Friday, March 30, 2012

My Father's Survivor Games: a Transcribe Memoir of Robert A. Doorenbos 1928-2002

On Wednesday I began sharing my father's memoir with my readers for these reasons. If you want to start at the beginning, click here. I'll continue his story which currently takes place in Holland. I'll share my thoughts in Italics.

Doetinchem 1937-1938

In 1937 we were sent to Holland to get schooling in Dutch. It was particularly difficult for my brother Wim who was a fifth grader in Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt. We were boarded with our Aunt and Uncle, Jan van de Meene and Antoinette (my father's sister). I resent that move to this day. 

I often wonder why he hated it so much. I have vague memories of him telling us that the family wasn't nice, harsh in comparison to what they'd grown used to in Alexandria. Then I also wonder if the fact that they sent him away was the reason he resented the change. 

Doetinchem was a large village (now a city) in the southeast part of the province of Gelderland. At that time it was best known for its reform school for delinquent boys ("if you don't behave we'll send you there"). There is not much worth mentioning from that time. My sister broke her right arm which I'll write about more later on. After Aunt Antoinette had her second son (Eddie), we were boarded with a family in Arnhem.

Threats couldn't make this a friendly environment. Dad was 9 at the time he went there. So young and impressionable. I wonder if he missed his parents.

Arnhem, 1938-1939

The boarding house in Arnhem was run by a widow named Mrs. Haak. Besides me and Wim, there were three more children of parents who lived abroad. I only remember their family name: Stoel. Mrs. Haak was a kindly lady who did her utmost to provide a good home. Her daughter took us on cycling trips to the forest to pick mushrooms (chanterelles, easy to recognize) or she'd take us out to the farmland. My sister Hetty stayed with my Grandmother Kepper in The Hague that year. Her broken arm was improperly set and healed crookedly. It had to be re-broken and reset. This seriously affected her and she hardly went to school that year. Our neighbor's son was my best friend, and looking back, he wasn't very nice. Neither was I. Later I realized his father, Mr. Hazelhoff, was a prominent Nazi.

So now I want to know HOW did Tante Hetty break her arm? And I want research Mr. Hazelhoff. The war is coming. The problems are beginning to grow for my father and his family.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Father's Survivor Games--a transcribed memoir of Robert A. Doorenbos 1928-2002

As promised, I am sharing my Dutch father's memoir about his life prior to his marriage to my mother. This document was written in 1991. He passed away in August 2002 after a long battle with hereditary cholesterol disease. I've only changed the grammar and will add commentary in italics along the way. Pictures, drawings from his memory, and so on will be included throughout this journey. 

And now, without further preamble, here begins my father's story. 

An anecdotal history of me and my family. 
by Robert Alexander Doorenbos


This history starts with my birth on November 17, 1928 in Alexandria, Egypt. My father was employed by the International Commission for Harbors (a branch of the League of Nations as far as I know). He took care of the quarantine services for Suez, Port Said, and Alexandria.


No memory remains of that first house I lived in. The second house I remember vaguely. Some things I remember  more clearly. 

My father going to an audience at the palace twice a year, dressed in a tuxedo with a red fez on his head. Our car with its balloon tires for desert travel and its front springs reinforced so its hood pointed upwards. 

Our Dutch nanny, Juffrow Bos. She wasn't a big hit with us and stayed only one year. The three of us must have been little terrors as far as I remember (Dad had two older siblings, Hetty and Willem. I never met Willem. He died when he was 26 of a heart attack).

Our nanny until we went to Holland in 1937. Madam Schura was Studeten German (the German part of Czechoslovakia), a devout Catholic, and I liked her. If a piece of bread fell, she kissed it before putting it back. If she wanted to get rid of a piece of food in her hand, she threw it out of the window, crying "Fur die Katzen." (for the cats). She was popular amongst the starving half-wild cats sitting under the kitchen window. Egyptians never kills cats, but they don't care about them either.


Why I like cats is beyond me. They have scratched, bitten and chased me since I can remember. I learned the hard way not to pick up half-wild kittens at a very tender age. After being scratched by a kitten, the mother cat chased me. 

My father has always loved cats. I think part of the reason is this Nanny. But he had an interesting relationship with them from the time he was young. My brother and I also love cats. Our first cat was a half-starved old stray who'd been turned out by her owners when they got a puppy. She was pregnant and had three kittens in my parents' bed. We found homes for two of them and kept the third. My mom named him Sloppy because he slobbered when he drank and he had a little black mark dotting his white furry bib.


