The Yellow Pad

backpackIf you refer to my personal schedule that we posted several months ago, you will note that on a normal weekday, I am away from my home approximately four hours.  Two of those four hours, I’m on my bike and during the other two, I engage in contemplative activity.  Thoughts and ideas come to me all of the time.  I ride with my trusty backpack and in it, I always carry a yellow pad.

When an idea strikes me, when I read something of value, when words come to me that I want to remember, I jot them down in my pad.  Similarly, I am not afraid to write and markup the books that I carry.  I will annotate them, underline phrases… whatever it takes to keep an idea alive.  When I return to my desk, I always review my notes.

As an example, one morning last year as I was writing Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, I sat in chapel reading The Quotable Lewis by JerryTobit Root.  I consider Tobit a ‘wild ride’ of sorts and decided to subtitle it A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South.  I stretched the boundaries of historical fiction with that story.  As I read C.S. Lewis that morning, I chanced upon his comments on the miraculous.  “I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.”  Lewis’s statement perfectly described what I wanted to accomplish with Tobit.  You’ll note that the quote appears on the first page of the book directly under the title.

Story ideas, phrasing, reference… my yellow pad is open for everything.

Although all of my grown children, their spouses and my wife are avid Kindle users, I prefer to read physical books, which I will markup.  I do maintain Kindle PC, Adobe Digital and Mobipocket reader on my computer.  I praise these technologies for the versatility they offer users to highlight and comment on text.  I suspect most of you are more ‘hi-tech’ than I am.

markupWhether you do it electronically or with paper and pencil, I advise all aspiring writers to have writing tools within easy reach 24/7.  You must be prepared when the right idea and the right words strike you.

The Writing Process, part 2: Research

Each writer will have a different take on research.  A rare few will throw it to the wind.  Those of us who consider research an important if not critical element in the process of completing a manuscript fall into two camps.  One camp prefers to write the manuscript from start to finish and then research the details after the fact.  The other camp performs research throughout the process.  I fall into the second camp; I research throughout the process, from start to finish.

For example, I needed to understand the physical layout of Auschwitz before I wrote about it in The Hamsa, not afterwards.  What did it look like?, Where is it located?, etc.  I needed to understand the reconstruction era in the South before I wrote about it in Tobit and the Hoodoo Man; I didn’t want to fill in the blanks when the story was finished.

Ten years ago when I penned The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, I had stacks of books within arm’s reach to support what I was writing, and I made frequent trips to the library.  The Internet supplemented those books.  Today, the Internet is my primary research tool.  ‘Bookmarks’ and ‘favorite places’ folders now replace the bookshelves that once surrounded my desk. For each historical novel, I maintain a minimum of three ‘favorite’ folders where I store the websites I am using:  people, culture and geography.  In turn, those folders may have sub –folders.  This system allows me quick and ready reference as I write my story.

I collect folders of pictures, drawings and photos to help me understand the ‘lay of the land’ as it were, and I refer to them frequently.  I wallpapered my office with pictures of ancient Olympia as I wrote The Olympian.

I most frequently start my research queries with Wikipedia, but I ALWAYS confirm what I find on Wikipedia from other independent sites.  Google never fails me, and I have yet to be burned by Wikipedia so I consider it a reliable source.  Wikipedia has another terrific service that enables a researcher to ‘create a book’ from the pages he uses on Wikipedia.  When my manuscript is finished and the book published, I always return to Wikipedia and order the book I created through research.  The Hamsa research book from Pedia Press was over 1,000 pages and required two volumes.  I recall the price at approximately $50.

Because I lack the financial resources to travel, I rely on Google Earth.  It continues to improve.  As I reflect on my books, each involves a journey.  While the Olympian took place in Greece, The Hamsa spanned continents.  Google Earth enables me to visualize the geography and topography, and it enables me to calculate times required to make the journeys on foot, train, boat or whatever mode of transportation is appropriate.

Don’t spare the research.  It’s time well spent.

Reformatting “The Hamsa”

Several years ago, my old mentor McGrath first suggested that electronic books, eBooks represented the new face of book publishing.  As I resisted, he continued to send me article after article.  In 2010, two years after The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas was published as a physical book, I caved in and The Olympian went up on Kindle.  Since then, I insure all of my books are available in both physical and electronic formats.

I remain Old School and prefer to read my books in physical format, but not so with my wife, my children and many of my friends.  I have my reasons, but then I chuckle and wonder what the guy was thinking who refused to exchange his stone tablets for scrolls, then codex and then bound books!  Oh well….

