Historical Fiction, Thy Name Is Fun

I am a child of the Cold War. My father actually settled on the spelling of my first name, Nikolas with a “k,” not a “c” or a “ch,” when he saw the spelling of Nikita Khrushchev’s name. My father was far from being a Soviet fan, but he was eclectic in his tastes and felt the “k” gave the name a uniqueness.

When I set about penning Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files, it was a contemporary espionage thriller with some historical flashbacks. But life happened along the way and the story was buried for more than twenty years. When I pulled the project back out and rewrote it, I recognized it as a period piece, but never thought of it as historical fiction.

When one dreams of publishing a book, one seldom thinks about the actual marketing that will need to be done for readers to find it. Most authors I know write for the love of writing, not for the opportunity of putting together and executing a marketing campaign or business plan. But the truth of publishing, either traditionally or as an independent, is that it is a business. If one is serious about it, one will have to go to market. Thankfully, I live in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, an area with strong support for the independent authors.

Soon after publishing, I was able to line up signing engagements at local libraries. These libraries typically have a collection of books from local authors they display separately. [Click here to check out this fun video I did about my inclusion in the Virginia Beach Public Library.] All they ask is that you donate your book so they can vet it for quality before they include it in their catalog. It was as a result of this that I got my first glimmer of the fact that I had published a piece of historical fiction.

Below is a snapshot of the book’s information in the online catalog for the Chesapeake Public Library.

CPL Listing

Historical fiction, who would have thought! Though I have always admired historical fiction writers—James Clavell and Ken Follett come to mind—it wasn’t a type of writing I ever thought I could do. After all, it requires extensive research, attention to detail in order to avoid anachronisms, and a compelling story. Compelling story I felt I could pull off, but the rest? The rest happen to be things I actually enjoy.

Enter The Valley of Wolves, my next novel in my Gypsy Spy series. What I had envisioned as a contemporary espionage thriller has grown into a historical fiction spy thriller epic. Over the past year, I have been devouring history books and newspaper archives in preparation for writing about what happens to Carlos de Leon—a.k.a. Rat-gêló, a.k.a. Gavin Leoppard, a.k.a. you’ll have to wait and see—next. I have found writing in a historical context to be inspiring and much more fun than I expected.

America’s war with Communism began shortly after World War 1. President Woodrow Wilson actually sent ground troops into Russia to help the White Russians in their civil war against the Red Russians. We didn’t return to an earnest struggle against them until the conclusion of World War 2. These are the roots of the Cold War.

In my research of the Gypsy experience during the Nazi terror, I have been following the trail of the Reich’s policy of genocide toward the Roma. This research turned into a Photoshop project. The names and sentiment are historically accurate. This edict will be one of the chapter epigrams in Valley of Wolves.

Pfundtner Memo crop

I could not find the actual verbiage of the memo from Pfundtner, only what it pertained to. His memo became one of the corner stones that led to the incarceration and industrial murder of Roma under the Reich.

I chose Book Antiqua as the font because it came closest to mirroring the typeface of Nazi Germany documents. The layout is consistent with declarations from the regime. The Nazi eagle and Pfundtner’s signature were found through Google image searches of documents of the era (public domain images). I assembled the components in Photoshop. I used the eyedropper tool to match the paper color with the background in the eagle emblem. Using the brush tool, I cleaned up around the signature to make it appear as a natural part of the document.

Marketing your work involves many aspects in today’s publishing landscape. Our age demands an online presence, and to be present in social media in this day and age requires us to be visual. Pictures and videos are a must. Thankfully, there are powerful tools available even to novices such as myself that can render near professional results. One also gets the benefit of enhanced creativity, always a plus for any writer.

Meme Monday – Story Stacking

Toothpick Meme

Far from perfect but loaded with fun, this image had to be built because I couldn’t find its central component on any stock image site. Inspired from a scene in the novel, which you can read here, it required stacking up round toothpicks. The tower fell numerous times during assembly.

Building the final image in Photoshop was also challenging. Consisting of ten different layers and various effects, it took me several hours to put together. Photoshop wizards could probably have done it in a fraction of the time, but they still would have had to build the tower. Have you ever tried stacking round toothpicks without using glue to keep them in place? No easy feat!

Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files is available at Amazon.

Meme Monday – License to Edit

Gypsy 007

Let’s face it, all work needs editing even visual work. I used this concept a while back in the post “A Meme with no President.” Adobe Creative Cloud still challenges me, but I am getting more comfortable in it. The original meme was built using MS Publisher. This one I did in Photoshop. I think it’s better. Compare the two and let me know what you think.

Creative Stretching

Writers and artists both do sketches in preparation for the final work. In the writer’s case, they usually take the form of character sketches that begin to flesh out the mind-ghosts trying to turn into story-people. This is exactly how I built the cast of Gypsy Spy. The main players began with thin histories and light descriptions. As ink was added to paper, the lines sharpened and the histories deepened giving flesh, bone, and blood to Carlos, Diego, Drake, and the host of others.

But a glimpse of one particular beauty in my imagination demanded my attention. Bringing Ocha to center stage became a must for Gypsy Spy. She was too strong a character to be denied. I am quite comfortable with sketching out characters with words. My drawing skills leave much to be desired, however.

Creative stretching requires one to push outside one’s artistic comfort zones. Working in different artistic disciplines can bring new energy to a writing project. Below is an example of one such effort. It is my first attempt at a Photoshop sketch effect (thank you Photoshop Training Channel). The stock image is one I chose to represent Ocha in the Prologue Book Trailer. The one below it is what it might have looked like had Carlos paid a Paris street artist to sketch his beloved.

47266002 - image of a beautiful woman on grey

Ocha Sketch

 

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