Chapter Four...

My Friends, the Stars

The Plot Thickens...
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I've been a bit negligent about keeping up with my novel blog, but it's not because I haven't been working.  Okay, some of it is -- I was feeling pretty iffy for a few days due to a kidney stone. But that's over, and I've been working on plotting quite a bit. I actually had a post ready last Wednesday, but I wrote it in a .txt file and then lost it when the power went out at work.  Ah, well.

Plotting was giving me fits until this past week.  I've got a large plot, and a number of major characters -- it's a big novel.  And trying to juggle the characters and plot at once was giving me fits.  So I've changed tacks -- I'm plotting by each character now.  Working out the scenes of their character arcs separately, so I can stay focused on a specific story/point of view.  Then when I've got them done individually, I'll combine them and iron out the inconsistencies.

So far it's working.  I've got Annaliese plotted through the first section of the book.  A young woman, about 25, recently widowed. She's really taken on life and I like her character.  Except that as I originally envisioned things, she wasn't even in the story.  She came into being when I thought of a new beginning, at the funeral of her husband (the eldest son of the main character), and then she just grew from there. She's supplanted one of the characters I'd envisioned, so I'm already juggling the cast.  There was going to be a daughter of the main character, and now she's gone -- all her best stuff has been taken by Annaliese.  And much to the betterment of the story, too.  Except that in this first section, tentatively entitled "The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, 1933-1936" she now has too many scenes.  By a fairly wide margin.  She's going to have a significant part of the first section, but I still have to cut down the number of scenes I've got by at least half.  Yeesh.

So I've completely missed my August 1st self-imposed deadline to get the plot done.  I'd hoped to get it done by April 15th, but that probably won't happen.  But maybe by the end of the month.  It's going well enough to do that.  With a bit of luck.

Any gaming groups out there that need another player?
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This is a duplicate from my facebook, but I really would like to find something, so I'm willing to put up with that.  Hope you are too.

I need to find a gaming group. Preferably something like D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, or something similar, but I'm open to just about anything. My old group is up in Chilliwack and while I love playing with them, it's a bit too far to drive every other week. I'm looking in the Everett/Seattle/Eastside area.

I know that some gaming stores have notices posted -- any suggestions as to which stores are good for that?

Or alternatively, does anyone know of a group that might be interested in another player? I'm experienced and more or less housebroken.


In media res...
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I've been working on science fiction and fantasy for a long time and now that I've switched genres to historical fiction, I'm finding that it's causing me a bit of a problem.

Don't get me wrong -- I love SF/F.  I'm a hard-core fan and I always will be. But there are a number of things about SF/F writing that seem to be causing me problems at the moment.  One of which is the tendency to start things in media res -- in the middle of things.  That's great, and it's a good way of starting any story, but in SF/F, it's often very abrupt.  Which fits for the genre, but doesn't always work for historical fiction.  In non-SF/F, it's something that's more suitable for mysteries or thrillers.  For historical epics, a more leisurely approach is often better -- in SF/F terms, think epic fantasy.

Okay, so these are gross generalization, both for SF/F and for historicals.  But it's indicative of the problem I'm trying to deal with in plotting Black Orchestra.  I'm having trouble in that I'm trying to be too fast-paced, both in the way I'm starting it off, and in the way I'm telling the story.  Really, a lot of this is my own trouble, trying to write in a much more leisurely style rather than the SF/F and mysteries that I've worked on in the past.  But this is the problem I'm facing right now.

As I've said, Black Orchestra is a story about a family involved in the German resistance to Hitler. It's primarily a character-driven story, not just because I think all stories are really character-driven, but because that's at the heart of this particular story -- why they resist, and the price they pay for standing up to be counted.

My instinct is to begin in 1936 -- I've got good events available to start things off:  the 1936 Berlin Olympics for one, and the German intervention at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War for another.  History has conveniently placed them very close together in time, just for me.

But...  is it the best place to start the story?  If I start it in 1933, around the time of the Reichstag fire, then there's a lot of build-up I can put in.  By 1936, the family is mostly firmly against Hitler.  But in 1933, that's not so clear-cut.  And it gives me a chance to build the villain more firmly -- showing him not to be a stock gestapo man, but much more nuanced and not the complete evil bastard that most people expect when they hear the word "gestapo."  (Okay, it's not a word -- it's an abbreviation... Geheime Staatspolizei, or "Secret State Police".)

