Last week, three-quarters of a century ago



Last week in Second World War history

Those who know their history know that the Eastern Front was by far the largest theatre of operations during the Second World War. The Soviet Union put more men and women into the fighting than all other Allies combined, and the countries of the Eastern Theatre suffered over 11 million casualties.

The Germans also put far more men and resources into the Eastern Front. The launch of the war in the east, Operation Barbarossa, sent nearly 4 million men across the Polish frontier, overwhelming—at first—a Soviet strength of under 3 million.

Source: Britannica.

In comparison, the western Allies sent 1.3 million men into Italy between 1942 and 1945, and 156,000 stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

On Facebook and Google+, I’ve been posting daily updates on “on this day in the history of the Eastern Front of the Second World War.” And here, I’ll post a summary of the previous week in history, three-quarters of a century ago.

September 25 – October 1

1939:

September 25:

  • Hitler arrives in Poland to observe the bombing in Warsaw.
  • Soviet troops capture Bialystock, Poland.
  • Stalin proposes to Germany that the USSR take over Lithuania, giving Germany areas near Warsaw in exchange.

September 26:

  • Insignia of the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa.

    The resistance Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, established in Warsaw.

September 27:

  • Polish government in exile sets up in Paris, France.
  • After a 2-week siege, Warsaw falls to Germans.
  • Soviets execute 150 Polish policemen.

September 28:

  • Estonia and USSR sign a 10-year mutual assistance pact, allowing Soviet troops to be stationed in Estonia.
  • Germans and Soviets sign agreement denoting common border in Poland.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop arrives in Moscow to announce joint Soviet-German negotiations for peace with Western powers.

September 29:

  • Hitler orders repatriation of ethnic Germans living in Estonia and Latvia to Germany, as he knows the USSR will soon demand control of the Baltic States.
  • Formal surrender of Poland and division between Germany and USSR

1940:

September 26:

  • German ambassador to the USSR tells Soviets that Japan would join alliance with Germany and Italy.

October 1, 1940:

  • Erich Hartmann in 1944.

    Erich Hartmann, greatest fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare, begins basic training in East Prussia. He would shoot down 345 Soviet planes and never be shot down himself. After the war, he was wrongfully convicted of war crimes and served 10 years at hard labour in Soviet prisons. After his release, he joined the air force of the Federal Republic of Germany.

  • Hitler orders Polish gentry exterminated and civilians’ living standards in Poland reduced, as they are now “workers” for the Reich.

1941:

Einsatzgruppen killing unarmed civilians in 1942. Wikipedia.

Karl Jager, commander of Einsatzkommando Group A, a Nazi death squad, begins keeping detailed records of numbers of Jews and other civilians his team murdered each day. These became known as the “Jager Reports.” The Einsatzgruppen were special detachments of the SS, specifically charged with killing civilians. For example, during this week in 1941, he reports killing:

  • September 25: 575 Jews in Lithuania
  • September 27: 3,446

September 25:

  • Hitler orders cease of attacks on Leningrad, in favour of starving the city.
  • German and Romanian troops reach Perekop Isthmus to cut off Crimean Peninsula

September 26:

  • German battleship Tirpitz joins naval manoeuvers in the Baltic Sea.
  • Free French sign alliance with the USSR

September 27:

  • German truck stuck in the mud in Russia. Pinterest.

    Rain begins on the Eastern Front, making mud a problem for German invaders.

  • Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. diplomat Averell Harriman arrive in Arkangelsk.
  • 23,000 Jews murdered at Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine.

September 28:

  • US and UK officials travel to Moscow to discuss western aid to USSR.
  • Soviet General Gregory Zhukov announces that family members of captured Red Army soldiers would be arrested and shot.

    Georgy Zhukov in 1944. Wikipedia.

  • Jews in Kyiv, Ukraine order to gather at Dorogozhitshay Street at 7:00 the next morning.

September 29, 1941:

  • Reinhard Heydrich named Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
  • Vyacheslav Molotov, Lord Beaverbrook and U.S. representative Averell Harriman discuss Western aid to the USSR.
  • Soviet submarine ShCh-319 attacks German ships off Latvia, then strikes a mine and sinks.
  • Hitler orders Leningrad wiped out by bombardment.

    Leningraders during the siege. Source: Daily Chronicles of World War II.