The cold fact is that I sell five times as many eBooks through Kindle as physical books through Amazon and other book vendors.  If there is proof in the pudding, that validates it.

During the two years that I’ve worked with eBooks, I continue to learn more and more about formatting the electronic version to make it more readable on an electronic device.

Although I can’t deny that my first novel, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas has been and continues to be the most well read of my four, my personal favorite is The Hamsa, a story of human dignity told through the eyes of Polish Olympic skier Bronisław Czech.  This brave man represented his country in three Winter Olympic Games, served with the resistance when Hitler attacked Poland and in 1940, he was the 349th person incarcerated in Auschwitz where he died five years later.

Earlier this month, I decided to re-format The Hamsa to make the eBook more readable.  I am pleased with the result.  Among other things, the eBook now includes a navigatable table of contents.  Because of the size of the book, I felt a usable TOC would be valuable to the reader.

If you prefer electronic books, and you have not read The Hamsa, I invite you to give it a look in its new format.

The Hamsa on Kindle

A word about the two covers… During the initial publication process, the designers offered two cover options that I really liked.  I finally decided to go with ‘the blue cover’ on the physical book, and then opted to use ‘the dog cover’ on the eBook.  It is the same book.  Both covers are appropriate and relevant to the story.

The Writing Process, part 1

a masterWhether or not you read Stephen King books and whether or not you like Stephen King, I am certain he will be remembered well into the future as one of the most prolific, if not one of the greatest novelists this country has ever produced.  I used to paraphrase Mr. King as saying, “If you don’t read, you can’t write.”  A bit of research reveals his method for success.  What he actually said is,

“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

I for one would not challenge his advice.

I want to focus on the ‘reading’ aspect, and I’ll return to my original paraphrase:  If you don’t read, you can’t write.  I have been an avid reader since childhood.  Among my favorite authors are Nikos Kazantzakis, Steven Pressfield, Mark Helprin, Victor Hugo and Ron McLarty.  Each writes in different form and each writes about different subject matter, but each is a master of the art in his own ingenious way.  I do not seek to emulate any writer, but I am certain that the more exposure one has to literature in all genres, the better-equipped one is to write and to develop her own style.

Just recently, I received a letter from a woman writing her first novel and asking for some advice.  She told me she was an avid reader, but had not read anything since she started her manuscript because she did not want “to be influenced” by another writer.

Frankly, I disagree.  If I read good literature and it influences my writing, then I am a better writer.  We certainly don’t plagiarize in any way, shape or form. pressfield However, Steven Pressfield once told me, “It’s okay to steal as long as you make it better.”  Touché.  I’ll admit, I’ve adapted a sequence or two from Les Miserables and even one from Mr. Pressfield’s Legend of Bagger Vance in two of my manuscripts.  My ‘theft’ didn’t make the original concept any better, but I believe it made my stories better as I envisioned them and eventually put them on paper.  I’ll challenge you to identify the book/s and — I think even more difficult — the specific scenes.  [My son Brad is excluded from the challenge.]

first fiveWhen I completed the fourth re-write of my first manuscript, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and believed I was finished, Mr. Pressfield advised me, “You might want to check out this book The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.”  I’ll discuss Mr. Lukeman’s book in greater detail in a subsequent post.  He devotes an entire chapter to ‘sound,’ which he likens to rhythm.  After reading Mr. Lukeman’s discussion on rhythm, I learned to begin each day reading poetry to help me establish rhythm to the prose I would write that day.

As I wrote The Olympian, I began my early morning reading Lord Byron’s The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold.  I’m embarrassed to admit I can tell you nothing about the poem, but I am convinced that it greatly influenced the rhythm of The Olympian in a positive way that made the book more ‘authentic.’

With four novels under my belt and well into the fifth, I am convinced that Stephen King is absolutely correct:  you cannot expect to become a good writer unless you read every day.

DWI: Dying While Intoxicated now available


  DWI: Dying While Intoxicated has arrived!

“When justice is blind, it cannot read the law.”

I am pleased to announce that my fourth novel, DWI: Dying While Intoxicated was published yesterday, May 24, 2012 and is now available from and other online book vendors.  It is available as a physical book and as an electronic book.

DWI: Dying While Intoxicated represents a departure from my work in historical novels.  I refer to it as a ‘cop thriller.’  It is a story of a man who takes justice into his own hands.  the narrative asks the ultimate questions of the reader, “When does the law cease to serve justice?  When is action beyond the letter of the law justified?  When?  By Whom?”  This story has been on my mind since the late ’70’s.  I first put it to paper in 2003 and decided this year to pull it out of the closet.  If you read ‘crime stories,’ you will appreciate this one.  You can learn more about the story by clicking the ‘About the Books’ tab at the top of the page.

