Ghostwriter

Jill Amadio, guest blogger

Ghostwriting2Many authors need a day job until our books earn enough royalties and renown to quit working for someone else. One day job that grew and grew into an almost full-blown career for me began with a ghostwriting stint. It also led to writing my own mystery series.

I first turned into several alternate personae when a magazine editor informed me that a reader was looking for a ghostwriter to churn out a business book.

“A whole book? Impossible,” I said. “Too many words.”

“Imagine each chapter as an article,” she suggested. After she told me the average payment I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve ghostwritten more than a dozen memoirs, autobiographies, and business books that required transforming myself into a U.S. ambassador, a Las Vegas croupier, a Texas oilman, a Las Vegas taxicab fleet owner, a motivational speaker, a triathlete, and sundry others. I also ghosted two true crimes. For two of the books I was promoted to co-author half-way though.

Eventually a friend referred Jonathan to me to ghostwrite a crime novel. It turned out during my initial visit to his Beverly Hills mansion that he had always wanted a book with his name on it to display “right here,” he said, patting an enormous Italian marble coffee table. His dilemma was that he had no idea how to write. Reminded me of the time I was at an airport shop in Indonesia and picked up President Sukarno’s biography, a heavy red leather hardcover akin to a family Bible only to find it full of blank pages (he was still living at the time).

Initially, Jonathan envisioned a family drama about a typical insurance scam of which his father had been a victim. A little tame, I said, and persuaded him we should add a couple of murders to spice up the story. He agreed and said the characters must include his parents, two brothers, six ex-wives, four mistresses, and three daughters. I told him, No, no, far too many. I would take three wives, two mistresses, and two daughters, all the while struggling to explain to him that in the book they’d be fictional and would not resemble the real people. He stopped complaining when I asked which of his family he’d like to be the killer.

Occasionally during the writing my client threw a spanner into the works such as calling from Belize or Paris and asking me to add even more murders to the mix now he’d got into the swing of things. Luckily, he was pleased with the various twists and turns, especially when I included thugs from a Bel Air branch of the Russian Mafia (honestly, it really exists) as part of the plot.  I gave the murderer my great-grandfather’s revered Scottish name for some inexplicable reason, honored Keats by sprinkling quotes throughout, and withheld adding Cornish cuss words although sorely tempted. Instead, I saved them for my mystery series that features a younger Miss Marple from Cornwall.

I enjoyed creating a fictional forensic accountant on someone else’s generous dime and planned to develop the book into a series. I had grown fond of the sleuth but Jonathan owns copyright so my brilliant idea died an early death.

An inveterate traveler on both business and pleasure, Jonathan was absent a lot. In fact, most of the time. He told me to basically just carry on, and he’d read the book after it was finished. As it turned out, he preferred me to read it aloud to him, which I did, leading to another unexpected part-time career in voice-over and narrating audiobooks.

Jonathan pronounced himself satisfied. But then he said his third daughter was going to be very upset that I’d left her out. He insisted on her inclusion. Fearing my final fee in jeopardy I had her join the Peace Corps in Chapter One and whisked her off to Somalia, never to be heard from again.

However, when it came time to querying agents Jonathan refused to spend longer than two weeks on the search and quickly self-published with an expensive hardcover POD press. For which I was grateful, nevertheless. Even though I had to watch him signing my book, my bank balance was healthy,

We soon had a book signing at Dutton’s. Jonathan was having a grand old time chatting to the two hundred or so friends and neighbors he’d invited to congratulate him. As his eyes kept darting to the door to see who was arriving I just knew he was hoping for a Hollywood producer, a director or an actor who’d slap an option offer on the table within the next three days. He’d begun to like this author thing. I decided to phone a film producer friend and invite him over to put Jonathan out of his misery.

“Hi, Brandon, how about coming along to a book signing right now? It’s not far from your place”.

“Who’s the author?”

“Oh, no one you know”.

“So why would I come?”

“Well, I wrote it”.

“Why didn’t you say it’s your book signing?”

“It isn’t”.

He snorted and hung up.

Since then I have continued to ghostwrite books, present how-to workshops, and assist other writers in entering the field. In fact, Kelly James-Enger wrote a book on ghostwriting and spent weeks interviewing me. Happily, she credits me for each quote spread over five pages, and thanked me in the Acknowledgements.