  • Einsatzgruppen death squads murder 50,000 – 96,000 Ukrainians at Babi Yar near Kyiv.
  • Red Army prevents German forces from entering Crimea.

September 30, 1941:

  • Military photographer and long-time Nazi Johannes Hahle turns over some photos in a folder marked “in the East” to his superiors, but keeps photos of the Babi Yar massacre a secret.
  • Soviet Black Sea fleet begins considering transferring from Odessa to Crimea.
  • German Operation Typhoon begins with early assault on Moscow.

October 1, 1941:

  • US-UK-USSR aid conference produces protocol for immediate, long-term aid deliveries to the USSR.
  • Finnish troops reach Petrozavodsk, capital of Soviet Karelia, further isolating Leningrad.
  • Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland begins operations.
  • Soviets release over 50,000 Polish POWs to form a Polish unit of the Red Army to fight Germany.
  • Soviet POWs in 1941.

    Germans launch Operation Typhoon, attack on Moscow.

  • Panzergruppe 2 splits into two to advance on Orel and Bryansk, Russia.

1942:

September 25:

  • Hitler sacks Colonel-General Halder as Chief of the Army General Staff and replaces him with General Zeitzler

September 26:

  • Soviet ace Lydia Lytvyak, the first female ace. She made as many as 14 kills.

    Red Army launches offensive in Tuapse region in the Caucasus.

  • German forces begin new offensive in Stalingrad.
  • Soviet ace Lydia Litvyak shoots down German bomber over Stalingrad, and shares credit for downing a second.

September 27:

  • Sgt. Jacob Pavlov and three other Soviet soldiers attack an apartment block in Stalingrad with hand grenades, expelling occupying Germans and freeing wounded Soviet soldiers. This building became the iconic “Pavlov’s House.” The men defended it for 58 days against infantry, artillery and tank attacks.

    “Pavlov’s House” in Stalingrad, where a handful of men under Sgt. Jabo Pavlov defended the building against repeated attacks for two months.

September 29, 1942:

  • Sigmund Freud’s sister Esther Adolphine dies in Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia.

September 30, 1942:

  • Soviet forces cross the Volga River near Moscow.
  • Due to a typhus epidemic in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Commandant Rudoph Hoss forbids guards from consuming any raw foods.
  • 610 Jews arrive at Auschwitz from the Netherlands. 454 gassed immediately.

1943

September 25:

  • Red Army captures Roslavl and Smolensk.

September 27:

  • German forces in Ukraine begin withdrawal to western bank of Dnipro River.

    An iconic war photo of the Red Army preparing to cross the Dnipro River in 1943, chasing the retreating Germans. From Bill Downs, War Correspondent.

  • Red Army captures Temryuk, Russia, the last Black Sea port held by Germans.

September 28:

  • Germans recapture Split, Yugoslavia from partisans

September 28:

  • Minesweeper USS Aspire transferred to the USSR under the lend-lease agreements.

September 30, 1943:

  • Red Army expands is bridgehead over the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine to 500 km.
  • U-boat “wolfpack” in the Kara Sea north of Russia sink freighter Arhangelsk.

October 1, 1943:

  • German U-boat, circa 1942. Pinterest.

    German u-boats sink Soviet freighter and escort ship in the Kara Sea, off northern Russia.

1944:

September 25:

  • Soviets trick Slovakian Captain Frantisek Urban to visit Moscow, then arrest him, sending him to Lubyanka Prison.

September 26:

  • Red Army completes occupation of Estonia.

September 27:

  • 2000 soldiers of Armia Krajowa, Poland’s resistance army, surrender in Warsaw

September 28:

  • Germans begin transferring 18,000 prisoners from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland.
  • Josip Tito authorizes Soviet troops to enter Yugoslavia. Red 57th Army begins moving toward Belgrade.

September 29:

  • US OSS agents parachute into Bucharest to liberate 1,888 Allied POWs, and take Romanian diplomatic documents to prevent their capture by Soviets.

October 1, 1944:

  • Slovak resistance fighters name themselves the Czechoslovakian 1st Army.
  • Hungarian delegation comes to Moscow to discuss armistice separate from Germany.
  • Red Army crosses Danube into Yugoslavia.

October 2, 1944:

  • Boy Scouts in the Armija Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, during the Warsaw Uprising. Wikimedia Commons.

    Warsaw Uprising ends after 63 unsuccessful days of fighting. 15,200 Armia Krajowa insurgents and 200,000 civilians killed, along with 16,000 German forces.