Going to the beach was a daily occurrence during the long Egyptian summers. I learned to swim early while playing in the shallow water and never had instructions. I still prefer swimming on my side with an inefficient, but relaxing stroke. 


We were a privileged family during the Depression years. My father had three months sabbatical every year and we had long holidays. I have vague memories of a trip to Lebanon and Syria. We visited the Great Mosque in Damascus, and stayed a few weeks in a house high in the mountains near Lebanon. We took a trip to Holland then spent four weeks in a chalet in Switzerland. I remember crossing the Mediterranean on my way to Athens. I vividly recall the Canal of Corinth and our train trip from Italy to Holland. 

Dad loved traveling and continued to find ways to explore the world throughout his life. He went to Holland many times after we immigrated to Canada, visited every western province, fished in the north and sketched his way through the tiny towns and lake villages throughout the area. He also went to Australia and rode the train all over it with my mom. Mom wasn't really the traveler Dad was, but she went along with him just the same.

He gave me a love of seeing and exploring the world. 


Alexandria was a polyglot city. Besides Arabic, the language of Egypt, there were large French, Greek, and English groups. My parents were fluent in French, Greek, German, English, Malay, and of course Dutch. My father also added a fluency of Arabic, a smattering of Greek and Italian to his repertoire. When I was six I was fluent for my age group in French (with our neighbors), German due to our Nanny, English via my Kindergarten, and Arabic via our servants. I remember having no trouble communicating with Swiss children when visited Switzerland. Dutch was my weakest language until I was sent to Holland. Then I quickly forgot most of the other languages and spoke only Dutch. My brother Wim (Willem) remained fluent in all these languages except Arabic.

Dad must have had an ear for language and dialect. I know I do, but I rarely get a chance to practice my skills. In my next post, you'll learn about his boarding school days. I still feel like those years must have been very difficult. I can't imagine sending my child away, but this was the normal thing to do back in those days. And the other thing that still boggles my mind is the wealth that once was part of my history. None of these privileges remained after the war. None were restored. Only now does my aunt receive recognition for these early years.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A New Story to Share: My Father's Memoir about His Life & Hard Times

I have written about my dad on this blog and I have shared some information about him. He was the son of a doctor who worked for the World Health Organization. Opa Doorenbos discovered phages and was stationed in Egypt where my father was born. During World War II they opted to skip returning to Holland due to the Nazi occupation. Instead, they went to Indonesia, once a stronghold and Dutch colony. During their stay in Indonesia, the Japanese took over the country and made it part of their base of operations. Dutch military/navy members took to the seas and fought in the Pacific War effort during this time. The women and children and civilian men were incarcerated in Japanese concentration camps. Both my parents were in the camps. My mom was 4, her sister 16 and Oma de Vries was about 50. My Opa de Vries and my uncle went to war. Opa came home. My uncle died in battle. On my father's side, all were incarcerated. Dad alone in a boys' camp. My Tante Hetty and Oma Doorenbos in a camp. My Opa Doorenbos in another camp and my uncle in a prisoner of war camp because he had sided with rebels and was captured.

Dad wrote a brief history of his life before he was incarcerated, the time in the camps, and the reintegration of his family back into Dutch society. A lot was lost during those years. Most importantly, his youth and his father's descent into anger and bitterness. Shortly after my dad's mother died, he met my mom. I think what called them to each other was this shared "otherness" of having experienced the camps.

They married and along came my brother and me. They were ill-equipped to parent having little or no understanding of "normal" kid problems. My mom more so due to many issues arising from losing important developmental bridges from child to teen to adult. They muddled through--failed on countless levels--but with the perspective of my own age and a reflective looking glass, I do believe they gave the best they could give given what little they had to work with themselves.

The greatest gift to me was their long marriage. The gift of showing that despite everything that can and will go wrong in a marriage, if you work hard you will stay together and have a rewarding relationship. Another gift to me was their intense cultural awareness and curiosity. I believe that curiosity has undergirded my writing. Finally, they gave me an intense education in the diversity of human nature and character. That these two individuals survived the camps, went on to become productive members of society, raised two children to the best of their abilities, and had the capacity to forgive their captors is an inspiration.

No they weren't heroes, nor were they perfect, but they did try. And that's all any of us can do. Try.

I've wondered what to do with Dad's Life & Hard Times Memoir. The American history professors hadn't much use for it when I first brought it to a professor at the local university. This wasn't an American story so not worth following up. But what has always bothered me about that response is that it is an American story. It is MY American story. My parents might not be alive today ergo I might not have been born had it not been for the American government deciding to bomb Hiroshima.

