doing what you envision?

Susan: I try to keep possibilities open – to have characters who aren’t all good or all not good, so the reader will think, Hmm. Maybe it was him, or possibly her . . . It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, although I don’t like to wrap things up too neatly at the end, so there are usually a couple of pieces out of place. For me, first readers are very helpful. I love my critique groups. They give me honest feedback and suggestions. And of course my editor and my agent have brilliant ideas!

Q. If you were going to describe your writing style in a phrase, what words come to mind? With these two books under your belt, what kind of brand are you building in the literary world?  What authors do you most admire and why?

Margaret Atwood

Ottawa native Margaret Atwood

Susan: Maybe Shakespeare’s quote, Past Is Prologue. The brand – I would say Literary Mystery/Suspense. Favorite authors – Margaret Atwood because she always hooks me right away and pulls me into whatever she’s writing. I admire her versatility. I also love Susan Minot. I think she writes the most beautiful prose. And Kate Atkinson because she really knows how to craft suspense. Also Liane Moriarty, Ann Patchett, Wally Lamb. . .  I have lots of favorite authors!

Q. Your first book dealt with mental illness in that your main character suffered from bi-polar condition. This book the insurance investigator is an Iraqi War veteran with PTSD. What is it about psychological issues that you are drawn to write about in your stories? Why is that compelling for you as a storyteller?

Susan: It’s almost impossible to get through life without some kind of psychological issue unless you live in a box, which would create even more psychological issues, actually! I think many mental illnesses are the result of horrific experiences – normal reactions to abnormal situations that change the lens through which we see the world. Maggie, for example, has PTSD because she nearly died, because she was in a war zone, because she couldn’t help her friends. People are often judged for being different, for seeing things differently, so basically they’re stigmatized for having difficult lives.

Q. Place figures into The Other Widow in that it takes place in Boston during the dead of winter. What is your connection to Boston and what aspects of the city did you most enjoy bringing out into the setting of the story?

Susan: I lived in Boston many years ago. I enjoyed writing about the area around Beacon Hill because I lived there on Myrtle Street and I worked at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, entering snowy-bostoninsurance claims from some of the areas mentioned in the book. The accident that sets the stage for the story happens on one of my favorite Boston streets, Newbury, and, as Dorrie stands in her living room, staring at her husband in the middle of the night and wondering who he is, I picture my old friend’s house in Jamaica Plain. A pivotal scene in the book takes place in the Park Street Station at the corner of the Boston Common, where I used to catch the train, and when Dorrie’s friend confesses to meeting Samuel for drinks, they are in the Copley, a hotel where I’ve stayed on occasion.

Q. What do you most want readers to leave with after reading The Other Widow?

Susan: Apart from a compelling, overwhelming urge to read more things I’ve written,J I’d like readers to leave The Other Widow feeling a little less judgmental, a little less inclined to label people. Everyone has a story that’s put them where they are.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of books? Do you have plans to feature Atlanta since that is where you live?

Susan: Yes. I’m currently writing a novel set in Georgia, partly in Atlanta and partly in the country. It begins with the investigation of killings outside midtown bars. An anonymous letter links these deaths to the murder of a man who dies in the driveway of his North Georgia Mountain home as his pregnant wife dresses for a neighbor’s surprise party.

Goodreads-Logo

Buzz on Goodreads for The Other Widow

  • Susan Crawford, author of the psychological thriller The Pocket Wife, does it again with her new novel, The Other Widow. With a complex cast of characters—featuring the perspectives of three strong women brought together by a tragic accident—Crawford captures the very essence of grief felt by a widow and the other woman, haunting love, and obsession. Though the story moves at a slower pace than her first novel, it’s just as absorbing as it steadily examines the psychological impacts of deception, vulnerability, and desire.
  • The Other Widow is a visceral read that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, yearning for the next page right until the very startling end. I guarantee that you won’t put it down.”
    – Emily on Goodreads
  • “A surprising novel; not only a thriller/mystery, but an emotional exploration of feelings of grief, loss, discovery, rage, and forgiveness for both the wife and other woman who must grieve alone. I generally steer clear of mysteries because they are often littered with bad language and explicit sex. The author that can write a sex scene without having to spell it out is the more talented. Crawford is the talented writer.” – Nancy on Goodreads
  • “A terrific thriller/drama! Maggie, Dorrie, and Karen are all very real complex characters dealing with a uniquely awful situation. Crawford has written a great second novel and I’m looking forward to more from her. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC- I really enjoyed it. HIghly recommend if you like plot driven page turners with female protagonists (all around in this case!) Also (and don’t discount this) this was a great travel book as it kept me engaged and entertained. Thumbs up!” – Kathleen on Goodreads

About the Author

SusanCrawfordBioPhotoSusan grew up in Miami, Florida, where she spent her childhood reading mysteries in a hammock strung between two Banyan trees. She graduated from the University of Miami with a B.A. in English.

She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Susan’s first novel is The Pocket Wife.

Keep up with Susan via her  website, susancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter @crawfordsusanh or on Facebook.

 

Finishing Book Projects Top of My New Year’s Resolutions

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It’s a new year, and a time to reflect and make resolutions. For me, 2016 will be the year I finish my book on moving to Atlanta and my historical novel. Both of these projects are special for different reasons. I last wrote a book in 2005, after losing my mother to lung cancer.

 From Mother-Daughter Memoir to Moving Guide to Historical Romance

A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking, my anti-smoking memoir, was A Breath Away cover (hi-res)written while grieving the loss of my own mother as I was becoming a mom.  I find myself saddened that many of the daughters in my book have been stricken with cancer, including my friend  Jackie Graff, who passed away last month from lung cancer.  At the time my book was independently published, and it it didn’t benefit from today’s social media environment, where you can create an author platform and connect with your readers.

