Writing Recovery

I think I’m just about done burying myself in sugar, flour, butter, eggs and fruit. The truth is that, although I love to cook, I also love to write. It’s just that sometimes cooking is easier.

Today, though, I’m getting back to my novel. It’s a mystery, set in Bavaria during the cold war — the summer of 1969 to be exact. The summer of the moon landing.

The protagonist is an American soldier who is a linguist and a security analyst. He’s been to Germany before. Twenty-some years earlier, at the end of the Second World War, when he was quite young, he was among the American soldiers who liberated concentration camp victims. And then he stayed on for the Nuremberg trials. After this shattering experience (one in which he falls in love with a Czech woman he meets at the camp, only to see her die, against the backdrop of translating so many stories of individual evil during the Nuremberg trials), he returns to the states, where he buries himself in his work (at the National Security Agency, as it happens), and keeps himself at a distance from people he might care about.

The novel begins as he is sent back to Germany (as I said, it is now 1969 and he is in his forties), to Bavaria, to look into some trouble on a small military base very much like the one where my father was stationed when I was a child. Like the protagonist, my father also worked at the NSA in the 1960s, and was a Russian linguist. So, it’s a subject I’ve been interested in for a long time. As for the novel, pretty soon, someone is murdered, and off we go. You don’t actually learn much about the hero’s past for quite a while, and then only in small bits. I’m about half to two thirds of the way through, having killed the second person and my hero is finally getting his butt in gear to figure out who the bad guy is.

The novel has a name — The Secret War — which is what the cold war was sometimes called. And, of course, since it’s a mystery, there are a lot of secrets. Because it’s set in Germany, not long after the war’s end (only twenty years) the secrets are often about what people did during the war. One thing I love about the mystery genre is the way, as the central mystery is solved, so many other things are uncovered. I’m particularly interested in secrets — what lies beneath the surface, unsaid, but still present in other ways, in part because when we lived in Germany during my childhood, there seemed to be so many of them. Unfortunately, one of my troubles as a writer is that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been quite mistrustful of language — disturbed and saddened by how it often fails to get to the truth, and also how often it’s used to disguise what’s true. it’s a slippery tool for me. But it’s the one I know the best.

Today, then, I’m heading out to write.

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13 thoughts on “Writing Recovery

  1. Your novel sounds fascinating: multi-layered and unlike anything I’ve read before. I, too, love to explore secrets, both when I read and when I write. A mystery must be terrific fun to work on! Have a wonderful (and by that I mean prolific) day.

  2. Did you know that Linda, Mom’s putzfrau (housekeeper) used to a member of the Hitler youth? I’m sure she’d have stories to tell.

    When we were in Bindlach, there were the bomb outs, part of the post we weren’t supposed to play in. Of course we played in them. Once the former commander of the German post visited us at the school and we asked him about the tunnels running under the bomb outs. He denied they were there. :)

    It was also so weird to attend high school in Nurnberg and have our football games take place in Soldier’s Field.

  3. nova — It IS really fun to work in that genre. I like working with already established rules and find that there’s plenty of room to stretch out, even when there are certain conventions you have to observe (someone must die, for example). Also, this kind of mystery is the sort of thing I like to read in that guilty pleasure kind of way. One thing I’m working through is that writing about the holocaust, even from a distance, is tricky. But it’s worth thinking about.

    Hi Sue — Yes, it’s that kind of thing that interests me — the secrets just under the surface, the ones you knew were there when you were a child, except they were wordless, narrative-less, and worrying for that reason. I think that must be why I’ve chosen to write about it!

  4. Hi Edwin — Once you get the hang of it, its kind of fun. Key to it all is writing up for no one’s eyes but your own the story behind the scenes. And then, once you know what’s really happened, you kind of let things leak out, bit by bit. I’ve noted your pre-order, am incredibly flattered anyone would say something like that and will be sure to get it to you at the earliest possible date.
    Fencer, thank you for the good wishes — it’s inspiring and helpful to have them from someone who’s already accomplished a huge amount of writing and has a lot more ahead. (I haven’t forgotten about those novels you’ve got stacking up.,…) Qazse — Is there such a thing as you go, dude?! If not, there should be, because you do.

    Cheers! BL

  5. This sounds so like something I would take home from a bookstore. Can’t wait to see it my local bookstore :)

  6. I want to read it! We live in Germany, and when I first moved here ten years ago, I used to look at the old people and think ‘who were you and what did you do?’. Now I’m over that, partly because my friends are all the new generation of Germans who regard WW2 as history, not necessarily related to themselves. Most of the children who were born in Germany during the war are grandparents now, so it is becoming more and more distant.
    I was sitting at a restaurant with my husband the other night, and looking across the road I could see the site where the synagogue once stood in our town. It made me think of the secrets and the tragedies that are buried even here in sleepy little Ladenburg, and what it take to uncover them.
    Good luck with your writing,
    Charlotte

  7. This is such a fascinating topic, bloglily, and it’s beautifully set up to allow you to explore all kinds of wonderful dimensions – survivor guilt, shameful history, personal investment. And a murder of course! I hope you had a great time with it yesterday. How cool would it be to go and get my copy from the shop…?

  8. this sounds fascinating! Mysteries are one of my favorite genres to read, but I haven’t attempted one for my first stab at a novel. Annie Dillard, who I am apparently quoting constantly today (litlove’s site) said that you should write only what you LOVE to read. Since you love to read mysteries, I think this novel is going to be a very fine thing indeed. And since you are also somewhat writing what you know, you are following another reader’s edict. I can’t wait to read it!
    Courtney

  9. Pingback: BlogLily » What’s in a Name?

  10. Pingback: Tales from the Reading Room » Writers on Writing

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