You can go directly to the DWI physical book page on by clicking this link:

DWI on Amazon

You can go directly to the DWI electronic book page on Amazon’s Kindle store by clicking this link:

DWI on Kindle

Thanks for your continued support and interest.

Where Ideas Come From: DWI, Dying While Intoxicated

DWII was educated as a warrior, although I am not comfortable with claiming that title today.  I entered the United States Air Force Academy in 1967, graduated and spent a career as a pilot until medical retirement ‘clipped my wings.’  I really can’t think of another ‘job’ that is more fun than flying single-seat, single-engine, Mach 2+ fighters, and to be paid for it??? Are you kidding me?  Same old thing every day: put on your flight suit and combat boots, strap on your parachute and go play Steve Canyon while defending the skies of America.  How boring can life get?  Back in those days, we survived on black coffee, cigarettes and booze.

As  F-106 Interceptor pilots, my mates and I generally spent 10 days each month ‘round the clock playing ping pong, eating, playing pinochle, eating, watching movies [on reels] and sleeping 50 feet from our armed and loaded fighters waiting for the Russkies to penetrate our airspace.  We must have done an excellent job because it never did happen.  You get to know your fellow pilots pretty well in that type of environment, and there are plenty of stories to share during happy hour when you are back at your home station and off alert status.

Gerry Czeiner was one of those free spirits in our squadron, the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.  We claimed Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York as our home base.  One night midway through a weeklong alert assignment, Gerry and I were sipping stale, lukewarm coffee wishing they were bottles of beer.  We started talking about booze and drinking.  As pilots, we were pretty good about watching out for each 49thother.  I remember one night when George Mehrtens drove me home from the O’Club and deposited me in the foyer of our home in Holland Patent.  Marie wasn’t very pleased, but – bless George’s heart – he got me home in one piece.  I retrieved my car the next day….

Anyway, Gerry told me how he would get rid of drunk drivers.  The solution Gerry described to me that night back in the late 1970’s is the same solution that Harold Huck, the protagonist of DWI pursues in his personal vendetta to rid the streets of drunk drivers.  I’ve carried Gerry’s ‘solution’ around in the back of my head for nearly 40 years.

While I enjoy writing historical novels, I had to clear this story from my brain.  That, however, is where the idea came from: a late night conversation with Gerry Czeiner while we pulled alert duty in Presque Isle, Maine nearly forty years ago.

Where Ideas Come From: Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South

During the two years I worked on The Hamsa, I became very interested in Celtic spirituality.  I obtained a Celtic Prayer book authored by William John Fitzgerald.  I still use it daily.  One scripture reading from the Book of Tobit captured my attention.

 “Raphael answered, “I will go with him; so do not fear.  We shall leave in good health and return to you in good health, because the way is safe.”

Tobit 5:16

Tobias saying goodbye to his father

I had never read the Book of Tobit.  Frankly, I had not even heard of the Book of Tobit.  Fortunately, I live not far from the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Picture Rocks at the edge of the Saguaro National Park in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  The Center has a wonderful library and I spent many early mornings reading the Book of Tobit.  You will note that on the title page of The Hamsa, I include the aforementioned quotation.

While The Book of Tobit is perceived in different ways by different people of different religious persuasions, I believe The Book of Tobit tells us about doing the right thing under any and all circumstances, and that is the core concept of my novel Tobit and the Hoodoo Man.

Trained as a warrior, I respect all men and women who serve and who have served their countries in uniform though today, I am an avid supporter of non-violence.  In deference to popular American culture, I believe ‘the greatest generation’ of American servicemen and women were those who fought and died in the Civil War, the War Between the States.  Their efforts preserved the United States of America.  If Americans love their country, they must acknowledge that it remains intact due in no small part to the more than 600,000 men and women who died to preserve the nation some 150 Tobityears ago.

After reading the Book of Tobit several times, I decided I would write a manuscript and tell the story of Tobit with the Civil War South as its backdrop.  I tried diligently to include all of the major events in the biblical Book of Tobit.  That objective led to many twists and turns that made writing this manuscript an enjoyable process.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, I had already used ‘Raphael’ in The Hamsa, so I elected to use another archangel, Gabriel in his stead as I wrote Tobit and the Hoodoo Man.  Hoping to stay true to form and in context with the Apocrypha, I introduced another ‘mystical’ dog and named him Caesar after my own best friend.