This is the history that I cover in the Eastern Front trilogy, through the eyes of a man who was there: my father-in-law, the late Maurice Bury.

Check out the books from their page on this website, or on Amazon.

Have anything to add about last week in history? Leave a Comment!

 

Army of Worn Soles: Battle of Poltava



On this day, September 18, 1941, the German forces invading the USSR captured the city of Poltava, Ukraine. My father-in-law, Maurice Bury, was in that battle. I wrote what he saw and experienced in Chapter 10 of Army of Worn Soles, the first book in the Eastern Front trilogy. Here’s a sample. 

 

Source: Wikipedia.

Chapter 10: Panzers

Kyiv was gone.

The rumours arrived well before the official news. On September 17, 1941, Stalin finally gave permission to General Kirponov, head of the Soviet 5th Army, to withdraw from Kyiv. Once the orders went out to withdraw behind the Dnipro River, the Germans pounced and took control of the city in less than twenty-four hours.

But the withdrawal order had come too late. “Hurrying Heinz” Guderian, the great Panzer general, had already crossed the Dnipro in Belorussia in late August and had penetrated far east of the Ukrainian capital, to the area around Romny. General Ewald von Kleist blasted past the Dnipro south of Kyiv by September 10. On the September 14, the two generals shook hands a hundred miles east of Kyiv—having trapped five Soviet armies, more than half a million men, in the huge pocket between their forces.

It had not been the first time, nor would it be the last. The Soviet 6th and 12th armies had been encircled and trapped near Uman in mid-August. And after the Wehrmacht’s capture of Minsk in July, they had captured another five Soviet armies.

General Kirponos had fought hard against the encirclement in September, but a landmine killed him. Only a few in his army managed to break out.

Part of the 38th Army under newly appointed Major-General Vladimir Tsiganov managed to escape the Kyiv encirclement. Maurice and his men joined the retreat, heading southeast to defend the bridgeheads between Cherkassy and Kremenchuk. The Germans sent more Panzer divisions, and in October, the remnants of the Red Army pulled back another one hundred kilometres. Soldiers dug into the eastern banks of the shallow Psyol River to protect Poltava, where Marshall Timoshenko had his headquarters.

Maurice’s unit took shelter in trenches built by the locals, but there were no bunkers this time. Food delivery became sporadic and the men griped continually about the autumn rain. The soft soil of the trench walls crumbled. The food was bad or there wasn’t enough. But they could not complain for long. The Panzers kept coming.

They stayed awake all night, squinting west across the Psyol River to the invisible, continuous rumble of heavy vehicles. Some of the men prayed. Commissars and officers moved up and down the lines, inspecting and admonishing the soldiers to vigilance and readiness. “At the first sign of the Germans, we counterattack,” they said.

Maurice doubted it.

That first sign came at dawn. As the sky greyed behind the Soviets, the early light picked out German tanks advancing along the roads, cautious yet swift.

Maurice’s fingers tingled as the rising sun revealed columns of armoured vehicles and marching men, officers’ staff cars and motorized cannons. The lines stretched for miles. The German army moved in unison, fast, alert and fearless like a predator.

Two Panzers ventured onto a small wooden bridge. They weren’t even fazed when the bridge collapsed under their weight. The water didn’t reach over the tops of their treads. The drivers down-shifted and continued on.

An officer shouted to Maurice’s right and anti-tank guns fired. Shells burst on the lead Panzer and flames erupted around the turret, but didn’t damage the tank. Its machine gun fired and then its cannon barked. Maurice saw Red soldiers’ bodies fling up out of destroyed trenches.

“Fire!” Andrei and Orest pulled their triggers and the kick-back of the rifles geysered dirt into the air. Damn, Maurice thought. If that doesn’t draw the Germans’ attention, nothing will.

The shells went wide.

“Reload.”

Machine guns erupted from behind and a German armoured car carrying dozens of soldiers exploded, throwing bodies high into the air.

Maurice’s men fired again, and this time one shell hit a tank front-on. The shell stuck, burned into the metal plate and burst, but did not penetrate the armour. The tank reversed gears and drew back from the riverbank. The Panzers halted on the west bank, waiting.

All at once, shells began falling behind the Soviet lines, bursting and burning among the men. The Germans had turned their heavy artillery guns on the Red Army.

