Catching Up

It’s been a busy few weeks…so busy I haven’t blogged. But it’s been productive busy-ness, both in my personal life and on the writing front.

The last weekend of March was the University of Central Florida Book Festival in Orlando. It was my first trip to Florida, and it did not disappoint. I learned that UCF is the second-largest university in the nation, in terms of student enrollment. (Who knew?) I learned that, away from touristy areas, central Florida is beautiful and the people are delightful. (Special thanks to Anita Gonzalez for showing me around some off-the-beaten-path spots.)

My panel on Saturday was alongside Bob Graham, former two-term governor of Florida and three-term U.S. senator. He and his wife Adele are two of the most thoughtful, down-to-earth people I have ever met. We chatted about our families, our books (he has written a terrific thriller called “Keys to the Kingdom,” which is, as he says, largely non-fiction, but written in the guise of a novel), our respective home states, education, and politics. Sen. Graham never refused to stop and talk to anyone who wanted to visit with him. I can understand why he is still revered in Florida, even in his retirement from public life. (He even drove me from the hotel to the festival site in his own car…what a nice guy!)

This past Saturday was the Oklahoma Book Awards, for which COLD GLORY was a fiction finalist. Didn’t win, but was honored to be there. It is an outstanding event, presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Book, a leading affiliate of the Library of Congress. I met some wonderful book people, and enjoyed simply being there. Congratulations to fiction winner Constance Squires on her win.

This weekend is the Society of Professional Journalists Oklahoma chapter awards, and I have been told I will be receiving at least one award for my non-fiction work with Slice Magazine. I’m delighted that my magazine feature stories are continuing to gain recognition from real journalists.

Next month I’ll be road-tripping to Kansas for the last bit of location research for the third book in the Journey/Tolman series. Part of the historical basis for that book involves the “Bleeding Kansas” era just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. It’s fascinating, going to the heart of what the war was about, and I’m looking forward to walking the ground and getting the lay of the land. Two tiny tantalizing tidbits about that story: John Brown and John Wilkes Booth. Yes, there is a connection between these two men, who were on opposite sides of the great conflict, and who both believed extreme measures must be used to further their ends.

The paperback edition of COLD GLORY will release on October 30. Mark your calendar for November 27, as that is the publication date for the hardcover edition of SILVER CROSS. I am so excited about it. I can’t wait for you to see what is going on with Nick Journey, his son Andrew, Meg Tolman, Sandra Kelly, Kerry Voss, and Darrell Sharp. (Sharp has a larger role in SILVER CROSS. He really wanted to do more, and who am I to argue with a guy like Sharp?) You’ll also meet the shadowy Ann Gray, one of the more intriguing and complex characters I’ve yet met in my fiction.

Also, it’s baseball season, and my Rangers have started the season 9-2. (Couldn’t resist!)

Keep on reading, and drop me a line. I love hearing from you.

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UCF Book Festival

I am off to Florida tomorrow morning, where I will be participating in the University of Central Florida Book Festival in Orlando. This is a fairly new festival that has grown substantially in a short time, and I’m honored to be invited. I am especially excited to be on the panel, “Who Put the Thrill in Thriller,” alongside former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham. I’ll be talking about COLD GLORY and Sen. Graham will discuss his debut thriller, KEYS TO THE KINGDOM. It looks to be an outstanding and well-run event and I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s the link to the festival website: http://education.ucf.edu/bookfest/programs.cfm.

Drop by if you’re in the neighborhood! Sen. Graham and I will be signing our books immediately after our noon panel on Saturday. It should be a wonderful time and I hope to meet lots of readers!

 

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The Killer Angels

Forgive me for not writing in a while. I spent the end of January, and most of February, fighting several illnesses–a nasty, aggressive case of bronchitis, among other things. But Patrick’s Day sees me healthy again (surivied the Ides of March, too).

“Were you always interested in the Civil War?” someone asked not long ago.

Nope.

American history in general, yes. The Civil War. no. (I was much more into presidential history for a long time. I could recite all the presidents, in order, in third grade. Yes, I was THAT kind of kid.) As a student of history, I knew the vague outlines of the war and the big names. But it wasn’t until 1995 and a second job at a mall bookstore that I discovered the passion for that fascinating and terrible conflict, a subject I would write about years later.

