JOHN BLUCK – Crime and Sci-Fi Novelist and Storyteller

The title of his latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales: Crime and Sci-fi Short Stories.

John G. Bluck is the author of five books, some in the crime/mystery genre and others science fiction. He worked for thirty years for NASA and retired as a public affairs officer. Prior to that, he was the daytime crime reporter/photographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA) in Washington, D.C. During the Vietnam War, Bluck was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Another of his recent books, Death in the Holler, earned praise in a BookLife review printed in the January 11, 2021, issue of Publishers Weekly magazine. “For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye. Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. . . . Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters.”

Tell us about your most recent book. My latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales. It’s a collection of sixteen crime and science fiction short stories; some are strictly fictional crime stories. Others are solely in the science fiction genre. Many of the yarns combine both crime and sci-fi genres. Florida Grand Theft was released on October 4. The first image below is for the paperback and the second is for the eBool.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began writing a couple of the stories as long as fifteen years ago when I was working at NASA. Over the years, I edited and revised them numerous times. One of those stories is the “DNA of History.” In it, ant-sized extraterrestrials visit a young boy, affecting his entire life. A second sci-fi story that I began developing a long time ago is “Adventures in Time.” In this story, an astronaut transmits a message as his ship careens toward a black hole.

I dreamed up other stories only months ago. That’s obvious when you read one of them, “Big Brother’s Bracelets,” which is related to the current pandemic and Covid-19. In this story, a feuding couple has to adjust their lives.

In the first story in the book, “Florida Grand Theft,” a young woman short of money tells how she’s tempted to steal a purse. In “Death by Snub Nose,” a hobo is accused of murder. These are among the crime and sci-fi stories I wrote recently, as is “Buzz.” Buzz is a robotic bee who’s an undercover agent.

Why do you write in more than one genre? I spent much of my life in a career path that’s linked to both crime and science-fiction. When I was in the army, I wrote news stories for an army newspaper and read army news on a couple of local radio stations.

After that, I worked a few years in Washington, D.C., as the television daytime crime cinematographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA). I mainly covered homicides and bank robberies. Naturally, I covered other stories, too, including sports, politics, and even Watergate. I was in a pool of about six or seven still and motion picture photographers who filmed the submission of President Nixon’s letter of resignation.

Then NASA hired me to be a documentary producer. I saw many fascinating things at NASA that were true, but which might as well have been science fiction. I saw huge rocket engines; walked under the Space Shuttle; peered through telescopes, and wandered through laboratories, machine shops, wind tunnels, as well as many other locations.

When I explored NASA and filmed news for TV, I met many kinds of people. Whether they were in bad or happy situations, they taught me about human nature. Covering news “on the scene” in city streets and later working in science and engineering environments gave me a myriad of potential story ideas related to both crime and science.

How do you create your characters? Lately, I’ve been consulting a psychology book to try to shape some of my characters’ personalities so that they are vastly different from each other. This can lead to conflict and drama.

I don’t try to dictate what a character will do all of the time. I like to put characters with different personality traits into the same room or location. I begin to write dialogue rapidly. I permit the characters to talk, to say what they want. This is hard to describe, but it’s as if they wake up and begin to speak. I simply type what they’re saying. That’s why I say I don’t try to make the characters do or say what I want them to say.

However, there are times when something specific has to happen—a climax, a turning point. Then I might dictate that a tree will fall, a ship will sink, or a fire will erupt. The characters then have to react to the situation based on who they are and their personalities, which I have assigned to them. Sometimes, that personality changes when a character starts to act and come alive. I’ve found that if I “listen” to my characters, rather than try to shape them too much, the people who populate my books are more realistic, more human.

Do you outline, or do you write as you go? When I design a novel (plot it), I like to outline “sort of.” That is, I use the Act I, Act II, and Act III format.  I know where the climax is supposed to be. I write the beginning and the end first and perhaps the climax, and then I fill in the middle of the story. Each scene is like a bubble or a block. I note what “should” happen in a scene.

But as I go along, I let the characters have a lot of freedom, and they may take me off on a tangent. Also, sometimes when I’m writing, a character will just pop up. This is where the “sort of” comes into my writing process. I then have to decide if an unexpected path taken by a character is good or is merely a diversion that takes the story too far off course.

I like to work in this hybrid—mostly planned—but freewheeling kind of a way.