I like helping someone realize their dream of creating a family history so that their descendants can learn of their heritage. The joy on their faces when they hold that published book in their hands almost matches my own.

 

gunther (1)My biography of a World War II pilot, “Gunther Rall: Fighter Ace and NATO General” was a bestseller and is an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords. I have ghostwritten 14 memoirs and other books for clients including a true crime and a thriller.  jill valle book

I co-authored the Rudy Vallee memoir, “My Vagabond Lover”

 

 

 

Capture (1)About the Author

Like Tosca Trevant, the amateur sleuth in her crime series, DIGGING TOO DEEP and DIGGING UP THE DEAD, Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, UK. But she is nowhere near as grumpy or unwittingly hilarious as her main character, a younger Miss Marple. Jill wrote two true crimes, and ghostwrote a crime novel. She has written 14 biographies.  She was a reporter in Spain, Thailand, Colombia and the United States.  She wrote for Rolls-Royce Magazine, the London Sunday Dispatch, Conde Nast, the Los Angeles Times, the Westport News, and was a reporter and syndicated columnist for Gannett Newspapers in New York. For 12 years she wrote a column for Entrepreneur magazine. Jill writes a monthly column for the UK-based MysteryPeople ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.

Visit Jill Amadio at:  jillamadiomysteries.com

Mystery books by Jill Amadio:

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772   Digging Too Deep

DiggingDeadCover-375x600  Digging Up The Dead

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This article by Jill Amadia was posted by Jackie Houchin.

Who Was That Guy? by G.B. Pool

Dapper Dog“There are no small parts, only small actors.”

The truth in this Hollywood line is that any actor can make his part better by bringing out every ounce of character in the role. Thelma Ritter did it in spades in roles like she had in All About Eve and Rear Window. Her presence and personality did a lot for the part, but let’s also give some credit to the playwright. And in a book or short story, you have to give ALL the credit to the author… or the blame if he or she doesn’t make every character work, large or small.

But what about those minor characters?

 

  • They bring the background to life. Example: regulars in a cheap dive bring out the seedier side of life while diners at the Ritz show us how the other half lives.
  • They provide information about the surroundings and specifics. They can run in and tell us the bridge is out or mention that so-and-so’s nutty sister is still in the institution or just got out of the slammer.
  • They add mood and comic relief. Example: Joe Pesci in a Mel Gibson movie.
  • They can be places the hero might not be able to be. This works especially well in a first person narrative. The main character can’t be everywhere, so Old Clem can fill our hero in on what’s happening somewhere else.

Gas pump

  • They can advance the plot. Sometimes you need to dump information without making it sound like an information dump. When the old lady down the street can tell our hero every move of the mysterious guy who rents the small house on the corner, get out of the way and let her blab.
  • In mysteries, Secondary Characters are called suspects… or victims.

 

Flat vs. Round Characters (Amongst our Minor Players)

 

Flat characters can be described in one or two sentences. They fit their surroundings, sometimes the way they dress tells us if we are in the city or a rural environment. Since they have a minor part, often they don’t need a name because they aren’t on stage or the page very long.

 

Example: The butler, with the demeanor of an undertaker, escorted the police detective and the other officer to the business wing of the large house with solemnity befitting a funeral procession. It was slow and wordless, like a bizarre pantomime. The men were ushered inside the large workroom and the door firmly shut behind them.     From “A Perfect Alibi” in From Light TO DARK by G.B. Pool

 

The term “butler” alone says we aren’t in a flop house in the Bowery. If you are writing a short story you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words by dropping in a character who fits a particular situation.

 

Round characters are those who have something to say about the situation. They inform the reader and/or the main character of facts not readily available.

 

 

Example: She stood there, all five foot-one of her, petite, platinum hair, looking up at me through glasses thicker than the bottom of a shot glass. She must have been eighty-five. Why did I seem to attract folks lingering in God’s waiting room?

“You’re Johnny Casino, aren’t you?” she said, her faded blue eyes squinting at me, sizing me up. “You came to my house when you were looking for that dead girl, didn’t you? She wasn’t dead, was she?”

