Significant Sites

When my last blog post was posted, I was on may way to Kraków in Poland – a place I didn’t know a great deal about but which I’ve always associated with the Second World War and the Holocaust (for obvious reasons). I didn’t know much about the old town or Wawel Castle (both of which I visited) but I knew my visit wouldn’t be complete without visiting the former Jewish quarter, the site of the Jewish ghetto, and Schindler’s enamel factory. As a writer of historical fiction, I find visiting significant historical places has a powerful, often visceral impact which informs not only my writing but my sense of self. On this visit, it was my trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau that left the greatest impression.

I can’t say it was an easy decision to even make the journey to Auschwitz but both my husband and I felt it was a necessary pilgrimage to make. I’ve never done extensive research on the 1930s but, as my twin boys were studying the Holocaust this last school year, I revisited Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally and read for the first time Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night (the book my boys were required to read as part of their Holocaust unit). This helped, but it in no way truly prepared me, for what I would experience visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was shocked by the immediate physical effect stepping into the camps had on me. I felt nauseated, upset, horrorified as well as, inexplicably, anxious. The initial, almost casual attitude of many of visitors angered me as did their desire to photograph everything – even the most horrific and terrifying aspects of what we saw (would you really show friends photographs of the ruins of the crematoria?) but I did notice that as the tour progressed a somber silence fell amongst even the most chatty groups of tourists. By the time we had completed our visit to Birkenau, you could sense that everyone had been profoundly affected by what they had experienced (and rightly so).

As a writer of a historical fiction, the act of visiting sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau also gives me a renewed sense of purpose to my work. In many ways, though, I felt that my humanity demanded that I make this visit. I left feeling a renewed sense of outrage, horror, and also – after our visit to Schindler’s factory – hope.

So TKZers, have you ever visited a site that left a similarly lasting impression – one that affected you not only as a writer but as a human being?

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When Fiction Meets Reality – The Challenges of my Current WIP

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Falkue at German Wikipedia

I’m 75% finished with my latest novel and I can’t stop dreaming about it. It’s keeping me up. I hope that’s a good thing. I’ve never had this happen before. Have any of you?

My novel is something very far from my comfort zone. For a large section of the story, my characters time travel (in an odd way) to Victorian London where they hunt Jack the Ripper. They have their reasons and the clock is ticking.

Whenever I add paranormal elements to any of my stories, I want the premise to almost seem plausible. You know how most people get scared when sitting around a campfire, telling ghost stories? That’s the visceral feeling I hope readers will get when they come along for a ride to the streets of White Chapel 1888.

I not only had to research the many resources on the Jack the Ripper case and take a view on what I think might’ve happened for the sake of my plot, I also had to research the time period to recreate a setting that will come alive on the page. In 1888, London was not the progressive modern city it is today. This was before proper sanitation, plumbing, and before police investigative methods were improved.

Tenement slum houses held large families of immigrants contained in small rooms rented by the day. Disease ran rampant with poor options for drinking water. Within close proximity to these slums lived wealthier Londoners who attended the opera and dined in fine restaurants. A newspaper called The Star had started in 1888, the year Jack had been born to evil. It had originally provided a voice for the common folk on injustice, but anything on the White Chapel murders turned a profit for the newspaper and became the driving story of the day.

A challenge has been to add enough details for history buffs yet recreate this world for readers who might be more interested in the peril of the characters. There’s always a balance and a consideration for good pacing.

My story is seen through the eyes of a young woman in present day who is desperate to find justice for a murdered friend in New Orleans. She’s obsessed with the Ripper case because she thinks it is related to the death of her friend. She steals a vintage necklace off a body and brings it to a mysterious yet reclusive psychic, only to find that she is correct that the jewelry is linked to her friend’s investigation. When held in his hand, the necklace catapults the psychic to two horrific murders. The vintage piece is the key to locating Jack the Ripper on the night he kills his 5th victim, Mary Kelly. I can’t give too much away, but I hope you’ll see the many moving parts of this story.

