Tag Archives: World War II

History Is Real

28 May

One of the challenges of studying or writing about historical figures, real or fiction, is imagining them to be as real as we are. Somehow people of the past lose their reality as flesh and blood, and seem to reside only on the printed page or in the flatness of a photograph.

It takes a leap of imagination to understand that the past is just as real as the present. Only the surface of life has changed. People felt joy, fear, anticipation, sadness just as we do. They worried about the future. The worries may have been different; they were not concerned about global warming, whether someone would hack their email account or if genetically modified foods were safe. But concerns about family never change, and the joy of a celebration and sadness at misfortune are the same century to century.

My book Lydia’s Storyphoto(43) is set partially doing World War II, an era that fascinates me. I think part of the fascination is that my parents were young during that time. They met and married in 1942 and were apart for three years before my dad returned at the end of the war.

I look at their photographs and imagine their feelings. I once asked my mom how they did it, not knowing day to day when they would be together again, when the war would end, who would come home and who would not. She said that all they could do was live day to day, as if everyday was closer to the end, although they didn’t know when the end of the war and separation would come.

The photo of my parents that I am posting today was taken in 1945, after my dad returned home. The joy and hope for the future is clear in their faces — as clear as if it were taken today.

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Fiction Meets Real Life

8 Feb

 

In my latest novel “Lydia’s Story,” the main character helps a group of Jewish children escape France during World War II. I just came across this website, “Ariege Pyrenees,” that shows the real life route across the Pyrenees that many people — Jews, downed RAF and American airmen, and others in danger from the Nazis — followed to reach the safety of Spain.
I found it humbling to read about the dangers faced along the way. The Pyrenees are no easy mountains to cross even today.
My fictional characters exist to honor those people who risked their lives to escape, and especially those who helped others escape.

Reading Outside the Box

26 Oct

I read mostly mysteries and suspense novels, because that is what I write and because I review books for Suspense Magazine. But occasionally I read something outside of those genres. I find that a different type of book and writing style can spark my own writing and stretch my creativity.

Last night I downloaded The Book Thief to my Kindle, as a borrowed book from my library. I have only read a few chapters, but I was struck by the originality of the writing. The first person narrator is Death. He (or she?) tells the story of a young girl, the book thief, who manages to cheat Death more than once.

The story is set in Nazi Germany, so it is clear in what direction this book is headed. But I know that although the story may have been told before, it has not been told in this way.

As a reader or a writer, it is good to move out of the familiar and try something new. I would never have thought of writing from the point of view of Death, but it would be a good writing exercise to write from the point of view of an inanimate object — the cave where the body was found, or the diaries that held the words of Lydia, the main character in my book Lydia’s Story.

As a reader or a writer, what do you do to climb out of the box of familiarity and try something new?

Giving Birth to “Lydia’s Story”

25 Sep

My newest novel, Lydia’s Story, is now available all the major book sellers.

If you are a writer, you know what a wonderful rush comes along with writing those words. If you are not a writer, just think of any major project you have embarked on in your life — giving birth to a child, completing a college degree, running a marathon. And as with any major project, the work isn’t done yet. I want people to read my book!

I describe Lydia’s Story as a sequel/prequel to my first novel, The Gate House. I took the main character, Nara Blake, and moved her forward in time by about a year, but then I gave her a challenge. I placed a stack of her great-grandmother’s diaries in her hands, and posed a dilemma. The family has always held that Lydia and Allan Roberts died in the London Blitz in 1940 or 1941, but the diaries go up to 1942. As Nara reads and learns more about her ancestors, she finds that she is on a collision course with a brother and sister from France who are also looking for their lost heritage, but theirs are valuable works of art that were lost during World War II.

I loved the research into how the British worked to preserve their precious art works and cultural heritage as well as protect their island from invasion by the Germans. I loved putting the pieces of the novel together, melding past with present, and tying the sections together with Lydia’s diary entries.

My “baby” is out in the world now. I wish her the best. I will support her as best I can, and at the same time, I am ready to start something new.

 

Why Set My Story in World War II?

16 Sep

My newest novel, Lydia’s Story, is a sequel/prequel to my first novel, The Gate House. It is a sequel because the same main characters, Nara Blake and her family, continue their story of life in a small English town, where too much seems to happen. It is a prequel because the book also tells the story of Nara’s great-grandparents, who died in World War II under mysterious circumstances.

I decided to tell this partially historical narrative because I wanted to bridge the family history in Nara’s family, as I try to bridge that history in my own family.

My dad was an American soldier in World War II. He and my mom married in 1942, and after three weeks of marriage, he went overseas to North Africa and Europe and did not return for three years. I have always considered this one of the greatest love stories I have every heard. At the same time, I am fascinated with British history, and the heroism of the British during World War II is beyond remarkable. We in the United States do not know what it is like to have our country bombed consistently for months on end. We have never had to send our children away to the country to be safe from the bombing, as Londoners did during World War II.

I put together my thoughts and feelings about that remarkable period of history, and the result is Lydia’s Story.