I managed a “no,” but that was all.

“I told you I heard their voices. All those dead girls. They’re still there, you know?”

I remembered her, all right. She looked like Ruth Gordon in that Clint Eastwood movie with the orangutan. Just another nutty old lady who sees things that aren’t there and hears things that were never said. She swore she could feel the vibes from scores of dead girls buried in her backyard.

“Have you talked to the sheriff?” I said, resuming my quest for the perfect cold brew.

“He thinks I’m crazy.” She tugged my sleeve. “But I’m not.”

“We found the missing girl,” I said over my shoulder. “She wasn’t dead. You don’t need to worry anymore.”

“These girls are dead. I can feel it. I hear them screaming, ‘Stop! Stop! You’re killing me, or am I already dead?’”

From “The Snuff That Dreams Are Made Of” in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 by G.B. Pool

 

The fact that this is an old lady is slowly revealed one word at a time until we get to the thick glasses part. She adds to her part by not letting the detective get a word in edge-wise. The old lady gives Johnny information that he needs to solve this case. And she has personality up the wazoo.

 Typewriter Vintage

Here’s a brief exercise to work those creative muscles of yours.

 

Minor Character WorksheetDescribe a lumberjack or deep sea fisherman who is a minor character in a story.

 

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

 

NOTE: Okay, this was a trick… If you wrote out more than a word or two about either the fisherman or the lumberjack, you were working too hard. The very fact both of these occupations come with a built-in look, all you had to do was mention that occupation. Most readers will assume you mean the guy with the yellow slicker and wading boots on a fishing boat or the big guy with the plaid shirt and an ax over his shoulder in the woods. You needn’t go much further than that unless there is something unique about the guy like maybe one is three-feet tall or one had a peg leg. Stock characters are just that. A mention of their occupation or places they frequent tells the reader all he or she needs to know. Save your word count for something important.

 

Without a handful of great characters, all you have is a travel guide. Readers want someone to care about and be willing to travel with, but in a short story you will have fewer people to go along for the ride. In your novel, you can have a few more of these folks to carry your story along.

But remember this, if the character has no purpose, if he isn’t imparting valuable information or if she isn’t describing the surroundings, eliminate them. You can also combine several of your walk-ons into one character so you don’t have too many folks populating your story.

 

PeopleAlso, if you have too many minor characters, they will start to clutter up your story. Your reader won’t know if he is supposed to remember this character or if the person is just an information-dropping entity.

 

If you don’t give the minor character a name, it will be assumed they aren’t a major player. That might help. But most of all make sure they have a reason for being there. Remember, there are no small parts…

 

 

 

 

BACKPACKING WITH A PITCHER

By Heather Ames, guest blogger

lemonade unbornWhoever coined the phrase “making lemonade out of lemons” must have had an acerbic wit. As a champion receiver of citrus, I’ve always tried to look at each situation as a challenge instead of a mountain of acidity, despite the after-taste.

51NyNyt9s8L._UY250_My most recent pitcher of lemonade appeared last year, when I finished Book 2 of the “Indelible” mystery/suspense series and contacted the publisher of Book 1 to find out how much of the completed manuscript they wanted to see. After two attempts, I was told to send “whatever you want.” I sent a partial and waited, then waited some more. Much more. Months.

I then emailed the editor-in-chief, who said she had just returned from an extended hiatus. She told me to send the entire manuscript immediately, which I did. The contract came. I signed it. The CEO signed it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then the momentum, which had built to its normal level, ground to a halt as I waited for my editor to be assigned. And waited.

A sense of foreboding crept over me. Bushels of lemons rolled onto the horizon and waited, poised to roll into my lap. I tried to ignore them. After all, progress had slowed one time before. They were probably just running behind due to the EIC’s absence.

But then it came…an email from the publisher, returning my rights due to their poor quarterly returns for the second quarter in a row. I wasn’t their only author to receive that email, the EIC assured me. She said the staff was upset about the situation. I found little comfort in that knowledge.

