Thursday teaser: The Eastern Front

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By Scott Bury

Maurice stepped to the table. “Good morning, sir. I know you’re busy, so I would like to quickly help you resolve an error—my draft letter is a mistake.” He put it on the table in front of the officer.

The officer looked up, arching one eyebrow. “That’s a new one. What kind of mistake?”

“I am not eligible for service, as I am not a citizen of the Soviet Union. I’m a Canadian.” He showed his birth certificate.

The officer struggled to sound out the Roman lettering. “Doh-meen-i-yon off Kanada,” he read. He frowned, then shook his head and looked Maurice straight in the eyes. “You are still required to report for duty, comrade.”

“But I’m a Canadian citizen.”

“It doesn’t matter, tovarisch. You live here now, and you must help defend the Motherland.” He was already looking at the next man in line. “Report to the train station by seven tomorrow morning or you’ll be arrested. Next.”

Maurice’s flash of anger was quickly replaced by a despairing acceptance. He had known all along the Soviet army would never care about such an insignificant detail as his citizenship.

He took the long way home, stopping in a café for hot tea as much for the warmth as to delay telling his family the bad news.

He returned to the little farm by lunchtime. Tekla and Hanya wept quietly when they heard. His mother even helped him pack warm clothes and tried to hold out some hope.

“Maybe there won’t be a war. Maybe you’ll serve your two years and then they’ll let you out, and then we can all go back to Canada.”

“Who would we go to war with, anyway?” Hanya asked, joining in. “Russia and Germany are allies now. Germany is fighting England, and they’re too far from us.” She did not mention what they all thought: Finland remained a dreaded enemy.

“That’s right,” Tekla said. “Germany is our ally. There’s no reason for Russia to fight them.”

Maurice agreed, and they sat down to a subdued supper. Tekla poured too much of her homemade vodka, and Maurice drank it all.

The next morning, the women drove Maurice to the train station in the horse-cart. His mother gave him a big basket of food for the journey east: sausage, bread, a small flask of hot tea, some apples left from the fall, a jar of preserves.

The train station was surrounded by military policemen carrying rifles. Maurice also saw other men in peaked caps with maroon bands—the NKVD, the Soviet security police. They strutted, ordering people around in rough and guttural Russian, smoking and looking officious.

The platform was crowded with young men and their families saying goodbye. Like Hanya and Tekla, all the inductees’ parents fussed over them. Mothers wept, fathers gave their sons brave smiles and manly kisses on each cheek.

Maurice thought of his father in Canada and wondered whether he worried about his family in Russian-dominated Ukraine.

“Write to us as soon as you’re settled and tell us where you are and how you’re doing. Please don’t forget, my dear,” Tekla said. She tucked his scarf closer around his neck. She had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek. She cried, but Hanya smiled bravely.

“Be careful, Maurice. Look after yourself.”

The train rumbled and squealed into the station. MPs pushed the young men onto the cars. Maurice found a seat with three fresh-faced, silent young men, all holding baskets from their mothers, looking at him as if seeking some kind of hope or comfort.

Maurice waved at his mother and sister through the window as the train chuffed away. He felt lonelier than ever before. He patted a secret pocket he had sewn under the waist of his pants, inaccessible from the outside, which held his Canadian birth certificate.

He made himself a promise: he would never part with it until he got back to Montreal.

The Eastern Front Trilogy

A Canadian in the Soviet Red Army

He was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Drafted in the spring of 1941, Canadian-born Maurice Bury found himself facing Operation Barbarossa—the greatest land invasion in history.

Unprepared for the assault, the Soviets retreated and were captured by the millions at a time. By the fall, Maurice and his men were starving in a POW camp.

As the last of their strength ebbed, Maurice conspired to find an escape for himself and his men. After a nightmarish journey across Ukraine, he joined the underground resistance against the Nazi oppressors.

He risked death time after time, but he also found ordinary people who risked their own safety to help him. Not only in standing against the Nazis, but an even more dangerous ambition: to return home to Canada.

