Ciao a tutti! Hi, everybody! Thanks for dropping by for this week's Thursday Thirteen. Since I'm very busy, preparing for my trip to the US next week and wrapping up all the work on 27 Stages
, I thought I'd share a few pics which have inspired me throughout the long slog from start to finish.So, yeah, it's a blog of cyclist photos. *clears throat*Anyhoo... Please, allow me to present to you
Thirteen Photos Which Inspired 27 Stages!
A rider cleans off post-race in the famous Paris-Roubaix velodrome shower hall.
Philippe Gilbert's legs after winning a stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
I'm endlessly amazed at how closely they can ride together in the group.
A peek inside a team bus during the Giro d'Italia. The "crash pad" for Alta VeloCidad's bus is based on this shot and a few other team buses I've found online.
This is *literally* the moment where the story started taking shape in my head. As I watched Cancellara receive the maillot jaune, I was speaking to my husband on the phone (he was in Italy, I was in the US). When the camera panned out and showed Cancellara on the podium, I said, without thinking, "I want to lick his legs." My husband didn't miss a beat and said "If you can catch him, go right ahead." That moment, combined with the team politics on display by the Astana riders (specifically Contador and Armstrong) led to the creation of 27 Stages.
Fabian Cancellara's legs as he stands atop the Paris-Roubaix podium after winning the race in 2010.
This is one of my all-time favorite photos, and even now, looking at it makes me want to write a story for it.
There is a scene in 27 Stages which was written before I saw this photo, but which mentions a photo Abby takes over her shoulder without even looking, after sensing someone is watching her. When she looks at it later, she finds Federico was in the crowd after all. This is *literally* the sort of image I imagined her capturing.
Riding in the rain isn't just wet, but cold, too. No wonder they all look so miserable, eh?
In my next life, I want to come back as a fly so I can spy on the boys in the bus.
This year's Milan-Sanremo race proved that there is nothing - absolutely *nothing* - I can write which will ever compete with real life. But I will keep trying.
Cancellara falls to the ground after winning this year's Paris-Roubaix by a bike length.
And there you have them: Thirteen Photos Which Inspired 27 Stages.
Of course, there were many, many more photos than this to inspire me since 2009. I simply can't share them all, though.
Which is a bit of a shame, really.
And I know I owe you at least one more pic, so...
I hope this will do.
Gilberto Simoni. Cyclist.
Ciao a tutti! Hi, everybody! It's time for another Thursday Thirteen, and this week I have a special treat for everyone. You see, back in 2008-9, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of good writers on the Harper-Collins Authonomy website. I read many great books while they were still in their development stage, but there was one book in particular which stood out in my estimation. One, a psychological thriller (which is not a genre I normally read), was so good, I read all of the available sample and asked for more of it. I was generously given the still-incomplete manuscript to read at my leisure. To this day, it is the only book I've managed to read while sitting at my computer.Well, now, that book - called Affinities - is available for purchase, along with another thriller, Subculture.
Both are well worth a read, but you might also want to get to know the author a little better, first.
So please sit back, relax and enjoy this interview with the lovely and talented (and former Authonomite), Chris Hollis
Thirteen Questions for Chris Hollis, Author
1) So, Chris - tell me something about yourself.
Well, I’m a mid-thirties writer, fighting off life while I try to make my mark. Writing is the one job in entertainment where you can still be considered at the start of your career in your thirties. Many of the greats didn’t reach their stride until their kids were all grown up (not that I have any).
2) When did you first get bitten by the writing bug?
That’s not so easy to pin down. Winding back the clock, I was originally an aspiring (failed) cartoonist, then a director-without-a-camera, which turned into a screenwriter. Book writing evolved some point in my early twenties. I dabble. It’s always been one of my problems – disciplined, but rarely focussed.
3) Tell me about your books.
I have two available as of 2013 – Subculture
. Both are thrillers, and fast, but the similarity ends there. Subculture
is an action-packed, breakneck, A-to-B kind of affair, whereas Affinities
is a good deal more complex. Even I can’t remember all the different threads I wove into it. Every inanimate object has a specific pathway through the novel, developing in the reader’s eye, something like a character.4) Which book was the greater challenge to write?