What’s your next book going to be about? Its potential title is Murder at NASA. Luke Ryder, the protagonist of my last mystery novel, Death in the Holler, is called into work undercover to solve a cold-case killing at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where I worked last at the agency. I’m quite familiar with the Ames campus, which some Hollywood producers have called a great location to make a movie. I doubt that Ames would ever be the set for a major movie, but the place has so many good locations for me to use in a novel. I’m almost salivating; I’m ready to completely plot my ideas and turn the characters loose at Ames.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can message me through my website: http://www.bluckart.com.

They can visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnGBluckSciFi.

My Twitter page is located at: https://twitter.com/JohnBluck1.

Readers can sign up for my e-mail list by visiting: http://eepurl.com/cJh_pP.

6 Comments

  1. Mar Preston

    I could use a few Florida stories now as Canada grows cold. You’ve had an interesting life and been drawn into some good situations to write about.

    Reply
    • John G. Bluck

      Hello Mar,
      Thanks for finding my stories of interest as winter approaches. Though the first story in “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales” is set in the sunshine state, there are other stories that take place in the greater Chicago area, northern California, Cleveland, New York and Naples, Italy…. so I hope you also find the stories set in these other locations interesting enough to warm up your imagination. (Many are places where I’ve visited or lived.) Of course, I haven’t been to outer space and a few other locations on which I focus in a few of the yarns.
      But my ultimate goal is to entertain. I hope you enjoy the sixteen stories in the volume.

      Reply
  2. John Schembra

    Interesting background- I can see it would lead to some intruiging plots. I will look you up to find out more about your books!

    Reply
    • John Bluck

      Thank you, John. I appreciate it that you’ll check out some of my books. Cheers, John G. Bluck

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    John Blunk is a masterful writer. I read his Death in the Holler and enjoyed it immensely. I’m delighted that Luke Ryder is heading to NASA for another adventure. I ordered his new short story collection, too. I love stories set in Florida. Good luck, John.

    Reply
    • John Bluck

      Thanks, Michael. I also enjoy your books. I’m looking forward to read one of your latest books, “Chimes at Midnight.”

      Reply

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EVE SPRUNT – Scientist, Leader and Memoirist

Dr. Eve Sprunt was the 2006 SPE President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. In 2010 Eve received SPE’s highest recognition, Honorary Membership. She has 35 years of experience working for major oil companies, 21 years with Mobil, and 14 years with Chevron. In 2013 Eve received the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers. She was the 2018 President of the American Geosciences Institute. She was the founder of the Society of Core Analysts in 1985. Her S.B. and S.M. degrees are from MIT (Earth and Planetary Sciences) and her Ph.D. (Geophysics) from Stanford. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Geophysics from Stanford. She has authored more than 120 editorial columns on industry trends, technology, workforce issues. She is the author of A Guide for Dual-Career Couples and Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, and co-author with Maria Angela Capello of Mentoring and Sponsoring:  Keys to Success. She speaks and consults on both energy issues and women’s issues.

 

My first book, A Guide for Dual-Career Couples, Rewriting the Rules (2016), was a labor of love that I started work on after I retired in late 2013 and published by Praeger in 2016. That book was prompted by my being horrified by how women were discriminated against by being part of a dual-career couple. The young women mistakenly thought that if they got some international experience at a convenient time in their career, that was needed. Instead, the industry wanted a trailing spouse and a willingness to go anywhere at any time.

I self-published the first manuscript I started, Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, in 2019. I found an agent who got a publisher for A Guide for Dual-Career Couples.

At this point, the book I really want to promote is Dearest Audrey. I thought I knew my Auntie Audrey well. Still, when long after her death, I discovered letters she had written while in Pakistan as one of the earliest Fulbright scholars, I was captivated. While in Pakistan, Audrey had a brief encounter with an American photographer, whose marriage proposal forced her to choose between her hard-won career and love.

