Good morning. I am Albert vande Steeg, an immigrant from the Netherlands. My careers include ranch hand, police officer (detective) contractor, and a builder of missionary buildings in fourteen foreign nations; Europe, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.
Cops have many stories that relate humor, intrigue, serious crime, and danger. Most of these stories are told when cops get together and they “one-up” each other. Others are told at family gatherings. When the stories are good and told well, someone will say, “you should write a book.” That is what my former partner said, and six months later, The Black Band had its first draft.
Yes, it was a struggle to get published. Having no experience and no writers club or conferences to guide, I found the Writer’s Market with all the publishers and agents listed. Reading this taught me how to persevere. Six months later, the contract was offered, and nine months later, The Black Band was published by Oak Tree Press.
The Black Band has been rewritten and titled “The Canopy.” Many of the stories found in the book originated at the cop bar, The Canopy. That is where stories were told and retold over mugs of beer and giant “Texas” cheeseburgers.
Writing about places is easier if one is familiar with the setting, so the descriptions are natural and real. Maps are used to correct street names and create a community the reader will identify as genuine.
Finding names for characters posed a real difficulty. Remembering created names of people not known brought a memory fog to writing. The solution was to name all the good and liked characters the first name of a friend or person that is admired and the last name of another such person. The bad guys then became people who are not liked or admired, again mixing first and last names. That is easy to do when doing police work.
For instance, there was a particular thief who stole calves from farmers. Knowing that many farmwives use the cash they receive from selling calves for their grocery fund, I was offended because my early years were spent in hunger during WWII. His name and that of a Sergeant who stole a pistol from the evidence locker became the name of the calf thief.
Speaking of hunger reminds me of that time enduring the pangs of hunger and the fear of living under the Nazi occupation, a story told each year to the fifth graders at our local elementary school. Having heard the war and immigration story, these students and their teachers suggested that it would be a good read if written.
That was the birth moment for writing The Dutch Winter. I knew how it started and how it would end; the plot and stories would flow as writing began for a historical novel. It had to be a novel in order to include the many stories told by parents, uncles, and aunts and historical accuracy for locations and events. The research was done by touring the sites in Holland and subscribing to a group that publishes Dutch war events, and I interviewed people who lived during that time.
Since there is a retirement home with many Dutch residents nearby, it is easy to find people in their nineties who would tell their stories over a nice lunch at their favorite restaurant. There I found a spry ninety-three-year-old lady who carried messages for the underground resistance as a girl of sixteen. She was a lovely lady with great humor who cried when telling of the horrors she experienced.
The Dutch Winter is not limited to one hero or heroine. The Dutch were patriotic and brave in their zeal to resist Germany and protected the lives of the underground fighters and Jews from capture and extermination in concentration camps.
Another main character is a Dutch patriot that returned to Holland from Minnesota to fight the Nazis. He is paired with the girl who delivered messages, and they fight side by side, and, as every story needs some romance, they marry.
That required that I know where he came from and be familiar with his hometown. I chose a small country town where a friend was born and raised. Along with a map and internet search of the town, Pease, Minnesota became real.
To ensure that the cities, streets, and places in Holland were spelled correctly and placed geographically, I secured maps of these places to verify accuracy.
All my writings bring the characters to life with their beliefs and practices. During WWII, it took faith in God and strength of character to survive hunger and fear. Thirty thousand Dutch died of starvation during the winter of 1944-45. The majority were grandfathers who gave what little they had to their children and grandchildren and then searched for food and died on the streets, too weak to continue.
That patriotism and spiritual strength is evident in The Dutch Winter.
The Dutch Winter and The Canopy are available to order at any bookstore or Amazon.
My website is Albertvandesteeg.com and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com
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
Pestilence – In a changing world,
Impacted by global warming, a strange new fungus grows in the damp, humid climate. People have discovered its mind-altering effects – and everyone’s using. Dr. David Leeman has discovered a medicinal use for this compound – a miracle cure, to end antibiotic resistance and treat incurable disease.
Terry is an early beneficiary of the wonder-drug. She’s taking part in clinical trials, but her partner, Alex, is furious. He’s bitterly opposed to the pharmaceutical industry and won’t support her. Little Jessica is developing a drug habit, using the new legal high – then she develops a skin problem.
Dr. Leeman realizes, too late, that his wonder-drug has created a pathway for a new pandemic – a fungal disease that is causing mass deaths across the globe.
As civilization collapses, the three come together, forming a healing commune to boost their immune systems and fight the pathogen. But will they find a cure?
I’ve always enjoyed apocalyptic thrillers, so perhaps it was natural that this would be the theme of my first novel.
‘Pestilence’ published in January 2021, is a pandemic story about a deadly fungus that brings about the end of the world. The idea came to me when I was 16 years old. I was a keen horror fan, inspired by James Herbert. But the story got shelved and wasn’t published for another 30 years, by which time it had evolved into a thriller, substantially changed and improved.