There had been other signs that the publisher, despite its growth and a propensity to purchase smaller competitors, was itself in trouble. One huge misstep resulted in all titles from one of those buy-outs, including one of my own e-books, suddenly disappearing from Amazon. Apparently, when the old site was pinged without success, Amazon believed the publisher had closed, not that the titles were in the process of being moved to their new home. A year later, despite an email from the publisher that explained all the titles would be reloaded “in a lengthy process,” that still hasn’t happened. Perhaps they are busy making lemonade, too.

A Swift Brand Of justiceI couldn’t afford to sit around waiting for my two year contract on “Indelible” Book 1 to expire before offering both books in the series to another publisher. Readers had been asking when Book 2 would be available. Since it had already taken me close to 3 years to get Book 2 out of the starting blocks (including the 9 months wasted over that abortive contract,) I decided there was only one way out of my dilemma, and that was to self-publish “Indelible” Book 2, “A Swift Brand of Justice.”

Self-publishing has become more accepted during the last few years. Many popular authors have departed their small publishers, taken back their rights and chosen that route. Financially, it makes more sense for them. They already have a fan base, and their back-listed books have all been edited and formatted. All they need are new covers. They no longer have to share their profits with the small publishers, who find themselves, as a result of this exodus, left with newer and less well-known authors. Their piece of the pie has become much smaller, and their bottom line has suffered as a result. Many of them have folded and others are in financial trouble.

For those of us who find our books orphaned (and there are a growing number of us,) “DIY” has morphed into an acceptable solution. I know of several other writers who have had to move their series from the original publisher. I will be another. After I complete Book 3’s manuscript, I hope to find another home for my series. If I don’t, then I know I can continue self-publishing and growing my brand, instead of waiting months, even years for a contract.

Night ShadowsI just self-published a second book. This one is the stand-alone suspense, “Night Shadows,” I was working on when my rights were returned for “A Swift Brand of Justice.” In order to retain and grow my readership, I need to offer new material on a regular basis. That won’t happen if I’m marking time while I wait for responses to queries, partials and even full manuscripts, or unexpectedly have my rights returned again.

I would much prefer the support and expertise of a new publisher. But if that doesn’t happen, and I need to self-publish again, I know I can do it. I still need to build my support list. Finding reasonably-priced editors is one challenge I haven’t yet mastered. But I’m getting better at designing my own covers, and the learning curve isn’t as steep or as angled as it was before those lemons rolled into my lap.

I’m keeping the pitcher handy as I write the first draft of “Swift Retribution,” Book 3 of the “Indelible” series, but I’m not resigning myself to using it yet. Hope springs eternal, but this time it’s couched. The publishing industry as a whole is in a state of flux, and these days, writers need to be ready for anything. Even a fresh bushel of lemons.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

my big picHeather Ames knew she was a writer from the time she won first prize in a high school novel contest. An unconventional upbringing gave her opportunities to travel extensively, leading to nomadic ways and an insatiable desire to see the world. She has made her home in 5 countries and 7 states, learning a couple of languages along the way. She is currently pitching her tents in Portland, Oregon, and after a long career in healthcare, made her dream of writing full-time come true.

Heather is a current board member of the Harriet Vane Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Toastmasters International. She moderates an online critique group and a local book club.

Visit her website at www.heatherames.com 

 

 

Posted for Heather Ames by Jackie Houchin

Do Writers Write Alone? by Linda O. Johnston

typewriter

Do writers write alone? 

The answer is yes… and no.

Just look at The Writers in Residence.  This group is composed of several women who love to write, and do write extensively.  Our writing takes place alone, since actual writing is generally a solitary pursuit.

But then there is this group.  As many of us as possible get together for lunch monthly as well as blogging here on a schedule, and keeping in touch via email about what’s going on in our writing.

So though we generally write alone, being in communication with each other is also important to us.  And The Writers in Residence is far from being the only writing organization.

books-on-shelfIn fact, when I meet someone who’s a new writer, or who wants to write, and would like my advice on how to proceed, my first response is generally to tell them to join a writing organization.  A general writing organization is fine, but if they happen to write in a genre, then that organization should focus on whatever genre it is.

Why?  Writers enjoy helping other writers.  We encourage others to write and give advice on how to write and how to sell and promote what we’ve written.  Newbies can learn a lot from organizations and talks that are given there and meeting new people with similar interests and… well, a lot of ways.