My next book is called Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, It came about by a chance meeting with Newt Barrett, publisher of Voyager Media in Estero, Fla. We met through a mutual friend right before my family’s move back to Atlanta this past June. I learned that Newt, a fellow Ohio buckeye, was a successful publisher of city moving guides, mostly in Florida and other Southeastern cities. Why not Atlanta?

High Res M2A coverWe agreed that I would be able to tackle this since I was moving back to a city where I’d lived for 16 years — and also the place where I had met my husband, had a family and started my writing company. I’ve enjoyed researching what makes Atlanta such a cool place to call home…and have met and interviewed some amazing Atlantans along the way, including Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta Beltline.  

I included a spotlight on key intown and suburban communities, where I interviewed residents on what makes their neighborhood unique. I believe these firsthand accounts set my book apart from other guides. Expect to see Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide on bookshelves this spring.

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I also intend to finish my historical novel, Torrential, set in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, at the time of the 1913 flood. The last year of relocating to one city and coming back made it difficult to do the final editing of this turn-of-the-century love story focused on an Irish seaman who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic only to find himself facing a catastrophic flood after moving to Dayton to start a new life.

I fell in love with this story, partly because it was loosely inspired by my grandmother’s family, who owned a boarding house in Dayton at the time of the flood. My grandmother met and fell in love with a boarder, a theme that I bring to life in Torrential I wrote this manuscript in 2013 and 2014, received feedback from numerous advance readers and even had it evaluated by a professional editor. Many people think this story is made for the Big Screen, including a screenwriting coach who I’ve consulted with. I will begin the final content edits for Torrential this month.

One thing the last few years has taught me is that I am happiest when I can write stories about people and events that resonate and inspire me. Atlanta is fertile ground for this exercise, and so is my historical novel.  What a great time to be a storyteller!

Author Bio

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Anne Wainscott-Sargent moved to Atlanta in 1998. She is a writer, blogger and strategic storyteller specializing in the tech and education sectors. An avid history buff and movie-goer, she loves following Atlanta’s growing film industry, connecting with other writers in the Atlanta area, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Chattahoochee River’s many bicycle paths.  She and her husband live in Roswell with their two children. She hopes to finish her first novel, a work of historical fiction, in 2016.

Visit Anne’s consulting website at: http://annewainscott.com/writing-consulting-services/ or her blog, The Writing Well, at: http://annewainscott.com/blog/. Connect with her on Twitter: @annewainscott.

Andrea Boeshaar on Writing Christian Romance Set during the Civil War

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Today, The Writing Well turns from horror and zombie apocalypse writing to the polar opposite genre of Christian romance writing set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.

We examine the latest work of Andrea Beshaar, a veteran romance novelist, writing coach, grandmother of five, and co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers.  Her newest book, A Thousand Shall Fall: A  Civil War Novel, opens in autumn 1864 in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a 50-mile swath of fertile land situated between the Alleghenies to the west and the Blue Ridge to the east.

The book explains the significance of the Valley, whose rich stores of grain earned it the name the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Of equal importance was the Valley’s role as a crucial transportation network for the South (General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson once said, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”)

The book’s heroine, Carrie Ann Bell, shows plenty of pluck as a protective older sister and aspiring journalist eager to follow in her father’s footsteps. She is trying to keep her papa’s newspaper alive after he leaves to chronicle the war for the Confederacy,  She and her two sisters and her mentally unstable stepmother are forced to move into a disreputable inn and to work as servers for their board and keep when they come upon hard times. While there, Carrie Ann meets Colonel Peyton Collier, an injured Union cavalry officer, whose gentlemanly conduct moves Carol Ann to provide medical care in spite of their divided loyalties.

Months later, Carrie Ann learns that her younger sister has run off, so she disguises herself as a Yankee soldier to find her.  The last thing Carol Ann expected was to run into Colonel  Collier, who immediately arrests her for impersonating an officer, but,remembering her kindness to him, shields her from worse punishment. As the two spend more time together, Carrie Ann and Peyton begin to fall in love.  But, things aren’t quite as simple as they seem, as Carrie Ann struggles to reconcile her feelings for the cavalry officer with loyalty to family and her best friend,  Joshua, a major and Confederate spy.

There were times while reading A Thousand Shall Fall that I would have liked more romantic tension and struggle between these two characters, even in the context of this being a Christian love story, but overall it was still a compelling read.

I thought the author’s  secondary characters, particularly the colonel’s spinster aunt (who takes a lot of heat from her neighbors for being an abolitionist with Northern sympathies) and the aunt’s old rival, Mrs. Monteague, a pampered and stalwart defender of Old Virginia, were well crafted and engaging.

I would have liked to have seen a similar amount of depth devoted to the narrative around Carrie Ann’s family– as a reader, I didn’t feel vested in the missing younger sister because I never got the sense that the sisters were close.

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John S. Mosby, the “Gray Ghost”

What was well developed was the battle scenes (including the horror of war as experienced by civilians) as well as the historical detail. I applaud Andrea for weaving in historic military figures such as  Union General Philip H. Sheridan and the elusive Confederate Calvary commander John S. Mosby, the Gray Ghost.

Below, The Writing Well, asked Andrea about her writing inspiration and what she hopes readers get from her latest work. I for one highly recommend this story, especially for fiction lovers of Civil War history. A Thousand Shall Fall is set for release on Nov. 27.

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar

THE WRITING WELL: What draws you to Christian romantic fiction as a writer and to the Civil War time period specifically? Is that your favorite time period to write about?

 

Andrea Boeshaar: I used to love reading secular romances when my sons where young. In the 1980s, I decided to try my hand at writing secular romance. However, after I became a Christian, I felt personally convicted about writing stories that didn’t honor the Lord Jesus Christ. I began reading novels published in the Christian market. At the time, there weren’t many out there. The market has grown by leaps and bounds!

