by Ottilia Scherschel
When the members of my critique group decided to publish a Christmas anthology, I took on a form of writing I had not practiced for years. Recently, I’ve been working on novels but chose to tackle a short story. Okay, now what?
I knew writing short had its own set of conventions with which I was no longer that familiar. I hoped with a little research and study I could refresh my knowledge. The big question looming in my mind was what story could I write that occurred over a short time frame and provided a beginning, middle and end.
I read an article about Tolkien. He said important truths include the idea that all of life constitutes a clash between good and evil, dark and light, and everyone’s choices, no matter how “little” of a person they are, matter. The idea of making a choice that matters in the moment and how that affects us stuck with me. I had to think in terms of a small choice–the kind we make every day without expecting consequences, the kind we make in a pinch, the kind we see as inconsequential. After some thought, I chose to write a romantic suspense story about a business woman who encounters evil when she chooses to take a train from Beijing to Hong Kong, China, during the Christmas season.
I worked on the story for weeks to discover my facts, to pinpoint the details and action I needed and to add that touch of romance. The project turned out to be more labor intensive than I anticipated. When I completed the story, my journey felt worthy. I had a sense of accomplishment. I hope you enjoy reading “Night Train to Hong Kong” in the Love for Christmas anthology releasing in November 2017.
by Ottilia Scherschel
Location! A realtor will tell you to search for the worst house in the best location. A producer sends out a location scout before starting a film. A writer looks for two locations. One is a place to write and the other is a setting for her story.
For me, a location to write can be any place no one bothers me. Most days, this spot is my computer room that has big windows facing a view of green or brown, depending on the time year, hills. I’m a bit claustrophobic so being able to look outside is important. If writing at my computer is not productive, I escape to a shady corner of my yard, or if chaos reigns in my house, I run away to write at a local coffee joint. For the most part, finding a writing location is not a big challenge, but finding the setting for a story is a horse of a different color.
Douglas Dresser, location manager of the movie The Revenant, says, “Location is everything! A great location hopefully adds to the audience experience in that it takes you into the character’s life. It makes you feel like you are there with them.”
When I’m planning a novel, I take virtual tours of locations and imagine what I would smell, hear and feel being there. I then ferret out unusual pieces of information that I can use to create my characters and drive my story. The world is full of stunning places populated by interesting people.
Whether you’re looking for a place to live, a setting or a comfy spot to write, remember location is everything!
My memories of Christmas have centered on food. I had a Grandmother who loved to cook. She faithfully made the same pastries and cookies every year. At the end of November, she started her season by baking at least a dozen poppy seed and walnut rolls some of which I wrapped in gold foil and delivered on her behalf as gifts to close friends. The rest she stored in the garage in tins.
She tackled cookies the first week of December and stood in the kitchen with the hot oven going for days and days. She made delicate almond crescents rolled in vanilla sugar, puff pastry bites oozing with apricot preserves, raspberry pinwheels and apple squares that no one could duplicate. To keep the family’s thieving fingers out of her cookie stash, she put a sampler plate of her product daily on the table after dinner for everyone to share. Each delicate morsel melted in my mouth with the creamy sweetness of butter.
I loved every cookie and pastry she made. Eating them became an evening ritual. I slowly savored each bite when she proudly served plates filled with her creations between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. I knew she would not bake any of these cookies or pastries again for a whole year. When I asked why not, she said she was making memories.
My Christmas would not be complete without the cookies and pastries my Grandmother made. The only month of the year I buy mountains of butter is December. I bake and put my family through the ritual of my youth. What could be better than making memories by celebrating through the sense of taste?
Have a yummy and blessed season!
As a novice writer, an author told me “to write what you know.” Because I’m an organizer, I compiled a list of stuff I knew. Every morning for the next week, I read through the topics in my search for inspiration, but not one lit my passion or sent me running to the computer with an urge to let my fingers dance across the keyboard as I composed the next great American novel.
The idea of writing gnawed at me. I woke a few mornings later with a sore jaw. My desire had given me TMJ. Some of you may know that’s the fancy name for what happens when you grind your teeth in your sleep. Great! Becoming a writer could involve buying some expensive mouth guard before I’d even produced a single story. I quickly came to the conclusion it would be less stressful and a lot cheaper to write about what I wanted to know, about those things that lived in my imagination.
Since I was raised on mystery and adventure stories, my fantasies ran to action a la 007 and Indy. Neither of them was about to show up on my doorstep and invite me to tag along, so I decided to write about the kinds of things they did. Haven’t you dreamed about riding across China on a motorcycle or solving a mysterious disappearance? I have and made those dreams come true in my first manuscript.
Everywhere I look nowadays I see a what–an idea for a story. I like to research and dig up unusual tidbits to include in my work. I enjoy creating characters and their worlds. But the real fun starts when the characters and their worlds collide. I guarantee when I put a guy and gal on the page together sparks will fly, and there will be love. After all, what would an adventure be without romance?
My life has always been filled with learning to read and write in some language. I was born in Hungary and educated in Europe, Latin America and the United States. When my family settled in Southern California, I was introduced to English literature and got hooked on novels. My father and I used to read his favorites out loud together. He liked mystery and adventure—Sherlock Holmes and James Fennimore Cooper. I grew to love suspense, action, and brave warrior heroes.
As an adult, I worked in corporate communications for an international trade association. I did a lot of traveling. I had down time on planes and in airports and started to dabble in fiction by creating dangerous adventures for the people I saw around me. I turned businessmen into swashbucklers and tired mothers into FBI agents.
Before long, I produced a manuscript. When I read it, my head spun with the speed of the pacing that was like Die Hard on steroids and without the lovable wife for breathers. I put my first effort at fiction in the depths of my closet and asked myself what I knew about adding love, romance, to the page. The answer was I needed help.
A friend, who was an avid romance reader, invited me to a local Romance Writers of America meeting. I hit the jackpot—a place to learn.
I dove into the learning pool. (I could write a book about that pool but won’t bore you.) I took classes, added Elizabeth Lowell, Nora Roberts, and Jayne Ann Krentz to my reading list and re-read Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen. I came away with a desire to work in the romantic suspense genre but with a wrinkle. I would set my stories in foreign places and include some of those characters I cooked up at airports.
My life today is still filled with writing and language. The difference is I’m working on my own writing and honing words on the page to create language I’m proud to share with my readers.
What do you write?