So me?  In addition to The Writers in Residence, I belong to the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, including their Los Angeles chapters.  That’s because I write mysteries.  I additionally belong to the Romance Writers of America and its Los Angeles, Orange County and Santa Clarita chapters–because I also write romances, mostly romantic suspense.  Then there is the International Thriller Writers.  Yes, I’m considering writing a thriller.  There’s also the Dog Writers of America.  And as any of you who are reading this and are aware of my writing know, nearly everything I write these days has dogs in it!

I also attend quite a few writing conferences.  This year, that will include Malice Domestic, which is all about cozy mysteries, as well as the Romance Writers of America National Conference.

notebookI enjoy interacting with other writers, learning from them and informing them of anything I know that might be helpful to them.   Plus, I love hearing their writing information and suggestions.  I know I’m not alone in that.  So if any of you reading this are writers who want to learn more–and what writer doesn’t want to learn more about our craft and related topics–then join a writers organization or a writers group, or more than one!

AnSecond Chance Soldierd by the way, I’m delighted to say that my first book to be published this year, Second Chance Soldier, is currently available.  It’s the first in my new K-9 Ranch Rescue miniseries for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and it’s all about dog training, mystery solving and, yes, romance!

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries for Midnight Ink. She has also written the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink as well as the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spin-off from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  She additionally currently writes the K-9 Ranch Rescue miniseries for Harlequin Romantic Suspense about a ranch where dogs are trained, as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  And yes, they all involve dogs. Her most recent release is her 47th published novel, with more to come…soon.

 

YAK SHAVING REVISITED…. by Rosemary Lord

Candy                    Well, it all started because of the chocolate. You know – all that extra chocolate that abounds over the holidays. You can’t leave it sitting there. It has to be eaten. It would be rude not to.

But then, in the cruel light of day, you realize that your clothes really, really shrunk in the wash – especially around the middle…  Then, it was that late-night infomercial for exercise equipment that beckoned. Just what I need, I told myself. And it was on sale.

Problem was, that when stretched out to start my work-out, the equipment was over 8 feet long. This is where the Yak Shaving kicked in again. (For those who missed it, I wrote about ‘Yak Shaving 101’ in the April 2017 Blog on this site. It’s the system of the many unintentional, side-tracking steps one goes through to achieve one’s original goal.)

In order to make room for this work-out equipment, so I could use it in the living-room – several things needed to be removed. Best place for those boxes of files, DVDs and things left there ‘to deal with later,’ was in my office cupboard. Yak Shaving fully in gear, I had to clear out the office cupboard first.

Boxes

Over the next two days, I got rid of six large bags of trash, shredded two large bags of financial papers and gave a car-load of things to the local Cancer Discovery Thrift Shop.

I really didn’t need those four reams of assorted colored copy paper, six unopened boxes of Sharpies, when one would suffice – stacks of used folders with names scribbled all over them, and plastic bags. What was I saving Barnes and Noble plastic bags for?

A whole shelf was filled with pay-slips from acting jobs and residuals going back too many years to own up to. I pulled out a few important ones, just as reminders of what I had once done. The rest got shredded.

But the other side of this challenge reaped all sorts of rewards. Apart from loads of empty space, I even found a $100-bill in an old note-book!

I went through boxes of my old photos from shows and films I had worked on, before I quit acting to focus on my writing-career. I had forgotten many of the great adventures I had in my life – some reckless moments that had me wincing, as I came across plane, train and boat tickets. Did I really go there alone at such a young age? Crazy! A lot of “what was I thinking?” moments, too.

 

As Guardian in Dr. Who

But I sure met a lot of interesting people in my travels. And, of course, the movie premieres I attended, visits to the Cannes Film Festival when the real movie stars and legendary directors, producers, composers were still around. I found notes from a flying lesson. (What? Where? Why?) And the myriad of odd jobs I have done since I left school so early to pursue my dreams. (Photo from Rosie’s performance in Dr. Who)

I also came across a couple of Trader Joe’s chocolate bars – too old to eat, alas. How did they get in there? Probably hidden from my late-husband, Rick, who would devour chocolate if he saw it – and either he was on a diet and should not eat it, or more likely because I wanted to eat it and I knew the chocolate bars would not remain if Rick came across them. (It’s an old, married thing – for those singletons out there.)

