Top 10 Discoveries About My Book

Joe’s Post #180

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

Are you surprised how your book turned out?

Now, spoiler alert, this is a longer post than normal. Get into your comfy underwear, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, put your feet up on the dog and continue.

Yager’s War has come so far since it’s inception back in 2016, but my first historical novel has finally been sent off to my first readers – Two professional writers, and one person who lived through that time.

Oh, but that seems so long, ago, now. A lifetime. And in that lifetime, I learned a lot about my story, which kinda surprised me since I thought I pretty much knew everything about it when I sat down to write it.

So, what did I discover?

1) I discovered that I can’t eat well and write. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with the novel, per se, but if anyone is looking to write a character in a novel who writes for a living, it’s a good trait. Not a healthy one, but something odd. Quirky. Stupid. Peanut M&Ms. Pop. Pizza. Oddly, I didn’t drink. Sorry Hemmingway.

2) I discovered that I sat down to write this because I love history and World War II history in particular. But it’s not a love based on battles, but stories. It’s something that’s not being taught a lot in schools. It’s all about facts, maps, (wait, I love maps, too), and dates. Even without a specific person, there is a narrative that thrills me. The massively outnumbered Jews who fought the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. The 500 Spartans at Thermopylae. The Alamo. Then it hit me. I love the underdog. The few who stood up when it mattered BUT died in the end. All knew they would die, yet still fought the fight. That leaked into my novel in a big way (and will certainly be a major part of the second and third novels.)


Iron Lungs. Therapy for polio. But it looks like something out of a horror movie.

I discovered a lot about things we understand now, understand back then. Polio. PTSD. Asperger’s. They’ve all existed since the beginning of time. Like the Queen of England. But we’re only now understanding them fully and I was surprised at the complexity of each one of those subjects.


4) I discovered ‘what to keep in and what to take out’ was tougher than I ever thought. Yanking out a whole subplot ain’t easy, my friends. It’s like trying to yank off a skin tag, it’s quite painful and wants to snap right back. I can still use a lot of what I wrote or imagined in my next book,

5) I discovered I could fall in love with one of

Amelia Anderson. (AKA-
Bryce Dallas Howard)

my characters. It’s amazing how much a story can change even from the 2nd draft, to the third. I yanked out some decent writing about my character’s interaction with a family to explore a love interest and I fell in love with that love interest. Amelia “Amy” Anderson, a brilliant red-head with Sherlock Holmesian Asperger’s. Socially awkward. Kind. Driven. Beautiful (of course, cuz, you know, I’m a guy.) I dream about her now. Don’t tell my wife.

6) I discovered it’s tough to choose what research to use and what not to use. I had to cut research out. Oh, that fine line between having authentic historical details and way, way, way too much information… it’s so easy to cross because information is so fun! (You know what I’m talking about, Paula!)

7) I discovered that I could make myself cry while writing. Not, oh god, this is terrible, but I moved myself at some of the tragic scenes. Maybe no one else will shed a tear, but it’s odd that I could actually get in touch with emotion. Without whiskey. Thanks to Don Maass for making me live in the pain for a while.

8) I discovered, much to my horror, that it was not as much fun, sometimes, to do research. Now, this really shocked me. I love learning new facts. Like did you know that the Kaiser, the Imperial Emperor of Germany, fled to Holland? And had the nickname of the Woodchopper? But trying to get all my facts right, like what soap the Dutch used for dishes or what goods were sold in the Waterlooplein market, well, that took a bit of work and I often got distracted tracking down other details.

9) I discovered this is not, at its heart, a who-killed-Roger-Rabbit story. This is a Jewish

Lest we forget

story. Again, a bit of a shock. Not that I didn’t have Jewish elements in it, but on the last rewrite, it really hit home how much I needed to tell the Jewish story here.

10) I discovered it’s a feminist novel. This came as the biggest shock. BIGGEST. Like finding a spider in your underwear.  Both of my main female characters are strong, independent women in a time where such things were not the norm. Maybe it was all the women in my life who influenced that. My mom who went to university and graduated as the only woman in her class. My wives, Margot and Corinne. My inherited great Baba, who designed and built a frigging church.

But all those discoveries aside, the novel will get one last polish from my first readers, then it’s off to the agent.

It is the best thing I have written, but something not achieved without great pain and anguish. Ask my wife who’d find me wandering around the house muttering, “No, that won’t work, won’t work, my precious, he has to die, yes, die but how, dammit, how?”