I was working nights at the chain bookstore in the mall, looking to earn extra money to support my family, and one of my jobs was stripping mass market paperbacks. This was a heartbreaking task. Instead of returning mass market books, we removed the covers and simply threw them in the dumpster. They were reported as unsold, and that was that. When I first found out about this practice, I asked my manager, “Couldn’t we donate them or something? To the senior citizens’ center, or the homeless shelter, or…ANYTHING?” She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and said, “The book business doesn’t work that way.” (Little did I know…)

But she did tell me I could take home any stripped books I wanted, since they were going in the trash anyway. As long as I didn’t give them to anyone else, it was safe. That’s how I read dozens of books during the months I worked at that store, and that’s how I found Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.”

I took it home because the cover (that would be the back cover, since I had, of course, stripped the front) looked interesting. Three pages in, I was mesmerized. I read it in two days (and I am a slow reader). I never understood what the battle of Gettysburg meant, and I never saw the humanity and inhumanity of the conflict as I did in those pages. Shaara’s language was so real, his descriptions of the battles and the dialogue so utterly absorbing, that I knew as I read the last page, that I must find out more.

And so began my journey into the American Civil War, and the series of books I am writing now, beginning with COLD GLORY, and continuing this November with SILVER CROSS. (Working on copyedits for that book now.) Nick Journey is a professional historian, and I am very much an amateur, but the era is rich with detail and character or complexity, and I have many more ideas. Journey, and Meg Tolman, will have many more intrigues from the Civil War ahead of them. And maybe, somewhere down the road, I’ll delve into why Journey became interested in the war. I assure you, his story is much more deeply layered than mine.

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Research, research

Ask almost any writer, and they’ll tell you they love the research aspect of writing a novel. Most of us have this innate drive to get the details right (even if we wind up altering some of the details for storytelling purposes). I know one writer who told me, “I could research myself to death, but at some point I have to sit down and write the damn book!”

My research process is two-pronged: the history, and the settings. Since my new series is centered around the Civil War era, there are many, many resources available to me: books, papers, library archives, and yes, online sources. I make use of them all. I talk to people. I send emails. (And without fail, people are responsive when presented with a reasonable request.)

But I especially love on-site research. Of course, it’s not always practical. I still have a couple of day jobs and three teenagers at home, and a little thing called a budget. So I can’t go everywhere I would like. Still, if I’m writing about a place for any extended part of a story, I try to visit that place.

COLD GLORY is set in part at Fort Washita in southern Oklahoma. It’s ten miles from my hometown, and about a two-and-a-half hour drive from where I live now. I made three trips to the site and walked the places my characters walked (both in the 1865 and present-day parts of the book). I knew how many steps it was from the entrance of the Chickasaw burial ground to the main part of the post cemetery. I stretched out on the ground behind a cenotaph so I would know how the ground felt. I breathed in the wind, I listened to the crickets, I felt the gravel crunch under my feet. I got to know the place.

Same thing with the Falls of the Ohio. I visited the Louisville area and spent a full day wandering around the park. I counted the steps leading down to the platform where Nick Journey was shot, calculating what would have to happen for him to fall into the river. I climbed on top of the railroad trestle and looked down onto the road below. I just stood and absorbed the feel of the place. Esoteric? Yes, undoubtedly. But I experienced bits and pieces of what I was asking Nick Journey and Meg Tolman and my other characters to experience.

For some of my earlier books, I hiked to the top of Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. (And I’m no hiker, I can assure you.) I walked along the seawall at Galveston. The atmosphere is overpowering. The sense of place is another character of the story, in my view.

For SILVER CROSS (release date: Nov. 2012): I spent time on the Cape Fear coast of North Carolina; I took a legendary car ferry across Lake Michigan; I walked up and down a dry river bed in the Texas Panhandle; I toured a working mine. I took pictures, I made notes, I took long walks and tried to figure out how much of all that atmosphere needed to be in the story, and how much was over the top.

In the near future, I will be road-tripping from my home in Oklahoma to Kansas for research on the third book, as the “Bleeding Kansas” era prior to the Civil War plays a role in that story. I need to visit Ford’s Theater in Washington as well…we’ll have to see about that one. But…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nothing beats being there. I love visiting new places, and every new place I visit can become research. Case in point: the Lake Michingan ferry. That wasn’t intended as research, but the setting so impressed me that I knew I had to write about it.

Perhaps I will see you down the road somewhere, and perhaps the next place I visit will work its way into a new book–even further down the road.

Oh by the way–the photo that I use as the banner for this website? The ruins of the west barracks at Fort Washita. See, it’s ALL research.

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Cold Glory Giveaway!

