Conrad Larson

Historical fiction writer, Conrad Larson, has joined us today to talk about his books.

Shelagh: Please tell us a little about yourself, Conrad.

Conrad: I am a former teacher, coach, farmer, entrepreneur and truck driver. I worked in corporate sales, corporate management, lay ministry, and have an everyday enthusiast of life. My book, a historical fiction mystery novel, The Overcoat, is based on the World War I soldier from this book. I am the father of five sons, five grandchildren and hopefully many more.

Shelagh: When did you begin to write and why?

Conrad: My mother passed away six years ago and I and my sister had no relatives left in that generation and older so I thought I needed to start writing for my sons and nephews.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish?

Conrad: My first was a need to have a family history. The reason for writing was personal to begin with but, as the project grew, the want to have an impact in what was written grew also. The story developed over time and the storyline was both impacting and inspirational to me. The original was meant to be a biography, but the emotions became so hard for me that I redid it in historical fiction style.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book.

Conrad: Swede is a revisionist history due out early fall 2010. A story about a soldier that makes an impact based on revised information about the war.

Shelagh: Is this book part of a series or stand-alone?

Conrad: This will be a series and the second book is a third done.

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Conrad: The mind set in America is that the Vietnam war should have been won and this book, Swede, wins the war.

Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?

Conrad: I see characters all around me and develop a story for them.  My life story has given me a wonderful memory of settings and history and it just seems to come naturally to place the setting once the character is developed.

Shelagh: Who’s the most unusual character?

Conrad: In my book, The Overcoat, Charlene is the character that has gotten me calls from a reader of my book from the State of Virginia wanting to know about that character. The point of my writing was to be able to talk about courage, character, life issues and my book has brought people to me.

Shelagh: Who is your favorite character?

Conrad: In Carry On Pvt Dahlgren,  Pvt Dahlgren is my favorite.

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Conrad: My techniques are rough and untested but working well so far. My Amazon book review shows an exciting fresh style which was a surprise to get.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style?

Conrad: I am a new author and my style is rough and probably out of the box but it is working.  My style is PG as I want my books to be acceptable to the Christian Community as well as the general market.

Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Conrad: The colors are like the brightest rainbow you have ever seen. My life stories are a big influence in my writing and I can write out of the box as well.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Conrad: Author Conrad Larson pays tribute to the veterans of the war with a gripping account of one man’s war adventure. In Carry On Private Dahlgren: World War I Runner, a book released through Xlibris, he makes sure that as the hundredth anniversary of the First World War is nearing, tales from this remarkable moment in history will not go fading.

The war that was supposed to stop all wars was cruel and brutal to all civilians and even soldiers. The sacrifices made by the men who stepped up to represent and protect their motherland should be remembered and be given the honor that they deserve.  Reflecting the greatest on American character and courage, Carry On Private Dahlgren: World War I Runner presents the nostalgic, personal journals of Pvt. Oscar Dahlgren of World War I. The journals, as found by the author’s family, were handwritten with notes written in margins at a later date by Dahlgren. It fascinatingly documents names of peers, superiors, dignitaries, and others. In detail, it chronicles Dahlgren’s exploits during the upsetting era, including names of places, some which have different names today. It is an untainted piece of history for unless changes were made for clarity, the style of writing, spelling and grammar were left the way Pvt. Oscar Dahlgren wrote it.

Reliving history, Carry On Private Dahlgren: World War I Runner provides readers a fascinating account of one man’s life filled with courage, hope, brotherhood, and patriotism.

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Conrad: My new projects are more than an idea, The first book in a revisionist history series, Swede, is done, the second book in the Swede series is a third done, The next project is a book about depression and it’s deadly duo. The name of the book is The Deadly Duo; a how to understand living in a world where friends, family and co-workers struggle with stresses beyond most of our comprehension on depression. The following project is a World War I collection of stories about the soldiers from that era for the hundreth anniversary of the War to End All Wars. Another challenging project is a three hundred page autobiography called The Farm Boy, but I’m reluctant to move forward at this time.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Conrad: I have a website for the first book called I have a blogging site that has a lot of good stuff. My second book, Carry On Pvt Dahlgren, has two websites:

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Erma Odrach

Today’s guest, Erma Odrach, has now completed a translation of her father’s  novel, Wave of Terror, and has begun work on another, tentatively titled On the Road.