. That kind of detail takes time to get right. After six years of putting it together, I just wanted to write a nice linear plot, something you could read on a sun lounger in a couple of days. That’s Subculture
. Still, both are child’s play compared to a couple I have on my desktop. Ten years hasn’t been enough to call them finished...5) How much research do you do when you're writing?
Copious and endless. Google images helps me to write descriptions, then I look up sunset times, weather forecasts, road names, people names. You can’t afford not to research every last little detail. It also helps to write Q&As as you go along, to remind yourself what the overriding point of the novel is. Then you can research your own research!6) What genre do you prefer to read? What are your favorite books in that genre?
I’m into soft sci-fi and paranormal. Different genres, but they boil down to the same thing – an ordinary protagonist versus a strange adversary. Giant monsters and spooks. Think Triffids, Martians, vampires in a 1990s sense. Vampires are a bit different now, I feel. Less edgy, less fun.
You can’t afford not to research every last little detail.
7) What made you decide to be an Indie author?
I would have baulked at the concept ten years ago, determined to follow in the footsteps of the people who inspired me. Then one day I realised it should be the readers who decide what they like, and nobody else. So now I’m out there, along with two billion other authors, walking the fine line between shameless self-promotion, and blindly hoping to get noticed.8) When you're writing, do you need noise or silence?
Great question. Silence, and it’s a bone of contention. When I’m doing a first draft, ambient noise is acceptable, but when it comes to doing that perfect paragraph – I mean the one where every word just flows poetically – it has to be silent like the grave for miles around. Hence why my output isn’t higher. One book a year is hard enough as it is when you struggle to concentrate like I do.9) What's your typical writing day like?
Few and far between, really. Sometimes, I stay late in the office and pace up and down, proof reading, lapping up the solitude. But those rare pajama days amount to maybe seven hours of writing, and five of procrastination. They’re fantastic for getting the house clean!10) Where did the ideas for your books come from/what inspired them?
Someone once said to me “think of a terrorist”, and I had the image I think most people would – a Middle-Eastern bearded man, with a vendetta that many Westerners perhaps wouldn’t understand. I didn’t like the stereotype, and so I decided to make terrorists who were homegrown, but still organised en-masse. The other ground, I felt, had been over trodden. [note: that book became Subculture
, at conception, was a one-man play. Every chapter was supposed be a different night in the same location, with just one character. Turns out that would be boring as hell, so I scrapped the idea as I learned how much a story needs both dialogue, and autonomy. You can still see the roots in the first five chapters, though.
11) Say your books take off and you start earning Stephen King money: What is the first thing you purchase?
Remember the speedboat David Beckham rode along the Thames, holding the Olympic torch? I heard they couldn’t sell it. I’d have that. There were lights shining into the water jets that made it look all futuristic.
12) Give me a completely random fact about yourself.
I was the one who left the office window open overnight. Feels good to clear the air.
13) Any final words of advice or declarations to make?
It seems to me that every writer around is part of a gold rush for the ebook market right now, with many struggling to get as many books out there as quickly as they can. My advice is relax. Better to have three great books than six that are merely okay, right? You’ll be tagged with those books for the rest of your life (and then beyond). The other tip is go sit in a sauna. Quiet thinking time, and also nice and warm.
No eye candy today (well, unless you count Chris himself) but drop by tomorrow for a tasty treat!
Ciao for now!
In the spring of 1870, France is preparing for an imminent war with Germany. A French cavalry officer, Bernard de Lemarch, has been given the delicate task of approaching a high-ranking Prussian officer, hoping to glean vital military information. But what he doesn’t know is that the Prussian High Command has been forewarned…. and is expecting him. Posing as a painter, the disguised officer meets up with a bungling landscape painter forming an unlikely friendship, one that unwittingly propels both men headfirst into unexpected danger, while resurrecting a secret from Lemarch’s own past.
Richard von Löwenklau, aided by Franz Schneeberg, finds himself in the heart of enemy territory, tasked with trying to stop the build-up of arms and uncover the establishment of a new para-military presence, the franctireurs... headed up by none other than the irrepressible Captain Albin Richemonte. His task is further complicated by the arrival of a new enemy, Colonel Rallion, who’s bent on supporting Richemonte’s war efforts, while hampering Löwenklau’s plans.
