Novelist: ‘Most people have stories in them’
By Alana Melanson, firstname.lastname@example.org Updated: 06/05/2016 07:33:12 AM EDT
CHELMSFORD — After a long career as a computer engineer, Ursula Wong knew there was something else she had to do: write.
“I think most people have some stories in them,” the Chelmsford author said, “and there were a couple I really wanted to get into.”
She has been writing now for six years, and is about to release her second full-length novel, an historical fiction piece titled “Amber Wolf.” The book is being published through Chelmsford-based Genretarium Publishing, owned by her friend and mentor, Dale T. Phillips.
In her earlier years, Wong, 61, was educated in physics and mathematics at George Washington University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She worked for more than 20 years at Digital Equipment Corp. and Fidelity Investments. Upon her retirement, she took writing classes at UMass Lowell and local community colleges to hone her craft.
Wong said she felt compelled to write about strong women who struggle against impossible odds to achieve their dreams. While her characters are fictional, many are inspired by real people she has known or read about.
Wong, who is of Lithuanian ancestry, was inspired to write “Amber Wolf” after finding a manuscript among her uncle’s possessions after his death. It was an early draft of “Tarp Dvieju Gyvenimu” by Vytautas Alantas, which her uncle, Frank Alexis, was translating into English. Loosely translated to “Between Two Lives,” the story portrayed Lithuania at a crossroads in summer 1944.
The Nazis were gone, and the Soviets had returned for a second time since the beginning of World War II.
“Lithuanians were deciding whether to stay and oppose Stalinism, wait for the West to push the Russians out, or leave their country,” Wong wrote in the preface to her book.
Wong’s own grandparents fled Lithuania during the Bolshevik invasion shortly after World War I. She was drawn in by stories of the Lithuanian partisans, who fled into the woods and engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Soviets in a fight for their lands.
“It’s basically a tiny farm country,” Wong said. “The farmers put down their pitchforks and they stole guns, and they started fighting the Russians.”
Wong spent months researching and reading so that she could create a fictional world that closely paralleled the real lives of Lithuanians during World War II.
“Amber Wolf” begins with 21-year-old Ludmelia Kudirka hiding in the attic of her family’s summer cottage in Vilkija while Soviet officers rape and kill her mother.
In flashbacks, Ludmelia recalls fleeing her home in Kaunas under rockets and gunfire and going to the cottage, meant to be her family’s refuge to wait out the war. Her brother, Matas, was killed. Their father, Victor, a history professor who protested the Soviet invasion by writing and distributing pamphlets calling for a free Lithuania, was captured and deported to Siberia along with most of the country’s intellectuals.
Victor’s act of opposition put his family in danger, leading the Soviet officers to seek out Ludmelia. The story follows the Soviets during their “frenzy of pillaging and murder” through Lithuania. It goes back and forth between Ludmelia’s struggle for freedom and the perspective of the Soviets searching for her while they booze, rape and “guide the peasants into the Soviet way of life.”
Following her mother’s murder, Ludmelia hides the body in a food cellar, grabs her rations and her father’s gun, and escapes into the forest, heading toward Paunksmis Lake.
Ludmelia finds and joins a partisan resistance group in their fight for freedom. The book shows how she evolves, and what becomes of her in this time of crisis, Wong said.
Wong provides a window into the minds and emotions of each character, as readers learn of their tragically intertwined lives. Even the Soviet officers, in the midst of plundering the country, are given small moments of humanity as they remember their own simpler, more peaceful times.
In the title, amber refers to both the color of Ludmelia’s hair and the fossilized pine-resin jewelry treasured by Lithuanian women. Wolves, a cultural symbol of independence and strength, play a big role in Lithuanian lore, including the origin story of the country’s capital, Vilnius.
Wong’s first novel, “Purple Trees,” released in 2014, follows the story of 17-year-old Lily, a Central Massachusetts farm girl whose dead father appears to her as she tries to navigate her life and cope with a dark secret. Wong has also had short stories published in the compilations “Insanity Tales” and “Insanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear.”
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Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_29980002/novelist-most-people-have-stories-them#ixzz4B4XM8cj3
My friend, Dale T. Phillips, just released A Certain Slant of Light, the fourth installment in his popular Zack Taylor mystery series. Recently, I had the chance to interview Dale about the book and his future plans.