FREE BOOK alert:

 

I am giving away a signed, personalized hardcover of COLD GLORY on my Facebook author page. All you have to do is “like” the page and leave me a comment, between now and 12 noon on February 17. Click on over to  http://www.facebook.com/bkentanderson  I’ll choose a winner at random on the 17th and will ship the book right away.

NOTE: Entries must be on the author page, not on my “regular” Facebook friends’ wall.

Good luck and have fun!

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Is That Real?

Right after “How long does it take to write a book?” and “Where do you get ideas?” comes this question: “How much of Nick Journey is really you?”

The answer: not so much.

But some.

You’ve heard it said before, that any fiction writer puts a bit of himself or herself into every character.  It’s unavoidable–what I’ve absorbed and experienced and observed in my “real” life can’t help but work its way into the fictional worlds I create. Likewise, other people–those I interact with every day, and those I met once for fifteen minutes a decade ago–are there, in some form. That’s the canvas. That’s the reality inside the fiction.

But, to be perfectly forthcoming, Nick Journey and I have a few things in common. We are both left-handed. We both live in Oklahoma (though I grew up in the state and Journey only came much later). We both have sons with profound autism. We both love history and the Civil War era. I love baseball, and he once played professionally. (Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of vicarious fantasy going on there…)

And that is pretty much it.

I’ve been told by people who know me that they see me in Journey. Maybe, but he’s a lot more courageous than I am. He’s more guarded with his feelings. He’s more analytical. He has an extraordinary sense of hearing, while I have a significant hearing loss. He can throw a curveball.

See? Lots of differences. Not much of an “alter ego” thing going on here.

I’m in Meg Tolman too. And Darrell Sharp. And The Judge.  (Not telling which parts of me are in the villain, though.)

I think of the relationships in my life, and how they come to the page, almost always subconsciously. Andrew Journey is not my son, either–though they share some of the same challenges. The relationship between Nick and Andrew is based on my life with the one of my three sons who has profound autism. Notice I said “based on.” Nick and Andrew’s relationship is both simpler and more complex than mine with my son.

And no, the ex-wife in COLD GLORY is not my ex-wife. I went out of my way to ensure that the portrayal of Amelia Boettcher was nothing like the mother of my children. In fact, my children’s mother and I have a communicative, functional, co-parenting relationship, and we have joint custody of our boys.  We don’t always agree, but we always communicate, quite unlike Nick and Amelia.

But I think of another relationship, and how it informed both the characters of Meg Tolman and Sandra Kelly. Bits of that relationship are in both women.

That’s life. That’s fiction. The two must overlap and intersect. It is one of the great joys and essential challenges of storytelling.

I’ll come clean, though, and admit that there is one character in COLD GLORY who comes quite close to being a living, breathing person from my real life. The funny thing? I didn’t realize it until I’d written the character, then on reviewing what I’d written, sat back and said, “Wow! That is So-n-So, and I didn’t even know it.”

Not going to tell you which character I’m talking about, though. There are a few things a guy has to keep to himself.

 

 

 

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New this, new that

No, this isn’t another post about resolutions, or about the year gone by. But I haven’t blogged in a while and owe you an update.

New address, new (old?) relationship status, new ideas, some new attitudes. I’m reminded of Jimmy Buffett’s ’70s-era song “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” There is something cathartic about moving to a new house, which I did on Tuesday. I wasn’t happy in my previous residence, and finally decided to take action. There is even a room in the new place that can be used as an office/study…something I have never had. Think of it…I might be able to write in a separate room from where the kids are playing Halo or some other such thing.

The new book, “Silver Cross,” is just about finished. In fact, I am on deadline. It has to be turned in to my editor and put into production by January 9. (My editor, the brilliant, insightful and very understanding Kristin Sevick, gave me an extra week to get the latest round of revisions completed, in light of all that has happened in my life lately.) I have one last concept to address in the revisions…a concept that raises the stakes for Nick Journey and Meg Tolman…and the United States. I’m excited about the places Journey and Tolman are about to go, and I hope you will be as well.

In the meantime, I’ve done lots of bookstore and library events to promote “Cold Glory,” and people have been excited about it wherever I have gone. I’ve been told that the uniqueness of these two characters, coupled with the intriguing Civil War connections and unusual settings, is a real draw. I certainly hope so!

So…lots of new things. I look back at what I’ve learned from my stops so far along the road, and I have no regrets. I’ve been blessed, and all these things and experiences have prepared me for what’s next…whatever that may turn out to be.

Here’s to good books and interesting experiences going forward. Now…back to those “Silver Cross” revisions!

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