I first met Robert Stermscheg a year ago on the Amazon forums where we chatted about various topics which were related to my debut novel, Ask Me if I'm Happy. Robert shared his review of Ask Me... a short while later. Recently, he contacted me to let me know that his latest work was about to be released, and he happily agreed to do an interview about his work.
This is what he had to say:
Q. I believe this is your third translation project. Can you briefly describe the process of not only translating a work into English, but taking a story written in the 19th century and bringing it to today's reader?
A: Process is aptly put. First, you need to have an understanding of the time period. In my case, 19th century France and Germany. Second, as a translator, I have to be aware of old expressions that Karl May employed; idioms, as it were, from his time (1880s), that not only stemmed from German tradition and folklore but also presented a challenge in conveying them into modern English. That was perhaps the most difficult. I chose to retain them, as they added ‘colour’, and provided explanation notes at the end. Also, the German language is structured quite differently from English. Karl May often employed long paragraphs and run-on sentences that had to be broken up and reworked into a more coherent format. That was certainly time consuming.
Q. Why did you choose Karl May as an author to translate and share with North American readers?
A: Easy. I “grew up” with Karl May. As a boy, I was naturally drawn to his thrilling stories, many taking place in North America, often in the “Wild West”. They depicted the Indian tribes as noble savages, clearly the victims of the “White Man’s” insatiable thirst for land. As much as I enjoyed stories about cowboys and Indians, I also delved into his other works, some of which took place in the old Ottoman Empire, dealing with conflict between the French and the Germans. Although I also read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I seemed to gravitate back to Karl May. I suppose I was attracted to his keen sense of adventure, portrayal of humanity, and his rendering of history through his novels.
Q. Now that you've translated several Karl May books, will you continue with this author or are there other authors that you want to translate?
A: Actually, I’ve completed three translations, which have been published thus far. The fourth book, POW #74324, is my father’s memoir and deals with his experiences during WWII and then post-war Yugoslavia. I’ve committed myself to doing the Hussar’s Love series, spanning five novels. I may do more in the future, but I also want to expand my writing in other areas, exploring other interests such as historical fiction from the WWII era.
Q. We’ve all fielded unique, if not awkward questions from customers. Can you recall one that stood out?
A: Sure. One actually dealt with the process of translation. One woman was quite surprised to hear that it took me the better part of nine (9) months to translate my first manuscript of roughly 150,000 words. Looking somewhat sheepish, she had assumed I had used a computer program, like the ones found on Wikipedia. I smiled, explaining that, as a translator, you have to capture the small nuances, the ‘flavor’ of the manuscript and adapt the work to the spirit and flow of the original. No program will do that.
Q. No doubt you've grown a great deal as a writer through this process. Can you share what you've learned, and has this helped you to develop your style and honed your craft?
A: That is an understatement. If truth be known, I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting into (laughs). In my former career as a police officer, I naturally wrote a great deal. However, much of it was very structured and concise, leaving little room to express my thoughts outside the confines of the police report. The funniest thing about writing, and writing to be published is that everything takes on a new importance. All of a sudden you’re forced to pay attention to previously overlooked things like spelling, syntax, and of course grammar. In short, I took the whole thing more seriously and endeavoured to put out the best effort that I could. Secondly, I started paying a lot more attention to other writers: how they developed their storyline, pacing, character development, even the use of dialogue. I wasn’t shy about getting advice from other writers, and willingly applied many of their suggestions. Becoming a writer is the start to the learning process.
Q. Has this experience influenced you to venture away from translation and into writing a novel of a different genre?
A: My initial drive was to translate this series so that family and friends could appreciate the works of Karl May. But as so often happens, (perhaps it was just me) we get inundated with all sorts of ideas. I’ve actually had people come up to me at book signings and comment on their bizarre ideas, and one lady in particular told me I needed to, no, I had to, write a certain story (laughs). During the process, I did however have inspiration to write my father’s memoir. He was a WWII veteran, and this was quite the departure from writing fiction. So, yes, it did inspire me to venture into other areas, including writing short stories for magazine publication. I’m currently working on a WWII thriller, entitled Stealth. It deals with an experimental jet fighter the Nazis were developing. The novel delves into human conflict, pitting a few ‘good’ Germans against Hermann Goering’s war machine. It promises intrigue, adventure, even a little romance.