It was pure coincidence that the year I spent pitching the book to agents was the year a real pandemic happened! I’m hoping people will think this makes the book more topical and enhances its appeal!
In the day job, I’m a freelance writer, covering health, travel, and lifestyle topics for a wide range of magazines. I also have non-fiction books on WWII, travel, and freelance writing.
How I Became a Writer – I’d always wanted to be a professional writer, but I had to get a proper job while I lived with my parents and ended up trying to build a career in marketing. The opportunity to become a writer came when I was 36 years old and took voluntary redundancy. With support from my husband, I decided to try my luck at freelance writing, and I’m still doing it 11 years later, so I must have done something right. I write every day from the sunniest room in the house – it’s bright and cozy when the sun’s out. I work from 8 am to 5 pm, taking a break for lunch. I also go for a walk in the afternoons.
My Current Work in Progress – Today I’m writing an article about a cold war nuclear bunker for a general interest magazine. The British government’s preparations for nuclear war in the 1950s were startling, and it came as quite a shock when I first found out how close we’d come to possible nuclear annihilation. They had the leaflets printed for circulation to the public, telling people how to survive nuclear fallout, but they were never distributed because the immediate threat of nuclear war never came.
My Favourite Character in the Novel – In my fiction, the end of the world is caused by a fungal pathogen, not nuclear war! I enjoyed writing the bad guy scenes the most. My bad guy, Alex, is a complicated character with a passion for animal welfare but a tendency to lash out and become violent with people. He’s spent a lot of time in jail, and in the book, he ends up in situations that challenge his character, exposing both the good and the bad. I’d be interested to hear from readers, whether they empathize with him or think he’s a nasty piece of work.
My Favourite Writers – Since becoming a professional writer, I’ve tried to read more widely. I still like James Herbert, but I also like Peter James, Paula Hawkins, and I’m particularly fond of autobiographies and memoirs. My latest read is Without Conscience, a non-fiction book about psychopaths!
Advice for New Writers – My best advice for new writers is to persevere. Even if you take a break, you can always come back to writing when the time is right for you. I suspect I didn’t have what it takes to be a professional writer when I was 16, but I do now.
Also, if you’re struggling with a particular project (remember that book?), it can help to take a long break from your work, because then when you look at it afresh, you can see more clearly which parts are good and which parts need to be improved.
When I drafted Pestilence, I was a pantser. I had a list of ideas but didn’t plot the story well. If I write another novel, I will plan it carefully to save time and energy. Then there will be fewer edits required along the way!
Amazon Author page Author.to/SusieKearley
My blog www.susiekearley.blogspot.com
“Be a Creator, not a Witness” Walter Mosely
I first read Walter Mosely’s debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, sometime around 1994. I was hooked, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I read it in a matter of days and enjoyed it. I can’t tell you much more other than I took a liking to Easy Rawlins. I read a few more of the Rawlins’ stories and moved on to other authors.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid lockdown. I put out the dollars for MasterClass (https://www.masterclass.com). The selling point was Joyce Carol Oates. I once feared her for the horror she conveyed in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I’ve since come to admire her and her work. I subscribed to the program and found it enlightening. Recently Walter Mosley was added to the lessons. When I saw his name, I didn’t recall who he was, and I wondered why he sounded vaguely familiar. Still, or maybe because he seemed familiar, I decided to watch his talks. Within minutes of watching his talks, I knew he was talking directly to me. When Mosley started discussing character development for Devil in a Blue Dress, I remembered the book. I also remembered that the woman was the catalyst, not the protagonist.
Mosley read the first paragraph, and I was hooked again. As soon as the break came in the talk, I tried to find a print copy. Not much luck, so I braved the outside world and drove to Half Price Books. None in stock, but they could order copies from Texas. I ordered two, one for me and one for my oldest daughter, a voracious reader. The books arrived a week later. I read the first line, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.” Seeing it in print was even more vital than when Walter Mosley read it to me. I finished the book in two sittings.
I was amazed at the power in Mosley’s words. I found myself enthralled, stopping, and rereading paragraph after paragraph. I have to stop doing that if I ever want to finish! The pages flew by at an astonishing pace.
Walter Mosley’s novel and his Master Class lectures are similar lessons on life—the world’s reality.
Novel and lecture intertwined, Mosley tells the reader and the audience a story of life. He brings out the horrors of genocide, racism, child abuse, incest, and war with his poignant vignettes—each riveting and evocative.
In a few short paragraphs, Mosley conveys the monstrous cruelty of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to life.
Walter Mosley reinforces the importance of conflict and growth as Easy Rawlins overcomes one obstacle after another. During my reading, I became Easy Rawlins; his thoughts were my thoughts. I felt the emotions, the fear, the joy. This author managed to engage me at every level.
Walter Mosley is a Master.