Sometimes You Have to Get Lucky

I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Never been to Berlin. Did not speak more than a few words of German beyond the phrase made famous by John F. Kennedy: Ich bin ein Berliner. Didn’t know much, really, about escapes at the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, or the chain of events that led to its fall in 1988. So how did I end up spending more than two years digging under the Wall — that is, researching a book titled The Tunnels?

Since the early 1980s, I had written many books whose subjects were clearly chosen by design, sometimes years in the making or at least months marinating. But this one was different. I don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed that it came about by pure chance, thanks to my daughter, and a sunny day.

Although I am, sadly, old enough to recall growing up in the 1950s and 1960s with Berlin as an almost daily hot topic in the news, I was never obsessed with the Wall. My generation, after all, had racial segregation, nuclear war, Vietnam, and Nixon to contend with here at home. This began to change for me just in the past decade. The German film, an Oscar winner, The Lives of Others, explored the horrors of living in East Berlin behind the Wall, focusing on the Stasi-enabled police state. It became one of my favorite movies of recent years. Then I co-produced an acclaimed film documentary, Following the Ninth, exploring the political and cultural impact of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. One of its five segments featured an appealing young woman who grew up in the shadow of the Wall.

So I might have been slightly primed, but while looking for a new book idea this never crossed my mind. What I needed was an intimate encounter. That came after my daughter, who had just gotten her Ph.D. in London, unexpectedly moved to Berlin with her husband and their three-year-old son. They happened to take a flat in the old East Berlin, near Alexanderplatz, about a mile from one of the most famous Wall neighborhoods along Bernauer Strasse. On our first ever visit to Berlin, however, my wife and I had trouble encountering any remnants or legacy of the Wall — the barrier was torn down so quickly and completely, and there is no major museum to visit.

On our final day, however, we decided to stroll to the most extensive Wall memorial site which runs for several blocks along Bernauer, even though it was barely mentioned in our guide book and very poorly described. Fortunately it was a bright, sunny, day in May and it did not rain — or my life might be quite different today.

Exploring that site, which includes patches of the Wall and the “death strip” that discouraged escapes, we agreed it was one of the most moving, tasteful, and overwhelming historical sites we had ever experienced. And I was most struck by the stories of attempted escapes by East Germans under the Wall, some successful, others ending in tragedy. What was most incredible about the tunnels was that, almost unique in history, they were dug not from imprisonment to freedom but in the opposite direction. — from west to east. Students in West Berlin excavated the caverns to spring friends, lovers, and family members, even strangers, from the East. Almost on the spot I decided to explore all types escapes, over a wider period, for a possible book, when I returned to New York.

When I did that, however, I found that chronicling the many attempted flights from the East would be daunting, especially from 4000 miles away, and with no German language skills to conduct interviews or read a single document. But I discovered something else: there was an amazing, long forgotten American media angle to this subject. And I had been a media writer for many years, along with serving as editor of Editor & Publisher for many years not long ago.

It seems that NBC had aired a film covering the digging of one particular tunnel in 1962 which sparked controversy but ended up winning three Emmys and now considered a landmark in television history. (I may have even watched it when I was in my early teens.) What few know today is that the Kennedy White House and State Department tried to bully NBC into canceling the show, for reasons still murky. They did succeed in causing a postponement. That got my attention, as well as offering an exciting American focus for my narrative.

Researching further, I found that NBC wasn’t alone in funding and attempting to film a dig under the Wall. CBS tried to do it a few weeks earlier, and the correspondent was none other than the legendary Daniel Schorr. His program never did make it on the air, killed by his boss under pressure from the Kennedy team. But why? State Department and CIA documents and cables had just been declassified — another lucky break for me — and they were riveting.

Suddenly my amorphous “Berlin Wall Escape” book had come into clear focus. I might be able to explore this deeply — with a sharp American angle — by organizing it around those two tunnels and those two controversial network projects. But how could I accomplish that from so far away, and as a non-German speaker? Would I be able to make substantial use of the Stasi archives and other sources in that country? Were any of the key tunnelers and escapees still alive and willing to talk?

Another lucky break: My daughter, like her dad, does not speak any Deutsch — but her husband, Stephane Henaut, is half-German and, of course, fluent. So over many months he was able to help set up meetings with the key tunnelers and escapees (another bit of luck: most were still alive and living in or near Berlin), accompany me on interviews to serve as interpreter, then translate the tapes at home. Just as important: he was able to provide translations of hundreds of pages of Stasi documents and chapters from German language books.

And that former East Berlin woman featured in my Beethoven documentary? Turns out she’s now living in Los Angeles — and she translated hundreds of other pages of Stasi docs and pages from books, conducted a couple of key interviews with Germans from afar, and provided almost daily fact-checking.