Q. I noticed that you’ve self-published the books in this series. Please share the best and the most challenging parts of that process?
A: As with many new authors, the challenge is to find a publisher who will take on your project and then walk you through the maze of the publishing industry. What I quickly learned was that few are willing to take on new authors, and fewer still if their initial work exceeds 100,000 words. My first novel (translation) had just over 150,000 words. Further, what complicated my entry into the world of publishing is that my first work was a translation. In my search, I ran into all sorts of vanity presses, that for a high price promised all sorts of things, including marketing, but delivered little in the way of real promotion, and certainly virtually nothing in terms of distribution. For any author, particularly in the early stages, you need to be available for book signings, and that means distribution into book stores. It was a real learning process. My advice to current writers and aspiring authors, is to seek out established authors and ask lots of questions. Also, keep reading (expand your repertoire), and of course continue writing. And perhaps most important, be prepared for the long haul and the many rejection letters (emails) that are sure to come. One of my first highlights was to see my first novel prominently displayed in a local bookstore. The thrill of signing those first few copies was a wonderful experience and made all the work worthwhile.
To see more of Robert's work, click on any of the images below.
To win a copy of Robert's latest ebook, Buried Secrets, just leave a comment below. One lucky commenter will get a free copy!
"Al centro esatto di Piazza Maggiore
con leggerezza da pattinatore
Bologna adesso voltati
mi fai commuovere
lo sai che esagero con le parole..."
"At the exact center of Piazza Maggiore
With the lightness of a skater
Bologna you now turn -
You move me
You know that I exaggerate with words…"
- "A Bologna" ("In Bologna") by Samuele Bersani (translation mine)
I frequently have to explain "Why Bologna?" I mean, I live in Italy – I'm surrounded by historic locations which could have hosted Emily and Davide's story in Ask Me if I'm Happy, right? So why limit myself to a frequently cold and foggy setting in northern Italy that readers might not be very familiar with in the first place?
Well, why not?
The truth is there was no other place as well-suited to the story as Bologna was. I cited some of the reasons elsewhere once, in an interview I did prior to Ask Me if I'm Happy's initial release in 2010: "It's the major train travel hub for northern Italy; it's simply a place I love; it is, as my husband might say, characteristic of the region where I live; and finally, it's a beautiful and historic city.
"Most of all, I feel it's one of the unsung locations in this country. Nearly everyone knows about Tuscany, Rome, Naples and Venice, but very few folks, it seems, are even aware of Bologna. I wanted my area of northern Italy to be represented, for better and for worse, and I think I've done that in Ask Me if I'm Happy."
I've done my best to give a real sense of the city and to show how it affects Emily and Davide throughout their relationship. I tried to not make the story feel like a travelogue, preferring to let the city peek through from time to time, by citing real places and inventing amalgamations of others. From what I've been told, I've done a decent job of it.
In spite of Ask Me… being a love story, I really hoped to write a story which could serve as an antidote of sorts to many other Italy-set stories. I wanted to show the Italy where I – and my ex-pat co-workers and friends – live and work every day. All of us had grown tired of the oh-so-perfect life described by so many novelists and travel writers, the false la dolce vita-isation of these places we know too well. As a result, I aimed to write about this place I've come to love with all my heart, but to write about it warts and all.
Yes, Italy is a beautiful country, there's no doubt about it. I don't deny that, and I do think this aspect shows through in Ask Me if I'm Happy. But there are other aspects of living here which fall quite short of the idealized imagery in those "Ex-pats in Tuscany/Rome/Venice" tales we're all familiar with. This discrepancy is what Emily struggles with, and it's something Davide deals with, too, although in slightly different ways.
From the beginning of the novel right through to the end, I've tried to show the Italy I know in the season I love best: the cold air, the grey skies, and the style of urban living which is the reality for the majority of Italians I know. I wanted to show the romance in a foggy afternoon and in warming one's hands over a hot cappuccino or in the grasp of an attractive companion. I wanted the reader to imagine strolling along the porticos of La Grassa, the city of Bologna, and see her rather weathered charms in all their flawed splendor.