Coincidentally, my own great-grandmother’s name was Lydia, and she was half Welsh. But that’s another story.

 

Time to Write; What to Write

1 May

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.- William Campbell Gault

There have been probably thousands of blog posts, articles and even books written on how to find the time to write. And it is a true challenge for those of us who are not to the point in our writing careers where we can devote the majority of our day to uninterrupted time in front of the computer. Most of us have demanding families, day jobs, and all the chores and errands that go along with life in the modern world.

But still we want to write. Well-meaning writing coaches coaches advise us to get up early, stay up late, write on our lunch hours, go out to a coffee shop or the library for an hour or two. All of these suggestions work — sometimes — for some people. But what if you are just too darn tired to get up early or stay up late? Or you have to run to the drug store on your lunch hour? Or you need to be home with children or waiting for a plumber, so the coffee shop is out?

The solution I have found is two-fold. One — I write all the time. Early, late, at home, at work, occasionally in a coffee shop. I have my spiral notebook or my net book computer with me. Whether it is a few minutes or a nice solid hour, I write. I work as a substitute teacher, and I actually wrote the better part of a novel while walking around the classroom supervising high school students. And they thought I was making notes about their behavior!

The second part of my solution is to write what means something to me. I am in the position right now where I am finishing up a few projects, and looking for something new to work on. I had a couple of ideas for follow-ups to things I had written, but they weren’t calling to me. I couldn’t get started. I have also been toying around with the idea of writing about my parents and how they met at the beginning of World War II. I have letters, scrapbooks and a short memoir that my dad wrote, so I have the basis of their story. I sat down yesterday and today and wrote a sizable chunk of the beginning of their story. Each day, I couldn’t stop until I finished what I wanted to say.

How do you create time to write? Does what your are writing influence how much time you spend?

Book Review and Other Thoughts

10 Mar

Now that both my parents have passed away, I find myself increasingly interested in the World War II era. And now that The Gate House is scheduled for re-release in May, I am almost ready to submit the sequel to The Gate House, which has a working title of Lydia’s Story.

Lydia is the great-grandmother of Nara, the main character in The Gate HouseShe left diaries that Nara has found, and she learns of her life during World War II in London.

I recently reviewed a novel for Suspense magazine that is set at the end of World War II in Berlin. It is one of a series, and I have not read the preceding one, but I found it an excellent story.

Review of Lehrter Station

Lehrter Station is David Downing’s fifth book in his John Russell series, all named after railroad stations in Berlin which each has a special significance to the story.

Set against the devastation of Berlin in 1945, Lehrter Station is a spy story whose characters struggle to reclaim their lives after World War II. The city has been divided into British, American, French and Soviet sectors, and it is becoming clear that the lines are being redrawn with the Soviet Union as the new enemy for the Western powers.

John Russell is a double agent, spying for the Soviet Union and the United States, not because he wants to, but because he owes a debt to the Soviets for his son’s life. When Soviet agent Yevgeny Shchepkin “requests” that Russell move back to Berlin from London to spy for the Soviets, he has no choice.

Russell and his girl friend Effie, a film actress, return to Berlin and are witnesses to the fragmented lives of the survivors of war. Human life is cheap after the bombings, rapes and mass exterminations of the concentration camps. Since Russell is a journalist by profession, he is on the look-out of a good story as a cover for his espionage activities. He finds a story in the exodus of Jews from Europe to Palestine. But on his return to Berlin, he finds that Effie has been involved in some risky clandestine operations of her own.

Author David Downing portrays an incomprehensibly tragic time and place in history in a manner that shows us the humanity of each character, as well as pointing us in the direction of the world political situation today. He weaves history and fiction together in a way that entertains and makes the reader think at the same time. It is an intelligent and powerful book.


Journal Writing Tuesday

24 Jan

Who writes letters anymore? A quick email, a text or a phone call is more the way to go these days.

There are two things going on in my life right now that have caused me to think about the slower pace of life in years that have passed not so long ago.

The first is that I have begun corresponding with some older relatives who do not “do email.” A cousin of my dad’s (that would make her my first cousin once removed) has written letters to me several times after she found out that I had written a book. And another cousin on my mom’s side has helped me with a writing project I am working on. She remembers my mom in the years of World War II when my dad was overseas, and my mom wrote to him nearly everyday for three years.

The second factor is the book I finished last night — The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This novel was written and set in the mid-nineteenth century. I found myself frustrated at the slow pace, and sometimes at the slowness of the characters to move on and solve the crime! Without telephones, even the police had to write notes to be hand delivered, make a special trip by horse-drawn carriage or train, or rely on the mail. However, mail delivery seemed to be much quicker and more reliable than it is today!

As a journal activity, try writing a letter. You can write the first draft in your journal first, and then rewrite on stationery. Remember stationery? Most everyone has an elderly relative or friend who would love receiving a letter. Or send it to a child. Everyone loves opening mail! Who knows? We could start a new trend, and keep the Postal Service in business as well.