RIP: Canada’s everyday poet



Gord Downie passed away last week.

Okay, that’s not news anymore. Every Canadian and many others around the world know that. But I need to acknowledge the passing and honour the man whose words have meant so much to me over the years.

Gord Downie was the front man and lyricist for The Tragically Hip, which has become known as “Canada’s Band.” Which makes Downie Canada’s principal poet and conscience over the past 30 years or so.

So I thought I’d share with everyone the words of the first Tragically Hip song I remember. Please, pay attention to the words. They are powerful, and like all great poetry, they have many deep layers of meaning.

“New Orleans Is Sinking”

All right

Bourbon blues on the street, loose and complete
Under skies all smoky blue green
I can’t forsake a dixie dead shake
So we danced the sidewalk clean

My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in?
New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don’t want to swim

Colonel Tom, what’s wrong? What’s going on?
You can’t tie yourself up for a deal
He said, Hey, north, you’re south, shut your big mouth
You gotta do what you feel is real

Ain’t got no picture postcards, ain’t got no souvenirs
My baby she don’t know me when I’m thinking bout those years

Pale as a light bulb hanging on a wire
Sucking up to someone just to stoke the fire
Picking out the highlights of the scenery
Saw a little cloud that looked a little like me

I had my hands in the river, my feet back up on the banks
Looked up to the lord above and said, Hey, man, thanks

Sometimes I feel so good I got to scream
She said, Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean
She said, she said, I swear to god she said

My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in?
New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don’t want to swim

Swim

What’s your favourite Tragically Hip song? What’s your favourite poem? Leave a comment below.

What I’m working on now: A new book



After publishing 10 books in the past two years (wow—I just blew my own mind), I am not slowing down, but I am changing direction.

I had a writing and publishing plan.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Two years ago in July, I published two books in two different Kindle Worlds: Torn Roots in the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series; and Jet: Stealth in the Jet Kindle World, based on the bestselling series by Russell Blake.

Up to that point, I had published only three book-length titles:

  • The Bones of the Earth, book one of a planned Dark Age trilogy, a historical fantasy
  • One Shade of Red, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Gray
  • Army of Worn Soles, the first book in my Eastern Front trilogy, based on the real experiences of my father-in-law in the Red Army during the Second World War.

My plans at that point were to complete the Eastern Front trilogy (done!), then move to the second and third books of the Dark Age series. I also thought I might intersperse those projects by writing and publishing
stories that would tie together into a paranormal-occult-romance novel, Dark Clouds. I had written four chapters, publishing them on various platforms. A lot of people liked the first chapter, which stands alone as a story called The Mandrake Ruse. You can download it for free.

At that point, I had never even heard of Kindle Worlds, and never considered writing fan fiction.

Then Toby Neal diverted me.

Near the end of 2014, Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and other books, and a prominent member of the BestSelling Reads authors group, selected a few authors to write for her brand new Lei Crime Kindle World. The idea was to publish a novella, something between 10,000 and 40,000 words, based on the characters and situations of her mystery novels.

I was excited and, to be honest, flattered to be one of the first invited to this project. And it also solved another problem for me. I had an idea for a light-hearted thriller with characters based on my family, but I could not make the plot work. When I got Toby’s invitation to write a Hawaii mystery, the plot, setting and characters fell into place.

However, there was one big problem: my main character was a geologist, and I knew nothing about the geology of Hawaii. I wasn’t getting the details I wanted from books or the Web. So I booked my next vacation to Maui, and what I experienced added a lot of realism to the book. And while I missed the first launch in April 2015,
I did manage to write a book, re-write it, get a cover, get it edited and proofread—and share a beta draft with Toby Neal herself—in time for the “second surge” in July.

While I was working on my first Lei Crime book, Russell Blake invited me (and several others) to write for his new Jet Kindle World, too. Its first deadline was the same as the second one for Lei Crime: July 31, 2015.