“Down, boys,” Maurice said, pulling his helmet as low as he could. It’s hopeless. If a shell doesn’t land in this trench and kill us all, it’ll only be sheer luck.

Soviet guns answered, sporadic and uncoordinated. They were aimed generally westward, in contrast to the German shells, which seemed demonically guided to Red Army targets.

When the heavy fire relented, Maurice chanced a look over the trench. The German tanks were advancing again. Somewhere, a heavy anti-tank gun fired, hitting the lead Panzer square on. The explosion blew its treads off and it lurched sideways into the river, crippled, smoke pouring from its front plate.

But more Panzers splashed through the river. Behind them came soldiers, running from cover to cover, firing their fast submachine guns. As they climbed onto the near bank, some hit landmines and fell, crippled, but more Panzers drove around them.

To his right, eastward, came a deep rumble. Maurice saw hulking Soviet KV heavy tanks, looking twice as high as a man, crawled forward on their wide treads, firing cannons and machine guns.

Why are they moving so slowly, he wondered. He saw their tracks moving, churning the earth and sinking into it. They’re too heavy for the soft ground. They were impervious to enemy fire unless it was point-blank on, but they were soon immobile. The Panzers just went around them.

“Pull back,” Maurice yelled, and the boys picked up the guns and ammunition and ran, crouching low as they could to the next trench, where they joined several other odalenje. Maurice’s boys hurriedly set up the guns and aimed at the Panzers.

They were too late.

The tanks swept past them, crushing wounded men under their treads. Andrei and Nikolai swung their gun around. “Aim at its back,” Maurice said. “FIRE!”

The gun whooshed and the shell hit the Panzer’s cylindrical fuel tank, oddly exposed on its rear deck behind the turret. The tank’s rear end lifted high and Maurice thought it would flip over. Shards of metal flew in every direction and the tank’s hull split and burned. The explosion rang in Maurice’s ears for minutes.

“Let’s get them, Lieutenant,” Orest said. He stood to pick up the gun, and Viktor, his loader, looked at Maurice wide-eyed. “We killed one tank. Let’s get more of the bastards.”

Big Eugene stood too, submachine gun at the ready. “Get down,” Maurice said. He grabbed Orest’s uniform and pulled him to the ground. Big Eugene dropped as a shell burst thirty metres away. Maurice saw him crawl back to the trench, flat on his belly.

Army of Worn Soles

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Army of Worn Soles is the first book in the Eastern Front trilogy, which tells the true story of Maurice Bury’s experiences in the Second World War.

Find it on Amazon.

A story that twists like the Rio Grande



Review of Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III

One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.

So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.

Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.

But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.

A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.

As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.

If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.

Author Caleb Pirtle III

Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.

Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.

5*

Visit Caleb Pirtle III’s website for links to buy this and other books.

Bringing history to life



As you, my faithful readers know, I recently published the third book in my Eastern Front trilogy about the experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, during the Second World War. Writing those three slim books took me more than 10 years. Not only because the story itself is dark and difficult, but also because it required a lot of research to get the details right.

ArmyofWornSoles-smallerUnderTheNaziHeel.jpgCover-WOOW-500x800 (1)

While there must be thousands of books and other sources about the Second World War, most of it, at least those in English, focus on the western part of it, with a British, American or, sometimes, Canadian perspective. There is relatively little in English about the Eastern Front, where Maurice was drafted by the Soviet Red Army.

My research for the books began with the subject, my father-in-law himself. While he had occasionally mentioned something about his time in the army, at one point in the 1990s I decided I would write a book about his story. So we sat down in his kitchen, and I took notes.

But before I could complete writing the book, Maurice passed away. Which meant that any information I still needed, I would have to find in other sources.

Trusting memory

When I began writing the story, I realized I would have to turn to history books for essential background information about the war, the politics, weapons, organization of the armies and so much more.

Maurice’s memory of his own experiences was excellent, but he did not remember the exact dates, nor the number of his unit. When he told me how he sustained his wound, he remembered the weather, the German fighter planes arcing in the sky. But he did not remember the exact date. I had to do some research to work out when the Germans got to Kyiv, and the extent of the fighting there in 1941.

