Monday, April 28, 2014

World Blog Tour

Hello Readers and Writers/Authors. Greetings from high desert and red rock country of Sedona, AZ. I've been invited by Author Robin Cain to participate in this world blog tour.

Robin recently published The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept, and as of this writing the novel has advanced to the quarter finals of the 2014 ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award). I was fortunate enough for my first novel, The Stasi File - Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination, to make it to the quarter finals in the 2011 ABNA. Keeping my fingers crossed for a semifinal berth for Miss Rabbit.

As part of this post, I am to answer four questions.  
Question No. 1: What am I working on?

After finishing my first novel, The Stasi File, I had set my sights on writing another spy thriller, for which plot points had been swirling in my mind for months. However, I found that the co-protagonists of Stasi, Rolf Keller and Sylvia Mazzoni, stayed with me even after I'd penned the words "The End." It seemed like they ran alongside me as I jogged through Sedona's red rocks in the mornings. When several Stasi readers asked whether I was planning to write a sequel, I put the novel I am working on now on hold (meaning I stored all the ideas on the computer). I put Sylvia and Rolf into more danger in Santa Fe, NM, and created Teya, a shaman’s young daughter, who played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico and in concealing the treasure of a lost pueblo.  Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter was a challenge with two parallel story lines that are 310 years apart but merge for the novel's climax.
You can read blurbs, reader comments, and reviews about both novels on Amazon and on my website. -
Here are the blurbs for both novels:

The Stasi File: An American lawyer and his Italian lover from Berlin student days, now a budding opera diva, are drawn into an assassination plot by a Stasi General, desperate to prevent the collapse of the East German police state after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter: When a Washington trial lawyer and a budding opera diva are pressed into searching for a missing archaeologist in the Santa Fe hills, they not only encounter ruthless antiquities traffickers, but find their fates intertwined with that of a shaman’s daughter, who centuries earlier played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico.
Spoiler Alert: Please read Stasi first as it contains a spoiler for the sequel. Those of you fluent in German, Stasi has been expertly translated by Nuremberger Edith Parzefall and expertly edited by Berliner Kathrin BrΓΌckmann.
A German reader emailed me on Easter Sunday:
Dear Mr. Bernhardt,

I had no idea what kind of jewel I had downloaded. Your gripping novel renewed my enthusiasm for reading, which I had neglected a bit lately. Please believe me your writing style gripped me to such an extent that I didn't want to put down my e-book. I literally devoured its content.

I would like to put you on the same level as my heretofore favorite author, Ken Follett. You possess the talent to possibly become famous with a second novel, which I would like to encourage you to write. I will recommend your book to family and friends. I will try to spread the word about you and this novel on Twitter. You have earned it.

Greetings from Ulm, Germany
Receiving reader feedback like this makes all the long hours sitting at the keyboard worthwhile. In case you’re wondering, I don’t feel like Ken Follett quite yet.

A long lead-in to answer the question of what I’m currently working on. I have written fifty chapters or 70,000 words of Red Romeo, a spy novel about the Stasi Romeos who seduced West German government secretaries and induced them to spy for communist East Germany. Over 40 secretaries were prosecuted for espionage. I have created one such Romeo who is coerced into spying for the Stasi and a female West German intelligence agent whose job it is to track Romeos and their targets. The plot has just taken a twist I had not contemplated. My muse kept whispering it into my ear until I gave up my resistance since I had to admit that the twist takes the novel from the expected to the unexpected. Of course, readers will be the judge on that. Maybe another 40,000 to 50,000 words to the finish, though I can never be sure where the story and the characters will take me.
Question No. 2: How Does my Work Differ from Others of its Genre?
My first novel and my work in progress are spy thrillers while the second novel is closer to a mystery. I would say my novels differ from the usual works in those genres in several respects. My German upbringing (born and raised in Stuttgart until age 23 when I immigrated to the United States) has given me the wherewithal to write with authenticity about Germany, culture, habits and peculiarities. As well, I don't feel the need to have my characters constantly swearing nor do I depict graphic violence unless absolutely necessary - things that seem prevalent in so many books these days. But most of all, my passion for opera has enabled me to weave that complete art form seamlessly into my plots, not preaching, not stopping the story, but making it a natural part. I hope readers will discover something new, will be led into a world of which they had little prior knowledge other than stereotypes of fat sopranos.
Question No. 3: Why Do I Write what I Do?
As to the spy novels taking place in Germany, I would say I wrote what I did because of my heritage and my familiarity with the subject matter. With Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter, it was just the opposite. I fell in love with the challenge of delving into something I was completely unfamiliar with. I had never heard of the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680. When I stumbled upon it during my extensive research, I became fascinated. But how do you combine a 1990 story in Santa Fe with events taking place 310 years earlier? Crazy idea? Impossible to pull off? If there's one German trait I have, it is persistence (my wife calls it stubbornness). If that weren't challenging enough, how about a German male author writing in the POV of a thirteen-year old Pueblo Indian girl? As it turned out, the chapters I wrote in her POV were the most fun for this author. To make things even more interesting, I chose to write the 1990 story in past tense and the 1680 story in present tense.
So my answer is: I write about what I know, unless I write about something I don't know until I learn about it. Split personality?
Question No. 4: How Does my Writing Process Work?
You may have heard of the terms "pantster" and "plotter." A pantster author just starts writing and sees where the story and the characters take him. I'm a plotter. A big misconception about plotter authors is that they are wedded to an outline and hemmed in and cannot go with wherever the story and characters want to. This is a complete myth. Here is how I work. I cast about for plot ideas for weeks and months, collecting them in an email folder. Newspaper articles, dreams, or just plain thoughts, fantasies that come to me. After I finish what I've been working on and have it published, I'm then ready to turn my attention to the next work.
First, I create a "Plot Ideas" document that will have things like characters, locations, times, goals, obstacles, character traits, etc. After I have filled a page or two and feel that I have a good grasp of what the novel will be about, I then create a "Chapter Outline." That document contains the following headings: Ch., Subject, Date/Time, POV, Locale, Page No. Then I start filling in as many chapters as I can think of at the time. In my current work, I only had about four chapters filled in (by “filled in” I mean what will transpire in that chapter). Then I start with chapter one - the most difficult and crucial.
Here is where I bust the myth. As I write, more often than not, the story goes in a direction I had not put in my outline. So after writing the chapter, I go back and change the outline. I bet you by the time I finished writing Stasi, I had changed the outline over a hundred times. Instead of hemming me in, the outline frees me up. Why? Because I can go where the story takes me and not fear creating inconsistency. When I’m not sure a passage on page 300 jibes with what I wrote earlier, I check my outline, find the particular character and subject, and if earlier scenes don’t match, I make the necessary revisions.  
For the longest time I was stuck on fewer than 20 chapters in my work in progress. But as I wrote, the ideas formed and the outline expanded. I am currently writing chapter 51 and have outlined to chapter 58. Beyond that I have two pages of notes of where the plot might go, but I suspect it will become clearer the closer I get to chapter 58.
So call me a plotter who goes with the flow.

It has been great fun for me to tackle these questions. I hope my responses provided some insight into the craft of writing. Thank you, Robin Cain, for inviting me to participate, and thank you, readers, for coming along for the ride/write.   
Peter Bernhardt, Author: "The Stasi File," Quarter Finalist 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; Sequel: "Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter." -

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sedona Writers Group

Hello Readers and Writers,

This is my first post as I am getting ready to leave for a meeting of our Sedona Writers Critique Group. We meet at the Sedona library and I am taking the latest chapters of Teya's Kiss, the sequel to my first novel, The Stasi File, a quarter finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.