So after sitting on this story for many years, I have decided (with my brother's permission) to share my dad's memoir on this blog. I will include memories my Oma de Vries shared with me as well as insert my comments about how certain events might have impacted my upbringing and family life.

Maybe no one will read Dad's story, but finally I feel I have a way to share this piece of history and that's all that matters to me.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Author E.M.S. with Guest Blogger Amy Atwell

I'm very excited to host one of my favorite people on the Veranda. Amy Atwell is an inspirationa and a wonderful writing friend. I hope you'll all enjoy her takeover of the Veranda as she shares vital information about her new website AUTHOR E.M.S. I'm putting her up front and center and hope you have a great time learning how to get your hands on all the resources you need to build your career. 

Hi Amy--have fun on the Veranda!

Author and Entrepreneur Amy Atwell
Hi Everyone,

First off, a huge thank you to Christine for inviting me back to the veranda. I love the view here—especially in spring!

Making a Difference

Not to sound like a public service announcement, but I’ve found myself thinking a lot about why I choose to do certain things. What inspires me, compels me, drives me to complete a task. Some people work well with a threat of punishment hanging over them like a dark specter. Others need the promise of a reward. Whatever it is, I believe each of us has something that triggers our mindset. Slapdash won’t do—now we hunker down and get ‘er done right.
I sum up my mindset trigger as making a difference. When I look at a situation—the circumstances, the personalities, my own previous experiences—I try to identify whether I can make a difference. Can I improve the situation or will I just be spinning my wheels in the mud until I’m exhausted?
When I started writing with an eye toward publication, I did so because I knew what a difference reading fiction has made for me. Reading sparked my imagination, provided me solace from loss and grief, encouraged me to dream beyond my humdrum suburban life. I wanted to pay those experiences forward to others. Not that I get oodles of fan letters, but when a reader writes to tell me why she loved my book, it really touches my heart.

About a year ago, I identified what I saw as a need shared by nearly all authors: a constantly updated clearinghouse or library of information to help writers with the business of being a published author.
Imagine, a one-stop resource with overviews about setting up author profiles on Amazon and Facebook, introductions to the major distributors for self-published books, lessons in how to set up a website or blog, links to timely industry information and much more.
I couldn’t let go of the idea or, rather, maybe the idea wouldn’t let go of me. And then I realized that if I put some time and effort into it, I could create such a website and make a difference for a lot of other writers.
It’s been a year in the making, a work-in-progress I doubt I’ll ever complete. But Author EMS is up and running toward its three goals:

·      Save authors’ time
·      Reduce authors’ stress
·      Improve authors’ focus

Maybe it’s all a pipe-dream, but in the end, I’m building the kind of resource I wish had been available to me when I sold my first book. This mirrors my philosophy that I write the kind of books that I want to read.
I hope you’ll swing by and check it out. There are lots of public pages plus a blog. If you want a bit more access to “the library,” you can register as a guest for free to explore more pages. Paid members gain access to the full (and constantly growing) library and our Database of Online Reviewers, a searchable database of over 500 book reviewers.

Can you think of anything that would make a difference to your writing productivity? What’s on your wishlist that would improve your writing situation?

Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. When not writing, Amy runs the WritingGIAM online community for goal-oriented writers and has recently launched the Author E.M.S. online resource library. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Visit her online at, Magical Musings, Facebook, Twitter and/or GoodReads.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Break, Prom Dress Hell, & Writing

This week the Teen has her Spring Break. We aren't doing anything major, but we do have to shop for a prom dress. We have one, but she got swindled by a company that said they'd custom make it to her figure. $240 dollars later and after waiting 3 weeks a package arrived from China and the contents were in a word HORRIFIC.

Lesson learned. Teen very sad. Another Teen not so thrilled. Return Policy stinks and would probably lead to my sending back $2 dress for $70 and losing more money. Frankly, it's so hideous that I am almost embarrassed to take it to a thrift shop, but maybe SOMEONE can use it for a play or something. So that's where it's going.

If you want to know the company to avoid, stay tuned. I'm giving them 2 days to refund my $$. After that, the gloves come off.

Some people might think I should not bail out my Teen. But I feel sorry for her. She thought she was saving us money, she tried to get the dress of her dreams for her SENIOR PROM and she got a dress that was too small, super ugly and made her feel so bad she cried all the way to the school just before her theater group went to Chattanooga.

She has worked hard, has a full ride scholarship and she deserves a beautiful dress for her last prom. So we're going shopping and I'm paying for a new dress.

Meanwhile, the Physicist has decided to take W/Th/F off and he wants to GO SOMEWHERE FUN. All well and good, but I am working on a major revision that MUST BE FINISHED BY APRIL.

