The Underground

A Dream Book

No, I mean that literally! At 3:00 A.M. one winter night I awoke from a disturbing dream that was so vivid I could actually smell and feel parts of the scenes. It was one of those chasing-type dreams, although in this case I was more an observer than one of the actors. I could not get back to sleep, so I got up and went downstairs. I felt I had the makings of a story.

By 7:00 A.M. I had outlined the entire novel, a first for me since I usually struggle for weeks with my outlines. And once the writing began, the story just flowed. Amazing, really.

Researching the Novel

Since I was born and spent my first 20 years in New York City and go back often, I felt that I had that part of the research pretty well sewn up. However, I still had to research certain facts and also visited a few locales to add realism and descriptive elements to the scenes.

It was the West Virginia segments that required extensive research. I live in Maryland, so I made several trips to the western Maryland region that borders West Virginia and decided to center the action there.

Writing

The actual writing took place in about four months of intensive work, although that was a rare for me. Most of my books took longer to write. People often ask me about the mechanics of my writing, so here’s a quick description.

I’m a pretty disciplined writer. I get up fairly early, have breakfast and read the papers, then get online to catch up on late-breaking news, read and answer emails, and other minor tasks. By 9:00 I’m writing and do so until lunch. After lunch I write again. After dinner, I usually do some editing and get organized for the next day. Real life events all too often interfere with this schedule. If I can do this 3-5 days a week I’m happy.

Once I complete the first draft of the manuscript I let it sit for a minimum of a week. Then the painful revision process begins. I typically go through at least 3 or 4 revisions, although my first historical fiction novel, The First Pharaoh, required nine! I edit to add more descriptive details, to improve the dialogue, to catch inconsistencies and to add plot elements that I think might add drama, intrigue or conflict. Sometimes I’ll scrap an entire chapter or remove a piece of the story that was spread out throughout the book.

Once that process is done, I reluctantly hand off my manuscript to my first-line editor, my wife. She is a grammarian and eagle-eyed editor. Best of all, she gives me a woman’s perspective on what works (or, more likely, what doesn’t).

After my wife comes my long-time friend and writing buddy, Terry, who reads the manuscript and gives me lots of feedback. Usually my manuscript looks like it’s been through a war when he returns it. Every other page seems to bleed red ink.

At this point I’ll make final revisions and then it’s ready for you!

The Underground

Readers’ Guide

  1. How does the novel’s title relate to the story line?

  2. The opening paragraph reads:
    *“This is how it was supposed to have happened. I have no reason to doubt my father’s version of the story, my life’s story, actually. I never really doubted him. My father’s core was real. It was the margins that sometimes got a little frayed."*
    What does Lisa mean by that?

  3. Did Detective Mallory make the connection between Lisa and her mother during her first interview?

  4. Why do you feel Lisa was so compelled to uncover her life story?

  5. Why do you think Peter never told Lisa about his half-brother?

  6. Did Lisa overreact in her relationship with Brad, or were they ill suited for each other at a more fundamental level?

  7. Was Peter truly a good father to Lisa? In what ways was he a positive influence? In what ways did he fall short?

  8. Did Lisa learn anything more about her mother from Daisy Ruger, the seamstress, other than where Lisa’s mother might have been from?

  9. Why did Lisa have such a difficult time adjusting to her new family at first?

  10. What was the impact of the sweat lodge on Lisa?

  11. “Sometimes a person finds truth between the lines,” Luke said to Lisa. What did he mean by that?

  12. At one point Lisa says:
    *“But the truth is that I write because I can’t fathom life without it, without words pouring from my soul to populate the empty pages or screens that I feel compelled to fill. That’s selfish, I know.”*
    Do you feel that Lisa was selfish?

  13. What did Luke mean when he said to Lisa: “It’s not an easy path you walk.”?

  14. Do you agree with Luke’s comment? “Once the story leaves the teller’s mouth, each listener hears it differently.”

  15. “He didn’t do it, Lees.” Do you agree with Mallory’s assessment?

  16. For Lisa the “real” story she uncovered was of a mother’s love and a father’s devotion. What do you feel is the real story?

  17. In your life history, what is the story that you would tell around the fire circle?