It’s a story that reads like fiction. It’s not.

The Eastern Front Trilogy is available as a paperback through Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Writing inspired by travel

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This week, we begin a series of posts by bestselling authors answering about being inspired by travel.

By Scott Bury

The Falls of Makahiku, sometimes called the Necktie Falls, above the Pools of ‘O’he’o, west of Hana, Maui

Wherever I go, I find inspiration for stories, or at least settings. But inspiration is not enough to create a book. From time to time, I travel to the places where I set my stories to make sure I get the details right.

Camping is a good example. Camping with my younger son inspired a mystery/thriller where his skills and personality would drive the story from the ignition point to the resolution. I wrestled with a plot, but somehow it just never made sense with the setting in the boreal forest.

Author Toby Neal (left) met with me in Maui and discussed the first draft of Torn Roots.

Then, bestselling author Toby Neal invited to join an Amazon initiative, where authors would write novellas based on the universe of her Paradise Crime novels. Suddenly, when I set the story in Hawai‘i, it just flowed easily.

Story roadblock solved

Because my main character was based on a real person, he was a geologist. Which meant he was doing geological work on Maui. And that was the first roadblock:

I knew nothing about Maui’s geology.

Research at the library and online didn’t give me the firsthand details I needed for a good novel set in such an evocative location as Maui. I had to go there.

I got lucky again. My wife and I were planning a vacation, but hadn’t settled on a destination. We were thinking about Prague. I did some quick checking, and found that flights from Montreal (closest airport that would serve both Europe and Hawai’i) to Kahalui, Maui were about the same price as flights to Prague!

So we decided on two weeks in Maui, and put off Prague for a couple of years.

Of course, accommodations in Hawai’i are much more expensive than in the Czech Republic, as are food, drink and just about everything else.

But I found wonderful details that added so much richness to the story.

A huge flower on beside a shop in Makawao, Maui.

Things like bamboo forests rising over our heads, to the majesty of the pools at O’he’o, to just how dense and lush is the rainforest on the southeast side of the island. High waterfalls and warm water. The delicacy of the plants.

The terror of the driving on the twisting, narrow Highway to Hana. The way it rains almost every day.

The unbelievable beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

The mouth of the Pools at ‘Ohe’o, which I incorporated into a scene in Torn Roots.

These are little details that I worked into the story that eventually became Torn Roots: A Hawaiian Storm.

The trip, the expense and the time were well worth the effort. They allowed me write a story that is much more real to readers.

A blaze of inspiration

Another trip that literally inspired a book again involved Toby Neal. She invite me, among others, to attend her first writers’ retreat in Russian River, California. My wife, Roxanne and I made it into another vacation.

We started with a few days in San Francisco, and then headed north. We planned to take a tour or two in Sonoma County, wine country.

It happened in September 2017. The car rental I chose had a TV in their office showing wildfires that were sweeping across Sonoma and Napa Counties, and describing how state police had closed a number of highways.

We drove toward Russian River, on the west side of Sonoma and in no immediate danger of fire. As we listened to the news on the car radio, we realized that we would not be touring any vineyards or wineries on this trip.

But as we drove, Roxanne said, “You should write a book about this. About someone here in Sonoma during the wildfires. And it should be about a woman, for a change.”

So I did. Yes, world, a man listened to his wife at least once in history. The result is my first Wine Country Mystery, Wildfire. It’s about a young single mom who moves to California, and finds a temporary job just before the wildfires force mass evacuations. When she gets back to her home, she’s pulled into a mystery.

As we drove through Sonoma County, the smoke in the air kept getting thicker. This was taken at around 5:00 p.m.

Again, it was the personal experience on the ground that helped me describe the setting, the feeling of being there, the continuous smell of smoke in the air, the ash that fell like snow, the reactions of the people around me.

Sunset from the summit of Haleakala, the south/eastern volcano of Maui. This is not in Hana, nor mentioned in Torn Roots, but I love this picture.