In order to recreate time travel, the hunters (led by the psychic) must be willing to suspend their bodies in a near death coma. Similar to how dreams work, a willing mind can share the common existence of a shared dream. My twin sisters often shared the same dreams. For most that would be scary, but it was normal for them. It’s been said that if you dream of your own death, you die in the dream. How many of you believe that is possible? Does it make you think twice before imagining it?

While my characters hunt the Ripper in spirit form, they are invisible to everyone except their one spirit guide (someone from 1888 that they must find in order to remain tethered to their world). As you can imagine, there are challenges to not having a physical body, yet they must be presentable in period clothing to the one guide (their citizen of heaven) who is capable of seeing the traveler.

Another challenge was to create believable dialogue during the time travel segment. What my modern woman hears from the people she meets must sound authentic. That involved a lot of historical research as well. It helped that my narrator was a modern young woman. For most of the historical part of the plot, her voice dominated, but I made sure she overheard the locals to make sure the color would be there.

But things are not what they seem in the netherworld between life and death. Evil and Fate combine to change history in ways my team of hunters will never foresee. Their worst fears are exposed and they must face their worst nightmares. As a writer, it’s my job to make my characters pay for the daring things they do to become a star in their story.

Thinking through all the ramifications of affecting history or interfering with fate–while doing it in a way to create mysterious twists in the plot–has been another fun challenge. Every time I think I know where the story is going, it changes course again, in a good way. I’ve surprised myself in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. The plot had to develop and the characters’ dilemmas had to rise to the top in order for me to see different outcomes and motivations. I’ve added layers to my story that I never would’ve seen coming. That’s a good feeling.

This is the first book in a new Trinity LeDoux series for me. The working title is – The Curse She Wore. Trinity is a 24-year-old wannabe bounty hunter, trying to get her license in New Orleans. At the start of the story she is homeless, but everything changes after my hermit psychic sees something brave yet vulnerable in her.

The first time I visited New Orleans, I sensed the layers of richness to the setting and understood why so many writers find the location completely captivating. I’ve waited to write a story set in New Orleans. This is it. I’m bringing in a Cuban influence, the Santeria faith (used for the concept of an ancestral spirit guide or citizen of heaven), a discreet Voo Doo shop for true believers, and a reclusive psychic from an old wealthy family who lives on an historic plantation. He’s got secrets of his own.

My tag line for this story is – “They had Death in Common.”

For Discussion:
1.) Tell me about the challenges of your current WIP. Anything interesting to research?

2.) Have you ever worked in the details of a real murder into your work of fiction? How did that work for you?

If you’re on Instagram, please find and follow me at this LINK.

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Where History Comes Alive

It’s Spring Break so I will be visiting Teothihuacan outside Mexico City when this blog posts, so my apologies, I probably won’t be able to respond to your comments until later in the day/Monday evening. I’ll be showing my boys these amazing pyramids as they have been studying Mexico’s history in their social studies class. We will also visit the  Anthropology museum in Mexico City as well – when traveling with me no one gets to avoid history!

One of my favorite parts of research is visiting places and immersing myself in a sense of history. Some places are able to evoke the past easily – as if the past remains stored in the stone walls, cobble stones or timbers of the houses. Other places, however, feel more inaccessible. I find Teothihuacan, with its vast avenue and towering pyramids, is a place that evokes awe but is also so alien in many ways that it is hard to picture what life must have been like way back then. It’s more challenging to imagine the past here but nonetheless the echoes are still there, if you listen hard enough. Likewise, I used to find the Australian landscape much harder to ‘read’ – the aboriginal past seeming to be more elusive and the colonial overtones a little too blunt. By comparison, somewhere like London the past really is omnipresent. For me, the voices of the past are all around and it is easy to imagine the sights, smells and sounds of history.

So TKZers where has history come alive for you? What places have you visited (for research or pleasure) that have evoked the greatest sense of history?

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