It’s been an interesting journey, combining my deep emotional connection to the Netherlands (based on my visits there and my reading of the holocaust), my love of a good thriller, and my love of books that touch a poignant chord within us all.  But, as any writer should, if someone has a way to make it EVEN BETTER, (my first readers, my agent, my editor, Bob the grocery bagger,) then I’ll kick it up yet another notch.

Because I not only want it to be the best story I’ve ever written, but one of the best others will ever read.

What’s a hero to you?

Helga’s Post # 42 –


Our recent posts prompted a lot of stimulating dialogue. How much should writers make their protagonist suffer, torture even, to create a hero that earns readers’ sympathy and respect. We explored the context and different kinds of suffering that strengthens a hero, and conversely, what makes some protagonists come across merely as victims.

Great comments all around.

What else can we writers do to create memorable characters? What other elements beyond making our heroes suffer can we endow them with? What tools can we use to make them even more compelling?

An even more fundamental question: When does a protagonist become a hero, and what types of heroes do readers love most? I think the answer is somewhat subjective because we don’t all like the same books. But regardless of the type of hero we like best, some just earn more of our love and respect because we didn’t make it easy for them.

Let’s say as an example, our character is a young talented fellow, about to graduate from Harvard, top of the class, excelling in sports. He finds himself in a real pickle, the perfect vicious kind. Some goons armed with knives have taken his equally gifted, talented girlfriend, also top of the class. Naturally he wants to save her and get her back. He has to fight four armed thugs all by himself, with his bare hands, but hey, what’s the big deal? Been there, done that. He knows he can do it. His parents put him in martial arts training at the age of five. He’s the fastest, the strongest and smartest of his peers. A blue-blooded A-list kind of guy. He’s been working out every day in the gym, so he’s all muscle and well prepared. Having been trained by the best, he fears nothing.

A picture book hero. An extraordinary achiever. A Superman kind of guy.


Nobody is interested in such a character. How then can we make him more interesting, his dilemma and quest more compelling?

By challenging him in different ways. By creating him in a way that most readers can identify with. Make him LESS perfect, not more. Maybe change his background. Perhaps he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He learned street fighting in back alleys. He built his strength by working out at home and by running and hiking. He holds two jobs to get himself through college. Something like that. And give him some flaws. Some inner conflicts and temptations he can’t always resist. Make him human.

Or make poster-boy special by the way the events of the story change him. How much more effective would it be if our Harvard fellow struggles to make his grades. He falls in love with a girl from a less privileged background. Maybe a cashier at the student cafeteria. His parents object. He starts to realize that everything has been given to him. He’s had to earn nothing by himself. Not the car, not the credit cards, not the generous allowance. His parents pay for his tuition, his haircuts, his private trainer. He realizes he needs to find his identity. No more unearned privileges. He ‘drops out’. He rebels. He turns into an anti-hero.

Admittedly, it’s a fine line to draw a character most readers will like. Authors can’t please every reader equally. We all have preferences and prejudices. There are however certain attributes that our best-loved protagonists demonstrate time and again. It comes down to one important rule: No stereotypes. No perfect heroes.

Give me Batman, not Superman. I love anti-heroes.

Anti-heroes are fascinating characters. Even if the main character isn’t the anti-hero, there should be one in every story. Let’s look at some attributes of heroes vs. anti-heroes to help determine which one is right for your story.


Sir Galahad, a hero of Arthurian legend, detail of a painting by George Frederic Watts

Classic Heroes: ‘Knights in Shining Armor’.

Tend to be idealistic. They have conventional moral values. They never waver. Can be complex, but usually not ambivalent. Everything they do is perfect. Everything they say is perfect. They always pick the right option, to the amazement of everyone. They will face conflict bravely.

Examples: Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, Jamie Fraser (Outlander series)

Anti-Heroes: ‘Loveable Rogues’

They tend to be realistic. They want whatever they can get. They are mysterious, unpredictable and compelling.  Often rough, anti-social characters who come around. If the character is male, he can be a womanizer. They won’t commit to a relationship. They will try to get around conflict with devious tactics. They are often brash but have a streak of loyalty that is heroic and admirable. They appeal to our human side.

Examples: Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Chili Palmer (Get Shorty), Don Draper (Mad Men), Tony Soprano, Hedda Gabler, and of course Macbeth.

Perhaps it can be summed up simply like this:

Classic heroes get our respect.

Anti-heroes get our love.

Now it’s your turn to speak: Which type of characters do YOU love best? And why ?