 

As for the Civil War – my father was a CW enthusiast and as a child I remember walking through the Vicksburg Battlefield. I didn’t appreciate that trip until I was older. My father was still alive when my first novel was published in 1994. He read it, although as an associate professor at a local university, Christian romance wasn’t his cup of tea. However, I think my father enjoyed the amount of historical facts I blend into my stories. So many Civil War novels skirt the war, specifically avoiding battles. I decided to tackle the time periods. When I do research, I become engrossed in it and my characters evolve from it. I’ve written novels and novellas in all different time periods, including contemporary fiction, but it’s always here in the United States because my true passion is American history. In the same vein, I read all sorts of Christian fiction – and some secular fiction too.

THE WRITING WELL:  What character do you most identify with in A Thousand Shall Fall? What techniques do you employ to give your characters their unique voice?

 

Andrea Boeshaar: I identify with Aunt Ruth. She’s a little quirky and manipulative, but she does what she does out of a fierce love – and out of spite for her next door neighbor. Personally, I’ve got the quirks, but I’m not manipulative. However, I love my husband and sons fiercely and my daughters-in-law could probably tell you a few interesting tales about tangling with me.

THE WRITING WELL:  The setting and historical references in your novel really put me as a reader into the time period of the Civil War. I especially admired how you exhibited the animosities and loyalty of people who were neighbors, friends etc. before the war but who now were fighting on opposing sides of the war. How important is research to getting the atmosphere and details right to make this kind of novel authentic to history buffs?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  It’s extremely important! As I mentioned above, I get an idea for a story and immediately begin researching it. My characters evolve from it. I’ve read Mary Chestnut’s diary and Sarah Morgan’s diary and then I got a feel for how people spoke and wrote back in the 1860s. I read Shelby Foot’s books on the Civil War and James McPherson’s book, “What They Fought For.” All the while, the idea of my novel percolated in my brain. The same system works for any time period I choose to write in. But what is essential is to visit the location (if possible) as I’m writing. When I do that, my entire story comes alive to me.

THE WRITING WELL:  I loved Aunt Ruth – do you have plans to write a “prequel” to A Thousand Shall Fall that captures some of her story and that of her loyal servant Tabitha and rival and neighbor, Frances?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  I’m glad you liked Aunt Ruth. At this point, no, I don’t have plans for a prequel, but that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually write one. I think it would be fun!

THE WRITING WELL:  What do you want your readers to get out of this story – and your other novels?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  My prayer is that readers see the transforming power of God in my characters’ lives. Jesus wants us to come to Him as we are, in humility and brokenness. We can never be good enough to come to Him. Jesus, Himself, said that He came to save the unrighteous, not the righteous. So that’s what I hope – I hope this story is faith in action.

THE WRITING WELL:  What’s next for you in terms of writing projects?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  Currently, I’m writing book two in my Shenandoah Valley Saga. It will release, God willing, November 2016; book three in November 2017. I also signed a three book contract with Prism Book Group to write three shorter contemporary romance novels. In addition to my writing, I own a corporation called Pink Ink, Inc. I’m an Avon Representative, which is proving to be so much more than selling lipstick to my neighbors. It’s becoming a ministry! And I operate Steeple View Coaching and Writer’s ER. So…I’m busy and staying out of trouble.

A Glimpse Behind One Debut Novelist’s Collaborative Writing Approach

another_vanishing_act_21

It’s fun to reconnect with colleagues, especially fellow writers like Pasquale (Pat) Russo, a veteran corporate communicator and ghost writer, who I worked with when we both wrote for AT&T’s employee newspaper in the mid-1990s. It was a great experience with our editorial team winning a Gold Quill Award for best employee paper by the International Association of Business Communicators.

While our paths haven’t crossed in the years since leaving AT&T, Pat and I were on parallel paths —  pursuing book projects and taking on writing consulting work. Pat’s debut novel, now available on Amazon and in major bookstores online, is the culmination of a creative collaboration with his father-in-law.  Below, Pat shares an excerpt of his story before delving into his own creative journey penning  Another Vanishing Act.

He shares his  hard-won lessons gleaned from working collaboratively on a book and self-publishing.

* * * * * * * *

Today started out as an okay day. I was having my mid-morning coffee break with Mr. Carson and was looking forward to having dinner with Betty. That was before I got the surprise phone call that changed everything.

I’ve had plenty of strange calls from residents – at my previous job and at this one. But this is the first time that I didn’t know quite how to respond. I hope that I managed to say something reassuring before the call ended.

Mr. Carson was sitting nearby and must have seen my earlier, light-hearted mood vanish, replaced by a strange, puzzled expression as I hung up the phone. 

“What happened, Dan? What’s wrong?”

“A toilet on the third floor…”

“Backed up? Overflowed?”

I stuttered as I tried to get out one word.

“Exploded…”

Mr. Carson looked at me like I’d jolted him with an electric cattle prod. 

— Excerpt from Another Vanishing Act used with permission (copyright 2014)

 * * * * * * * *
Author Q&A

 

Q. The premise for your recently released comic novel is quite compelling. What was the inspiration for choosing a senior citizen’s apartment building as the setting?

 

A. My father-in-law and co-author – Pete – moved into a similar place a few years back. He cooked up a story by stretching his new reality like Silly Putty. He’d been playing around with his tale and asked me to look at his outline and some of his ideas. I sent him a draft and we were off and running.

Working with him on the story was like collaborating with Henny Youngman. He came up with one gag after another and I had to keep reminding him that we had to fit them into a storyline.

Pete has a different sense of humor. He goes to a restaurant and tells the waitress he’s never ordered from a menu before. Could she help him? He came to my wedding to give away the bride wearing his tuxedo and old running shoes. He told the groomsmen that he couldn’t afford the shoe rental. You can see this type of silliness reflected in many of the chapters.

Q. Some of the characters are extremely vivid– how were you able to master voices for these elderly characters — especially since you are not of that generation?

 A. I’ve always been something of a mimic. I was active in school plays and drama classes, and always loved movies and watching comedians. So you might say that I simply got in character. While this was my first attempt at fiction, it was clear sailing once a voice got in my head and started running with it.