I also had to research the weapons used. Maurice told me as a Third Lieutenant, he commanded eleven men in an anti-tank unit. When he described fighting against the German tanks, the Panzers, it seemed to me to require some precision. The shell had to hit the tank at just the right angle to penetrate the armour and detonate inside. The challenge was that the modern Panzers had sloping armour to deflect anti-tank shells. The Soviet tanks in the early part of the war, on the other hand, had straight armour, making it easier for an armour-piercing shell to strike at the right angle.

But I neglected to ask him to describe the Soviet anti-tank gun. When I came to write about it, I realized I had no idea what it looked like. The answer surprised me. I had thought of a kind of cannon, but the PTRS-41 and the similar PTRD were strangely delicate-looking. They looked more like long rifles with extended, slender barrels. My first thought was “That little thing can knock out a tank?”

Image source: 13thguardspoltavaskaya.com

It turns out, it didn’t manage to do that very often. The shells could not penetrate the Panzers’ front armour, so the Soviet anti-tank gunners would try to shoot at the sides or back of the tanks, where the armour was thinner. That was an extremely risky tactic, requiring the gunners to allow the Panzers to pass them before shooting.

Finding this information in historical sources brought me back to the notes I took when interviewing Maurice before he passed away. He once told me that his men destroyed a Panzer by shooting at the back, hitting the exposed fuel tank.

As a writer, this was a satisfying—to find confirmation of Maurice’s memories and stories in the history books and websites.

What’s your experience?

Have you ever found that kind of confirmation of a relative’s or friend’s memory or story in an official or historical reference? Share that in the Comments.

A look back at a tough year



To many, 2016 has been a horrible year. The war in Syria, the loss of refugees from that conflict and others, the record number of celebrity passings, record homicide numbers in my home town, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency … I won’t go on. It’s too painful.

For me, it’s been a turbulent year, too. I broke my knee in May and went through months of intensive physiotherapy and exercise to get back the range of motion and strength I needed for my two-week whitewater canoeing trip. My son had appendicitis, my other son had some issues with school and work.

In the fall, I came down with a wicked case of pinkeye. There were more problems in this single year than in many that I can recall.

On the other hand, there were some “ups,” as well.

  • I published three books this year:
    • IMG_0020.jpgUnder the Nazi Heel, Book 2 in my Walking Out of War trilogy based on the World War 2 experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury.
      It won Second Prize in the East Texas Writers Guild 2016 Awards for nonfiction/memoir.
    • The Wife Line, a Sydney Rye Kindle World book that features my spy-thriller characters, Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun.
    • Dead Man Lying, my third Lei Crime Kindle World title, featuring my FBI Special Agent character, Vanessa Storm. It won First Place in the 2016 East Texas Writers Guild Mystery Awards.WifeLine-final-small
  • I edited three very strong books by independent authors:
  • I participated in some group publishing efforts along with other members of BestSelling Reads, an authors’ group that cross-promotes members.
  • New members joined Independent Authors International, a collaborative publishing venture where members share skills to provide all the functions of a full, commercial publishing company.
  • PaddlersI canoed 325 kilometres down the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers in northern Ontario to Moose Factory on James Bay, and capsized only once.
  • I visited the Finger Lakes in New York, and met some very nice, interesting people and drank some excellent wine.
  • I crafted an outline for The Triumph of the Sky, the follow-up to my first full-length novel, The Bones of the Earth.
  • I outlined a new Lei Crime novel featuring Special Agent Vanessa Storm: Echo of a Crime, and have so far written about half of it.
  • And I came up with a concept for a new Sydney Rye Kindle World novel which will feature Van and LeBrun.

So 2016 has been a year with ups and downs, and now that I look at it, for me at least, there were more good points than bad. And for the family, too.

But for the world, it’s been a tough year. For Aleppo and the rest of Syria, for Iraq, for France, Belgium and the U.K., for Japan, Italy and Fort McMurray. For the U.S., 2017 is going to be … interesting politically.

I wish you all a healthy, happy, loving, peaceful and plentiful 2017.

Independent book review: My Last Romance and Other Passions



A cliché-busting collection of romances by Kathleen Valentine

As an independent author, I find it important to write an independent book review from time to time — my own, unasked-for review of a book from a fellow indie. Here is my review of one such.

Kathleen Valentine is a literary leader. As a writer, she follows her own path and creates original, beautiful stories with characters readers can recognize because they’re taken from reality. 

I’m not normally a fan of romances. But I have to say that I was turned on, in many ways, by the collection of romantic short stories for grown-ups by Kathleen Valentine called My Last Romance and Other Passions.