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240

I found some very special mementos from Rick, incidentally. Notes we had written each other, more birthday, Christmas and Valentines cards. Re-reading those simultaneously brought a big grin to my face, warmth to my heart – and a lump in my throat. I remind myself constantly how lucky I was to have loved and been loved by my husband.

In so many adventures along the way, I learned new skills: like turtle-catching, for one. The horse-back riding lessons were not quite so successful. But I can dance a mean Charleston, and cook up a tasty meal from left-overs with a recipe Cary Grant told me he got from Doris Day. I can still cut a basic sewing pattern from my days in Fashion Design, (carefully) handle snakes, write a good Press Release and can tell you lots about the early history of Hollywood. Until this enforced de-cluttering, I had forgotten the many roads I traveled.

I started making notes, as I uncovered more treasures: another splendid Yak-Shaving side-step. But the memories I noted, the dates, the forgotten names recovered, were all heading in one direction. More writing projects.

 

Yak

This Yak Shaving has its good points. I am delighted to open my office cupboard door to see so much space. Those boxes that had to be moved into said cupboard in order to make space to use the new exercise machine? Well, once I focused on the de-cluttering and asked those required questions: “Do I love this object, do I need this, does it bring me joy?” The answer was “no” all round. So I got rid of those boxes, too.

Shelves

And as I now have the space to do all the push-ups, pull-ups, leg and stomach exercises I want – I can contemplate the new stories, articles and books I intend to write as I work out.

As I look through those recovered memories, would I do things differently, given the chance? Sometimes, yes. But mostly ‘no.’ I wouldn’t be where am I am now and I like where I am. Yak-shaving complete – and surprisingly successful.

If you dig back through your own past – would you do things differently? And if so, what? Hmmm, Food for thought – as long as it’s not chocolate.

 

 

Rosemary Lord

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born ROSEMARY LORD has lived in Hollywood for over 30 years. As an actress, her credits include Monty Python, Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Days of Our Lives, L.A. Heat and more. She did voice-work on Titanic, Star Trek, Shakespeare In Love, The Holiday and Pirates of the Caribbean amongst others.

Also a former journalist, she wrote about Hollywood’s Golden Age, interviewing such luminaries as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston. She was a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures.

Rosemary lectures on Hollywood history and is the President of the Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She is a member of MWA and Sisters-in-Crime.

She is currently writing a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920’s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

 

DEDICATION by Miko Johnston

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, including recently released Book III – The Great War .  Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

As I begin the fourth book in my Petal In The Wind series, the only thing I know for sure is the novel will be dedicated to my father, George.

He was born in a province of Germany in July 1919. Do the math – his mother gave birth to him about nine months after Armistice Day. Not a unique event in Germany, or any nation involved in World War I. Add eighteen years to that and you get a new generation of men ready to fight in 1937. Within a year German expansion had begun with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. World War II loomed. Being Jewish set my father on a very different path.

*      *      *

When you face something monumental, seemingly impossible to get through, you can do one of three things. You can retreat. You can plow through no matter the obstacles or odds. Or you can detour around it. When it came to difficult conversations, my father picked number three. Always.

 

He talked to people, including my brother and me, in a kind of code. When he couldn’t be direct or graphic about something, he’d use humor or quote American isms to elucidate. He’d occasionally fall back on a childhood joke or expression. We learned, over time, that he was what is called a Holocaust survivor, an unfortunate victim-label. To ensure we understood what happened, he spoke to us about that time in his life, but never about the worst of it in highly descriptive words. He kept that burden to himself.

 

My education on the subject began simply enough with a question that was dealt with in an equally simplified manner. When I asked at age three about the numbers tattooed on my father’s arm, he told me it was his phone number.  As a kindergartener, I asked him about an orange book, missing its dust jacket, shelved in our bookcase. It fascinated me with its odd-looking letters dancing along the spine – I thought it was Chinese. My father told me I could read the book when I was old enough to read the title.

 

Several years later I looked at the orange hardcover’s spine and suddenly the fancy font letters had transformed into English words. I brought the book to my father and said, “It’s called, The Tiger Beneath the Skin”. I began to read it that night.