Some of the characters didn’t seem to need any encouragement from me; they just appeared in my head and I pushed them onto the page. Others struck me as a bit stereotypical, like the curmudgeonly woman who raps her friend with her cane. I suspect she was inspired by the “Where’s the beef” lady.

 

Q. What were the pros and cons of working with a collaborator on this project? Any tips for maximizing a positive creative relationship when there are two authors?  

A. Stephen King compared collaborating with novelist Peter Straub to a

Stephen King

Stephen King

game of tennis. They drew a court, developed a synopsis and then emailed the ball back and forth.

Our situation was different because there was only one writer. Even so, we constructed the pieces King describes. Over a weekend, we planned three acts, sketched out each chapter, and designed an ending. Agreeing on these items was necessary so we could evaluate ideas to see if they contributed to the storyline.

A division of labor is also important. Pete was the idea guy, so when I got stumped, I’d send him my draft and we’d talk. Having him as a sounding board was helpful. He was also good at commenting on  drafts, pointing out what was working and what wasn’t when I got too close to be objective.

Good chemistry between collaborators is a must. If your partner doesn’t “get” you, it’s going to be a long slog in the mud. It helped that we’d known each other for years, had some common likes and dislikes, and shared a quirky sense of humor. The timing also had to be right. Before starting Another Vanishing Act, I’d been ghostwriting for a number of years and was ready for something completely different. That’s when Pete showed up.

Our partnership worked extremely well. I think that enjoyment factor comes through in the story.

Q. What was your experience going the self-publishing route? Any lessons learned? Things you would do the same or differently?

A. As a first-time novelist, I knew that landing a publisher would be a tough process with a steep timeline. The only drawback of self-publishing was the stigma, which is slowly vanishing.

But self-publishing is a lot of work. Once the story’s done, you have to develop cover ideas, layout the interior, create a back cover blurb, and find a competent artist to render a professional-looking cover. You need different versions for e-book and printed editions. I’d done most of this work for my ghostwriting clients, so I was familiar with the process. Anyone who goes in this direction should be prepared.

My biggest struggle was with the page layout. Next time, I’ll hire an artist. And oddly enough, coming up with a title for the book was tough. One of us would like something that the other thought was awful. It was like picking a name for a child.

Q. Where can readers order your book?

A. You can order a paperback edition from a local bookstore, or from Barnes & Noble or Amazon. A Kindle version is also available.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. There are a few possibilities. Pete is engineering another tale that sounds promising. I’ve been itching to try my hand at developing a screenplay. In the meantime, I always hear the call of the marketing plan.

About the Authors

PatRusso_CoAuthorPhotoLouis “Pete” Conner is the instigator behind Another Vanishing Act. A retired engineer, Pete lives in a seniors’ apartment building in New Jersey, where he invents comic situations and dreams up characters for the fictional tale he imagined. Pete is a graduate of Georgia Tech.

Pasquale “Pat” Russo — a lifelong wiseguy — was summoned to assist his fath2275_1081559848013_2319_ner-in-law (yes, it’s a family job) when Pete realized he couldn’t string together a coherent sentence.  Pat was the ghostwriter of One Marshal’s Badge and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.

A veteran professional writer, Pat has held editorial leadership roles in communication and e-commerce departments at Fortune 500 firms.  He has led development of website marketing content, electronic newsletters, executive communication, eBooks, trade magazine articles, and interactive training. He also is the ghostwriter of seven published books.

For more information, visit Pat and Pete’s author page at https://anothervanishingact.wordpress.com. Another Vanishing Act is available on Kindle or as a mass market paperback at: http://www.amazon.com/Another-Vanishing-Act-A-Novel/dp/1503383067/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

 

 

 

Memorial Day Post: Author of ‘Dear Mark’ Honors Brother’s Sacrifice in Vietnam

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Today in honor of Memorial Day, The Writing Well features Susan Clotfelter Jimison, whose book, Dear Mark, has just been published in time for this holiday honoring our fallen servicemen and women.

Forty-five years ago, Susan was a 14-year-old Florida teen preparing for her sister’s wedding when she lost her only brother, a pilot in Vietnam. She has mourned him ever since, and over many years, has pieced together a beautiful tribute to his life. Susan shares her journey uncovering her brother’s final months through the men Mark served and sacrificed with four decades ago.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

Susan at her book signing pictured with her writing coach Jedwin Smith (L) and husband Mike Jimison (R), a Vietnam pilot.

I met Susan when I joined Jedwin Smith’s writers group. It’s been an honor to come along on her courageous journey — the group has shed tears along as we’ve come to know Mark and his fellow Pink Panther pilots, who risked their lives daily to save others in harm’s way.

Jedwin, who wrote Our Brother’s Keeper, about losing his own brother in Vietnam, put it best in his note on her book jacket: “Courage—that’s what it took to fly those fearsome Cobra gunships into the hellfire that was the Vietnam War, and it’s what author Susan Jimison calls upon as she opens her heart and reflects on her heroic aviator brother Mark, who died piloting his Cobra along the Laotion.”

God bless all our soldiers past and present, and God bless Susan for the gift of this story. 

__________________________________

Mark Clotfelter

Mark Clotfelter

When I began to write Dear Mark I struggled with my writing to not sound like I was trying to tell a war story—a war I was not in. It wasn’t until someone in my writing group suggested I tell my story and Mark’s in letters instead of traditional chapters that I finally began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Epistolary Style: consisting of letters

Susan reading an excerpt of Dear Mark at her May 18 book launch.

“Write him just like you did when he was in Vietnam,” and when I did, it felt natural. And I saw such progress where before I struggled with every chapter. The more progress I saw, the more inspired I became to finish my memoir.

