Monthly Archives: June 2016

Learn to Break the Rules #mondayblogs

Rules – Or: Learn Them Before Breaking Them

(Part 3 of a six-part post)

Last post we brainstormed the appetizer and the beginning of the story. Better said, we threw a soup together and slammed a thousand words into a word document. The soup simmers away on the back burner. The story turns over in the back of my mind along with feedback from friends who’ve added their grease to the plot.

Now things are getting serious. Read more…

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How Not To Follow a Recipe #amwriting

Chaos – Or: How Not to Follow a Recipe

(Part 2 of a six-part post)

In my last post we discussed the project at hand. I am writing a short story called The Women of Tragic Hearts and working through the trial round of a three-course meal for unknown guests in order to compare the creative processes involved and underline some of the similarities. And I have time today to practice the meal and to write. But I’m not feeling it. The inspiration has left me. Or could it be that I will regret exposing products of my so-called talents? Read more…

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What Are We Hungry For? #amwriting

(Part 1 of a six-part post)

Idea – Or: What Are We Hungry For?

Writing is much like the art of cooking a fine meal or baking a tasty cake. Our tastes grow, change and become more refined as we hone our skills. Not only are they both fun but they are life sustaining…read more here at Mslexia

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Join me for the Aperitif of this six-part post that first appeared at the Mslexia Blog!

The theme of my blog residency is The Love of Writing Compared to The Love of Cooking. Now what do these two things have in common? Everything starts with a dilemma; a problem that needs solving. Out springs a bright idea that I think is as good as when the wheel was invented. This evolves to some sort of planning, then chaos, then the clean-up and an eventual surrender to discipline. And this results in a readable story or an edible meal. So I hope. So, you have a choice of two alcoholic cocktails, favorites here at the cafes in Germany. And one non-alcoholic cocktail as well:

Try an Aperol Spritz:d1638-aperol
(Aka lovely, poison-orange liquid in a wine glass.) Here’s the 3-2-1 principle. Three parts white wine or prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part sparkling water. For example: 60 ml wine, 40 ml Aperol and one splash of sparkling water. Add an orange slice and some ice and you’re set!

Or try a Hugo:
(could be compared to a Mojito, but fruitier and much lighter) Why don’t we mix a pitcher while we’re at it? Take 500 ml prosecco, 100 ml elder blossom syrup, 3 limes, some mint leaves and a splash of sparkling water. Crush the mint leaves and the lime in the bottom of a glass pitcher. Slowly add the prosecco, then the elder blossom syrup and top it off with a shot of sparkling water. Can also be served in a wine glass but a cocktail glass will do fine.

Non-alcoholic Hugo can be prepared with an alcohol-free prosecco or with a sparkling water.

Writing Decisions I Make #mondayblogs

The Decisions I Make While Writing
Or: Why the heck did that character just do what he did?

Everyone knows this moment while watching a B-rated horror flick on TV. The heroine hears spooky sounds coming out of the basement. The music rises and her footsteps slow as she walks towards the basement door. Her hand reaches for the knob and everyone in the room shouts, “Don’t do it!”

We wonder how she could be so foolish. We know evil lurks down there. But somewhere a script writer made a conscious decision to have the scene evolve like this. Now, we as writers are making decisions all the time: about mood, setting and the actions our characters take. Is it raining during the scene? Is it dark or is it morning? Things like this can really affect the mood and setting. And even though I fret over every word, every sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter, I’d like to concentrate today on the decisions I make regarding my characters and their actions, how I back these decisions up and further the story along.

I write historical fiction set in Germany in the 17th Century. I made a decision in the beginning that I wanted a historically correct account about the people and their plights during this period. I also wanted to make the story easier to read so I decided to keep the dialogue ‘lighter’ or non-archaic, using not actually contemporary speech, but somewhere in between the two. And I wanted to somehow create real people with real problems like heartbreak, herbs and horrors. (I wanted to call the book Sex, Drugs and The Thirty Years War, but I decided against that.)