So, while Torn Roots was with beta readers, editors and proofreaders, I wrote a short, fast-paced thriller called Stealth, introducing two more characters based on people I know: Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. And I met the deadline without cutting any corners.

My writing went fast in a new direction.

Since then, I wrote and published two more Lei Crime novellas and one novel. I was invited to another Kindle World, based on Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series about a kick-ass woman detective and her giant dog, Blue. I’ve written two books for this series, both featuring Van and LeBrun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the original plan.

Don’t get me wrong—writing the Kindle World books has been a blast. I really enjoyed the characters and situations I created, and to judge by the reviews, my readers have, too. And I think I will find it irresistible to return to them, putting them in more impossible situations.

But I want to get back to the next book in the Dark Age trilogy. Last year, when I was waiting for medical attention after breaking my knee, I worked out the plot outline for book 2, The Triumph of the Sky. (Guess which song inspired that and I’ll send you a personalized, signed e-copy of The Bones of the Earth.)

The Dark Age trilogy is what I call “historical magic realism.” It’s epic fantasy, but set in a real time and place: the sixth-century CE Eastern Roman Empire, often known now as the Byzantine Empire. But the people there at the time called themselves “Roman,” even though most of them spoke Greek.

The Bones of the Earth, book 1 in the trilogy, was about Javor, a poor Sklavenic boy from beyond the Empire’s borders, who travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, searching for answers about his parents’ death and his great-grandfather’s magical dagger. The second volume will tell the story of Javor as a young man, living in Constantinople with a wife and family, going on several adventures and contending with deep, supernatural forces. It’s based on a number, just as the first volume was. I’ve made some progress: two chapters written. In a future post, I’ll post some advance samples when I’m happy with them.

But don’t get too excited. Triumph is going to be a big book, like Bones was. But I’ll keep you up to date on progress, and I’ll have lots of contests and giveaways along the way. One of the first will be a giveaway to anyone who can deduce or guess which number figures prominently in the plot of The Bones of the Earth, and later another one for the number that’s the basis of The Triumph of the Sky.

See you soon!

Live blogging from my event



 

 Here I am at the Coles The Book People location in the Billings Bridge plaza in Ottawa for my second-ever book signing event. On the table, I have the three paperbacks in my Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. 

Traffic isn’t all that heavy—it’s mid-day at the beginning of what looks like a beautiful long weekend. This might have worked better outdoors.  

It’s interesting to watch the shoppers go by. They seem to come in waves. The babies come in groups—one moment, the mall is quiet; the next, three squalling babies in a phalanx of strollers are crowding the mall in front of my table. 

Most people just walk by, not even looking. They’re not here for books. Some people slow down and look at the books on my table. Occasionally, one will stop and talk.

People seem delighted to meet authors, and eager to share what they know about either the war, history or even books. And a few buy books. One lady even bought the whole set, since I’m offering a special price for all three.

It’s a very different experience than marketing e-books online. I like talking with people interested in the subject, or history. And the tactile aspect of a paper book, rather than the virtuality of e-books, well, satisfying.

I may try this again some time.

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.

How you can win four mystery novels



But first, the third book in the trilogy looms

Walking Out of War, the third volume in the trilogy that began with Army of Worn Soles in 2014 and followed with Under the Nazi Heel in 2016.

ArmyofWornSoles-smallerRegular readers of this blog will know that I had promised to publish Volume 3 by the end of last year. But it just plain took longer than I anticipated.

The good news is that the outstanding editor, Gary Henry, has done his usual great work on it. The matchless David C. Cassidy has delivered another stunning cover concept and is now working on the final design.

It shouldn’t be much longer before you can read the final stage in the story of Maurice Bury’s war. In fact, the almost-final version is in the hands of some faithful, helpful beta readers, and if any readers want an Advance Review Copy (ARC) and are willing to write an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or any other book review site, I’ll be happy to send one. Just use the contact button on this blog.

What took so long?

Maurice Bury after the war.

Maurice Bury after the war.