I was able to write about the dangerous missions Mark flew in an attack helicopter, I merged the past and the present, and I “told Mark” about future plans of my next book. Sometimes the writing was tricky with past and present tenses. Occasionally, there were tears even though it’s been forty-five years.

Going forward, I feel a tremendous amount of pride to have written a book to honor my brother who was so brave, so young, and missed so much!

I’m enjoying the letters I have received from people who have read Dear Mark. But as any author will tell you, the real work begins after it’s printed. Marketing has become my full time job for Dear Mark.

Stoicism in the Face of Unspeakable Loss

In the late 60s and early 70s no one talked about the war in Vietnam. Not the neighbors, not

The Clotfelter family.

The Clotfelter family.

the schools, not even family. Almost as if we didn’t talk about it—it wasn’t happening.

In 1997 I tracked down the men who flew in Vietnam with my brother. A true band of brothers who have never forgotten the fallen or the sacrifice of the families.

During my discovery of learning about my brother as a adult and a warrior, something unexpected happened. You never know where the roads in life will take you. I met and fell in love with one of Mark’s comrades in 1999 and we were married in 2006.

In a letter to Mark:
“…So the guys know my story—which is really your story. From day one they understood. They get it. There haven’t been many places I’ve been since 1968— back when you deployed to Vietnam— that people “get it.” If the subject of Vietnam came up, and it was rare if it did, people didn’t really understand it.

These guys do. They understand your courage. They understand your missions. They understand your sacrifice—and they understand mine. Their understanding is like no other.
It isn’t just that these guys all get it. I get it too. I know they look at me and know how different it could have been. I could be their little sister.”

About the Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASusan Clotfelter Jimison resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Mike and the best dog in the world, Dude.  Her book debut entitled Dear Mark, is the culmination of a ten-year project to piece together her brother’s final days during the Vietnam War. Jimison is currently working on her second book Letters from John (projected completion date: April 2015) Historical letters and pictures from her cousin, John Donovan, provide a personal lens to glimpse the final days of the officer-turned mercenary life of the world-renowned Flying Tigers. Jimison’s work aims to shed light on the far-reaching effects of the loss of family members in war and the profound insight John had of the present and the future he was shorted.

Visit Susan’s author page to purchase her book and learn more about her book research and work with Vietnam Veterans groups.


Spring Mini-Blog Tour: Four Writing Qs Answered

Today on The Writing Well, I’m taking part in a mini-blog tour! It’s fun to share a little bit about my writing process and to recognize three other writers.

Thanks to Dr. Carol Cooper, a talented London “chick-lit” writer and The Sun’s newspaper doctor, for inviting me to be on her blog, Pills and Pillow-Talk, last Monday. Her blog is filled with wonderful tidbits about parenting, health and her journey writing romantic women’s fiction.

The tour involves each of us answering four questions about writing. The same questions are then passed on to three new writer-bloggers. Be sure to check out the blogs for Sharon, Megan and Shane, who I introduce below, and who will carry the blog torch forward next Monday. Now, it’s my turn!

Blog_Header
Q. What am I currently working on?

I’m in the editing phase of my debut historical fiction novel, Torrential. Set in Dayton, Ohio, in 1912, Torrential follows Irishman Kieran Gregor who survives the Titanic’s sinking paralyzed by guilt. He begins a new life in Dayton, taking a job with his uncle and letting a room in a downtown boardinghouse. There, he meets Hannah, the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of the house’s proprietors. He denies his growing attraction for Hannah, who is expected to marry Dayton’s youngest city engineer. Soon, Kieran must confront his past and his feelings for Hannah when a horrific flood hits Dayton and puts the boardinghouse’s inhabitants in peril.

My book is now with a professional editor, who will help me refine my manuscript in preparation for pitching it to agents and publishers this summer.

Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Rendering of the Titanic sinking.

Two things come to mind – first, the story line. I believe I’m the only author to bookend a novel around two disasters that struck within a year of each other – the RMS Titanic’s sinking and the 1913 Great Dayton Flood.

Second is the degree to which I intermingled my fictional characters with historical figures in Dayton. These men, including John H. Patterson, the controversial yet brilliant founder of N.C.R., played heroic roles in the disaster and the city’s remarkable recovery.  I was able to draw upon a rich reservoir of historical research to recreate Dayton in the early 20th century, as well as the flood and its aftermath.

Beyond just the usual newspaper archive material, I interviewed a journalist who has covered the flood for 30 years, two family members of Arthur Morgan, the engineer who designed Dayton’s permanent flood control system, a national weather historian and Dayton’s chief water conservancy engineer. I believe all this research lends a level of detail and authenticity to my novel.

Q. Why do I write what I do?

I love history, I love place and I love stories of heroes who overcome adversity and triumph.  If I can bring all these elements together, then it’s a win-win for me and my readers.

Q. How does my writing process work?

I begin with an idea or a spark that gets my creative juices going. For Torrential, it was my

My grandmother and great-parents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

My grandmother and great-grandparents in Dayton, circa 1911-12.

grandmother’s stories of her family surviving the flood when she was a small child. They lived in and operated a boardinghouse in downtown Dayton. Her recollections included the heroic role of the carpenters at the nearby National Cash Register Company, who built boats that saved trapped residents. She witnessed one of these boat rescues of an elderly neighbor from an upstairs window.

From there, I sketch out my main characters and the supporting figures who will move the story along, and the key plot line. Then I just pour the story onto paper. After a while, my characters become real and they speak to me. Two years into this, they sound like part of the family. The editing phase of my writing is the hardest. It’s difficult to cut, and that’s where a good editor and advance readers come in.

* * * * * *
Introducing Three Dynamic Writers

Now, here are three fellow authors, who will showcase their writing process next Monday.
Megan HeadshotMegan Cutter is a professional writer, editor, and social media strategist with over 18 years of experience in the field. Her expertise includes manuscript and article editing, as well as copy writing for websites, newsletters, magazines, and social media campaigns.  Together, Megan and her husband Barton, published their first memoir, Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll, highlighting their relationship as an inter-ability couple.