In order to make the characters come alive and show the reader who they are, I need to set up their personality traits along the way, like salting a soup, so that the reader can understand why they act the way they act. For example, a character who was thrown from a horse as a child could understandably have a fear of horses in her adult years. A young man who had a traumatic separation from his mother could have intimacy issues. A woman who was a servant her whole life may not have high self esteem. She most likely will not be the heroine who swings a sword and wards off mercenary soldiers. Her ultimate heroic act may be then that she sacrifices herself in order to save those she loves.

We have all read books where the characters have made choices that we can’t understand. We think that this character would not have done the deed given what we know about him. (Though some writers can use just this tool, an unpredictable trait emerging from a character, quite effectively in order to further the story.) But in my observations, most people are predictable. The signs of personality changes are often there if we dare look. As my characters develop, I set up personality changes so when the character is faced with a conflict, I already know what choice they will make (and the observant reader may see the changes coming too if I do my work right!) For example, a young girl sees a soldier rape her mother. She decides to take a knife and kill him. If I want this scene to be believable, I need to have the girl be athletic from the beginning. I need to train her beforehand so she would even be able to use the knife. And she has to be capable of such an act, so she needs a slight black streak across her personality.

Yes, I do written character analyses. I do their astrological charts. In the beginning, I found actors I would like to play my characters in a film, just to get a feel for their movements and facial expressions, but later they all evolved into their own people. Books about personality disorders have been really helpful and I like to give the characters one or more. (I’m a big fan of flawed heroes.) My historical trilogy, Heaven’s Pond, was written and self-published at first in a first person point of view, from the viewpoints of three of the characters. This was the easiest way to really get into the characters’ heads. The trilogy has now been re-written in the third person point of view. I must say, the first draft written in first person was helpful to find the characters and to really feel them.

So, in my novels nothing happens per chance. The characters may evolve on their own but I’m the puppeteer who’s pulling the strings. The characters may act irrational or self destructive or miss chances that could have saved them. But my conscious decisions plot the whole thing like I am building a ship.

What sort of things do you like to see in characters? What sort of things don’t you like to see?

This post first appeared at Donna Huber’s Girl-Who-Reads blog.

Teen Noir #FlashFiction

 

