Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Real Life Characters

When doing research for an historical fiction novel, I often run across people who are just too good to be left to obscurity.  Two of those who went on to become characters in my novels were Sloan Gordon and Florence Farmborough.  Their names alone made them worthy characters.

Sloan Gordon

Deep in the bowels of the Dayton Metro Library reside hundreds of microfiche reels containing back issues of Dayton newspapers dating from the turn of the century.  I spent many nights and weekends squinting at blurry images researching the period covering my stories.  It was during a search of articles pertaining to the Great War that I discovered Sloan Gordon.  As near as I could determine Sloan Gordon was a war correspondent for Cox newspaper assigned to the Eastern Front.  A visit to the Dayton Daily News personnel archives failed to produce any further information.  Thus inspired by his name and his series of detailed dispatches from the Eastern front, I gave Sloan Gordon new life in Banners.

* * *
"As a boy, Sloan Gordon had devoured Stephen Crane’s glowing reports from Cuba during the 'splendid little war' with Spain and later Jack London’s stories from the Russo-Japanese War.  Ever since, Sloan had seen nothing but a war correspondent in his future.  He envisioned himself in the front lines sending back dispatches of glorious victories and humiliating defeats.  His enthusiasm only increased when nine months ago, Cox sent him to follow in Jack London’s footsteps to Eastern Europe.  Others may have considered the Eastern Front a minor arena in the real war between Germany and France, but to Sloan it was a dream come true and the opportunity of a lifetime."
* * *
Jack London
Sloan's article detailing the death of a young Russian sentry during a minor battle on the Eastern Front was the inspiration Sergei's first combat role since his battles on the Russian frontier.  In Sloan Gordon's prose, "the sentry was found the next morning stone dead, a pile of spent cartridges at his feed.  Upon examining the poor soul's corpse the Russian doctor declared the sentry had died of fright."  The details in Sloan's article substantiated the doctor's diagnosis.  In Banners' version of the battle, Sergei rallies a retreating Russian battalion and directs a heroic stand against advancing Austrian troops.  The unfortunate sentry's death is a result of that stand.
* * *
1915 Article by Sloan Gordon
* * *
Sloan Gordon appears in Banners as a war correspondent sending periodic dispatches back to the Cox newspaper company.  I used Gordon's style of writing to fabricate the events on the Eastern front and create a timetable weaving through the story.

In a 1915 news report, which appears almost verbatim in Banners, Sloan relays the story of the children orphaned or abandoned by the war.  These "wretched waifs" as he called them, were flotsam awash in a sea of misery.  The bezprizorniki (little ones without protectors from bez-without, prizor-protectors, niki-little ones) became the basis for a subplot in Slogans and morphed into the gang Stefan aspires to join.
* * *
Sloan Gordon's article on the lost children
  * * *

* * *
"Sloan set down his pen and buried his eyes in the palms of his hands in hope to block out the images.  One could only write so much before the mind rebelled from the memories and refused to conjure up more.  Sloan Gordon had now seen the face of war and it was not glorious."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


In 2010 I purchased a Kindle and was exposed to its vast array of free and economical reading material.  During a search for e-books, I discovered Project Gutenberg, which enables readers to download classics like Ben Hur, Les Miserables, and others at no cost.  Perusing Amazon's stock of inexpensive e-books introduced me to Mainak Dhar's zombie series and Naomi Kramer's humorous Deadish  murder mysteries. Aaron Stander's real life crime stories in Upper Michigan kept me swiping the pages and Simon Denman's Connected presented me an all to real preview of humanities eventual take over by AI.  Since many of the books were not from mainstream publishers, I doubt I would have experienced them if it had not been for the Kindle.  Based on this observation, e-publishing offered a fertile ground for my next literary endeavor.

Poor Reese during my Les Miserables period

E-Publishing on Kindle

Ikons was already written in Word and had a JPG cover, so I figured I had everything I needed to e-publish.  Late in 2011, logged on to Amazon and printed out the necessary steps to e-publication.  Since this was prior to automatic conversion, the process consisted of: make the Word file compatible for the new format, create a mobi file from it and upload the results to Amazon.  While this sounds straight forward, it wasn't.  I obtained the free copy of  MobiPocket Creator and used it to generate a mobi file of Ikons, which I then viewed with a program called Kindle Reader.  This required going through the entire book page by page looking for improper formatting.  Then it was back to the Word file, correct the errors, convert it, then check again with Kindle Reader.  After several iterations, Ikons was ready for e-publishing.  I went to Amazon, filled out the forms, got a new ISBN, slapped on a $2.99 price tag and uploaded my novel.  Several days later, Ikons for the Kindle appeared on Amazon.

Ikons as an ebook
After my experience converting Ikons to a Kindle book, Banners was a cinch.  I breezed through the set up and even managed to embed a photo in the book, something I failed to do with Ikons.  Like Ikons, Banners was listed at $2.99.  

Banners on Kindle

A Kindle version of Slogans was even easier, since it was included in the iUniverse publishing package.  The biggest difference from my other two e-books is iUniverse set the selling price at $3.99.  Still a bargain.

Slogans on Kindle


Around the same time I e-published with Amazon, Mark Corker started Smashword, a site for easily putting your work on the internet for distribution to multiple reading devices.  Smashword attracted and welcomed all types of writing from novels, to novellas and short stories.  Corker offered a variety of download help guides spanning the entire e-book processes from submission to sales.  It sounded good to me.