There’s the expression, it’s better to be lucky than good. I hope both may apply to The Tunnels. Now I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Greg Mitchell’s THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill will be published by Crown on October 18.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Greg Mitchell

Most Effective Ways to Overcome Your Writing Problem

You have to believe in yourself, take your writing tasks seriously and follow the tips listed here to eliminate your writing challenges.

Writers face diverse challenges. Sometimes, these challenges may not surface letting you write as much as you can. But other times, they just stir at you in the face, keeping you from writing something meaningful.

Things like the fear of failure, writer’s block, procrastination and loss of ideas are some of the challenges writers face. You will feel helpless and frustrated. Many writers also seek expository essay help to fix their writing tasks.

There are ways you can overcome any problem that is preventing you from writing. Some of us have been in this horrible situation before, so it is a pleasure to help you solve yours.

Below are ways you can overcome those problems you are facing as a writer. Read on to learn more.

  1. Identifying the problem

Identifying that there is a problem is the first step to solving it. When you feel the urge to write but can’t even form a sentence, know there is a problem.

You need to find out what is creating the problem for you. Are too tired to write? Are you going through emotional challenges? Are you sick or hungry? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself.

If tiredness from stress is the cause of the problem, all you need to do is get better sleep or rest for a while. If the problem is emotional, get it off of your head as soon as possible.

  1. Get all ideas together

You need ideas to write. In fact, the quality of what you write depends on the ideas you conceived. We often make the mistake of discarding ideas when we feel they are bad. No idea of yours should be labelled as bad when you are still in the brainstorming process.

Get all ideas you have generated together even if you think some are not relevant. You will find out which one of them is relevant when you start writing.

Before you start writing, have a brief brainstorming session. Write down any idea that comes to your mind create bullet points for all your thoughts or ideas so you can get back to them easily. After finishing the brainstorming session, rest for a while and come back to review each idea you have generated to find out which one fits the topic you are writing on.

  1. Deal with Procrastination

The root cause of most of our problems as writers is procrastination. Remember the last time you made plans to finish a particular task but ended up postponing till it was close to the deadline.

Writing under pressure isn’t good for you as a writer. And it happens when you don’t manage time properly. You’ll find yourself racing to meet the given deadline without considering the quality of what you’re writing.

Procrastination is a serious problem that any writer looking to succeed must fight to a standstill. Let’s look at ways to overcome it.

Tips#

  • Make detailed schedule for the writing task
  • In the schedule, write down the deadline you will be completing the rough draft, revision and proofreading.
  • Agree on a deadline to publish the book or whatever you are writing.
  • Have some break so you can come back with a fresh mind and perspective to complete the job.
  1. Build Your Confidence

Fear is one the problems writers face. Fear of work being rejected or criticized, fear of not presenting a book that is up to expectation.

You need to build your confidence as a writer. If you have confidence in yourself, it will reflect in your writing. Remember that the only achievement you can get from being afraid is making regrettable and avoidable mistakes. Fear breeds mistakes. If you don’t trust whatever you are writing, then don’t expect others to.

Once you have already accepted that you are going to fail, there is a high possibility it is going to happen. The following tips will help in this scenario.

Tips#

  • Believe in yourself and show positive attitude
  • Get a close friend to review your book or writing. From the review, you will know the area you need to work on and what you need to do.

These are some of the most effective ways you can get rid of your writing problem and become that author you have always wanted. These problems are the limiting factors, preventing you from moving further. You have to believe in yourself, take your writing tasks seriously and follow the tips listed here to eliminate your writing challenges. Once you are able to get rid of your writing problems, you will achieve more as a writer.

This post is contributed as Guest Post by Mia Stokes.

Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult Entertainment

Have you ever been shocked by the content of a book, movie, or television show?

Especially as parents, many of us have expressed concern about what our children and grandchildren are exposed to at what ages. With respect to literature, one way that publishers and book reviewers describe a story is by labeling it as Young Adult (YA, adolescent), New Adult (NA, college-aged), or Adult based on the ages of the primary characters. This article is a critique of the strict application of that practice, and touches upon issues related to maturity rating based upon violent and sexual content. It has already been well established that popular YA novels are rife with profanity. http://www.slj.com/2012/05/research/ya-books-rife-with-profanity-study-finds/

Many adult readers remember the infamous line screamed by a thirteen year old in The Exorcist: “…Your mother sucks cocks in Hell….” — a line that’s hard to forget. The movie was rated age 16+ but tons of younger kids read the book and watched the movie. The adolescent insult in ET: “penis breath” is also unforgettable. Elliot was ten years old when he insulted his brother by revealing his awareness of oral sex, about which his mother didn’t blink an eye. This story was vigorously consumed by appreciative YA and younger audiences. I remember being personally shocked when I watched a cartoon X-Ray of a gerbil climbing within a gay teacher’s rectum on South Park as he had orgasms on TV. This show is highly popular among kids, as were some of the sexual puns and potty humor on the Beavis and Butthead show. Age of the primary characters may not always be descriptive of maturing rating, whether the content will take us too far outside of our comfort zones, or whether it is appropriate for children.