So guess what I am doing over the weekend and as many hours as I can next week? Revising, revising, revising.

But this is a good lesson for me. I needed a fire lit under my feet. Now I have one. And I am forced to work harder and smarter than ever.

I'll see you all when I come up for air and take a breather. And Happy Spring!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mental Warfare with Myself: Or How I Beat Myself Back Into the Chair

Ah, the inevitable ennui has descended up on me. Part of this is due to travel. Another part is due to worry. And the third part is due to a very nicely worded rejection. Not that I'm sad or mad. I like this person. I would like to work with this person. But I have a feeling my voice may not be a match for her. And that's okay. Really. Because this is business. There will be someone out there who LOVES my voice and then the door will open. And I will still admire and respect this other person for her honesty.

But the sting still sits under my skin and I am creatively avoiding my revisions. Which isn't good. Well, I'm sort of avoiding them. It seems the closer I get to achieving my dream, the harder it gets to move past the "no's." And I find myself questioning the time and energy I put into this writing deal a lot more.

It's war.

It's me against me.

It's doubt and fear against courage and drive.

So here's how the days start when I am in a mental battle with moi. First I lie in bed and I mull other possible career options which might be easier to accomplish than trying to get published. I've come up with a few:

*macrame art utilizing spaghetti noodles as the base for the knots
*knitting mittens with the leftover spaghetti noodles
*stringing pearls onto a necklace that has no knot at the end
*capturing mud covered piglets and returning them to their mommas
*sewing Tinkerbell's outfits with a small needle and thread

By the time I get to Tinkerbell, I remember that ALL I NEED IS FAITH, TRUST AND A LITTLE BIT OF PIXIE DUST!!

As my dear friend and critique partner told me one day after a frenetic round of rejections, if we quit writing we reject ourselves.

So that's it in a nutshell. There are NO EASY ANSWERS. This business IS SLOWER THAN A SNAKE DIGESTING AN ELEPHANT, and the only thing I have control over IS WRITING AND SUBMITTING.

And usually, by the time I crawl through the mental debris and flack and empty shot shells, I discover a saving grace or a timely note of encouragement or an affirmation that I'm not a total hack.

Bottom line: keep your eye on the prize. One day you will win.

Or die trying.

And that's better than not trying at all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Storytelling Gene

I've been mulling over the root of my storytelling desires. There is a great-great-uncle on my father's side of the family who was a journalist/writer in the Netherlands. I might have gotten some of it from him. He also had a semi-photographic memory which I have as well. It's gotten a little shoddy over the last few years of hormonal upheaval, but it's still fairly reliable. I always know where to find stuff I need to round out my world.

So a smidgeon can be attributed to this man whom I have never met. A large amount of creativity comes through my father's line: artistic endeavors abound. He painted, sketched, photographed, doodled. He was also a calligrapher. I have dabbled in painting but it requires too much patience and perfectionism which drive me batty. I'm just a slob artist. My aunt, his sister, is also very artistic and before arthritis robbed her of using her hands she painted watercolors and oil portraits. She's very gifted. My daughter has a lot of those talents and uses them for graphic design.

My mother's side of the family is more practical. But I believe my gift for telling stories comes directly from my Oma de Vries on that side of the family. Everything I know about that family I learned from her. I'd sit and listen to her recount the days they spent in the Japanese concentration camps, the days before the camps turned their lives upside down, the days afterward when they were reintegrated but never the same due to the loss of a beloved son.

She had an amazing ear for voice, dialect, language. She had a rise and fall in her telling which mimicked the actual people who populated those times. She had a way of moving her hands to punctuate the points of her stories. Over and over and over she'd tell me these stories almost as if she knew that I would one day be responsible for the remembering of them. For the retelling and carrying forward.

She gave me a living history throughout sixteen years. I can retell the stories with her same inflections and punctuation. I can visualize clearly the people and events and places that populated her stories. I want to write them down before I am too old to remember or crippled by age to physically recount the stories.

I got my storytelling gene from this amazing woman. A woman who lived through two wars, raised 3 children, taught elementary school, married a naval officer and lived in Surabaja, Indonesia during all 3 pregnancies and deliveries. She almost died of a burst appendix when she was a young mother. She lived through 4 years of internment in a Japanese concentration camp while not knowing if her husband and her son were dead or alive.

She was a gift to me that I have always cherished. She was someone who never met a stranger, who was a hostess always in her corner of the world--even in the camps--and who lived life to the fullest.

Where did you get your storytelling gene?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Refueling Before Revisions: My Writing Process

I've discovered a lot about my writing process since I began this journey. I believe I am Crapper Pantser Plotter Fixer Upper Layerer writer.