Her newest memoir, Leaving Traces: Diving from the Nest, will be published in 2015.

A. Shane Etter, a supernatural thriller writer, has penned two novels, Bottom Dwellers and Mind ShaneEtterDwellers. Both books follow a team of talented individuals as they battle a global community of powerful mutants who can read their minds and communicate telepathically.
Shane is a native son of Mississippi. He is proud of the great literary heritage of his home state and that some of the finest 20th Century authors, like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham and others have called it home. Shane has taken a number of writing workshops and classes by such noted authors as his mentor and two-time Pulitzer nominee Jedwin Smith, author/literary agent Nancy Knight, Mary Helen Stefaniak and Kaylie Jones, daughter of the great James Jones (From Here to Eternity),

Shane is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and he makes his home in Warner Robins, Georgia.

KD HoskinsSharon KD Hoskins has been a communication specialist for more than 20 years. Her first novel, To Handcuff Lightning, was a 2010 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. She is currently working on her third book, Polishing Up Heaven. All her stories are told with humor, candor, and the expectation that love will eventually show up.

She is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and enjoys reading literary and historical fiction, contemporary humor, and mysteries solved by a cat. Read her blog here.

 

Historical Novelist Tracy Groot on Writing, the South & Andersonville Prison

groot_tracy_01Tracy Groot, a Michigan native, found out early she loved to write.  But it’s the topics she’s tackled that make her so intriguing:  faith and finding your moral center against the backdrop of history.

“I am drawn to stories with a lot of darkness in them, because I want to find out where the light shows up,” says Tracy.

Her debut novel, The Brother’s Keeper, based on a play she penned, explores the story of James, brother of Jesus.  Later, she tackled another Biblical story in Madman, a story about the Gerasene demoniac.  After signing with Tyndale Publishers, she found her niche: writing stories set against historical events—“the small hinges, Winston Churchill once said, upon which history turns,” as she describes it in her author bio. In Flame of Resistance, she weaves the Biblical story of the prostitute Rahab into a tale of a young French woman who survives the Nazi occupation of France.

Sentinels-of-AndersonvilleIn her latest book, The Sentinels of Andersonville, to be released Feb. 1st, Tracy delves into the infamous Confederate prison where 13,000 Union soldiers perished in only fourteen months. In this riveting retelling of a tragic chapter in the Civil War, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given.  The book has already earned high praise from the likes of James M. McPherson, who calls it “a poignant, heartwarming story of how human kindness and the willingness to take risks can make a difference.”

Below, she talks about her journey to Andersonville and her own discovery of what it meant to be a southerner at that time. Tracy also offers her own view of the state of publishing and being a writer today. Reach Tracy on her website or connect with her on Facebook.

Q. What inspired you to write The Sentinels of Andersonville?

I saw a movie when I was a kid called The Andersonville Trial, directed by George C Scott. I was horrified to learn that donated food had been turned away and I wanted to find out why.

Q. Do you have an interesting Civil War family history?

No, but my husband does. Jack’s cousin, Jim, has a grandfather who, believe it or not, fought in the Civil War. Jim is around 60 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old. So, if you add it up, Jim was born around 1950, his father was born around 1880 and his grandfather was born around 1795. So, his three generations actually span four centuries!

Tracy Root on a research trip to the site of  Andersonville Prison in summer 2012.

Tracy Groot at the site of Andersonville Prison, 2012.

Q. What did you find most challenging about this story compared with your earlier books?

To write accurately from a southern point of view, I needed to understand what independence meant to a southerner. Searching to understand that was critical to the story. I was also challenged to get the details right for Andersonville prison, because this is a piece of our American history.

Q. Which character do you most identify with? Why?

I identified with so many, but in my heart I’d have to say Dance. Why? Because he was judging others for what they were not doing and I sometimes do the same.

Q. I know research was an important component to making this story authentic and for my part, I found your recreation of the horror inside this overcrowded and disease-ridden place raw and haunting. What was most helpful to you in the research phase? Anything surprising or unexpected emerge?

The most helpful were the original accounts of the prisoners through diaries, letters and writings

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

featured in various historical documents. I wanted to go directly to the sources. I read through over 100 of these sources and the amazing thing is that these and many more are still out there. Several history books about Andersonville were also very informative, as were documentaries and film. A few unexpected things emerged.

  • First, I wanted to hang Captain Wirz all over again when I initially embarked on my Andersonville research; when I finished my research I was surprised that he was no longer my target. I came into the project with ideas that changed as the research progressed. The culpability for Andersonville could not possibly fall on one man, although in my opinion General Winder should have faced the scaffold sooner than Wirz.
  • Second, I began to understand and appreciate what independence meant at that time to a southerner.
  • Third, I was amazed to discover that a neighbor of mine’s great-great-great grandfather had been a prisoner at Andersonville. We were on the subject of research for the book and when I told him what it was about, he told me about his grandfather. Later he came over with a transcript that had been published in an Indiana newspaper with his grandfather’s account.

Q. A major theme of your story is the role of individual action – doing something, no matter how small, to help those in need can make a difference. Do you think that is a message that has relevance today?

With all my heart. We have a shopping cart in our foyer at church where folks can put something in to help the needy through the Food Pantry. Every week I have an opportunity to put something in that cart to help someone out. Since writing Sentinels, I don’t miss that opportunity—and I no longer get annoyed if I think others are not giving or don’t care; I make sure that I am.

Q. Any advice to aspiring historical novelists given all the changes in the publishing industry?

Here’s what hasn’t changed: calling, purpose, and desire. 

Q. What is your view of traditional versus self-publishing, the role of agents, the importance of social media, etc. What should writers do to find an audience for their work?