“Hey, Carolyn! I passed!”
     Carolyn heard the screen door slam and heavy boots stomping up the carpeted stairway. She jumped up and down, jiggling herself into skin-tight jeans and flopped back on the bed. Gut sucked in, she pulled the zipper up and secured the button. 
     “Carolyn! I passed my driver’s test!” Jeremy said, filling out the doorway. He slammed both hands against the door jamb. “My brother gave me the Camaro, the dumb ass. Let’s go for a ride.”
     A devilish grin spread across his face. He landed on top of Carolyn, kissing her face, her neck and fumbling with the button on her jeans.
     “Hey,” Carolyn said and slapped at his shoulder. “Do you know how long it took me to get into these jeans?”
     “I know how long it’ll take you to get out of them.”
     Carolyn covered her face with her hands. Jeremy jumped back up, grabbed her arm and pulled her up to her feet.
     “Let’s go for a ride,” he said. “I have to get the car home at seven.”
     He leaped down the steps, two at a time, and she followed him out. Still slipping on her shoes, she heard the engine outside rev. She pushed through the screen door and saw him holding the passenger door of the yellow Camaro open for her. She got in and he slammed the door.
     “Four on the floor,” he said, put the car in gear and away it purred. “Let’s go to the river. I want to show you something.”
     He drove up Union Street and up over the Union Street Bridge. He turned onto an unused off-ramp that headed towards the old train yard next to the abandoned iron mill and the machine shop. Carolyn looked over the red-rusted buildings of the mill, the overgrown train tracks and could see the river beyond the row of weeds and low bushes. Crickets chirped in the late-summer, late-afternoon heat. The engine from a diesel locomotive droned on behind the rattle of the traffic crossing the metal bridge. A lonely train whistle blew on the other side of the river.
     The Camaro’s tires crunched on the gravel parking lot and Jeremy killed the engine. He was at her door in a flash, opened it and pulled her behind him. They climbed over a barrier and through a roped-off area towards the train tracks.
     “Viola!” he said and held his hands up next to an abandoned box car.
     “What’s this?” she said. “We shouldn’t be here, should we?”
     “So what. It’s our new hideout.”
     He grabbed a rusty, empty five-gallon paint can and turned it upside down. Carolyn stepped up onto it and climbed into the boxcar. The floor had been swept and a sofa stood along the narrow end. 
     “Who knows about this?” Carolyn said as she toed at a pair of underwear and a ripped t-shirt.
     “Just Ducky, that stupid ass.” Jeremy kicked the clothes out the door. “Well, what do you think?”
     Carolyn raised her eyebrows and sat down. Jeremy knelt on the sofa, reached behind it and produced a bottle. 
     “Here, want some?” He handed her the Southern Comfort.
     “Yeah, then I’ll just have to puke.”
     “Just sip it then…hey, what’s this?” he said and pulled up a suitcase. He threw it on the sofa and let himself fall onto his backside with a thud.
     Click click. He opened the suitcase and whistled through his teeth. Carolyn sipped at the Southern Comfort and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She screwed the cap back on. 
     “Who does that belong to?” she said.
     “Hell if I know.” Jeremy riffled through a pack of hundred-dollar bills.
     “Put it back,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
     “No goddamn way. It’s mine, now.”
     The diesel engine hummed louder up the tracks somewhere, like a sleeping dragon.
     Carolyn stood. “I’m getting out of here.” 
     He jumped up and grabbed her by the hand before she could jump out of the box car. They watched as two black sedans with tinted windows pulled into the parking lot and stopped next to the Camaro. Jeremy, never letting the suitcase drop, backed up against the door on the opposite side of the box car. He tugged at the door and it scraped open. Carolyn looked out, down a thirty-foot drop to the river. 
     “C’mon, we gotta jump.” 
     “I’m not going to jump, Jeremy!”
     “We have to.” 
     “Just put the suitcase back.”
     “No way.”
     “You’d get yourself killed for the money?”
     They heard men’s voices out in the yard. The diesel engine roared really close now, right up against the box car. Boom! The loc coupled with their box car. They both staggered and regained their balance.
     “We have to jump,” Jeremy said.
     Carolyn felt his hand on her back and that dizzying sense of falling, like she’d had in nightmares. Twigs snapped and she felt her body impact with the earth, rocks boring into her spine. Her eyes refused to open but her hearing was sharp. Her breathing came in painful gasps. A dull thud vibrated next to her.
     “I got it,” Jeremy said. 
     Carolyn felt him shake her. She could not move.
     “Psst. I got it. I got the money!” He shook her harder. “Carolyn! Wake up!” he whispered, his breathing revealing panic.
     “Sztttt.Sztttt.” That unmistakeable sound of walkie-talkies staticked overhead. Men shouted. Jeremy shook her again and tried to pull on her arms. She could not stand up, she was sure of it. 
     Carolyn took a deep breath. She used her last ounce of consciousness to make out what the men above were saying:
     “How did those damn kids get on the film set!” 
 

Spotlight on Germany

Cologne around 1411
Cologne
 

The best thing about living in central Europe is the availability of public transportation. Don’t even have to fly. From where I’m sitting, I can be in  Nuremberg in thirty minutes, I can be in Munich two hours, Prague in four hours, Vienna in five, Brussels in, say, seven hours, and London in twelve.

High-speed trains. The railway expansion is causing chaos on Bavarian streets at the moment. Everywhere you turn, and I mean everywhere, bridges are shut and roads are dug up. But when it’s done, those trains’ll be faster than ever.

View from the train station

I can get to the city of Cologne in about four hours. After passing Frankfurt, the train makes a picturesque journey along the Rhine River, past the mystical Lorelei, impressive at the least, breathtaking at the best.

Breathtaking: the first impression of the famous Kölner Dom, the Cologne Cathedral as one exits the train station.

 

View from the Rheine
Some bullet-point facts about the cathedral:
  • Work began on the cathedral in 1248 and stopped in 1473. It was finally finished in 1880.
  • It is 474 ft long, 283 ft wide and its towers are approximately 515 ft tall.
  • It is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.
  • From 1880 bis 1884, the Kölner Dom was the highest building in the world.
  • 20,000 people a day visit the cathedral, that makes how many million every year?
  • The cathedral has eleven bells, the largest which weighs 24,000 kilos.
  • It costs about 10 million Euros a year upkeep.

 

After WW II-courtesy of NS DokuZentrum Köln