The journey to publication started many years ago, when I began talking to Maurice about his wartime experiences. I thought, “This would make a great book.”

Writing the story, though, took years. I ran into a real roadblock almost at the outset, when I was trying to create an outline. I thought for a while of writing parallel timelines, comparing various parts of Maurice’s journey by juxtaposing them in prose. I wrestled with the order literally for months, writing separ
ate chapters and then transitions that I ended up throwing away. Finally, a friend suggested that I just write it as it happened. In other words, linearly. First one thing happened, then the next, and so on.

It’s amazing how we need another party to tell us the most obvious things.

That was when I decided to break the story into three books, one for each phase of his experience:

  • Army of Worn Soles tells of Maurice’s experience as an officer in the Soviet Red Army officer
  • Under the Nazi Heel describes his time as an insurgent fighter against the German occupation of Ukraine
  • and finally, Walking Out of War is the story of Maurice fighting as a foot soldier, walking with the Red Army across Eastern Europe to Berlin for the fall of Nazi Germany.

Even though I had the whole outline completed before I published Volume 1, and had several chapters of Volume 3 complete, finishing it took longer than I thought it would. Months longer.

There were some little details that required more research, which was time-consuming—like what the machine gun that Maurice’s unit operated looked like. Or just when the Red Army reached the Niemen River on the border between Lithuania and East Prussia.

Maurice isn’t around to ask anymore, so I had to turn to history books, including Professor Orest Subtelny’s excellent Ukraine: A History, the Ukrainian Encyclopedia published by the University of Toronto, other books and, of course, Wikipedia.

tdbnletterAs those of you who read this blog will know, I finally found one little bit of evidence that somehow became a keystone: a letter of recommendation for Maurice and his friend, Basily, signed by a Lieutenant John Gardner. Brigadier General (Retired) Michael Joregensen of the Canadian Armed Forces interpreted some of the abbreviations at the top of the letter, which helped me identify the U.S. Army unit that Lieutenant Gardner belonged to: the 692nd U.S. Tank Destroyer Battalion. That little slip of paper, with its faded, misspelled typewritten message, put Maurice in a specific time and place. Suddenly, I saw how the stories he had told me, the notes I had taken and the historical information I had researched all fit together.

Finding that, I was glad I had taken longer to write this book.

When will it be done then, Scott?

As I mentioned, David Cassidy is working on the cover, and a few beta readers have the almost-final draft now. I hope to have their comments in my hands by mid-January, and then I’ll send it to some beta readers for feedback. And barring any disasters, I’ll be able to send advance review copies by mid-February for publishing on the anniversary of its predecessor, Under the Nazi Heel.IMG_0020.jpg

The next projects

Fans of my Lei Crime Kindle World stories featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm will be happy to learn I’m well on the way to a new Hawaiian crime story, and I think this will be my best yet.

A yet unnamed, this novel will reveal more of Vanessa’s youth and also an old flame with a huge problem, one that will make Vanessa choose between her old life and her new career.

Following that, I’ll be working on a new #SydneyRyeKW novella, featuring, once again, the irresistible Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. I’m aiming to publish that on the next surge of Sydney Rye Kindle World books at the end of April.

How to get all the Vanessa Storm #LeiCrimeKW novellas FREE

Read the first two chapters of the new story, “Soft Summer Rain.” Watch for the clues that will tell you which two 1970s songs inspired it, and you’ll win four mystery novels. That’s right, I’ll send you all the Vanessa Storm e-books for free, including the upcoming volume. To get the story, all you have to do is subscribe to my advance information newsletter, Forewords. Once you fill in the information and confirm your identity, you’ll get a link to download it.

Don’t miss out—four e-books for making a good, informed guess and filling out an online form. You can’t go wrong!

Send your guess to me by email (contact@writtenword.ca)

  • Torn Roots

  • Palm Trees & Snowflakes
  • Dead Man Lying.

Secrets in an old wallet



mauriceI have been stuck for quite a long time in the writing of the third installment of the trilogy based on my father-in-law’s life, Walking Out of War.