Another strategy for defining maturity ratings that has been applied relates to violent content. I’m not sure how it happened, but, ironically, some of the most violent content in the marketplace now appears to be within YA novels and video games for kids. One of the bloodiest scenes that I’ve ever read was in a book that I was assigned to review through a Goodreads program. It was a labeled to be YA vampire story but was filled with violence, teenage angst that bordered on soft pornography, and included substance abuse. I won’t mention its title because my review was a low rating, but that book caused me to drop out of the Goodreads program and vow to avoid reading YA novels without fully checking them out first. At age sixty-five, I guess that I’m just not mature enough to handle the violence in some young adult literature.

Now let’s get to the nasty — sexual content about which I feel comfortably numb. Much more so than violent content, parental guidance ratings appear to be related to sex. Of course, any person of any age who has access to the internet could watch hardcore porn given an interest. Still, laws that restrict access are a positive symbolism.

If one takes sexual content down a notch from eroticism, romance literature appears to be highly popular, including with teens. Personally, I love a good Nora Roberts story but I usually skip past the kissy/kissy scenes. This type of entertainment appears to especially target young adult and new adult audiences when genre is based on the ages of the primary characters, i.e., NA for college-aged kids.

I suppose that there could be negative impacts of exposing children to romance novels, but nobody seems concerned enough to study such a proposition, especially since most people experience their first romantic crush at age five or six. http://www.parents.com/kids/development/friends/how-to-handle-your-childs-first-crush/. Most people report falling in love for the first time at age fifteen or sixteen.http://www.bustle.com/articles/160133-this-is-when-most-people-fall-in-love-for-the-first-time

At the same time, many people draw a very heavy line between romantic love and sexual content of entertainment. Sexual content nevertheless persists, has invaded venues in some of the least likely places. For example, there may be more comedic sexual innuendos in a half-hour of the Family Feud TV show than within the entirely of most novels considered to have been written for an adult audience because of sexual content. Sitcoms like 2 Broke Girls and The Big Bang Theory, and crime dramas like Bones, are full of sexual content.

With respect to genre confusion, it appears to me that maturity rating could be applied by producers, editors and reviewers by weighing content and target audiences outside of simply the age of the characters or the violent and sexual content of the works. Some people will never be mature enough to “get” the satire of some stories, and some children are much more astute about their worlds than many parents want to believe. Personally, I’m going to try and ignore genre classification as I decide what entertainments to consume during the short period of time that humans are allotted. From now on, I vow to read reviews in their entirety. I would hate to miss something great because of a label.

Personally, I decided to implement a conservative interpretation of community standards with classification of my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow. Although most of the profanity used by two characters in the story is mild colloquialism, and there are no actual sex scenes, the social commentary, satire, and political parody seem to fit mature readers. It also has much more literary content than found in most action driven YA stories. So, I call my novel a children’s story, for adults. It is available on Amazon if you would like to check it out. Your comments about the advantages and disadvantages of labeling a book as one for adults vs. young adults are welcome.

This post is contributed as Guest Post by Robert Eggleton.

You Mean Little Old Me? 14 Secrets of Writing Revealed

One lesson coming home to me more clearly every day is the importance of developing and nurturing a strong support system of other writers, to learn from their vast pool of experience and knowledge.

It’s pretty exciting to hear myself say, “I’m an author!” while I hand someone my business card. Can it actually be true? Who gave me such an illustrious title, anyway? Maybe it happened once I printed the cards; in any event it crept up on me. But I like it, it’s new, and it’s fun. I think.

I began writing for pure recreation, and to fill my retirement. It should still be fun!

Now, however, the question has been raised about a writer’s responsibilities, and that has sent my brain into a sort of frenzied overdrive. And dimly, as if emerging through the mist on the edge of a forest, some sobering facts are coming into focus. I do take my writing seriously, and I do take responsibility for what I write! I admit that came as a revelation of sorts, and to describe those duties and obligations throws me another challenge, but it’s one that I wish to embark upon, even if only for my own satisfaction.

One lesson coming home to me more clearly every day is the importance of developing and nurturing a strong support system of other writers, to learn from their vast pool of experience and knowledge. I’ve found a real gold mine in RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB. This group, often seen in social media as #RRBC, has the largest membership, most impressive management and varied activities of any similar groups or organizations I’ve come across to date. This is the website where you can sign up: Click Here

As for the responsibilities of authors, the FIRST thought that springs to mind is that a writer must capture the reader’s interest from the first sentence, or at least the first page. SECONDLY, the plot needs to develop with enough speed to stay fascinating, but not so quickly as to lose a poor hapless reader’s grasp of what is happening.