Shelagh: Erma, please give us a little information about yourself and your work.

Erma: I am a writer/ translator living in Toronto, Canada. At present I am focusing my attention on translating the works of my father, Theodore Odrach (1912-1964). My father wrote novels and short stories in the Ukrainian language, and his works were published in Buenos Aires, New York and Toronto. Wave of Terror, recently published by Academy Chicago Publishers, is his first novel to appear in English.

Shelagh: What is Wave of Terror about?

Erma: Well, I think one has to take a brief look at my father’s life to really understand what Wave of Terror is about. My father was born in Belarus (then a part of Czarist Russia), and in 1939 he became caught up in Stalin’s world. Studying at the university in Vilnius and watching the Soviet tanks roll in, he decided to head south, back to his native Belarus (by then a part of eastern Poland). Securing a teaching position just outside the town of Pinsk, it is really during this time that Wave of Terror began to take root. There he witnessed first-hand unspeakable atrocities committed by the Soviet regime, where innocent men, women and children were routinely persecuted, tortured and slain. Deemed an “enemy of the people” himself, my father became a man on the run, changing his name from Sholomitsky to Odrach in the hopes of protecting the family he left behind. Eventually, my father managed to escape into Slovakia by way of the Carpathian Mountains. After roaming around Europe, marrying, and living in Manchester, England for 5 years, in 1953, together with my mother, he settled in Toronto Canada.

Wave of Terror is about the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939, as seen through the eyes of Ivan Kulik, a young schoolteacher. People are randomly deported to the gulags, tortured in Zovty Prison, or murdered. It loosely follows the life of my father, and many of the events are eye-witness accounts. But the novel is not all doom and gloom. There’s a fair amount of humor (though dark), and at some level it’s also a love story, as Ivan has eyes for Marusia, a green-eyed, whimsical young woman.

Shelagh: When Wave of Terror was started, what goals did your father want to accomplish? Is there a message he wanted readers to grasp?

Erma: When my father wrote Wave of Terror, he meant it as an exposé on Soviet oppression. He wanted to make known the horrors in his part of the world during that awful time. But he ended up an expatriate writer living in Canada, and, unfortunately, his readership was limited to a very small number of Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. In addition, his books were banned in the Soviet Union. So, as you can understand, as a writer, he became literally trapped within his own language. Completely cut off from the English reading public around him, he lived his life in relative obscurity and his work remained forever in limbo. My father knew his only way to be heard was through translation. But during his lifetime that was a very remote possibility.

Shelagh: Wave of Terror was written in the early sixties. It’s now 2009. Where has the book been for almost fifty years?

Erma: Actually, it was published posthumously in Ukrainian in Toronto in 1972. My father barely finished it before his death and he left numerous loose ends. Since 1972 it’s been floating around a few places here and there, however, mostly it’s been sitting on the bookshelf in my living room, but not forgotten, at least not by me. When I started translating it a number of years ago, I sent excerpts to literary magazines as a trial, and reception was great. A chapter appeared in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change in Madison, WI and another in Flipside (California Univ. of Penn). In 2008 the novel got picked up by Academy Chicago Publishers.

Shelagh: How did your father develop his characters and setting?

Erma: As far as setting is concerned, history provided that for him; he found himself thrust in the heart of WWII, and there was drama at every turn. He was a keen observer of people and events. Most of his characters are actual, though fictionalized to some extent. For example, Dounia, who is an oversized, oversexed fishmonger, in reality sold trinkets in the marketplace and was later promoted by the regime to schoolteacher, even though she was illiterate. My father loved people, he loved studying them and interpreting them. His prose style is spare but quite controlled with touches of irony and humor thrown in for good measure. Wave of Terror could easily be read as a document to his turbulent heritage.

Shelagh: Who is the most unusual or most likeable character?