Inspiration looking for a story

Eventually, Roxanne and I did go to Prague. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place (and remarkably affordable, too!). I would love to write a story that deserves this wonderful, friendly, historic and mystical space. I just haven’t figured it out, yet.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The narrow pedestrian-only streets of Prague seem to ooze stories.
The Church of Mother of God before Týn in Old Town Prague.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The staircase at Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal.
Me on the staircase (which didn’t move). The book is in Portuguese, on the history of Portuguese discoveries.

Everywhere I go inspires story ideas for me. I just wish I had time to write them all.

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In the sunshine of words

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Summer, as we all know, is a magical time.

A time of glorious mornings, of high blue skies, of long, gentle evenings.

Of the feeling of soft grass under bare soles, of the delicious shock of water from the sprinkler.

It’s so easy for our eyes to stray from the stories on our computer screens or in our typewriters to the green vistas beyond the window. So many of us take the opportunity to move our laptops to a table outdoor.

And we find inspiration in the beauty of the natural world around us, or from the breathtaking achievements of people past.

So here are some photos showing the kinds of views that inspire some of your favorite bestselling authors.

Enjoying a quiet neighborhood, DelSheree Gladden likes to sit out on her deck to write during the summer. And she has a back yard that’s just about perfect.

Kayla Dawn Thomas also loves her back deck in Washington State. She sets up her writing desk there every minute the weather allows.

A quaint English garden is D.G. Torrens’ favorite writing place in the summer. “Especially when it is in full bloom and my cherry blossom tree is beginning to bear fruit, my garden is alive with birds and squirrels.” It’s a wonder Dawn can concentrate on her next book!

Water inspires Mary Doyle. “When I have a laptop near water, the words flow,” she says. So she likes to visit her brother and set up on his decidedly inspiring back deck in Minneapolis, MN.

Water is also a strong theme in Toby Neal’s inspiration. She finds beach walks inspiring. And with homes in Maui and near the coast of northern California, beaches seem always close at hand for Toby.

The peripatetic J.L. Oakley finds the white noise that surrounds her helpful, so she sets up at the closest café whenever she has the chance. “Plus, I get to watch the characters outside—weird and inspiring.”

Samreen Ahsan finds inspiration from old European castles and palaces, like this one, the Pena (“Feather”) Palace in Sintra, Portugal. This inspiration shows up in her fantasy novels set in a castle, Once Upon a [Stolen] Time and Once Upon a [Fallen] Time.

Scott Bury rides his bike 50 kilometres (30 miles) every day when the weather allows, and finds inspiration in the surprising sights. This week, he spotted a Great Blue Heron only metres from the bicycle path in the middle of Ottawa, Canada.

Tell us about your favorite place to read, and we’ll enter your name in a draw for a free book!

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Why we write what we write

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Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

Romance, mystery, thriller, science-fiction … what makes an author choose to write in a particular genre? Your favorite bestselling authors reveal why they chose their literary path. This week, we continue with Kayla Dawn Thomas, David C. Cassidy, Scott Bury and J.L. Oakley.

Kayla Dawn Thomas

Romance

I’ve always been fascinated with falling in love, with everyone finding their perfect someone. While I read romance from all time periods, I like writing contemporary to show that people can still find love in this somewhat jaded, prickly world.

David C. Cassidy

Horror

For me, it was simply a case of being enthralled and inspired by Stephen King and Clive Barker at a young age. For me, they taught me two things. King: How to tell a story with “real” characters a reader cares about. Barker: How to imagine … and then to imagine more.

Scott Bury

Historical fantasy, non-fiction and mystery

When I was about 15 or so, I was into science fiction. I read a novella by Larry Niven featuring a detective named Gil the Arm. He served in a global police force, a couple of centuries in the future, so it was essentially a science fiction detective story. I was hooked!

When I started writing fiction, I felt frustrated by the expectations and tropes of genres: noirs, police procedurals, fantasy, science fiction … Plus, I am interested in many different types of stories. That’s why I not only write in different genres, I cross the boundaries as often as I can.