THIRD item, and none of this is necessarily in order of importance, every book has to be believable. That applies even to the wildest fantasy; your readers must be able to feel the possibility of the tale actually happening, somewhere, sometime.

Number FOUR any story with a semblance of normal human existence, whether it be romance or thriller, is better if supported by real facts, even in passing. If you are in London get some fog in there, Big Ben bonging the hour, or taxis.

Also, so FIFTH condition if you’re still counting, would be characters who seem alive, feel real, and have sensible conversations that sound spontaneous and natural. And since reading is a form of entertainment, the added ingredients to present a full picture can include humour, satire, sarcasm, irony and a whole palette of analogies, descriptions, colour and pathos of every kind. Thus we have reached the SIXTH item for our list of responsibilities: paint the picture, tell the story, and never, never let it be a recitation of events that are as dull as dishwater.

SEVEN: If one is writing non-fiction, there is a monumental burden of responsibility. Hours beyond hours of intense digging for truth, facts, or opinions, and then listing a comprehensive bibliography all become necessary if a reader is going to take it seriously. In many cases, writers of non-fiction are very highly educated in the special field they may be writing about, another form of responsibility accepted and acted upon. Non-fiction will never by my forte. I’m far too lazy!

How responsible do I, as a writer of children’s books, have to be? I can’t profess to making a conscious or conscientious choice, but I feel I’ve balanced some nature facts with the whimsy of a child’s imagination (EIGHT). The Wise Old Owl being a mentor and friend to Shelby is one digression. Out there in nature that Owl would simply eat Shelby up for a tidy snack between meals. To defend this far-fetched relationship I argue poetic license (NINE). Where would the fun be without some ideas that defy Mother Nature? Also by portraying such a kindly-uncle figure I hope to reinforce in children the value of seeking and following the good advice and loving support offered by friends, family and teachers (TEN).

I do feel it’s important to include at least one unfriendly confrontation (ELEVEN), so I created a mean crow who bullies Shelby and nearly knocks him off a pole, at a crucial time during a rush for safety while crossing a road. Life isn’t all peaches and cream as Shelby may have hoped.

Another point of responsibility is to have the story take off and arch toward a finale (TWELVE). This happens in each story in my first book, ‘The Complete Adventures of SHELBY F. SQUIRREL and Friends’, a series of separate tales. But at the same time, during the 24 stories there is a larger arch that pulls us along, following Shelby as he stumbles and trips his way through 2 years of learning experiences that leave him considerably more grown up than in Chapter One, ‘SHELBY’S FLYING LESSON’. In my second book, ‘The Great FOREST CAPER’, the arch builds all the way through to a finale in the last chapter.

I would be hugely remiss to omit mention of correct spelling, proper grammar, and precise punctuation. Dreary as it may seem, that’s what makes a good book readable. Oops, THIRTEEN.

Oh, and by the way, this long (and I hope not-too-boring) list is really based on my experiences as a reader. The duties and/or responsibilities required for any job are seldom observed or analyzed by the worker, but are always clear as crystal to the boss and the customers. Maybe we should call this one FOURTEEN for good luck!

Eleanor Lawrie, Sept 27, 2016
@eleanorlawrie1

This post is contributed by Author Eleanor Lawrie (@eleanorlawrie1)

How do I start my story?

Getting all the Ideas Down . I still use the jam writing technique at the start of every story.

How do I start my story?  This is a question that many authors face, as they stare at the blank page.  I am going to share my method of starting to write that really works for me.  The method is called jam writing, or writing for ten minutes without stopping to edit or worry about flow.  I was taught this form of writing in high school, where I practiced jam writing daily by keeping a journal.  Back then, I would write about something that was bothering me, or about an event that I wanted to remember.  It was a rewarding process, that resulted in me being able to clear my mind and work through my feelings.

 Now as the journaling has evolved into story writing, I still use the jam writing technique at the start of every story.  Getting all my ideas down on the page is the first step in my writing process.  For me, the continuous flow of writing gives me more ideas.  There has been times that I have wrote that I don’t have enough ideas for a story, or the story idea doesn’t work.  Usually, after writing these statements one or two times, I will have an idea come to me.  The one idea is all I need to give me confidence in my idea, and then more ideas come to me as I continue to write.   From that written page of ideas, I can then organize them and build my outline.   

I hope the jam writing technique can help writers overcome the fear of where to start in the writing process.  It has helped me tremendously, and I encourage other authors to try it.