I write both self-help career guidance books and memoir/biography. The latter is a combo in that I have some interesting people in my life, such as Audrey, and have been advised that since I know them, I should “put more of myself in the story.” I’ve been working through the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club critique groups parts of my memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence. Starting when she was 49, my mother had 29 children’s fantasy books she wrote and illustrated, published. Her first book, The Wednesday Witch, sold well over a million copies and was translated into multiple languages. Combined, her books sold over nine million copies. My mother’s diaries, written between when she was 13 and 81, had been collecting dust in my home when I decided at the beginning of covid that it was now or never. I have been working on Passionate Persistence ever since. Reading those diaries, I was shocked that even though my four siblings and I were born within an eight-year time span, and we were all raised in Brooklyn in the same house, we had drastically different childhood experiences. When I left home, my mother’s career as a children’s book author finally took off. Deeply immersed in her career, Mother lost all interest in supervising my younger siblings. Too much supervision was not fun, but the consequences of too little were far worse.

Early in my career as a scientist, I realized that one way to get credit for my work was to document and publish it. Since I worked for giant corporations, I got very creative in finding ways to get company permission to publish and become actively involved in the editorial side of a couple of professional societies’ publications. By the time I shifted from focusing on technology to business and management issues, I had 23 patents and 28 technical publications. In 1994, I took on the voluntary position of Senior Technical Editor of the worldwide Society of Petroleum Engineers. That role came with a monthly column in the flagship journal that went out to over 100,000 members worldwide. I saw writing my column as “walking along the edge of a cliff and trying not to fall off.” I wrote from the “underdog” position about issues that bedeviled technical professionals. Despite or perhaps because of my risk-taking, I survived numerous layoffs, including two in which half of the people in my group were terminated. I quit calculating the odds that I still had a job after the second 50% layoff – my odds of survival were too small. In retirement, I enjoy being able to write without worrying about corporate censorship.

I’m currently working on a memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence, and A Guide to Career Resilience – When Silence is not the Answer. I began writing that book when we were collaborating on Mentoring and Sponsoring, Keys to Success. During the interviews we conducted for that book, I occasionally sensed that our interviewees were concealing what I view as the dark side of mentoring and sponsoring. Getting people to talk about problems is much more challenging than getting them to brag about their successes. We have had a few people share devastating experiences, and my co-author and I have been filling in the gaps from our own careers.

Tri-Valley has been very beneficial to me. I had never before been in a critique group, and the process has greatly benefited me.  Writing bio/memoir is very different than writing business books, editorials, and technical papers. The feedback and suggestions have been invaluable. As a scientist, my goal was to write from a very analytical and objective perspective. I have applied those skills to interpreting the consequences of my mother’s actions but need to include the emotional impact of writing about them in the bio/memoir.

My first book published was my second book attempt. The agent found a buyer for the second, but they wanted it written from an entirely different perspective. I had written the manuscript trying to persuade management to change their approach to managing dual-career couples. Praeger used librarians to review book proposals. They said that my audience should not be management but members of dual-career couples. By the time the contract was negotiated, I had six weeks to get the manuscript submitted to be included in the next book catalog. My agent had taken over a month to work out the deal. (Praeger primarily sells through their catalog.) Since I was retired and working for myself, I realized that I wasn’t limited to regular working hours; I began working seven days a week, from morning into the night, and finished with about a week to spare. It was a fun exercise turning my first manuscript around to address the issues from the opposite perspective.

There are subplots even in bio/memoir. Weaving them into the main story can also be challenging.

Despite being an analytical person, when I write, I am a pantser. I write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

The fictional book that may have had the greatest impact on my life is Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love. I took away the idea that you can have multiple careers in life, and you can bluff your way through some things. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Powers of Ten, About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe by Philip Morrison, Phylis Morrison, and the Office of Charles & Ray Eames. I had Philip Morrison for the 6th level physics course at MIT, but this book wasn’t published until two decades after I graduated. For me, it signifies that as we go both up and down in scale, things become more and more esoteric and unknowable. My mother’s younger brother was a Physics professor at Berkeley. I would ask him, “What is the universe in?” His answer to me was always very unsatisfying. He said it was a shape that closed in on itself.

Website, http://www.evesprunt.com

Readers can contact me through LinkedIn or FaceBook. Fortunately, my name is unique, so I’m easy to find.

 

4 Comments

  1. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    I can’t wait to read your upcoming biography/memoir of your mother and you, Eve. It sounds intriguing.

    Reply
  2. Debra Bokur

    A truly impressive biography… and I’m intrigued by the idea of discovering that someone you knew well (or thought you did) may have lived a sort of secret life. I’m definitely adding this book to my must-read list.

    Reply
  3. Glenda Carroll

    I can’t wait to read about your aunt. She sounds like a fascinating woman. And you sound like just the person to write about her!