 

Today I would describe the book as a selection of tales about Jewish experiences during Nazi occupation with a hint of paranormal, like a cross between an anthology of parables and episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. I recently saw a copy on Amazon, wearing a dust jacket, and learned for the first time that the book has a subtitle: “Stories and Parables about the Years of Death.” At the time I read it, some of the stories sent chills up my spine and some intrigued me. I’m sure many went over my head, which is why I can’t remember them all, but a few were unforgettable. The stories all had a peculiarly uplifting message, whether of the Nazi officer driven insane by his murder of a blind Rabbi, or the man who brought a sense of calmness and dignity to a trainload of Jews walking into the gas chamber.  Something of a selective chronical of events, the book gave me an inkling of what had happened. It also began my quest for knowledge about that period of history, and my father’s life.

 

My curiosity ripened by the time I’d reached my teens. I questioned my father about everything, and he answered my questions in his inimitable style. He had a knack for getting the information across in a way that wouldn’t lead to nightmares. Part of it was his own attitude. Despite everything he went through, he still maintained a positive look on life and could find humor in the darkest situations. He once hosted a reunion with fellow Auschwitz survivors. I heard the three of them laughing at one story. When the men left I asked my father what was so funny. He explained that one man, who’d been charged with filling “holes dug in the ground” with rocks, was so weak that he fell into the hole with the rock. Of course, he never said why the holes were dug, or what they contained.

 

I often gravitated to people who had survivor parents, thinking we’d have something in common, but we often didn’t. My friends’ parents always seemed more damaged than my father. They held onto that terror and sense of danger all their lives and passed that fear onto their children. My father’s biggest mishegas (craziness) was stockpiling non-perishable food in the house. That my father survived physically was remarkable, but that he survived mentally was absolutely miraculous.

 

*          *          *

 

I went to Berlin in September 2003 to visit the villa known as the Wannsee-Conference House, headquarters of the infamous SS during the Nazi era. It’s where my father had been kept in slave labor until the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, when fifteen Nazi officials drew up a doctrine known as the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.  The answer was total annihilation; all remaining Jews were to be sent to concentration camps, including my father. In 1992, the building became a memorial and educational site. My father had worked with the museum’s curator and Berlin’s mayor to create a permanent exhibit dedicated to slave labor during the Nazi era; his picture still hangs on the wall. Unfortunately, he never got to see it. He passed away six weeks before the exhibit opened in January 2003, so my husband and I went in his place.

 

We both found the museum very moving, especially the Final Solution exhibit, but I didn’t fully sense my father’s presence there due to his verbal detours. Oddly, it took a stop at a local hotel to bring me to tears. I stood in front of the building, staring at a large empty banquet room with a wooden floor and picture windows overlooking Lake Wannsee. One night, my ‘slave’ father had snuck out of the villa and went to this hotel when they held a dance. The SS guards in attendance, who knew who he was, sat and laughed as he danced with several clueless fräuleine. Standing there, I could vividly picture the story my father had told me forty years earlier, and wept.

 

The fourth book in my saga moves into the 1930s. I can’t help but think of my father and what he endured. He may be gone, but his story lives on and will continue to do so, thanks to what I’ve written and will continue to write. That is why the book will be dedicated to him.

 

Should Short Stories Include Big Character Changes?

headshotJacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

 

Pet Sychic Valentine FlattenedI was writing a Pet Psychic short story for St. Valentine’s Day. It seemed like the perfect time to have Bowers propose to Frankie, but I wondered if that would be fair to readers of the series. On one hand, it would encourage people to keep up with the shorts. On the other hand, not everyone enjoys shorter fiction, so they might be confused when they picked up the next novel.

I’d run into this problem before with a Harlow Brothers short mystery, also involving a romantic situation.

In both cases, I took out the big changes and will use them in future novels. Did I do right? Should I have gone with what felt natural?  In the Pet Psychic instance, I’ve thought of ways to incorporate the proposal in a more creative environment, so maybe my concerns about including a marriage proposal in a St. Valentine’s story came from my creative muse.

So, I am curious. Do you think the short stories in between novels should include major changes to the character’s life? Or should those only appear in the novels?