Emily rediscovers these aspects of Italy every time she leaves and returns, just as I – and many of my friends who came here from abroad – do. And every time they open Emily and Davide's story and journey into an Italy they might not previously have been familiar with, I sincerely hope that readers of Ask Me if I'm Happy will do the same.
I feel like I'm slowly getting back on track after a very unproductive holiday-filled six weeks. It's been difficult -- much harder than I'd have anticipated, actually. However, I'm determined to get back into the proper headspace for 27 Stages, and I made a little headway last night, thanks in part to a documentary Alle and I watched about Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi. Yesterday was the fifty-first anniversary of Coppi's death from malaria at the age of forty-one, and since Coppi was one of Italy's greatest cyclists
, it is not a day likely to pass without commemoration in this country.
Memorial to Coppi at Pordoi Pass, Italy.
Just about every fan of cycling is aware of who Coppi is. The son of farmers in the Apennines in Northwest Italy, he rose to the heights of his chosen sport, fought in World War II, then returned to compete and achieve further acclaim as Italy worked to find its footing as a nation once again. Only his affair with a married woman -- while still married himself -- managed to tarnish his reputation in many eyes, and brought him into conflict with the laws of that time.
It's hard for me to imagine, now, that an extramarital affair could be punished by sending the participants to prison. It's hard to imagine how strongly he must have felt for "la dama in bianco" -- "the woman in white", as she was described in the press at the time -- that he would be willing to endure such public outcry (which included being spat on by spectators of the races he rode) and criticism (from no less than the Pope himself).
But he did.
He loved her and gave up his family and a good deal of his popular acclaim in order to be with her. Right or wrong, he followed his heart and did what he thought he had to in order to be with her. They dealt with the consequences, started their family (they had a son in spite of the fact they couldn't legally wed in Italy) and tried to go forward together. In the end, of course, it didn't work out the way they'd planned. Coppi died after contracting malaria during a safari trip in Burkina Faso. (The malady was misdiagnosed as influenza when it emerged after his return to Italy.)
In the last few weeks, I've seen this documentary and I've read William Fotheringham's biography of Coppi. Viewing what Coppi went through makes the prose on the page still more vivid.
After watching the documentary on television yesterday, Coppi has been on my mind even more: what he sacrificed and what he salvaged, who he loved and who he hurt, his own private losses throughout it all (his brother, Serse, who became a cyclist after Fausto did, died after crashing during the final sprint in the Giro del Piemonte in 1951).
And all of this gets turned over and over in my head, tiny elements sticking together and becoming a different whole.
Coppi in a breakaway. There is a lithograph of this in my living room.
I'm thinking a lot about what I've written so far in 27 Stages
. Yes, it's fiction, but it's clear to me that the stakes need to be raised, the risks need to be greater than what I've written up to now. I know, if only because the reality is so much greater than anything I could ever invent, I need to do my damnedest to do the stories justice.
Because their stories deserve no less.
Well, here we are, on the verge of a New Year, releasing the old and making way for the new, and so on and on.I find myself staring down my current WiP, 27 Stages and trying to get the next chapter to unfold. Or, rather, I'm trying to get the current chapter to wind up so I can move on to the next chapter. This is the sort of thing writers deal with on occasion, I suppose: stubborn words, stubborn images, etc. You see, it's not that I don't have more to write for this story. The problem lies in the fact the images which are coming to mind fall into one of the following categories: a) They aren't from the chapter I'm presently attempting to complete. b) They have little – if anything – to do with the story I'm working on. c) They would be better placed in another part of the manuscript. d) They almost certainly won't survive the final cut, and their inclusion in this manuscript would muddy the waters more than is strictly necessary. And so I sit, type out a little, backspace over it and start over. Repeat. Repeat again. Then I pack it in, frustrated until another idea comes to mind and I open the WiP and make another attempt. GrrrrrRRRrrrrr… Federico and Abby are still there, demanding my attention, speaking up at the most inopportune times and making me wish I had the ability to write directly out of my subconscious onto the document on the computer. My focus is wonky, refusing to clarify and permit me to slip into 27 Stages' world again for more than a few moments at a time. I need to rest, but as soon as I do something else, the voices are loud and clear, but they only remain so as long as the computer is off and the WiP is out of reach. But there's good news, too. Last night, I dreamed of a race. I dreamed I spent time talking with the riders, but Federico wasn't there for me. I caught glimpses of him, but he wouldn't look my way. I reckon he will before long. I sought Abby in the crowd before the dreamscape shifted and changed, taking me somewhere else. Hopefully next time she'll join me for a few minutes. We have a lot to talk about. One thing is certain: I miss our chats. On a pleasing note: I sold a copy or two of Ask Me if I'm Happy on the Kindle recently. At least, I know of a couple of purchases, and they led to an upward swing from 229,283 all the way up to 95,961 in just two days. I'll take that for the time being. Now if I could just find a way to get Amazon to quit saying the book isn't available when it is, I'd be in "business"…
Everyone's source of inspiration is different.