    Reply
  4. Deven Greene

    Very interesting interview, with a dizzying array of accomplishments. I was unaware of “Powers of ten, About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe.” I found it listed in our local library and put a hold on it.
    Another book written by a physicist for lay people, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman,” by Richard Feynman, was a wonderful, entertaining book I read many years ago. He has a few other books for lay people, but i haven’t read them all. (Stay away from the Feynman Lectures if you’re not interested in learning physics).
    Thank you for blazing a trail for other women to follow. I’m sure both men and women have benefitted from your accomplishments. Best of luck with your writing.

    Reply

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PAULA CHINICK – Russian & American Intrigue in Japanese Occupied China During WWII

Paula Chinick is the international award-winning author for Red Asscher~Living in Fear—a WWII spy thriller series, which includes Living in Turmoil and Living in War. She is a CWC Tri-Valley Writers past vice-president, president, and conference project manager. Paula’s publishing company, Russian Hill Press, has been in business since 2014.

I have published a WWII historical spy thriller series under the title Red Asscher, Living in Fear, Living in Turmoil, and Living in War. The stories are set in 1943. In the first novel, Anya Pavlovitch, a Russian expat working for the U.S. War Department, is asked to assist a naval officer who is being sent to Japanese occupied Shanghai. Throughout the series, the two try to flee China but find themselves caught up in situations that impede their escape.

What are you currently working on?  I am currently working on a prequel set in Russia in 1898 through the revolution and ends in China in 1920, where the first book begins. The story centers on Anya’s parents.

What brought you to writing? I have been writing since I was a tween but didn’t get serious until I was laid off in 2008. In hindsight probably the best thing to have happened. I love the freedom that stream of consciousness writing allows. It may end up being crap, but it’s exciting to see the words appear on the page as your mind reels.

Tell us about your writing process:  When I wrote my first book, I spent 8 hours a day writing and editing. It was my job, and I took it very seriously. In the other books, I relaxed a bit and would try to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes it worked, other times not so much. Currently, I’m taking a break. I recently adopted a puppy who is in training which occupies most of my waking hours.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? It’s easy to write the beginning and the ending. What’s difficult is all the stuff in the middle. There are days, even weeks where my mind is blank. I try to research for inspiration; sometimes, it works; other times, I have to wait for the muse to strike.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Definitely. My membership with the California Writers Club has been invaluable in helping me to become a better writer, editor, and critiquing. It has opened doors to conferences, workshops, and seminars. All important outlets if you want to be a serious writer.

Who’s your favorite author?  I fell in love with the Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. I love historical fiction, and his writing inspires me. I also enjoy reread Jane Austin, D. H. Lawrence, and my favorite, Dashiell Hammett.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Off and on about ten years. I didn’t get serious until about four years before I published the first in the series. After the first one, it took about three years to publish the second and another three years for the third.

How do you come up with character names? I used a few family names and researched foreign names for those characters that were outside of the U.S.

 What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I don’t find it any more challenging than writing from the same sex but at a different age. I use a combination of characteristics from people or children I’ve known or know. I have men and women beta read to see if the characters are believable.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I kill a lot of my characters—it’s war, and people die.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I try to place obstacles in front of them and make them figure out how to work around it or avoid it.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? I would have to say, Shakespeare. It was required reading in high school, and my head just wasn’t in it. It wasn’t until I attended the Ashland Shakespeare festival (for almost ten years) where I developed a love for his histories. I bought a thick book with all his plays and read them.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I have, but they have since passed. I try not to defame them. I read biographies about them and pick and choose what I want to use. Some real characters I have placed in a bad light, but they were evil people who lived in a foreign country and have been dead for decades.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a plotter. I create a rough outline that I constantly rewrite. I mainly use it to remind me where the plot is headed and my character’s traits. Sometimes I go off the trail and end up pantsing a bit. Sometimes I keep it. Sometimes I toss it.

What kind of research do you do? I use the internet a lot but try to get my questions answered by several different sources. I have purchased old Life magazines for insight into the language and history. I also read other’s historical writings from the period.

 Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I generally use real locations. I research old photographs to see the layout of streets, buildings, transportation, and attire in that period. I try to build a world that is believable. I may get a few things wrong, but for the most part, I think most readers are forgiving.

Do you have any advice for new writers? My only advice would be if you like to write then WRITE. It doesn’t matter if you wish to publish or not. Do it for yourself. Writing is something that you alone own, and no one can take it from you. If you wish to be a serious writer, then you need to join a writers group that offers critique, attend conferences, and build your vocabulary.

For further information, you can contact Paula at www.russianhillpress.com/contact

Russian Hill Press www.russianhillpress.com

3 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Very interesting post–made me think. And I like the whole idea of WWII spy thrillers! Much success.

    Reply
  2. Violet Moore

    Write for yourself is a great advice, Paula.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Excellent advice, Paula. It sounds like you’re very dedicated to your craft. Good luck with your writing and with the puppy.

    Reply

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Lani Longshore – Stage Actor – Quilter – Author

After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction 

It’s great to be part of your blog world, George! Like you, I spent the better part of my life in other fields. While I began college as a poetry major, I graduated with a degree in Russian Political History. My intent was to join the diplomatic corps. But a frank discussion with my dad about life as a civil servant pushed me in another direction. I’ve been a secretary, a teacher and worked in human resources in the biotech and financial industries. My husband’s job brought us to California just in time for the dot-com bust. For many years I intended to return to the working world, but then I met Ann Anastasio, who introduced me to quilting. Together we created Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre, a quilting vaudeville troupe. We wrote one-act musical comedies about quilts and the women who make them. After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction with Death By Chenille, When Chenille Is Not Enough, and The Chenille Ultimatum, novels about quilters saving the world from aliens disguised as bolts of beige fabric. We thought The Chenille Ultimatum would be the last in the series, but then a friend said we absolutely had to write The Captain and Chenille because it was such a great title. We would have appreciated getting a suggestion for a plot as well, but you work with what you’ve got. Ann has lived in New Mexico since before When Chenille Is Not Enough was published, so we are used to writing long distance, but the pandemic has slowed our progress. We both joined the army of mask-makers in our home states when the need arose, for instance, which made my already messy sewing room a complete disaster. A lot of my creative energy has been shifted from writing to getting my quilting projects under control.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? My husband is a true technophile, so we have computers everywhere. My favorite is in a corner of the family room. It’s close enough to the kitchen to get tea and snacks but far enough away from the phone that I can ignore it. It’s adorable that you ask which distractions I “allow.” Distractions are worse than teenagers. Not only is there no arguing with them, you can’t even threaten to take away their car keys. HOWEVER, if I’m brutally honest, the time that distractions get the upper hand is when I’m uncertain where to go next in the scene I’m writing.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Absolutely! The California Writers Club has been a godsend. Ann and I were entertaining a quilt guild in San Jose and casually mentioned we were writing a novel. One of the women pulled out her CWC business card and suggested finding a branch nearby. That happened to be the Mt. Diablo branch, where Igal Levy had just started a critique group. Jack Russ, then the president of Mt. Diablo, established a committee to create what became Tri-Valley Writers. I joined Tri-Valley Writers after my term as Secretary to the Mt. Diablo branch ended. I joined two critique groups with this branch, which gave me the accountability I needed to finish the manuscript of Death By Chenille, which we published on Smashwords after hearing a presentation by Mark Coker, CEO. I’ve also published short stories in almost a dozen anthologies that I heard about through Tri-Valley Writers and a short story on BookTrack after one of their representatives gave a talk to the club.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes, or at least parts of real people. Ann and I will combine the traits of people we know. We try to avoid having too much reality in our characters. Although we write cozy science fiction (meaning even our villains have a soft side), we don’t want anyone to say, “Hey, that’s me” – and not in a happy way.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Some settings are real, and some are fictional. Clearly, the alien planets are fictional, but even those planets have elements based on places we’ve known on Earth. All the quilt stores in our books are based on real stores.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Becoming a writer means being a life-long learner. Promise yourself that you will learn more and be a better writer for the next project, then submit your work for publication. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win the contest, or land the agent, or make the best-seller list with your self-published book. What matters is that you’ve tried. If you are convinced that this is the best work you can do at this moment, then do what you can to get it in front of readers. No one can tell your story like you can, so give readers a chance to hear your voice.

How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted? I post twice a week on Lani Longshore’s Blog at lani.longshore.wordpress.com. Mondays are about my writing life, Wednesdays are about my quilting life. There are also posts about the flowers in my garden when I haven’t accomplished anything either at the computer or in my sewing room. The entire Chenille series can be found as e-books on Smashwords.com. The Chenille Ultimatum is also available in a print edition on Amazon.com.

Death By Chenille https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55823
When Chenille Is Not Enough https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/306399
The Chenille Ultimatum https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815344
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Chenille+Ultimatum&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

5 Comments

  1. Jeanne B. Brophy

    Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Is good advice for everyone. As a quilt teacher, I don’t know how many times I heard this statement: “I’ll enter my quilt at the Fair when I’m better”. I used to say I’m not ready to enter a quilt and be judged but when my class said that they didn’t accept to as I say not as I do, we all entered our quilts for the next Fair competition. I was critiqued but rather than being upset, I learned from their critique. I have entered my quilts almost every year since and yes, I have won several awards, including my first entry but every year my art is the best I can do at this time. Thank you, Lani

    Reply
  2. Violet Moore

    I’ve enjoyed traveling from California to fictional planets where humans become the aliens in Lani’s cozy sci-fi books. In real life, I avoid chenille like her otherworld characters must do to survive.

    Reply
  3. Victoria Shore

    As one of Lani’s quilting buddies , I can attest to her quirky and fun sense of humor and unique approach to the world. She and Ana are a fun read.

    Reply
  4. Thea

    Thank you for this delightful insight to my long time friend. Reading her books is just like listening to her (and Ann) telling me the story in person. Lani is a devoted writer and quilter with a special affinity for entertainment.

    Reply
  5. julie royce

    George, thank you for featuring Lani Longshore on your blog today. I’ve had the good fortune to be in Lani’s critique group for years, and yet, today I learned a couple of new things about her. Of course, one of the constants–and something that wasn’t new–was her sense of humor.

    Reply

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V. Z. Byram – Latvian-American Writer – MFA in Creative Writing – Goddard College

KIRKUS REVIEW: An authentic and tense portrait of everyday people dealing with war.

V. Z. Byram was born in a displaced persons camp in post World War II Germany of Latvian parents. They immigrated to the USA when she was three. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, has won numerous writing awards, and taught literature and writing as an adjunct professor. She is a past president of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and currently sits on the board of Gulf Coast Writers Association in Fort Myers, Florida.

WRITER’S DIGEST JUDGE’S COMMENTARY: This was a powerful and beautifully written epic novel with historical significance. After reading to the end, I had to sit for a little while to digest it all, wiping away the tears. This novel is a moving tale of struggle and loss in a terrifying and often seemingly hopeless situation. I love the heroine, Mija, who is a testimony to the strength and power of women. She inspires us all with her determination to help others as well as her own family, risking her own safety in the process. As a parent, I can’t imagine what it’s like to try and protect your children in a war-torn, occupied country with such callous, ruthless enemies, first the Russians then German forces. The author succeeded in pulling us completely into the story, as I was worried about the kids throughout. I also loved the horse, Big Z, who became a character in his own right. Some of the scenes are superbly written, for example when Laima gives birth – I was transported to that room in 1940s Latvia. The pacing was fast and tense and kept me turning the pages. I also loved the setting, it was very interesting to learn about Latvia – it encouraged me to do further research. I like the cover and the author has written one of the best one-liners I’ve read in a while: “with her husband’s name on a hit list, the fight got personal.”

What brought you to writing? In July 1990, I stepped off a plane in Riga, Latvia for my first visit to my home country. Latvia had been under communism since the end of WWII. My first impression was that I walked into a time warp. Almost everything was just as it was at the end of World War II. The rubble was still there. Nothing had been rebuilt. The same trolleys and trains ran. Store shelves were bare. The few restaurants in existence did not have a menu. You either ate the meal they offered that day, or you didn’t eat there. I stayed with relatives and learned what my life would have been like if I had grown up there. I am very grateful that I grew up in the USA.

I had no idea I would go on to write a novel about Latvia during World War II. I was a computer programmer then. But between the stories I heard growing up in the USA and what I saw in 1990, an idea was born that wouldn’t go away and led to my writing Song of Latvia. I also went back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing and am now a full-time writer.

In 1991, Latvia regained its freedom. I go back to visit every couple of years. Every time I go, Latvia looks more and more like any other European country. Everything has been rebuilt. Before WWII, British writer Graham Greene dubbed Riga the “Paris of the North”. Travel writers are calling it that again and with good reason.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I started writing historical fiction, which culminated in my debut novel. I also write poetry because sometimes I get an idea or thought that can only be expressed in a poem. I never thought about Memoir but like my novel, Memoir came to me. My younger daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a fierce three-year battle, she passed away in July 2019. About six months later, I was so filled with grief that I thought I would explode. In an effort to lessen the pain, I started writing. First came a prose poem about her death. Then I started writing stories about her life, about when she first told me, about my experiences helping to care for my grandchildren who had asked me questions like, “Is my mom going to die?” Then I started writing about my own life as an exiled Latvian. A new idea was born. My daughter Tara loved Latvia as much as I did. We took a number of trips there together. Our last trip was the summer of 2018, a family trip with Tara, my husband (her Dad), her husband and their two teenaged children. I am now writing a Memoir which holds the intertwined stories of Tara’s battle with cancer and my own life as an exiled Latvian.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? The main characters in Song of Latvia are based on the personalities of people in my family and many of the things that happen to them happened in real life. However, I didn’t want to tell the story of one family. I wanted to tell the story of the whole country, so all of the minor characters are based on research I did about what happened to other people. Although many events are based on things that really happened, the writing is my own version of events and my book is truly a novel.

Do you outline or are you a pantser? I am both. I start with a rough outline that changes as I write. I know the beginning and the end. I have some vague ideas about what will happen in the middle. However, in the writing, my characters lead me in directions I don’t expect. For instance, I didn’t expect that my two main characters in Song of Latvia, Aleks and Mija, would wind up having their own chapters. I started with Mija as the main protagonist. And then one day I wrote a chapter in Aleks’ point of view. He refused to have just one chapter. I went back and gave him a voice in all the appropriate places.

What kind of research do you do? For Song of Latvia, much of my research involved traveling to Latvia and visiting the places I wrote about, interviewing relatives and other people, and visiting archives in Riga to look up records. I also did historical war research online and read period books written by Latvians and others. I did the research as needed, relative to where I was in the writing. When I got to the end of the novel and realized Mija would have to go to a particular town, I took a trip to Latvia just to visit that town for a few days. I walked the streets and talked to various people who lived there.

Looking in the future, what’s in store for you? After I completed Song of Latvia, I started writing a post WWII spy thriller based on the personality of my father, titled The Reluctant Spy. It starts in Germany (where I was born), moves to Brazil, and finishes in the USA. I am still working on it while I also work on the Memoir. I’m not sure which one will be finished first, but I know they will both come in their own time.

Order book: https://www.amazon.com/V.-Z.-Byram/e/B081LFL3NC

How do readers contact you? https://vzbyram.com

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Irene Gendron

    I loved Song of Latvia from the beautiful cover to the last page. It was so well written it swept me along through the trials and heartbreaks faced. Looking forward to Vee’s next book.

    Reply
  2. Vee

    Thanks, Bob.

    Reply
  3. Conrad Person

    Great insight into the historical novel writing process. I can see how having friends and relatives who lived through those catastrophic times would enrich the story far beyond the documentary record.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks for your comments, Conrad.
      Vee

      Reply
  4. Cass V Collins

    Congratulations on the review. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you, Cass!

      Reply
  5. David Milley

    This interview’s a pleasure to read. Good insights into your writing process!

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you David.
      Vee

      Reply
  6. Neva Hodges

    I’m so happy for you for the good reviews you’ve received! They’re well deserved.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks for your comments, Neva.
      Vee

      Reply
  7. Thonie Hevron

    Great interview, VeeZee. So wonderful to hear your story although I’m so sorry the loss of your daughter is part of it. Seems a long time ago we met at the 2011 SF Writers Conference. Glad to see your success, friend!

    Reply
    • Vee

      Hi Thonie,
      Wow, that conference was 10 years ago. I remember it well and the nice dinner we had. Thanks so much for your support!
      Vee

      Reply
  8. Michael A. Black

    You are an inspiration to us all. The account of your life moved me to tears. Too often we forget the human suffering that is attached to war and its aftermath. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks very much, Michael.
      Vee

      Reply
  9. Violet Moore

    Great Writer’s Digest commentary for your intriguing historical fiction book.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you, Vi.
      Vee

      Reply
  10. Bob

    Great review for a fantastic writer!

    Reply

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