Most “romance” novels I have encountered seem to be aimed at women who never emotionally got past high school. (To be fair, most action/adventure novels I have read seem written for men who never matured past Grade 8). They tend to follow one of two or three models:

  • the nice, middle class girl fixes the tortured billionaire—50 Shades of Crap was far from the first of this cliché
  • the two young lovers with damaged childhoods find safe havens in each other
  • the nice girl is drawn to the bad boy, and either
    • decides on the nice boy next door, or
    • fixes the bad boy.

There’s a lot of fixing in romance, and almost always by the female protagonist.

These are the tropes no matter the “hotness” level. There are these plots in sexy, steamy romances; in hot romances about Highlanders, cowboys, firemen and pirates; and in the “clean” romances — which means romances without sex.

The clean romance is the genre I hate the most. What are these writers saying — sex is dirty?

When Valentine breaks the rules

I guess it was inevitable that a writer named Valentine would write romantic stories. I’m just so glad she didn’t fall into the Hallmark Card type of romance trap. I found the stories in My Last Romance and Other Passions to be insightful, believable and entertaining — in other words, real literature.

Most romances, whether independent or commercially published, also feature characters with British, Celtic or otherwise very Western European names. Kathleen Valentine is one of the few writers in any genre I have read who’s willing to be inclusive and realistic in reflecting the diversity of Western culture today, and her characters have names like “Silvio” and “Asa.” And they’re not all middle-class suburbanites or billionaires or expatriate European nobility. They come from isolated towns in the Appalachians or fishing villages in Massachusetts or from poor farms in Texas. They’re people we know exist, but they rarely feature in literature or genre fiction.

Kathleen Valentine is breaking down the rules that have accreted over romance like so much mould, and revitalized it.

Grown ups do grown-up things

Another thing I really appreciate about these romances — the last and otherwise — is that they’re about adults, and they do adult things. Okay, I admit I have a bias at my age, identifying more with people who’ve lived longer and had more experiences.

But Valentine’s characters have businesses and hold down jobs, and it’s clear that the author understands everything this entails. They’re musicians who never sold a million albums but know how to rock the house down. They’re artists who capture beauty and truth but never get known beyond their home town. They have children and marriages, and occasionally — no, more than occasionally — they fail at their obligations, they stray and they cheat and they enjoy it.

The independent book review

9a285-kathleenvalentine1948_sx200_Kathleen Valentine is an accomplished, professional writer with a lot of successful titles on her Author page. This collection is an excellent introduction to her work, and should stand as a model for would-be romance authors.

5*

You can find My Last Romance and Other Passions either on Amazon, but I got my copy as an even better value, as part of the BestSelling Reads Valentine Bundle, featuring full length books from nine professional, independent authors. For more great values, don’t forget to check them out.

And of course, you should visit Kathleen’s own website and blog for thoughts and ideas from a real, talented designer and author.

How to find funds for your novel: Guest post by Roger Eschbacher



Finding the funds to cover editing, design and production of a book is a challenge every independent author must work out. This week, the award-winning Roger Eschbacher describes his solution.

This post originally appeared on the old Scott’s Written Words blog.

As just about any “indie” author will admit one of the biggest knocks against our tribe is that often self-published books are rife with errors (punctuation, grammar, typos, continuity problems, etc.). We know how jarring it can be to run across a typo in a traditionally published book, so imagine how distracting it can be to be poked in the eye by dozens of them.

Why does this happen? To be blunt, it’s because the author didn’t have the book properly edited. And by “properly,” I mean professionally. No matter how good at catching errors you think you might be, you’ll never get them all. No matter how good you might think your beta reader/proofreader friends are at finding embarrassing mistakes in your text or story, there are always more hiding in your manuscript. Always.

I can verify this through my own experience. I can’t tell you how many “final” reads I did on Dragonfriend, my 2013 self-published MG fantasy novel. I’d go through it, find and fix a bunch of errors, only to go back to the beginning for one last look and find even more. I realized I needed professional help. I needed a paid editor with a trained eye to go through my manuscript and find the mistakes that would embarrass me if they ever made it out of my computer and into the wild.

What does any of this have to do with finding funds for my novel?