This week, I thought I'd share a little about how "Ask Me if I'm Happy" came about. In some ways, it's just like most people believe it would be:
I got an idea, and I wrote it down. It took two years of writing to get the whole idea down, though. And then it morphed and changed and became something very different from what I'd initially imagined.
It almost always does. Change, I mean.
The origin of the story was this: I watched an episode of Samantha Brown's Passport to Europe which took place in Bologna. There is a segment in that episode where she visits with a Bolognese family for dinner, and while I listened to them talking to her, I felt suddenly homesick. Or more accurately, I felt homesick for my students at the school where I teach. The Bolognese accent is different from a Reggiano accent, but the similarities were strong enough to bring my students to mind.
I continued watching the show, and started pondering what it would be like to have a native Bolognese taking me around the city. I love Bologna, and have loved it since I first visited with my husband several years ago. I go to the bookshops there, I have seen a couple of concerts there, and I just love the general atmosphere of the place.
Anyway, that night, I had a dream which took place in Bologna. It was a dream of the "Watching it on a movie screen" variety, where I was not an active participant, just a viewer. I saw a handsome man meet a plain but pretty woman on a train. I saw the newspaper headlines proclaiming a transportation strike, which kept her in the city. I saw him take her to lunch, and then seduce her, only to find his own personal conflict emerge when she left him. The would-be Casanova was caught in his own trap, and his prey escaped to return to her former life in another place.
The images stayed with me all day long. The sexy, sensual edge of the dream's images wouldn't leave me alone. This was a story I needed to write.
And someday, I might write it, too.
Instead, as I sat down and put pen to paper, the characters made themselves heard. Davide (as he was called) insisted that he wouldn't do such things. He was a nice guy, not a love-em-and-leave-em sort. Emily (as she was always called) said much the same. She was shy, and lacked self-confidence, and no matter how mad she was at her husband she wouldn't just run off for a dalliance with a stranger.
I had to change almost all of the story. I wrote it as a short story - roughly fifteen or twenty pages - called it "Lo Sciopero" (the Strike) and worked on it for the rest of my stay in the States. Now Davide was a gallant stranger offering Emily assistance when her trip to the US was complicated by the strike. He was a perfect gentleman who showed her the tenderness she needed to get past a difficult moment in her life, and nothing more.
But that didn't quite work either. I had to write more. And more.
The kernel of truth in the first version of the story survived. A friend critiqued it and made a suggestion which pulled the whole thing together. But the short story became a novella, and then the novella grew.
Davide insisted on telling more of the story. "You're not finished yet! What about what happened in Milano? What about when I came home?"
"Yeah!" Emily cried. "What about when I went home? What about the messages we wrote each other? What about...? What about...?"
Fine. I wrote it all down. I finished the tale two years after I started, after changes and rewrites and edits and agonizing hours spent deciding what could be cut, and what I believed needed to stay. And then cutting some of that, anyway.
An entire novella was added, then axed. With more work, I'll probably offer that separately, as a story of its own.
And, yes, there's much more to this process. This is just an overview. No story just "flows" out of a writer - well, maybe for some. Maybe when I've been writing steadily for a couple more years, I'll find the process easier. I doubt it, though. After all is said and done, this is me offering a piece of me to the audience, and that's never an easy thing to do.
But I can't stop doing it.
I hope you don't mind...