Erma: The book is really filled with ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Ivan Kulik, Headmaster of School Number 7, is the eyes, ears and heart of the novel, and it is through him that the reader experiences and witnesses much of everything that is happening. Ivan Kulik in many ways could be seen as the author himself, as both are caught in a world turned upside down and both have to learn the politics of survival. Fishmonger Dounia, however, remains my favorite character because she proves the most resourceful and most equipped to deal with all that comes her way: she is the ultimate “new Soviet woman”. But her character is also functional in that it provides much-needed comic relief. My father loved to observe women as much as men. In the introduction to Wave of Terror T.F. Rigelhof writes:

“Odrach has much to tell us that hasn’t been reported in this way by anyone else about how the coming of the Soviets affected the sexual identities of women along the outer edges of the USSR …”

Shelagh: Share the best review (or portion) that Theodore Odrach had.

Erma: The best one came from the Times Literary Supplement:

Theodore Odrach is that rare thing, a political novelist who is also an artist of the first rank.

For my father, politics and writing always went hand in hand. He needed to write about politics but he also wanted his words to endure. Had he read all the wonderful reviews written about Wave of Terror thus far, and after so many years, he would have been truly overwhelmed.

This is a review of the translated version:

The novel begins with the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939. Ivan Kulik is the newly appointed headmaster of School Number 7 in Hlaby, a rural village in the Pinsk marshes. Through Ivan’s eyes, the reader experiences the impact and effect of Stalinist domination, including the capricious seemingly random acts of cruelty by those in power. Ivan struggles to make sense of this new world and of his personal life.

This is a powerful novel: both the setting and the characters make it so. Mr Odrach’s characters are human rather than suprahuman or subhuman with all of humanity’s concomitant strengths and weaknesses. During the story, I could feel individual hope being extinguished as grinding reality overcame fragile optimism. The changes wrought on individual and community life by the emergence of the Belarusian Soviet Social Republic make very uncomfortable reading. In many cases, authority was vested in individuals whose capacity to misuse such power was only exceeded by their inability to realise the dehumanising effects extended to them as well as to their victims. It would be easy to illustrate this by the use of good and bad stereotypes but Mr Odrach manages to avoid doing this.

At the end of this novel, I wanted more. I would like to think that the story of Ivan was the story of Mr Ordrach himself and that he managed to escape from an uncertain place to make a better life for himself. Whether this is true or not, this is a novel that will no doubt remain with me for a very long time.

I thank Ms Odrach for bringing this novel to life by interpreting her father’s work into English and pursuing publication. I hope to read more of Mr Odrach’s writing.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Shelagh: Did your father live to see you translate at least some of his works?

Erma: No, because he died in 1964 when I was a child. I never really knew him. And Ukrainian was and still is a difficult language for me. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I started tackling his books. Using a Ukrainian-English dictionary, I literally had to look up every second word, and still it sometimes didn’t make sense. Luckily, my mother knew his work inside out because he had read her all his manuscripts. In short, it was a very laborious process. And somehow slowly but surely his pages started to come to life — there were people living inside them, there were great panoramas, history was in the making.

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Erma: I’m working on more of my father’s books – short stories and novels. I’m just finishing up a novel that takes place right after the Yalta Conference, when Eastern Europe is being handed over to Stalin. There are feelings of betrayal and abandonment among the characters. Another moment in history is captured.

Also, on another note, I’m happy to say with the fall of communism, my father’s books are finding their way into Ukraine and Belarus, and there is growing interest in his life and works. I have also secured a publisher in Ukraine, and they are set on reissuing all his works there.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about Theodore Odrach and Wave of Terror?

Erma: You can learn more about my father at:


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Lorin Lee Cary

Lorin Lee Cary PhD spends the majority of the year by the idyllic sea and pines of the seaside arts colony Cambria, nestled on California’s central coast.

Trained and published as an historian specializing in US labor and social history, Lorin’s longstanding love of historical and telling detail suffuses all of his work – whether as a novelist, crafter of wry short stories or keen observer of local color, seen in his lush photos.

Shelagh: Hi Lorin, please tell everyone a bit about yourself.