So, starting in 1933 would seem to be a no brainer.  But I'm not sure.  Do I have enough story for all of the characters prior to 1936? Is starting at the time of the Reichstag fire a cliché?  Ken Follett used it to start his "Winter of the World," but then, he was dealing with Social Democrats in Germany, which is significantly different than what I'm doing.

What to do, what to do...

A name by any other name is still, well, a name....
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I changed the working title of the novel today. It's only a working title, and I have no doubt that the publisher will change it when and if it's sold. But a working title (in my opinion) is meant to either simply be a placeholder for the author, or it's meant to get the author jazzed about the novel. So I changed it to something that jazzes me up a little more.

Before, I called it "Circles" after the discussion groups that were popular in Germany (it's also what the Germans called the little "clubs" of anti-fascists who met in secret).  I've changed it to "The Black Orchestra" -- I'll have to explain that a little, so here's what I've noted in my background notes:

Radio intercepts by German security services made a priority of tracking clandestine radio transmissions out of Germany and the occupied territories. Because a key is used to tap out Morse code, the apparatus was referred to as a clavier, after the musical instrument. A network of such radios was known as an “orchestra.”

Black Orchestra (Schwarze Kapella):  The name given by the Gestapo to an unknown group of conspirators actively resisting policies of the National Socialist party and plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler.

Pitfalls along the path
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Much like the roller coaster at Six Flags, I found myself a bit derailed this past week.  It was my summer vacation, but it turned out that I had to fix a several things around that house that wouldn't wait (you can't function easily without a refrigerator). Didn't succeed at all of them (the aforementioned fridge), but they occupied a big chunk of time and mental space. And I hit a wall with plotting the middle of the novel. That roadblock was a pretty big one -- I was really stuck. I think I was trying to figure out the scenes in the middle of the novel in isolation, rather than letting them flow out of the characters and scenes that came before. It only took me a week to work that out, and so now I'm back on track. As I said before, plotting my novel was feeling stuck this week. I think I've figured out why -- I think I was trying too hard to figure out the scenes in the middle of the novel in isolation, rather than letting them flow out of the characters and scenes that came before.  So it only took me a week to work that out, and so now I'm back on track.

Rather than go on about the plot, I find myself puzzling over how to deal with two topics. The novel takes place in Germany, between 1936 and 1945, so one of the big problems is how not to show the average Germans in a negative light, seeing as most supported Hitler and knew about the concentration camps.

Two things occurred to me:

  • First, it's important to remember that in 1933 (when Herr Adolf came to power), Germany little real tradition of democracy. The German Empire lasted until the end of WWI, and then out of the ashes you have the Weimar Republic, which is the only experience they had.  And frankly, it was a disaster. It was wildly unpopular with a large section of the population because it canted pretty far to the left, it was often wildly eratic and unstable, it took the country from being very socially conservative to being very socially liberal, which wasn't comfortable for many people,  and worst of all, it presided over a horrifically bad economic period. Not all of these things were the Weimar Republic's fault, not all of them actually bad (just uncomfortable), and many were in fact, simply the growing pains of a young republic. But after the stability of long years of monarchy, it said to the German people that a democracy didn't work for them. Hitler promised economic recovery (successfully), restoration of national pride (viz. the ignominy of the Treaty of Versailles), repudiation of that same treaty, restoration of law and order (successfully, although not in the way expected), and restoration of traditional morals.  The fact that he did it the way he did and that he was so obviously anti-Semitic, was a corollary to most people. If you think that's outlandish, think about how the US gutted a number of long-standing ideas of personal liberty, created extrajudicial courts and police powers, and created secret and/or extrajudicial prison, all in the name of safety and redressing what we felt (both correctly and not so much) were wrongs done the American people. And the American people reelected the president responsible for this and allow most of these measures to remain, even under 5 1/2 years of a Democratic president. I'm not arguing about those actions, only demonstrating that what a fearful or desparate population can so easily do.

  • Second are the concentration camps. We have to remember that we're biased when we hear the phrase.  To us, it's almost synonymous with extermination camp.  We instantly think Auchwitz or Buchenwald. But in the 1930s, extermination camps in that sense were still in the future.  Think internment camps, such as those used to intern citizens of Japanese extraction along the West Coast during WW2.  The US used them in the Phillipines and during WW2, the British used them in South Africa during the Boer War, Canada used in WW2, the Spanish used in Cuba, etc. Not trying to justify them, or excuse their sometimes appalling conditions, but their use was much more acceptable to most people, especially if the internees were somehow viewed as dangerous. And while the German people knew about the concentration camps, in most cases, they didn't know about the conditions.  Add to this that the Nazis used the Potempkin village strategy to make everything seem better than it was. As a comparison, think about how most Americans accept (even if they disagree with) the imprisonment without recourse of "enemies" at Guantanamo. And how most people would rather not know the specifics of how the prisoners are treated. And as a bonus, how people are misled (I'm being nice) about conditions there by shows like NCIS, which portray them largely as barracks of men, not unlike at a military base. (Now I'm not professing to know the actual conditions, but some of the information that has come out recently about forcefeeding and such


Other things to go on about, but I've pretty much filled my quota for today. Need to get back to the outlining.