In other words: MESSY but as many critique partners have attested, I "clean up well." Here's how it usually rolls for me.

1) I get an idea about a story. Usually it's spurred by a show or a news item or some weird bizarre trip of the wire in my brain. I have more ideas than I know what to do with and some of them are kind of not going to work with the current line I'm targeting. But I always keep them and I have files everywhere, notebooks everywhere, you name it.

2) The characters. I have a distinct scene in my head where the hero/heroine meet. How they meet. What's in their heads. What I don't have is their profession, their looks, their names. I just have a scene with dialogue and thought and bodies moving around a vacuous space. Sometimes there is more. But usually they're just talking and I see them moving around, little nuances and gestures and tones of voice are often revealed.

3) The idea grows into a blurb which I mold into a logline--the logline/tagline may not be pretty, but it's mine and I own it.

4) I brainstorm with friends, critique partners, myself to flesh out the characters' reason for being together, who they are and what they look like, what the story will be about and the basic turning points I know I have to reach. I lay down my tent poles/get the bones of the story ready.

5) I write a synopsis based on the first four steps. Truthfully, I just did for the first time BEFORE I had the story written in discovery phase with the current WIP. I got the idea straight from CJ Redwine and it works. The trick is to let go of what you originally thought was going to happen and revamp it as you go along. The current synopsis does not match the original synopsis, but it's been easy to fix the original. Way easier than writing one AFTER the manuscript is "done."

6) I write a quick discovery draft, flesh out the bones a bit,

7) I really work on the first three chapters and polish them because they are part of the partial/proposal I need to query.

8) I retool the story based on critique, suggestions, my characters telling me I'm going in the wrong direction.

9) I go in to add meat, and to take away some of the original flesh of the rest of the story based on what I'm discovering about the characters and about their love story. I do this fast, but as grammatically correct as possible (don't ask me about the commas). By this point I've cut a lot and I've added a lot.

10) I let the first revision sit for a few days while I listen to craft tapes, read other books in my genre, mull my ideas and my story, catch up on the business side of the writing world (my least favorite part but it has to be done), query, print out my book and let it sit around the office (or the tornado shelter), catch up on household mundaneness and with friends who wondered where I was for a few weeks.

11) I begin revising in batches. I send the revised batches, usually 3 chapters at a time, to CPs and continue revising forward. I don't utilize the critique till I am ready for another round of revisions.

12) I export everything to Word and work with the complete document, formatting and cleaning up Scrivener "burps." I'm not that technical so I tend to have a lot of driver error in this export stuff. But I think it just forces me to look at the book in a new way which is a good thing.

13) I continue polishing and shining up the story. I layer in more visceral elements and look for things like sensory items I can add to the story. But I don't overwork it. I would drive myself insane if I did that so I begin working on the next book. Pre-writing.

14) I start entering contests with the newest manuscript. I move forward on the next book. I query. I go through it all over again.

My goal is to get faster at this gig. I must generate 3-4 category series romances per year to be a successful career writer and build readership. I'm glad I have a "future list" ready to go out the door, but I want to write more. 3-4 48,000-50,000 word (180-190 page count) books means getting one done every 3-4 months for the editor.

For me this currently meant getting faster at revising during the MEAT phase. I already had the 1st three chapters polished and critiqued and much of the leg work done. The ending always echoes the beginning for me and I can usually visualize the scenes very clearly. I know the black moment and how they will resolve it to a point. I just keep layering in new stuff and getting rid of stuff that doesn't work. But I don't have beautiful prose until at least the 3rd time through. And I still have work to do. This isn't easy for me. I work hard. Really hard. And with this current WIP, I want to deliver on the first three chapters' promise. So I am determined to write it fast, write it smart, and be focused during this month despite the fact that I have a lot of travel interrupting my time.

This means I CUT a lot of words. But I like cutting. I like revising. I am the Queen of Revision. I know of no other way to allow the actual story to unfold than be getting rid of beloved words and scenes and people. Oh, I keep them all in another file, but the story demands I make changes. This is a good mindset to get into as I have had a Revise and Resubmit letter from editors at a publishing house. Basically, I had to cut 30 thousand words and start all over again to take the story in a new direction with the same characters. They even asked me to change THE PREMISE. So I did. We'll see how the new premise  flies.

Right now I am in Stage 10 and getting ready for Stage 11. I am printing out my batches today. Fritzing around with business of writing stuff, and giving my wee brain a break.

What's your process? I know mine continues to evolve. How has your process evolved?