Q. How did you come to create such a multi-dimensional character as Zack Taylor?
A. It originated in a character who would check into the death of a friend. But what kind of person would drop his life to do such a thing? I had to come up with a character with a completely different background from the norm. And I wanted to create someone who didn’t use a gun to solve all his problems, because I see too much of that in mystery fiction. It makes for a tougher story to write when the protagonist starts with a disadvantage. Again, that helped shape Zack, determining certain aspects. Why doesn’t he like guns? Ah, because of his past. Why is he driven to do the things he does? So I had to create his life, which had to follow a kind of path, and detail after detail fell into place. When the writing is good, it’s like a puzzle that has to be in the final form, because it all fits neatly together.
Q. There are a few themes, including alcoholism, that run through all four books. What are the themes and why did you select them?
A. I like to show my readers how to deal with death, pain, and monsters. I wanted to show a very flawed character, who yet strives to be a better person. Zack has many inner demons, and doesn’t deal with them well. In the past, he turned to alcohol, and a violent rage. He now has to keep himself in check or be destroyed. Even though he helps people, he suffers a terrible cost, yet keeps going on. So the themes arise from that. And the theme of each book is shown in the title, which is taken from literary tropes.
Q. Why is Maine so significant in the stories?
A. I grew up there, and wanted to set important stories there, a different setting for most people. All some people know of the state is summer vacations or Stephen King, and there is much more, a rich, strange world apart from other places in the country. We see sleuths in the big cities, so this is a switch. Zack has not contacts and no experience with this different world. Yet it has a special effect on him, and keeps him there, after his original reason for going there was met.
Q. Are Zack and Allison ever going to tie the knot?
A. The next book will probably answer that question.
Q. With the Zack Taylor series, Shadow of the Wendigo, and many anthologies in your arsenal of publications, where do you find the time to write?
A. Sometimes I don’t. It’s very difficult, as I have a day job and many hours of commuting. You have to be persistent, to make the writing more important than anything else. Let’s just say I don’t watch much TV, and even my print reading has dropped considerably.
Q. What are a few things you’d like to tell our readers about yourself?
A. My writing has a moral center, and many things layered into it, making it more than just entertainment. I’m reaching for a depth that is more than what shows on the surface.
Q. What can we look forward to next from you?
A. The next Zack Taylor book, of course, and a scary thriller. And many more stories.
Strong Women in Novels
My friend, Connie Johnson-Hambley, recently posted my article on strong women in novels. Take a look here!
Annie’s Book Stop
Sci-Fi Saturday Night
I was honored to be a guest of Sci-Fi Saturday Night along with other Insanity Tales authors Stacey Longo, Dale Phillips, and Vlad V. (David Daniel unfortunately couldn’t make the event). We had a wonderful time with The Dome and friends.
The Blog Tour
The fabulous Stacey Longo (www.staceylongo.com) invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. The Writing Process Blog Tour is a means for writers to talk about how they write, and to introduce other writers. Each contributor talks about their writing process, and invites three others to talk about their own work, and so on.Since Stacey and I often collaborate in our writing, we decided to collaborate on our contribution to the Blog Tour. Be sure to let us know what you think!
What am I working on? Stacey: I just finished rewrites on my novel, Ordinary Boy, about a young man growing up in the ’80s who struggles with bullies, girlfriends, and a monstrous stepfather. It’s due out in early 2015 from Dark Alley Press. My next project is a novella about two sisters, one of whom is a zombie. It’s a sweet tale of sibling bonding, insults, and the undead. My own sister is thrilled that I’ve turned her into a decaying zombie in this tale. Ursula: Amber Wolf is a novel about Lithuanian resistance to the Soviet occupation of 1944. People from all walks-of-life moved to military type camps in the primeval forests, and ran missions against Soviet strongholds. I talk about living conditions, the source of weaponry, and some of the moral questions. Can you fight a brutal enemy without becoming brutal yourself?