The problem of sympathetic characters who aren't good guys
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I occasionally have twinges about some of the characters in the novel.  Most of them are decent people, but one of them (Hans Josef Radach) is a moderately good man that's taken the wrong path.  He's a police detective from Kassel, originally in the KRIPO (the criminal police), but takes a promotion and better opportunity with the new Prussian State Secret Police, which eventually becomes the Gestapo.  He's got two basic purposes in the novel -- he's supposed to show the consequences of making the convenient choices again and again.  Better opportunities, better job security, etc., but at the same time becoming more and more accepting of the SA beatings and killings that occu around him day after day.  His other main purpose is to put a face on the banality of evil in the Reich.  It's too easy to use Nazis like you see them in Indiana Jones.  But turning them into caricatures is only going to serve to lessen the main characters who're resisting Hitler.  And that's not going to work.

So I need to make him sympathetic.  But emotionally, it's rather weird to think about making the Gestapo man sympathetic -- all the more so since I spent an hour with Rabbi Marshall this evening.  I wonder what she'd think of that -- I don't know her well enough to say for sure, although I can probably guess.  It's still weird, though.

And one of the main ways to make him more sympathetic, while still showing him making the wrong choices, is to start the narrative in 1933, around the time of the Reichstag fire (Feb. '33).  That's the event that provides the National Socialists with a casus belli to openly move against their enemies. The Gestapo was just forming, and unlike how we normally think of them, were really just a branch of the police that dealt with political crimes.  Not something that we think of in a very positive light today in the US and Canada, but much more common back then.  Most of the original Gestapo weren't party members -- they were police professionals, who just saw it as a way to serve.  Doesn't make up for what they turned into, of course.

The problem is that 1933 is too early for most of the main characters. And because it's the logical place to start if we're looking at a chronological telling, it's therefore suspect. In media res is probably a better idea.  So I'll probably start in 1936, which the advent of the German intervention in the Spanish Civil War and the Berlin Olympics.  But that means more backstory for the Gestapo man.  And makes it harder for me to make him sympathetic.  But maybe that's a good thing.  Make me work for my supper.

More research...
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Didn't get as much done on Sunday as I would have liked -- Slept badly and got up late, so I felt off all day.  But I did get some things done -- finished one of the books I'm using for research.  It's "No Ordinary Men -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (DB) and Hans von Dohnanyi (HvD): Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State" by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern.  It's okay -- I've certainly gotten some good information from it, but it dealt too much with the religious struggles of Bonhoeffer.  Important enough I suppose if DB was a major character in the novel, but he isn't.  HvD is much more important, and there was significantly less about him in the book.  Still, it's more than I had.

Yesterday I didn't get much done, either.  Put a screen door on the front of the house and it was way more of a pain in the ass than I'd hoped.  Had to cut down the vinyl door, and then had to go back several times to shave more off the door to make it fit into the door frame.  Finally got it done, but was tuckered out afterward.

I did start on another research book -- Herbert Werner's "Iron Coffins" -- a first-hand account of U-boats.  Doing research on that because one character is a submariner.  It's really good, unlike one of the other books I've got on my list.  That one is Hans Gisevius's "To the Bitter End," which is a first-hand account from a survivor of the resistance and the 20 July plot.  You'd think that'd be really good, and there is certainly good information in it, but the author was an ass, self-centered, and very definitely seeing himself as the center of the resistance (hint:  he wasn't).  He even talked smack about the others involved at the Nuremburg trials when they were dead and unable to contradict him.  He's a name mostly because he was the one in contact with Allen Dulles of the OSS during the war.  I'm also reading another book -- Robert Gellately's "Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany," which is excellent, but dense.  Gives me a lot of info about the workings of the Gestapo, but I can only read a certain amount at a time.  Easier to read than the 500-page book in French on the Inquisition that I had to read in grad school but harder than a David Eddings novel.

Which makes me think that I need to find some fiction to read to give me the occasional break from the research.  But it's kind of hard to find something that I'm going to enjoy as much as the research.