J.L. Oakley

Historical fiction

I’ve always loved history and even wrote a very serious thesis on Comanches as prisoners of war using primary materials from the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institute. My goal was to make it readable, not some high-faluting work that people wouldn’t understand. That’s what a publican historian is all about.

Writing historical fiction is another way to present history in an engaging way. When a reader becomes involved with a character facing the troubles of her time or just living life, you can teach about an era much more effectively. 

Take your pick

Whatever genre you like, BestSelling Reads members are authors who adhere to the highest professional publishing standards, dedicated to bringing readers compelling, enjoyable stories that leave you wanting more.

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Our favorite secondary characters

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Part 2

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

Characters are what make readers read stories. If we don’t find characters we can love, hate, despise, fear, identify with and cheer for, the story just won’t hold our attention for long. 

Readers love great characters, and writers love to create memorable characters, too. But it’s not just the hero or protagonist. Every hero needs a villain, every lonely lover needs a love interest. 

Sometimes, readers are more interested in the secondary character than the protagonist. Think of Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, Boxer in Animal Farm

And writers love their secondary characters, too. This week, more of your favorite bestselling authors share their favorites among the characters in their own books.

Seb Kirby 

With Matteo Lando in Take No More, I wanted to create a villain who was bad but potentially redeemable.

As the son of crime boss Alfieri, he’s been raised in the expectation of taking over the family business when the time is right. But he’s trapped by the weight of this expectation and never able to justify himself in the eyes of his father or those lower down in the hierarchy who see him as a favoured son. This gives him a vulnerability that underscores the heartlessness of his deeds.

Dawn Torrens

My favourite secondary character is Tristan from Tears of Endurance.

Tristan plays a big role in the novel as he is the brother of the protagonist. He is a good guy with a guilty secret that he must conceal from his brother.

Tristan battles with his feelings a great deal and through loyalty to his brother, he ends up suffering inner pain.

DelSheree Gladden

My favorite secondary character to writer was Oscar Roth from my Someone Wicked This Way Comes series: Wicked Hunger, Wicked Power, Wicked Glory and Wicked Revenge.

I enjoyed writing Oscar because he was out of his mind most of the time and I got to do things with him that I couldn’t with a sane character.

Scott Bury

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my own favorite secondary character, Rowan Fields from Torn Roots.

Then I asked a reader who his favorite secondary character of mine was. After a moment’s thought, he said “The amulet in The Bones of the Earth.”

This both surprised and delighted me. The amulet is an important element of the book, and I revealed is personality gradually over hundreds of pages. To have readers not only recognize that but also love the character just made my day.

Who is your favorite secondary character?

Share with authors and readers: tell us who your favorite secondary character is in any book. What about that person appeals to you? Do you identify with them? Do you love them or hate them? Would you like to read a book where they move from secondary to main character?

Let us know!

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Secondary characters we love

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Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

Great characters make great books. Creating great characters is something that every writer works very hard at. They’re what readers remember: Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, Lancelot. If the writer does their job right, we identify with the protagonist and experience the story through their senses.

But a story needs more than one character to come alive. The hero needs a villain, a best friend, a mentor, a love interest. Fagan, Watson, Gandalf and Guinevere are also characters that resonate with audiences.

For the author, these secondary characters can be great fun to create—and just as much work as the hero. We asked some of your favorite BestSelling Reads authors to tell us who is their favorite secondary character.

Samreen Ahsan

Of all the side characters I created, I have admired King Stefan from the [Stolen] Series. He is a tyrannical ruler whose mission is to break down his son Edward, and make a diabolical copy of himself.

Stefan is ruthless when it comes to punishment, and though he forbids his son to enjoy poetry, he himself reads poems, lives in them, and even fantasizes about the same woman his son loves. As the story progresses, he becomes more inhumane and evil towards his own son. 