Until I pulled a little slip of paper out of a tattered, old wallet and broke the logjam by putting the subject of my story, Maurice Bury, into a real time and place.

Writing this trilogy that began with has taken a lot of research. I don’t want to begin estimating the number of hours, but literally, the effort has spanned more than
10 years.

It began with Maurice’s stories about the war. Then, we sat down to serious interviews, where I took extensive notes.

His wartime experience fell into three phases, the first two of which I have already published in Army of Worn Soles and Under the Nazi Heel.

ArmyofWornSoles-smaller

The third part, Walking Out of War, covers Maurice’s experience as a private in the Red Army from 1944 to 1945. And while I still had those interview notes, Maurice passed away 12 years ago, so I cannot ask him about questions that come up only when you try to write a story like this.

So I had to turn to historical records. Thank you, Wikipedia and Professor Orest Subtelny.

Bringing the story to life

Anyone who has tried to tell an accurate story about the Second World War can tell you how confusing it can be, with many different forces acting in several
different theatres of war at the same time.

I used a range of sources, including some of Maurice’s personal effects. They included a tattered, battered old wallet containing some fascinating documents:

  • alliedtravelpass-tovienna-inside Allied Expeditionary Force D.P. Index cards, signed by Maurice in Cyrillic script
  • a notarized affidavit from Maurice’s aunt in Montreal, mentioning Maurice as a Canadian citizen living in a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Displaced Persons camp in Landeck, Austria
  • Allied Travel permits authorizing Maurice to go from Landeck to Vienna in early 1947.

These and other documents supported Maurice’s story and my notes about going from Berlin to Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and then Landeck, Innsbruck and finally Vienna before coming home to Canada.

But I was still having trouble getting Maurice’s journey clear in my own mind.

 

The final clue

tdbnletterMonths later, I saw a thin pocket in the old wallet that I had never noticed before. From it, I pulled out a thin slip of yellowed paper. Typed with an uneven manual
typewriter was the following:

 

Recen. Co. 692 T.D.Bn.

July 7, 1945.

To whom it may concerns:

 

     The following two men, Maurice Bury, and Tkacz

Bazyli , have been working for us as K. P.s for the last

xxxxx month, and we have found there  work to be very

satisfactory.

We recommend them very highly.

signed,

John Gardner

1st Lt. W.A.

commanding

 

I was very excited. I showed it to a retired Canadian Armed Forces general, who explained some of the abbreviations at the top. “T.D.Bn” stands for “tank destroyer battalion.” And the reference to “K.P.” indicated an American unit.

Maurice had told me that, following the war, he had worked for the American Army, first helping out in the kitchen and then as a translator—he spoke English, German and Russian as well as Ukrainian.

A Google search for the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion told me that it indeed had been formed in 1942, arriving in France in September 1944. It was attached to the 104th Infantry Division, and then to the First Canadian Army, which it supported in its attack on Antwerp, Belgium and the crossing of the Maas River.  The 692nd repelled the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and in February 1945 its accurate artillery fire preserved the Regamen Bridge over the Rhine, allowing the Canadian troops to cross, saving lives. It was also the only unit called upon to break the Siegfried line more than once.

This was the unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

At the end of the war, the 692nd took on occupation duties in an area around the Bavarian-Austrian border.

At last, I had corroborating evidence putting Maurice Bury in southern Germany on a specific date shortly after the end of the war: July 7, 1945. It gave me two other names, as well: Lt. John Gardner, commanding officer of the 692nd on that day; and “Tkacz Bazyli.”

That’s just one of the mistakes in the letter. You’ll notice the other typos, too. “Tkacz” is a Ukrainian surname, and Maurice was friends with a man named Basil Tkacz in Montreal.

Why is this important?

This little slip of paper helped me put the end of Maurice journey out of the war into order.

This little slip of paper makes an anchor. He was in southern Germany, or maybe norther Austria, on July 7, 1945.

It gave me a timeline.