Story ideas come from many sources.  I have a lengthy list  of concepts and ideas that continually grows, ideas I intend to develop into manuscripts.  I encourage you to develop and keep you own ‘list’ so that you never run out of ideas worthy of your talent.

Where Ideas Come From: The Hamsa [part II to post]

One reviewer from Colorado wrote about The Hamsa,

“… Mr. Kraay has fashioned a life of a simple man who lives a life of heroic virtue… If there is a ‘trick’ to the narrative, it might be Bronek’s meeting such historical figures as Franklin Roosevelt, Sonja Henie and Heinrich Himmler ala Forest Gump, but these meetings are plausible and serve the story line…”

As much as I love Winston Groom’s novel Forest Gump and the subsequent film of the same title, it was not on my mind as ideas flooded my brain on how to tell this story of dignity.  The more preliminary research I did, the more frequently I came across historical names of note.  As I craged the story, it was very reasonable for me to think that my protagonist, Bronisław Czech [Bronek] could have crossed paths with a large number of notable personalities.  The pre-war Olympics were not populated by thousands of athletes, but by only hundreds.  at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, for example, over 2,500 athletes competed compared to the 231 athletes who participated at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1932.  It was easy for me to envision that my handsome hero may have been a romantic interest of Sonja Henie, or that he might have had a personal conversation with Franklin Roosevelt.

Research breeds ideas, reasonable and logical ideas that can enhance and energize the core values of any manuscript.  While some stories naturally require more research than others, the very act of research can uncover new ideas worth pursuing on a current manuscript or a subsequent manuscript.  Do your research.

Where Ideas Come From: The Hamsa [part I to post]

Roots grow deep.  I was raised a Catholic.  My father’s best friend, Louie Green was a Jew, and I remember attending the Seder Supper at Louie’s home during Passover when I was a young boy.  Because of Louie Green and several boyhood friends including Bobby Sandler and Marty Shindler, things Jewish were not foreign to me, rather, I was greatly interested in them, primarily from a biblical perspective.  I began reading Leon Uris novels [Exodus, Mila 18, etc.] as a teenager, and one rainy afternoon, I discovered Dr. Viktor Frankl’s volume Man’s Search for Meaning.  Dr. Frankl’s book inspired a life-long interest in Jewish things that evolved into an intense awareness of the Holocaust.

The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

In 1976, I  penned — and I mean literally wrote with a pen on paper — my first novel manuscript and titled it The Messiah.  It was set in a concentration camp.  The handwritten manuscript remains unpublished and in a closet.  Thirty years later in the mid-oo’s, I came upon a picture titled “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  I will never forget that photograph.  Stories exploded from the image louder than the impending blast from the soldier’s gun.  I had recently completed The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, and I was preparing to write my second novel, this one about human dignity.  I believe the depth of human dignity was tested no more strenuously than it was for the Jews in WWII.

Several months later, I learned of the Polish patriot Witold Pilecki, who reportedly volunteered to be captured by the Nazis and incarcerated in Auschwitz.  I was able to locate a copy of the report Pilecki wrote after he escaped after surviving nearly three years in the death camp.  I enjoy research, particularly historical research, and I pursued name after name as I delved deeper and deeper into Pilecki’s report.  One name led me to Polish Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech, the 349th prisoner to enter Auschwitz.  Czech and Pilecki

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

were in Auschwitz at the same time.  The more I read about Bronislaw Czech, the more convinced I was that I found the protagonist for my next manuscript.  My working title was Into the Heart of Darkness, and I would use Czech’s story to tell a tale of human dignity.

Where Ideas Come From: The Olympian A Tale of Ancient Hellas

OlympianThe story behind The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas has been floating around my head since I was a kid and saw Rudolph Mate’s 1962 film “The 300 Spartans.”  Thirty-six years later, a friend tossed Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire on my desk and said, I think you would enjoy this.”  My friend was correct.  A few years later, I was getting serious about writing a book.  I wanted to write about the real worth of a human being … what gives a person’s life value.  The Spartan stand at Thermopylae was how I envisioned telling the story.  Then I read an article about an ancient Olympic boxer, Theagenes of Thasos who won the boxing competition at the 75th Olympiad in 480 B.C.  By pulling the two events together — the Olympic Games and the Battle of Thermopylae — I developed the story I wanted to tell to present my core concept: the worth of a man is determined not by what he does for himself, rather by what he does for others.

In 2002, my son Brad and I had dinner with Steven Pressfield at a small Italian restaurant in Malibu.  I ran the idea by him.  He liked it and encouraged me to go for it.  Six years later, the book was in print and the film rights optioned.