“Mrs. Hall-Surrey” Sees “Herself”

Well, our former Christchurch neighbo(u)rs are back in England from Tenerife. She surprised us with a phone call last night. We’re going to meet for lunch in the near future, roughly halfway between here in Wiltshire and where they live 6 doors away from our old house in Christchurch.

During our short chat, she said she’d finished Frontiers a few weeks ago. Shameless plug from me here: She said she liked Frontiers even better than Passports. She also declared she can’t wait for the next book to see what else could possibly happen.

So, uh, no rising high expectations there for me to meet!

Christchurch. [Screen capture of Wikipedia by me, 2015.]
Christchurch. [Screen capture of Wikipedia by me, 2015.]

She loved that I wrote about Christchurch again. In Passports, I’d just dropped in a quick mention. But in Frontiers, I decided to go all out: I filled a chapter.

And she did indeed figure it out. She saw “herself” on the pages. A first-class person and good sport, she is greatly flattered I used her and her husband as the basis for Englishwoman “Natalie Hall-Surrey’s” parents….

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“Why am I crying?”

Twenty years ago, seeing this in person for the first time….

A view of graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. [Photo by me, 1995.]
A view of graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. [Photo by me, 1995.]

….I was overwhelmed emotionally and I’ve never forgotten it.

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Quite A “Sane” Ending

Having recorded it on Thursday evening (when it was shown here in Britain), last night I finally watched the series finale of Mad Men.

Screen capture of IMDB.
Screen capture of IMDB.

I had been studiously avoiding “spoilers” online – something not easy to do when it seemed half of America was tweeting about it when it was broadcast there on May 17. Somehow, I managed it.

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Sneak Peek: The Beginning (Warning: Contains Spoiler)

As we know, Amazon makes the first 10 percent of a Kindle book, as well as the first pages of a print version (although not nearly so many pages as for the Kindle), available for free reading online. I suspect that is gradually altering writing; I know it’s impacting mine. For given that potential readers get to sample only the beginning of your hard work that could stretch on for several hundred additional complex pages, it seems increasingly important that novels commence with “a bang.”

That said, and as you also may know, I don’t do “gunfire”; but I always seek to grab. Passports opens with an optimistic, pleasant, meeting in a college class, but one also loaded with various signs lots more is gonna happen here from every direction and then some. Frontiers starts with something of a “shocker” that is deliberately meant to lead a Passports reader briefly to think: “Wait. What?”

Now, given the reality its first pages will again be visible online anyway eventually, I thought I’d share the planned beginning to Distances.

Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).
Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).

A word of warning: There is a substantive “spoiler” in this “sneak peek.”

So, to borrow from a television sports reporter who says before revealing a final score for a game that will be broadcast only later on “tape delay,” if you are interested in reading the first two books and have not, and don’t like “spoilers,” CLICK HERE (and I’ll redirect you safely to yesterday’s post). ;-)

Whether or not you choose to read on, have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)

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A Heartfelt “Thanks”

Everything can seem fine. Daily work and life proceeds. We may feel we’ve got it *mostly* under control….

“But then you come walking into a room, and my mind goes somewhere else.” ~ James (in Frontiers)

Indeed and then we’re jolted into reflecting. Amidst all of the hundreds of postings to date here, I have perhaps inadequately acknowledged what’s ultimately most important. Allow me to do so unambiguously.

Free Stock Photo: A heart drawn in the sand.
Free Stock Photo: A heart drawn in the sand.

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Showtime

Recently, we watched the first episode of The Affair. It’s a drama from the U.S. that got fantastic reviews. It stars two British actors pretending to be Americans, and the program revolves around the fact that they are having an, well…. I think the title is rather a giveaway.

I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I’ll keep watching it. My initial take is it seems to be mostly about how to concoct a drama that justifies extended sex scenes.

No shock that, really. After all, it’s from cable’s Showtime.

Free Stock Photos: Illustration of a movie clapboard.
Free Stock Photos: Illustration of a movie clapboard.

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Confronting National Stereotypes

Yesterday, I had a terrible headache which virtually incapacitated me all day. I’m not 100 percent my old self yet, but I finally feel a bit better this morning. I can at least function. (When I get a headache, I can become very ill.)

While I was waiting for the pain to subside, I stumbled on this on Twitter from the Matador Network. It’s an entertaining travel and international site, which (full disclosure) also follows me on Twitter. I thought it was worth a blog post:

Twitter screen capture.
Twitter screen capture.

The tweets that went back in response were about what you might expect. However, one of them included an old canard. It’s hard to tell if the tweeter, apparently a man, was joking; he may well have been trying to be lighthearted. The sixth tweet down: it’s about women who (apparently use too much) perfume and don’t shave (under their arms):

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“It is America. Everyone goes to university!”

The first two novels laid the groundwork. As they are an ongoing tale (although could be read as stand alone books) with most of the same characters, writing them I’m naturally with them for years – literally – watching them change. And I’ve said before that, given their ages, that some of them even feel at times sorta like adult kids of my own.

Who’s my favorite? I’m not saying: What “parent” would ever answer that? They are by now so distinctive in my mind I think of each of them are pretty remarkable (in both good and not so good ways), and I can’t honestly say any one of them is “my favorite.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.

In Distances, “Béatrice” will finally visit the United States. She won’t be going to New York or other tourist spots, though, only to New England. She’ll see one part of New England in particular:

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Spinning Out Of Control

I’m sure some of you reading this were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. The era of which I write about in the novels is therefore in a real sense “history” to you. It pre-dates either your consciousness of the wider world…. or even your birth itself! ;-)

Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]
Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]

It’s trite to point out that one can’t hope to begin to understand the present without understanding the past; yet it’s absolutely true. And trying to appreciate the human outlook of any “past” is a vital aspect of that effort. This article in Die Zeit about Germany’s attitude and approach to the world since 1989 could in large measure apply elsewhere in Europe as well as to the U.S.A.:

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall … we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream….

….Crisis has become the new normal. The years between 1990 and now were the exception.

The psychological repercussions of this fundamentally new situation on Europe’s political elites are both brutal and curious at the same time. Those aged 45 to 65 currently in positions of power have only known growing prosperity, freedom and cultural sophistication. They were, and to a large extent still are, predisposed to exert themselves only modestly, act responsibly and expect that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And suddenly history has unceremoniously grabbed them by the scruff of the neck. Do we really need to fight now? More than ever? And what does our cardiologist have to say?

I’m sharing that article and writing this post because that piece hit me hard. I fall into the “early part” of that age group; but I was certainly not “powerful” in 1989. (Nor am I now!) Speaking here only for myself, of course, I also vividly recall the post-fall of the Berlin Wall atmosphere: it fills my novels and is meant to do so.

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Lunchtime Impromptu Book Club

I’ve gotten into War and Remembrance a bit now. It being lunchtime (and after I’d spent much of the morning with “Mark” and “James” and struggling with two – that’s right, two – pages), as I eat my sandwich here at my desk I thought I’d share some initial thoughts on Herman Wouk’s incredible tome.

War and Remembrance, sitting on my desk. [Photo by me, 2015.]
War and Remembrance, sitting on my desk. [Photo by me, 2015.]

Allowing for its age (it’s worth always bearing in mind it’s 40 to 50 year old writing), it’s an excellent book overall so far. However, aspects of Remembrance are not anything I would want to emulate. Even more so than with The Winds of War, I’m seeing certain things style-wise in Remembrance that no novelist should really want even accidentally to replicate.

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