Now that the 1960s is considered historical fiction, I may not be able to refresh your memory, so let me expand the scope of your sitcom knowledge with a little trivia about the Emmy Award winning sitcom Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971). Set in a Nazi German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, the show revolved around Colonel Robert E. Hogan and his crew of Allied prisoners who ran a Special Operations group out of the camp to help Allied POWs escape and sabotage the Nazi war effort. Their missions go undetected thanks to the camp’s incompetent commandant. But mostly because of the blundering sergeant-of-arms Hans Schultz who often assists the prisoners in their espionage by accepting strudel bribes and escaping punishment from his superiors by insisting, “I know nothing— nothing.”
Did you know the actors Werner Klemperer, John Bannon, Leon Askin and Howard Caine who played the major German roles were Jewish? And that Klemperer, Bannon and Askin actually fled from the Nazi’s during the war, and actor Robert Clary, who played the French POW spent three years in a concentration camp.
When tidbits like that drop into my life, I want to click over to Google and watch an episode and hunt for more details. I don’t know if this proves my interest in writing historical fiction is more than a passing fancy, but my rabbit hole curiosity is in high gear these days and it’s damn dazzling.
Funny thing is— I’ve never thought of myself as a curious person because I was expected to know everything. Of course, I didn’t, especially when it came to mathematics. Never got over a C until Algebra came into my life. How I loved solving for X. If only X had come into my life sooner, I could’ve escaped this episode…
It was a dark and stormy night— it was always dark and stormy when my mother went to her bowling league and stuck me with my father. All homework was done except for math, which was beyond impossible because it dealt with— word problems. They were supposed to be fun because they were written out like a mystery.
There are twelve muffins in the kitchen. Nine of the muffins are in pink muffin cups and the rest are in blue muffin cups. What fraction and percentage of the muffins are in blue muffin cups?
Gobbledygook. I knew the simple answer was three, but I couldn’t figure out how to transform that number into a fraction or percentage. And so, I hovered at the end of the hall with worksheet, pencil, and eraser in hand and waited for my father to disengage from his crossword puzzle. He looked up. My gaze shifted back and forth between the worksheet to his unwelcoming face until he set his puzzle down.
I held out the worksheet. He read the problem and with the help of his trusty mechanical pencil scratched out numbers and fractions in the space below the problem. I’d like to say he explained every mathematical step he used to get from the twelve muffins down to three and the answer of ¼ and 25%. But I can’t because all I remember is his how he responded to my inquiry about where the quarter came from.
He slammed the pencil onto the marble coffee table. My body tensed. His voice pounded my ear drums. “A fourth is a quarter.”
“But isn’t a quarter twenty-five cents? What about the muffins?”
“Don’t they teach you anything in that school? Don’t you pay attention? There are four quarters in a dollar. One quarter out of four is a fourth. ¼ of anything is a quarter of anything. A fourth, a half, a full. You should know this. What are you stupid? Why don’t you know this?”
Because no one ever explained it to me. But, of course, I didn’t say that. Because one thing I understood— my father was never to be challenged, only obeyed.
That muffin problem was my first Aha Moment. I’d never let anyone think I was stupid— ever again. And so, I pretended I wasn’t. And acting as if I was a fountain of knowledge became such an integral part of my aura, no matter where I went people turned to me for answers. And I gave them because I could always figure out something to say that made me appear knowledgeable— even when I wasn’t.
Jump UP— could this be the foundation of my resistance to tackling the hard exercises in the craft books I was yammering about last time? And the reason it took so long for me to seek out Beta Readers and the much-needed developmental editor? I’m afraid so.
But that’s okay. Mortifying. But okay. Because eventually, I did the hard work. No other choice. I ran out of the easy stuff. And that, dear friends, readers and voyeurs leads me to believe I’m much more curious than I ever imagined.
Because even though writing a novel by acting as if I knew how impeded my progress, the subsequent frustration and fear of failure it fostered ultimately fueled my curiosity. Can I turn Kaitlyn into a likable character? Can I let go of the darlings that are keeping me from uncovering the real story? Can I stop writing from my head and let Kaitlyn’s visceral life live on the page?
Yes, I can.
And today’s questions— can I trim the story down to a publishable friendly word count without sacrificing the heart of Kaitlyn’s journey? Can I make the first third of the manuscript an endless hook for the reader? Can I figure out how to pitch this great work of my life so agents and publishers will vie to represent it?
And most important— Can I do it again?
This curious writer wants to know, so stay tuned and a book giveaway may be in your future— stranger things have happened.