Everyone’s publishing story is going to be different. For some, traditional works, for others, self-publishing is the route to go.  Same deal with agents. Given the state of the publishing industry today, I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way to do things. You have to feel your way, find your way. The number one thing a novelist must do, the new non-negotiable, is to stay connected with social media. These days, an author is both novelist and bookstore and there’s no getting around it. For myself, I give a certain amount of time to investing in social media daily, and call it good. People need to know your book is out there. Goodreads and other book sites do that. Of course, the most important thing to do is make sure you have something to market; write a good book. All starts there.

The Intersection of Slavery & Freedom: One Man’s Journey Finding his Family Story

Got Proof Book Cover 5-1-13Today, Michael N. Henderson has reason to celebrate. On this day 234 years ago, his fourth-generation great-grandmother gained her freedom.

Below is a fascinating story of Michael’s 30-year journey uncovering his French and Creole family roots that played out during the American Revolution. The creative culmination of his work is Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, released in May 2013.

Michael’s research into his own ancestors, as well as other people of color in Louisiana, has gained national attention. In 2010, he was featured in a segment of the nationally televised program “History Detectives” titled “The Galvez Papers,” and in that same year made history as the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.

GotProof_authorThis past October, Michael’s book earned the coveted James Dent Walker Award by the Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society (AAHGS). The Society bestows its highest honor on someone who has exhibited “distinguished accomplishments through a significant and measurable contribution to the research, documentation, and/or preservation of African American history.”

My colleague and friend Anita Paul, known as “The Author’s Midwife,” assisted Michael in getting his book published and promoted. She tells me, “A big part of what has helped make Michael’s storytelling journey successful is his willingness to share what he knows. He is an example and an inspiration to other genealogists who desire to become the scribe and the storyteller of their own research journey. He demonstrates that you have to have a healthy dose of confidence in yourself, assurance in your research methods, and connection to your ancestral story. After all, who better to tell the stories of ancestors than their descendants?”

The Writing Well is honored to share Michael’s insights below.

Q. There is a huge interest in people discovering their genealogical roots. What was unique about your journey?
Michael:  My genealogical journey was unique in that I found the intersection of slavery and GotProof_Nellie2freedom in the lives my ancestors in Louisiana during the American Revolution. My 4th generation great-grandmother, an enslaved woman named Agnes, gained her freedom on December 16, 1779. Her French consort, Mathieu Devaux dit (alias) Platilla, served in the Louisiana militia during the Revolutionary War. So, while Agnes was fighting for freedom from slavery, Mathieu was helping the American colonists fight for freedom from Great Britain. Agnes and Mathieu had a 31-year relationship and produced seven children, all of whom were born free prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
In my book, Got Proof: My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, I explore Louisiana’s participation in the American Revolution, something I’ve found many people are not aware of, particularly because Louisiana was not one of the 13 colonies. The book takes readers along my journey of uncovering the relationship between Agnes and Mathieu, and how the family they created became the roots of my Louisiana Creole ancestry.
Having located evidence of Mathieu Devaux dit Platilla’s participation in the American Revolution, I later joined and became the first African American in Georgia inducted into the National Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
Q. What do you hope people glean from your book, Got Proof!?
Michael: I hope that readers are inspired to accomplish the same or similar achievements as I have. I believe every genealogist goes through three phases when researching their family history. The first phase is becoming curious about your family and its connection to the past. The second phase is becoming the historian; learning about the people, places, and events that helped shape the lives of your ancestors. The third phase is becoming the storyteller; sharing your discoveries so others can appreciate them.
In Got Proof, I share how I evolved as a genealogist through each of these phases in discovering my ancestry in colonial Louisiana. If readers glean just a smidgen of how I, as a genealogist, journeyed through history using documents, then turned those facts into a story, the book will have accomplished what I intended.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Michael:  Narrowing down nearly 30 years of genealogy research was, by far, the most challenging aspect of writing Got Proof. I wanted to be careful not to overload the reader by regurgitating facts found in documents, but rather to tell the story of my journey and discovery of Agnes and Mathieu. Once I decided on the theme, I developed an outline, and the story unfolded from there.
Q. Can you share 3-4 best practices around research into genealogy that other family biographers could learn from?
Michael:  Anyone interested in researching their genealogy should first start with themselves and work backwards in time. Gather documents that paint a picture of your life: birth certificate, school records, marriage certificate, employment and military records, etc. Then, develop a pedigree chart showing your direct descent from ancestors. Also, create a family group sheet showing the relationships between generations (parents, grandparents, children). As you research, determine 1) what you know; and 2) what you want to discover.
Remember that genealogy research takes time, patience, and diligence.

The pleasure for me is in the hunt for information. I love solving mysteries and finding documents to support theories. Finally, writing the story based on documented evidence will help you craft the narrative of your family for future generations to appreciate.

 Q. A big part of writing books is marketing them, which you’ve done very well with your writing partner Anita Paul. Any advice on how to get the most out of your outreach if you are writing about genealogy?

Michael:  Anita is an amazing author’s coach. One of the primary things she instilled in me very

Anita Paul

Anita Paul

early was to develop a clear platform that could expand into a brand for myself.

I realize that success for me is bigger than the book. My platform is based on the foundation of my genealogy research and my being the first African American in Georgia inducted into the SAR. In addition, I was featured in a segment of the PBS program “History Detectives” called “The Galvez Papers,” which tells the story of Agnes and Mathieu. These events happened before the book was produced, and added significantly to the visibility of my story once the book was released in May 2013.

Another critical element in marketing Got Proof was my early development of an online presence. Through my blog and Facebook page, I have shared many of my genealogy discoveries and successes, and have grown quite a loyal following.

Finally, being visible to my target market is critical for me. I speak to historical, genealogical, and lineage/heritage societies nationwide. Giving presentations about my research success further inspires audiences, allows them to connect with me, and encourages them to purchase Got Proof.

 

 

 

Nine Novel-writing Tips from Thriller Writer Jeffrey Small

JeffreySmall_JerichoDeception_BookJacketI enjoyed meeting thriller novelist and history lover Jeffrey Small when he spoke to the Atlanta Writers Club earlier this fall.