How does my work differ from others of its genre? Ursula: Amber Wolf is the only novel I am aware of that discusses the topic of Lithuanian resistance to the Soviets during WW II. While it is historical fiction, I also incorporate some Lithuanian culture with phrases, folklore, and traditions, like saying a prayer to good health under a crescent of the moon. Stacey: Maybe my work isn’t that different from others in my genre. I’ve been accused of copying Jeff Strand, emulating Neil Gaiman, and lifting entire plot points from Stephen King. (Check out my book, That Thing, about a murderous alien clown that lives in the sewers.) In all seriousness, I tend to write funny horror, which is probably not that common.
Why do I write what I do? Stacey: I write humor because there’s nothing in the world I enjoy more than laughing (except, perhaps, for a fresh Double Stuf ® Oreo). The horror thing came about because my husband kept badgering me. “You should try writing horror,” he’d say all the time, and I’d say “If you keep that up, I’m going to slit your throat, dismember your body, freeze it, and then feed the pieces through a wood chipper.” That’s about when I realized he might have a point. Ursula: I’ve been writing for 4 years and my novels, Purple Trees and Amber Wolf are about topics that have always interested me. My great-grandparents were born in Lithuania, so Amber Wolf has special significance to me. Purple Trees is about a woman with a tumultuous past that affected her relationship with her son. It is also about death, abuse, and life in the farming community of rural Massachusetts during the 1960s and 1970s. I grew up on a diary farm and wanted to talk about that lifestyle. Stacey: You did? I grew up on a dairy farm, too. Ursula: Really? Do you ever write about it? Stacey: Sometimes . . .
How does my writing process work? Stacey: My writing process is heavily fueled by caffeine. Also, I often get story ideas by thinking about people who have wronged me in the past, and trying to imagine creative ways to do them in. For instance, there was one girl, Sally, who wouldn’t let me sit with her on the school bus because our dairy farm was a bit odorous. I recently wrote a short story in which a little girl named Sally finds herself in a dark field, surrounded by angry, carnivorous cows. Is it horror? I like to think of it as comedy. Ursula: I try to write every day and try to stay organized so that all my writing contributes somehow, to a story or a novel. When the well is dry, I don’t force myself to write. I find that taking some time away from writing now and then helps ideas to gel. A key part of my writing process involves a team effort where Stacey and I (along with two others), collaborate on the editing and marketing aspects of book publishing. For details, see our Susan Kaye Quinn post on collaboration. Stacey: Well, yes, that answer was much more logical than mine. Good advice!
Stacey Longo (www.staceylongo.com) has a great sense of humor and shows it in her writing. She is the author of Secret Things (a collection of horror) and the editor of Wicked Seasons. Her novel Ordinary Boy is due out in early 2015 from Dark Alley Press. We’ve invited two authors to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Every writer is different: Please be sure to visit their blogs next week to see how they respond to these questions! You won’t want to miss . . . Catherine Dougherty (http://catherinedougherty.com), a New Hampshire native, is a fiction author and a former newspaper reporter, columnist, photographer, and Real Estate/Business Broker. She was the Lakes Region Coordinator of The Cozy Cap Project, making and donating thousands of hats for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. She was editor of The Cozy Cap Project Newsletter, and currently volunteers as social media chair for The Greater Lakes Region Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Her debut novel in Polyester Pajamas was published in June 2012 and won the NH Writers’ Project 2013/2014 Readers’ Choice Award for outstanding work of fiction. Her second novel in Woolen Bikinis was published in 2013, and her third novel is due to be released later in 2014. She has written several essays and poems, and is a featured author in the 2012-2013 publication 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading presented by TheAuthorsShow.com. Author Rob Smales graduated from Salem State College in 1992 with a BA in English, but it wasn’t until late 2010 that he started writing, focusing on short stories as a way to learn both the craft and the business. In 2011 he achieved publication, selling the story Playmate Wanted to Dark Moon Books. In 2012 his story Photo Finish was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Preditors & Editors “Readers Choice Award for Best Horror Short Story of 2012.” Rob’s first book, a collection titled Dead of Winter, was released in December 2013, and won the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library the following January. Dead of Winter was subsequently reviewed on DarkMedia.com as “an elegant, disturbing, and poignant look into the world of ghostly apparitions”. Rob resides in Salem Massachusetts, where he thinks, writes, and, occasionally, sleeps. Visit him at http://www.robsmales.com.