Well…having come to the realization that I was in over my head as far as editing goes, I started looking around for someone to help me out. Guess what? Editors can be expensive! My manuscript was in the 75,000-word range, and quotes for an edit on a book that size ran from the upper hundreds to the low thousands on the sites I checked. Google “editing, novel, proofreading” yourself and be prepared for your jaw to drop to the floor. This is not a knock against the editors, by the way; what they do is very time- and labor-intensive (= expensive).

So what was I going to do? I knew I had to get my book properly edited, but I also knew I wasn’t exactly dripping with cash. I was frozen in place until I could scrape together enough funds for a professional editor. Frozen, that is, until I ran across Kickstarter.

How Kickstarter works

Kickstarter.com is a site that exists solely for raising funds for “the arts.” Based on the artist/patron model of old, Kickstarter provides a platform where you can raise money from friends, family, and total strangers without having to beg in person. You simply set up an account and direct people to it with a “Hey, if you’re interested in backing my book project…” Amazingly, to me anyway, a lot of folks were willing to pitch in and help me out.

If you head over to the site, you’ll find that everyone from filmmakers to graphic artists to greeting card makers have a project going on. Oh, and authors too.

Here’s how it works. You sign up for an account, then pitch your project to the Kickstarter folks. My “project” was to raise enough money to have my book professionally edited and pay for its setup (cover design, proof copies, Createspace Pro Plan, etc.). Frankly, I think this step is included to make sure that only “creatives” get in the door. They’re very specific about not accepting charity or non-arty business projects. This site is about raising funds for projects with artistic content.

Thankfully, my project was approved and I set about trying to determine the amount of funding I would need. Having priced out the costs listed above (I picked an editor quote somewhere in the middle of the pack) and factoring in Kickstarter’s five percent account fee, I determined I’d need about $2,100.00 to properly prepare Dragonfriend for publication. Kickstarter recommends that you research your costs and pick a sum that is very close to the amount of funds you will actually need. They say that an appropriately priced project is more likely to succeed, and I think that makes sense.

Next, you determine how long you want the project to go. The allowable range is between 30 and 90 days. Kickstarter recommends 30 days, advising that if a project is going to be funded, it’ll usually happen within that period of time. I wish I had listened to them. I chose 45 days, only to have my project achieve full funding at around day 25. You have to wait for the project to play itself out before Kickstarter releases the funds, so I found myself cooling my heels for the balance of time left in the project. Another reason not to inflate your request is that if you don’t reach your funding goal within the allotted time, the project fails and no one (yourself or Kickstarter) gets any money. The backers who pledged prior to fail won’t be charged either, which is good, but you obviously don’t want to fail. In short, determine a reasonable goal and don’t be greedy!

Next, you create your backer “rewards,” attaching fun things like bookmarks, signed copies, and future character naming rights to various donation price points. They encourage you to be inventive, so in addition to those traditional rewards, I added stuff like writing a “fake” unmasking scene from the Scooby Doo series I write on. The backer became the villain and was able to pick the name of their evil alter-ego in a customized script. Sure it’s silly, but three backers ended up receiving scenes thanks to some very generous donations.

Then you press the “launch project” button and get the word out that you’re trying to raise money for a worthy project—asking folks to become true patrons of the arts. I ended up raising $2,205.00, which I promptly put into play by hiring an editor. I chose Iguana Proofreading and opted for their complete package of a manuscript critique and proofreading.

I have nothing but good things to say about my Kickstarter experience. It provided the funds I needed to launch my book. Without it, I’d probably still be going through the manuscript and finding error after error after error…

What about you? Do you have any experience with Kickstarter or tips on hiring a pro editor? Please share them in the comments.

c114e-undrastormur2bcoverA native of St. Louis, Missouri, Roger Eschbacher lives in Los Angeles, California, where he’s worked as a writer/actor for over 30 years. These days he works primarily as a TV animation writer. He has written for shows you’ve heard of like SCOOBY DOO: MYSTERY INCORPORATED, WABBIT, and LITTLEST PET SHOP and a few you haven’t. Along the way he managed to get nominated for an Emmy. He’s the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure novel Dragonfriend (winner of a 2012 BRAG Medallion) and its sequel Giantkiller. Roger’s most recent work is UNDRASTORMUR: A Viking Tale of Troublesome Trolls, a novelette available on Amazon. He’s also written two children’s picture books, “Road Trip”, and “Nonsense! He Yelled,” both for Penguin. 

For a list of all of , please visit Roger’s LinkedIn profile page.

Visit Roger’s