His first novel, the best-selling thriller, THE BREATH OF GOD, won the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Best Fiction and was hailed as “a thought-provoking masterpiece” by RT Book Reviews and “a fast-paced adventure” by Kirkus.

His newest novel, THE JERICHO DECEPTION, explores how a secret CIA mind-control operation in the Egyptian desert threatens to start a modern-day Holy War.  Bestselling author Douglas Preston calls it  “a ripping good novel,” while Steve Berry describes it as a “gritty thriller.”

The Jericho Deception asks a powerful question, “What if you controlled the power to see God?”

What I like about this Yale and Harvard Law School grad is his tenacious focus on research — everything from visiting place, to interviewing people, to doing significant background reading.

Jericho Deception came from an idea inspired by Wired Magazine – about a neural scientist in god-helmet225Canada who developed what he called the God helmet – that induced mystical experiences. How could that be used in a negative way? I used that real technology in my novel. Then it’s a matter of weaving research in where it’s integral. You have to be sneaky – have your characters using technology  / research it just flows with the story. You don’t want it to be a research dump.

Below, Jeffrey shares nine tips he’s learned on the road to achieving his literary dream.

#1 The second book is easier.

“It took me six years to write and get published the first time. After many heart-breaking rejections from both agents and publishers (including landing a big NY agent who couldn’t sell the book to a major publisher as he’d expected), mind-numbing rewrites, and endless waiting for responses, I finally got a publishing deal from a small press excited about my book.While writing JERICHO went more smoothly because I avoided many of the rookie mistakes of the first book, I still spent three years (working part-time) researching, outlining, writing, and rewriting. And did I mention rewriting? The easiest part of writing a novel is coming up with a cool idea for a story. The hardest part is finishing the first draft.”
#2 Your editor is your best friend.
For both of my novels, I used professional editors, or as they are sometimes called, book doctors. These women provided insight and discipline to my writing that went far beyond what I was able to do on my own, and I come with three Ivy League degrees! In both of my books, I cut, added, and altered characters, scenes, and chapters—dramatic changes I wouldn’t have had the stomach to make without the tough advice from my editors.The key for me was finding someone who had worked at a big publishing house.”
#3 Conflict is key.
“Readers keep turning pages because they want to know what is going to happen next to your characters. Conflict doesn’t have to be physical or mortal; it can be psychological or romantic. Conflict can occur between characters or internally within a character. Whenever a part of your story seems to slow down (probably somewhere in the middle), examine each scene and see where you can add conflict. How are your protagonist’s goals being thwarted? Put up obstacles. Have characters say one thing, but think something else. Try to begin each chapter with a question that draws in the reader. End each one with a mini-cliffhanger that forces the reader to continue to the next chapter. When it comes to conflict, the more the better.”
#4 Story and character rule over theme and message.
“Because both of my novels revolve around philosophical themes and touch on issues of spirituality and religion, I struggled with this advice in my early drafts. Some tough advice I received early on was “if you want to educate people, write non-fiction.” That axiom doesn’t preclude fiction from being heavy with theme, symbolism, and meaning—most great fiction is—but the story and characters must be even more important. People read fiction to be entertained. Your characters must drive the story, bringing the themes along with them organically. The danger with violating this rule is that the writing can verge on pedantic and preachy, which will quickly turn off the reader.”
#5 Details matter.
Do your research! Readers are willing to suspend belief (put faith?) in a novel when the author treats the non-fictional parts of the story with a journalistic care for accuracy. Then, the truly fictional parts of your story will seem much more plausible. Being in the place lets you use all five of your senses — What does it smell like? What are the sounds? Adding this layer of detail lends a greater degree of realism to the writing.  Ask yourself, ‘what are the crucial details?’  I try to make all the details realistic … even when writing fiction.”
#6 Delete your adverbs.
This may seem picky, but it is an easy way to make your writing more powerful. Highlight all your adverbs and get rid of most of them. Usually an adverb is telling you your verb isn’t strong enough. Doing this can make your writing much more direct.”
#7 Limit your PO to one character per chapter/section.
Beginning writers often struggle with POV, and this struggle can make for confusing and disjointed reading. While there are many variations of types of POV a writer may use, I think that it is simpler for new authors to stick with either a limited 3rd person view or a first person view. I write in 3rd person limited point of view.”
#8  Spend as much time marketing as writing.
“A lot of writers today don’t realize the amount of time you  need to spend marketing your book. I’ve got 10k Facebook fans for my first book.  it’s hard to rise above the noise today – self publishing – 100,000 books come out each year. Become a subject matter expert of what you’re writing about; speak to groups in those areas of interest.”
#9 – Keep writing!
“Writing is a craft – it definitely gets bettor the more we do it. it’s something I do because I”m passionate about it. I do it because I have to – it’s that creative juice in my brain that needs to be exercised.  The best advice I was ever given was from a woman who went to high school with me – a New York Times-bestselling YA author named Lauren Myracle. I spoke to Lauren when I was midway through rejections for The Breath of God and she said, ‘Giving up is not an option.'”

About Jeffrey Small

JeffreySmallJeffrey is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. He holds a Masters in the Study of Religions from Oxford University. Jeffrey has also studied yoga in India, practiced meditation in Bhutan, explored the ancient temples of Egypt, and journeyed throughout the Holy Land. He is a thought-provoking columnist for the Huffington Post and also blogs at www.JeffreySmall.com.

An acclaimed speaker, Jeffrey has taught public speaking at Harvard, and lectured to thousands on religion and spirituality in the 21st century.

When not pursuing his passion for writing, Jeffrey is the founder and CEO of an Atlanta-based real estate investment company, MDH Partners. Among his eclectic hobbies, he is also a former U.S. champion amateur ballroom dancer with his wife, Alison. For more information, please visit www.JeffreySmall.com.