And that has allowed me to finish writing the story.

I know that I promised to release Walking Out of War before the end of 2016, and I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to do that.

I have written the draft and completed the re-write, adding all the little details. But now the manuscript has to go to an editor, a proofreader and some beta readers. It will also need a cover design before I format it and publish it as an e-book and a print book.

But know that it is imminent. All the pieces are in place, anchored with historical detail. So don’t despair, readers. The final installment of the trilogy will be in your hands soon.

 

Alan McDermott: What one of your favourite authors loves about writing



5c77e-alan_profile_pic-300x225Alan McDermott is a good friend. His first self-published novel, Gray Justice, caught the attention of the reading world, propelling him into the bestsellers ranks on Amazon. He has since followed that up with four more novels about Tom Gray and his friends who stop chaos around the world. Now a full-time author, he took a few minutes to tell Written Words what he loves best, and least, about being a writer.

 

Which element of fiction is most important to you as a writer?

Alan McDermott: There are many things that I focus on when writing a book. First off, the story has to have a believable plot and be fast paced, with as much action as possible. If I can’t throw in a firefight, I try to crank up the intrigue instead. Almost as important is getting the little details right. Knowing the weapons to use is crucial, but when it comes to things like the Brigandicuum surveillance system I created, it had to be realistic. Not so much “likely to happen” as “could happen.” I’ve since learned that the United Kingdom’s Communications Headquarters has much of the capabilities I dreamed up, which I find kind of frightening! The only thing I tend to refrain from is too much sexual detail.

What part of writing do you spend the most time on: research, writing, editing, making coffee or cleaning your work space?

Alan McDermott: Sadly, coffee and Facebook! I get distracted quite easily, which is why I like to spend a couple of days a week at the library with just a pen and notepad. I get most of my work done there, and the rest of the time is spent typing it up and making small edits as I go.

Which of these do you enjoy most?

Alan McDermott: Definitely the library! I usually get more done in five hours than I do when I spend two days sitting at home on my laptop. I think it’s the thought of being in an office-like environment that makes me focus, rather than sitting in the living room with easy access to the TV and other distractions.

What do you wish you had to do less?

Alan McDermott: It is not on the list, but I would say marketing. I’m pretty hopeless at it, but thankfully my publisher does a great job with new releases. Being an introvert, I’m not one to shout about my books from the rooftops. Not a good trait for an author, I know.

Which of your books or other works are you personally happiest with? Why?

Gray Vengeance cover

Gray Vengeance by Alan McDermott

Alan McDermott: So far, I’d have to say Gray Vengeance. It is the fifth title in the Tom Gray series, and the one in which I introduced the Brigandicuum surveillance system created by the NSA and used by the British Government. I’ve since learned, through the Wikileaks website, that the UK already has something very close to it, in that they have the ability to hack into phones and computers and effectively take control of them. I’m also pretty excited about my latest book, Gray Salvation, which will be released on March 8, 2016, and my WIP is shaping up nicely, too. There’s a twist in it that I hope few will see coming.

What part of writing or publishing do you think you could help other writers with?

Alan McDermott: Good question! I don’t really consider myself that accomplished that I could offer any kind of advice, to be honest. I realise that I am still learning the trade, and that the huge blockbuster inside me is still a few years off. I know that I’m improving certain aspects of my writing with each new release, but there’s still some way to go before I become the go-to guy for writing advice.

Thanks very much, Alan!

Alan McDermott is a full time author from the south of England, married with beautiful twin daughters. He used to write critical software applications for the NHS, but now he spends his days writing action thrillers.

7d0c4-grayjustice_frontcover_11-27-13His debut novel, Gray Justice, has been very well received and earned him membership in http://independentauthorsinternational.org. He was subsequently picked up by Thomas & Mercer, who published his first five books, with another on the way.

Alan is currently working on his seventh novel.

The entire five-novel Tom Gray series will be on sale from Amazon.com for $2 all through November.

Get Gray Justice on: