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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Lois Winston – From Cozy to Caper

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name.

Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

When I first began writing years ago, I wrote romance and romantic suspense, but when the chick lit craze hit the publishing world, my agent suggested I try writing one. That’s when I discovered I had a knack for writing humor. Who knew? I flub every joke I’ve ever tried to tell!

The first book I ever sold straddled a line between women’s fiction and chick lit. Talk Gertie to Me was a humorous fish-out-of-water story about a mother and daughter. The second book I sold was Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the first book I ever wrote. But with only a few exceptions, my life since late 2009 has been consumed by Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. That’s when I signed a contract for the first three books in the series, which debuted in 2011.

One of those exceptions came about as a result of an invitation from Amazon. In 2015 they embarked on a new publishing venture. Kindle Worlds was a foray into fan fiction where anyone could write novellas that tied into handpicked existing series. To get the project up and running, Amazon invited additional authors, many recommended by the series authors, to create the first novellas.

There were few rules we had to follow in creating these companion novellas. Authors could use as little or as much of the existing series world as they wanted. We could even change the tone of the original books in the series.

I was asked to write a novella based on author CJ Lyons’ Shadow Ops Series. CJ writes what she calls “Thrillers with Heart.” Since writing the first of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I’ve turned my back on the dark romantic suspense of my early books to concentrate on humorous tales. I figure there’s already too much in this world keeping us up at night. I want to give my readers an escape from the real world.

Since I had the freedom to create a novella in a different tone from the Shadow Ops books, I reimagined CJ’s domestic thriller series as a humorous caper. If you’re not familiar with capers, think Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Capers are a mashup of suspense or romantic suspense and humor. They’re often similar to amateur sleuth or cozy mysteries but without the restrictions regarding language, violence, or sex.

The Kindle Worlds program disbanded a few years later. The novella authors were allowed to republish their work as long as they received permission from the series author and all references to the original series were removed or changed.

I’m not the fastest writer, and Anastasia tends to keep me busy. I finally got around to updating my novella a few months ago after the release of A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth and latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. However, I held off publishing the novella so it wouldn’t compete with the release of that book.

I changed the title of the novella from Mom Squad, expanding and rebranding it as Moms in Black, a Mom Squad Caper. If the novella does well, I plan to write two more Mom Squad Caper novellas for a 3-novella series, but right now, I’m hard at work on the tenth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery.

Moms in Black – A Mom Squad Caper

When Cassandra Davenport applies for a job at www.savingtheworld.us, she expects to find a ‘green’ charity. Instead, she becomes the newest member of a covert organization run by ex-government officials. Dubbed the Mom Squad, the organization is the brainchild of three former college roommates—attorney general Anthony Granville, ex-FBI agent Gavin Demarco, and tech billionaire Liam Hatch—all of whom have lost loved ones at the hands of terrorists. Financed by Hatch, they work in the shadows and without the constraints of congressional oversight, reporting directly to Granville.

Demarco heads up one of the six groups that comprise the new operation. He hires Cassandra as the newest member of his New Jersey based team. In the course of monitoring possible terrorist threats, the Mom Squad discovers a link to Cassandra’s ex-husband. Before she’s fully trained, Cassandra is thrust into a world where her ex may be involved with radicalized terrorists bent on killing as many Americans as possible.

And while they’re saving the world from an imminent attack, what in the world will Cassandra do about all that sexual tension simmering between her and her new boss?

Buy Links (pre-order now; available 2/8/21)
Kindle https://amzn.to/2VZHTOcKobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/moms-in-black
Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/moms-in-black-lois-winston/1138442866?ean=2940162938507
Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/moms-in-black/id1544138743
Paperback https://amzn.to/36Sgpjq

Contact Lois:

Website: www.loiswinston.com
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

15 Comments

  1. Donnell

    I have enjoyed every one of Lois’s books. Expect the unexpected when you read one. If you read something zany in the headlines, chances are you’re going to find something similar woven into Lois’s plots. Talented author!

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Thanks, Donnell! You know me so well!

      Reply
  2. Thonie Hevron

    This Mom Squad sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m pre-ordering it right now!

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Thanks, Thonie! Hope you enjoy it.

      Reply
  3. Christiana Shields

    How are you marketing your Mom Squad novels? Are they considered mysteries, chicklit, cozies, etc? Is “caper” a term that can be used to identify a type of mystery? I ask because my novel doesn’t seem to fit any of the conventional definitions, and caper would be the closest!

    Reply
    • DONNARAE MENARD

      I write novella’s for stress relief. I pass copies out to my neighbors and some ask when the next installment is coming out. If you ever decide to do a blog on “Let have coffee a pub-novella.2gether. I’ll take my invitation straight with a cheese danish on the side.

      Reply
      • Lois Winston

        I’ll definitely keep that in mind, Donnarae!

        Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Hi Christina–
      Caper was a term I first came across when I started reading the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, which were definitely outside the box of what you’d think of as amateur sleuth or cozy mysteries. They broke several of the standard conventions of those genres. As far as an “official” category, Amazon lists it as Women’s Adventure Fiction and Suspense Action Fiction, and I use Caper as one of my keywords.

      Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Thanks, Patricia! It was fun to write.

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    I think you’re really on to something unique, Lois. Using humor in a thriller is a great idea. I hope the Mom’s Squad has a great run. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Thanks, Michael! I hope the writing gods agree with you! 😉

      Reply
  5. Caridad Pineiro

    Love your origin story, Lois. You’ve really managed to re-invent yourself in so many ways and with such success. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Thanks so much, Caridad! It was fun to do something a little different.

      Reply
  6. Lois Winston

    Thanks so much for featuring me and my new novella today, George!

    Reply

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KIRKUS REVIEWS

A perfect balance of mystery, romance, and history.

The Kirkus Reviews arrived earlier this week along with a pleasant surprise, The Mona Lisa Sisters is shown on Page 170. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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