Day Two of the New World Order
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Well, MY new world order.

Didn't get up until damn near noon, since I've got the day off.  Also have tomorrow off, so I'm likely to sleep in then as well.  I haven't been sleeping well this past week, so I need it.  At least I have a vacation from the day job the week after next.

Spent much of the day doing researching for the novel.  Doing a lot of reading on the early days of the Gestapo and the way they were viewed in '33-36 Germany.  Rather different than I thought.  Lots of interesting bits and pieces, some just background, some things to include in the novel.  One of my characters is a Gestapo man -- he's sort of the villain -- well really the entire National Socialist party is the villain -- this guy is just the face of it.  And I've got to make him sympathetic, even likable.  Partly because it'll give a fuller view of what was actually happening in Germany at the time, but also party because it's important to keep the villains in the novel from looking like charicatures.  These are not the Nazis from Indiana Jones -- I need these to be real.  Otherwise the characters fighting against them aren't real.

I continue to make leaps forward as I research -- the latest is that yes, the populace knew about the concentration camps from the time they were set up.  But key to this is that the idea of a concentration camp then is not what it is today.  Today when we think of a concentration camp, our view is strongly colored by what we found at Auschwitz, and Dachau, at Bergen-Belsen at the end of the war.  But in 1933, the view was substantially different -- they tended to think of them as prison camps, but more along the lines of a CCC camp with guards and fences than the image of the death camps that we have in our heads.  Makes a lot of difference when you assess the people.

Working right now on the location where the family has their Berlin house -- a fair amount of action will take place there, so it's important to get things straight.  I'm thinking that it'll probably be at Wangenheimstrasse 25 or 27, just down the street from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and either next to or a house down from Max Planck, both of whom where there at the time.  Need to find out more about the neighborhood (Grunewald) before I can use it.

Back to it now...

Rebooting my LJ
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I'm not writing Science Fiction right now.

I've been having trouble with it for quite a while, but I'm stubborn, and kept at it.  Now I'm finally going back to the project I was working on last year and -- amazingly enough -- it's going quite smoothly.  Must be a sign.

Since I used to be a professional historian, I suppose my interest in historical novels isn't too surprising.  And that's what this is.  Although it's not what you'd have expected from my -- my grad degree is in medieval history (my master's thesis was on the terribly exciting topic of terminology in Italian legal courts in the 7th and 8th centuries -- which even makes me yawn).  But between grad school and a long tenure in the SCA which is now over with, I'm pretty burned out on the Middle Ages.

"Circles" is the name of this novel.  I feel I can call it that officially now because 1) I like the name, and 2) It's gone beyond the stage of just playing around with the idea.  It takes place in Germany during WWII and tells the story of a family who stands up to be counted in the face of the Nazis.

I really need to get in the habit of not referring to them as Nazis, but rather as National Socialists, or NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) because no one in Germany referred to them as Nazis.

I've got a lot more research to do, and plotting as well, but I'm planning to be at a point where I can start on the manuscript itself by the end of July.  I'll still have research to do, but by then I should be at a stage where not knowing something won't stop me cold.  But that means I've got a lot of work to do between now and then.  But I've got this weekend all to myself (my wife is giving me that because I had to work on Father's day), and I've got the week after next off from the day job.  So I'll have time to focus on it exclusively.

More on it later.  I'm going to try and update my LJ on a regular basis, possibly even every day, but we'll see.  Haven't touched it for more than a year, so it's a crap shoot.

With a little luck, the come-out roll will be a 7 or 11.

Remembrance Day
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It isn't glorious, it isn't romantic, it isn't what the movies show, but sometimes it's necessary.

For those we knew, and those we didn't.  Those who came back, and those who didn't.

My great uncle Richard Lee Lyons, private first class, Company L, 342nd Regimental Combat Team, 91st Infantry.  Killed by a mine at age 26, on his second day in combat, August 14, 1944, in the Po River Valley.

and also for another great uncle, Roy James Patterson, 73rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, Black Watch (RHR) of Canada, CEF, wounded in the Great War.

and for Joseph Lyons (my side), who made it through the Battle of the Wilderness and out the other side with I company, 64th New York Infantry, Army of the Potomac, and  Major (later Colonel) Lucius A. Church (Teresa's side), 3rd Florida Infantry, mustered July 25th, 1861 at Amelia Island, CSA


DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

8 October 1917 - March, 1918

Wilfred Owen  (who was killed one week before the armistice).

(you can get an explanation of some of the references here).