Scott Bury

The character I enjoyed writing the most was Rowan Fields, the linchpin of Torn Roots, my first Hawaiian Storm mystery. She’s not very likeable: loud, opinionated, careless of others’ feelings, but she’s also passionate, dedicated to protecting the environment, and though she never admits it, deeply in love with the real hero of the story, Sam Boyko.

I have to admit, I still get a little thrill thinking about the insults Rowan throws around.

David C. Cassidy 

In Velvet Rain, the villain, Brikker is my favorite. He is cold, ruthless, sadistic … and brilliant.

His real-life counterpart would be Josef Mengele—and if Brikker were real, I’d wager he’d be far more terrifying.

M.L. Doyle

Harry Fogg (with two Gs) is a British SAS soldier and the love interest of Master Sergeant Lauren Harper in my mystery series. He is rough around the edges, a hardcore soldier, but has a brilliant sense of humor and tests my ability to write British-sounding expressions. I have to have some of his dialogue vetted by friends across the pond. I absolutely love Harry and my readers do, too.

I love all of my characters, but Granite and Pearl rank right up there as the best. They are cougar sized cats that were gifted to Hester Trueblood, in my urban fantasy series starting with The Bonding Spell. Hester, who also happens to be the embodiment of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, was given the cats by her demi-god lover Gilgamesh. Gil found them in room 56 of the British Museum, where they’d been magically imprisoned in stone. Once freed, the cats, who can talk to Hester telepathically, can also switch to human form. But they seem a bit confused when on two feet, so they prefer to be in their furry state. I love these cats.

Alan McDermott 

Simon ‘Sonny’ Baines is my favorite.

He has appeared in all the Tom Gray books from the very first, Gray Justice, and also appears in my new Eva Driscoll series.

He likes a little fun, but can be deadly serious when it matters.

Toby Neal

My favorite is Jake Dunn in the Paradise Crime Thrillers. An ex-Special Forces soldier turned private operative, he appears in Book 2, Wired Rogue, and in the rest of the series. Jake is all action and passion, a black-and-white thinker, a thrill seeker and fun-loving guy, and someone who is growing beyond his own comfort zone to appreciate the shades of gray in dealing justice. I tried to get rid of him several times, but my heroine pined and the stories lost zip and zing without him. He is more than he first appears, and I love that layers keep revealing themselves about him and what he brings out in those around him.

J.L. Oakley 

I have two favorite characters, both in The Jøssing Affair.

First, Tommy Renvik is a member of Milorg, the military resistance organization in Norway in WWII. A friend of intelligence agent Tore Haugland, he helps Haugland deliver arms and helps him escape to Sweden after capture by the Gestapo.

The other is Katherine Bladstad. In 1907, she is best friend to Caroline Alford. The wife of a logging mill manager, she is an outspoken proponent of hiking in the mountains and of the “New Woman,” a woman’s right to vote.

Caleb Pirtle III

I only needed Chester Giddings for one scene in Conspiracy of Lies.

He was a meek, mild-mannered little man so timid that a car backfiring would frighten him, and he occupied the second-story room of a walkup hotel where my hero needed to hide, unannounced, while the bad guys were trying to gun him down.

The scene ended with one dead, police crawling over every inch of the hotel room, Chester trembling and pale in the corner, and it was time for him to go. Chester refused to leave the story. He kept showing up when he was least expected, time after time, and near the end of one of the final climactic scenes, it was Chester Giddings who took a deep breath, clenched, his jaws, tensed his muscles, gave his heart to God, and fired the crucial shot. He didn’t leave because he knew that 182 pages later I would need him, and so I did.

Raine Thomas 

My favorite secondary character is probably Finn from my Estilorian novel, Deceive.

Finn is charming, quick with a laugh, and doesn’t take life too seriously, but he has a depth to his character that helps his family and companions through many of their challenges. I loved his shapeshifting character so much that he might make it into another Estilorian story…shh! 😉

Who is your favorite secondary character?

Tell us in the Comments section below who your favorite secondary literary character is — and if they’re from a book by a member of BestSelling Reads, we’ll send you a free book!

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