Getting your work on Smashword is easy.  All you need is a correctly formatted Word file and a cover.  Upload your story to Smashword and it creates files compatible with Kindle, erf, lrf and others, and lists them in an on-line catalogue.  From there the author is responsible for pricing and sales.

Smashwords offers hundreds of thousands of titles, most low priced or free.  It is an excellent site for finding stories outside the mainstream.  While some works show the obvious signs of  a first-time author, many are very well done.  For example, Aaron Lowry's haunting story, Prisoner 721, made me question the meaning of intelligence and Nathan Thompson's The Watch in the Sand the very essence of life itself.

Selling on the Internet

While I successfully sold physical books, I have as yet to master the art of selling e-books. For some reason I mysteriously receive quarterly royalties from Amazon, SmashWords, iUniverse, and some other e-book sellers I have yet to identify. Though I'm pleased people are buying my novels, it would be helpful to know my target audience and learn how they found my works.  But so far I haven't been able to do so. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


How exciting would Silence of the Lambs be without Hannibal Lecter, or the Wizard of Oz without the Wicked Witch?  Not very.  Thus, every story needs villains and so did mine.  I used three men to provide the necessary evil.  Two of them, Leonoid Shoko and Mister Wolford W. Scott,  played rolls in all three novels, while the third, Komisar Lev Bogdanov,  appears only in Slogans.

Leonoid Schoko

"In the inn's far corner deep in the shadows, a dark form sat at a table.  A large, black shapka covered his head and disappeared into black greasy beard.  The man wore the coarse, outer garments of coachmen and for all the world looked like a great bear slumbering in its cave.  Only occasional flecks of firelight reflecting from his eyes betrayed his wakefulness and revealed the intelligence beneath his bestial exterior."
* * *
 Leonoid Schoko is Hutava's boogeyman.  Son of the village whore, he is an outcast.  Thus by the village's culture, Schoko is regulated to the lowest jobs: removing the villager's night dirt, disposing of dead animals, and scaring village children into behaving. But like most villains, Schoko has a secret.

Schoko is a character you can almost feel sorry for.  I came up with his name from a Russian phase my father used to utter, "Shoko mako."  I never quite understood what it meant since he used it in many different circumstances.  Sometime it meant to hurry, as in "Let's go.  Schoko mako," whereas other times he would eye my shoddy labor with disgust, shake his head and mumble, "Schoko mako."  Either way, the word had a nice ring to it.

Leonoid Schoko
Shoko plays important roles in Ikons and Banners.  In Slogans he receives only a cameo appearance.  I originally wanted to give him a larger role, but I felt blaming the villagers' horrors on Shoko let the Soviet government off the hook.

Mister Wolford W. Scott

"The vice-president sat behind a large, hand-rubbed mahogany desk to the left of the stairs.  In front of the desk, forming a barrier to its approach, was a rectangular table with several chairs, all on the side away from the desk.  Mister Wolford W. Scott had placed himself as near to the mezzanine as possible so as to command a view of the entire bank while conducting business.   No one could enter or move about without his notice.  Mister Wolford W. Scott was proud of his bank and even prouder to be its vice-president.  He walked, talked and dressed himself as befitting a man of his station.  To many, he looked like the cartoon of the capitalist banker brought to life."
* * * 
Mister Wolford W. Scott is vice-president of the National Bank of Joliet.  He's a pompous, bigoted man who begrudgingly accepts immigrants as necessary for the Joliet's economy.  But that doesn't mean he has to treat them fairly.  I always refer to Mister Wolford W. Scott as Mister Wolford W. Scott.  I seldom used a pronoun since Mister Wolford W. Scott is extremely proud of his name and relishes the sound of it.  Also by repeating Mister Wolford W. Scott so often, the reader quickly tires of it and learns to dislike Mister Wolford W. Scott and all Mister Wolford W. Scott stands for.  

In Slogans Wolford W. Scott's bigotry turns to paranoia of the Red Scare.  Believing all Russian immigrants are Bolsheviks, Mister Wolford W. Scott turns his wrath against Massey.

Mister Woldford W. Scott

I once read bank presidents and collage deans all had names that could be said backward or forward.  Mister Wolford W. Scott was derived from a co-worker named Scott Wolford.  The fact his last name, Scott, is that of a former girlfriend is mere coincidence.

Komisar Lev M. Bogdanov

Komisar Lev M. Bogdanov

"While his father’s prayers for freedom went unheeded, Lev’s supplications were heard.  His salvation came not from an indifferent god, but from those who understood the value of a fine suit of clothes.  Even on the frozen taiga of the Chelyabinsk Oblast, a man must look his best and what more could a minor official wish than a suit made by a Jewish tailor.

Fourteen years after Bloody Sunday and four months after Lenin’s October Revolution, Bogdanov walked through the gate of Labor Camp 482 a free man and the city of Chelyabinsk became home not only to a fine tailor, but also an exceptional chess player and a very dedicated Communist."
* * *
Komisar Bogdanov can't be described as evil.  He is true believer in social reform and that communism is the only way to save mankind.  Bogdanov's problems begin when the villagers of Unkurda do not accept his philosophy with bread and salt.  Like too many reformers, he then treats the villagers as children whom must be shown the proper path.  

After a year of futility, Bogdanov receives orders from the Central Committee to increase production or suffer personal consequences.  He responds with increased zeal.  When his glowing plans are met with indifference and outright hostility, Bogdanov feels population must be weeded for the good of all.