Lorin: After a career in university teaching U.S. labor and social history, I turned to fiction. The tipping point was a short stint as a researcher for a company developing a computer game based on Dante’s Inferno. I was hired to provide “historical context material,” although this was rather far from the American colonial and US materials with which I’d worked. The head of the outfit liked the way I wrote and suggested I prepare the first draft; I did and found the freedom of creating my own cause and effect relationships liberating.

Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Lorin: I’d written various articles and essays and co-authored two historical books, and never before considered writing fiction. Now I did and when we moved to Cambria, CA I found there an active writing colony with a critique group that long active with numerous published authors.

This was in 1994 and the only goal in fiction I had at the time was to have fun, and to get my stories published. I learned fiction in the Cambria group.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Lorin: THE CUSTER CONSPIRACY features a diary written by someone who served with General George Armstrong Custer between roughly 1861 and 1876, from the Civil War to Custer’s Last Stand. This diary is found on the battlefield by Indians and kept secret for decades. When it surfaces and ends up in the hands of Walter Reeves, an academic who wants to publish it, two groups swing into action. Native American activists seek to hide the fact that some of their ancestors collaborated with Custer. (Telling you how would spoil the story, and the attached humor.) A group of Custer worshiping militia members, meanwhile, understand that the diary undercuts their hero’s image. Ultimately the two group collide with Walter, the academic, near the site of Custer’s demise.

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Lorin: The hook for the book is the diary, which is in itself a character. It appears in excerpts scattered throughout the text as Walter tries to determine it’s authenticity.

Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?

Lorin: I like to develop characters by both their dialogue and their actions, usually presenting them in close third person. In this novel there are several point-of-view characters, and that permits me to round out the developing conflict from several sides. Setting is there as each character sees it or experiences it, in general.

Shelagh: Who is the most likable/unusual character?

Lorin: Most of the folks who’ve read THE CUSTER CONSPIRACY consider Walter Reeves the most likable character. He’s the academic, somewhat quirky in his choice of research projects (the politics of Michael Lorinson’s gender and the election of 2000, eg), not totally a stereotypical absent-minded sort but sometimes headed in that direction.

There are several other unusual characters. An undergraduate who has difficulty choosing a major; a militia leader with deep set eyes who dresses in red, white and blue outfits; a militia man who misuses words (chloroform for chlorophyll); a tiny department chairman whose feet do not touch the floor when he is sitting down.

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Lorin: The story seemed to unroll itself as time progressed, most days. When I had a good sense of where I was going, it helped to stop knowing where I’d start the next day. If I wasn’t sure, I’d read over what I’d written and then plunge on.

Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Lorin: My academic background (close to 30 years teaching) is a major influence. It is tempered as well by what might be called “the Cary gene.” That is a tendency to engage in odd-ball, quirky humor. It pops out in my writing and often in the types of photographs I sometimes take: aside from landscapes, abstracts and clouds, I love to come across the odd sign which, for instance, declares that there is to be “No Trespassing After 6 PM.”

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Lorin: I’ve yet to see a full blown review (although I’m told reviewers have requested and received the book), but the blurbs on my book have been nice. I especially like this one : “Prepare to laugh. The Custer Conspiracy takes the reader on a wild ride, mixing the true history of George Armstrong Custer’s career with ironic, tongue-in-cheek fiction. Cary, a former professor of history, displays his grasp of historical research, his story-telling skills—and his dry and quirky sense of humor. Inventive, intriguing, and very funny.” It’s from Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 14 novels including, Pay It Forward Becoming Chloe, Love in the Present Tense, Chasing Windmills, and When I Found You.

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Lorin: I’m working on several projects: A second novel in which the same academic confronts a university president using campus computers for illicit purposes (red light doesn’t quite say it, but…); a short story about a fellow who wants to kill his boss, among other reasons because she has false teeth that are loose and hence her words are cloaked in whistles; a story about nameless “ids” which long ago sought to shape human development and which ultimately found the going a bit rough…

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Lorin: The best place to check out some more about me is at

Shelagh: Thank you for joining us today, Lorin.

Lorin: Thanks so much, Shelagh, for the opportunity to share all this with you and the group.

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