August 19, 2017: #SaturdayScene

41aQztLhJ6LThis week’s #SaturdayScene features Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts of which Peter Geye (Wintering) noted, “If you’re a fan of Grace Paley or Ann Beattie or Tobias Wolfe, you’ll surely find something to love in these pages.” 

In these ten elegantly written short stories, Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. The following is excerpted from her story “Patchwork”. 

Cecily Manning Morris Huffner Bowes. The fifth of nine children, squashed between Jocelyn and Edward, both of whom died of diphtheria. Born in 1909, died in 1953.  Left no will.

“That,” my grandmother once said, “is a crock.  She left plenty of will behind, just not the kind they were looking for.”

Grandma talked about Cecily on rare occasions, on days when I traipsed home from school in thick snow, and dark came early, and we sat at the kitchen table reviewing the day. Maybe after a glass of wine, when Grandpa started telling stories, and Grandma would insist he had them wrong, and the stories got lost temporarily in the debate. Sometimes then, amidst the chaos, Cecily came through in a line.

I knew that Cecily had sinned, but I didn’t know what could drive her apart from the family, make her what she had become, a whisper, a sideways glance, an interrupted line, never recovered. Didn’t she deserve a sentence or two in the family history? Everyone got at least a line. Each lady also got a square.

In my parents’ basement, packed carefully into cardboard boxes with the baby clothes my mother hopes to pass on, is the women’s patchwork quilt. Each generation adds a row, or at least a square.  My grandmother’s square is now pale yellow. It’s plain save for the careful red stitching that makes her name. Catherine Andersen.

The plainness of her square is striking in a patchwork quilt of names and symbols, favorite colors and long quotes.  Whitman. Roosevelt. The Bible. Her name is all she needed to record. I was here, it seems to say, once a long time ago, and I was called Catherine.

I am Sarah, and I will not sew my name for years. I won’t sew my name until I know who I am, can script with such confidence the identity I struggle to define, until I know, as easily, and with such simplicity, the way to be remembered.

Cecily knew. In the second to last row of the quilt is her square, all her names in succession, each one stitched in a different color.

How she had added hers, I’ll never know. By the time she had accumulated all those names, she was already persona non grata. But if anyone could get something done, it had to be Cecily.

Cecily, I was told, flipped her long, gold hair once too often. Cecily liked to watch football games with Grandpa, smoking cigarettes one after the other. She went through men just as fast, Grandma said. Cecily used to waltz into Grandma’s house, swinging that hair, swinging those slim little hips. She had all the curves in all the right places and liked to show them off, to twist around on the sidewalk to see who might be watching her, to sashay into one of Grandpa’s card games or football parties and take a seat.

After all the buildup, I’d expected more. A bank robber, a witch. But what I got was a sassy woman who had had no luck in love. Nothing about Cecily seemed shocking. After all, I lived with my boyfriend, Al. I didn’t think she should have been run out of the family will, erased from the family tree. I thought she deserved a round of applause for persistence. And though I wasn’t supposed to, I surreptitiously began to write Cecily into the family stories, giving her entire sections all her own because no one, it seemed, would share a story with her.


Purchase your copy of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts from your favorite retailer: 

Amazon  |  Barnes& Noble  |  Kobo Books  |  From your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Visit the author’s website. 

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

August 12, 2017: #SaturdayScene

51-BEUEL7OLThis week’s #SaturdayScene features The Language of Trees by Steve Wiegenstein. The inhabitants of Daybreak, a quiet 19th-century utopian community, are courted by a powerful lumber and mining trust and must search their souls as the lure of sudden wealth tests age-old ideals. Love, lust, deception, ambition, violence, repentance, and reconciliation abound as the citizens of Daybreak try to live out oft-scorned values in a world that is changing around them with terrifying speed.

Charlotte Turner fidgeted on the dais as her son’s speech entered its twentieth minute. The crown of flowers on her head itched, and she longed to take it off. But the children of the community had made crowns for all the original settlers as a school project, so on it would stay, grapevines and ivy and a strand of bittersweet.

She glanced down the row at the other originals. John Wesley Wickman, upright and pugnacious, fiercer in old age than he’d ever been as a younger man, his glassy gaze reflecting an inner confusion that accounted for his fits of vehemence. Marie Mercadier, similarly afflicted with an inward absence, but from an old head injury, not the erosion of time. And Charley Pettibone, a few years younger than the rest of them, placid as a plow ox, tamed by twenty years of good meals, no longer the rambunctious lad who showed up at the colony with nothing more than a sack of borrowed clothing.

Was that all of them? Just the four? So it was. All the rest gone, lost to time, age, war. So many never came back from the war, and those who did were not the same. Her late husband, for one. So now the next generation had to carry the torch, or so Newton was saying as she refocused her attention on his speech.

Thirty years ago they came in wagons and on horseback, and on flatboats up the river. A hundred people—two score families—to break the soil and subdue the forest. And more important, to establish a new way of living, one in which the artificial divide between wealthy and poor is swept away through common ownership, common purpose, and universal suffrage. Radical ideas then, and radical ideas now. But now the mantle is ours—

Not bad, Charlotte thought, but not delivered with the verve of his father. Now there was a man who could bind a crowd. The first time she’d seen him speak, springing across a makeshift stage made of wagon beds in an open field filled with rapt listeners, her heart had pounded at his galvanism. Newton had inherited his looks, but not his charm. Just as well. James’s charm had led him into places— No. She had made a rule long ago not to revisit the past. The past was where nostalgia and resentment lived, and she had no use for either. Yet here she was, sitting on the dais in the Temple of Community during their anniversary celebration like the figure of Nostalgia herself, a living reminder of once-upon-a-time.


Language of Trees will be published in September. You can pre-order your copy today:

Amazon  |  From your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Steve Wiegenstein is the author of Slant of Light (2012) and This Old World (2014). Slant of Light was the runner-up for the David J. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and This Old World was a shortlisted finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award in Historical Fiction. Steve grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He now lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Visit the author’s website. 

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 22, 2017: #SaturdayScene

This week’s #SaturdayScene is a continuation of last week’s excerpt from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad—the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom. Here, we meet-up with Frederick Bailey, having just crossed the Hudson River to a dock at the foot of Chambers Street in New York City. 

In spite of his exhilaration, Bailey was frightened, alone, and had no real plan about what to do next.  He encountered Jake, a fugitive slave he had known in Maryland, who warned him that although they were in a free state, slave catchers roamed the city’s streets.  Shortly thereafter, a “warm-hearted and generous” black sailor directed him to the home of David Ruggles at 36 Lispenard Street, not far from the docks.  Ruggles was secretary and prime mover of the New York Vigilance Committee, founded three years earlier to combat an epidemic of kidnapping.  Many years before Solomon Northup drew attention to this problem in his widely-read memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, free blacks, frequently young children, were abducted on New York’s streets for sale into southern slavery.  The committee also provided fugitives from the South with shelter, transportation, and if they were apprehended, legal representation.  By 1838, Ruggles was the leader of a network with connections to antislavery activists in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New England, and upstate New York.  He regularly scoured the wharfs, on the lookout for fugitive slaves.  Ruggles took Bailey into his home, advised him to change his name to help avoid recapture–Frederick Bailey now became Frederick Johnson–gave him his first introduction to antislavery activities, and mailed a letter to Anna Murray, urging her to come to New York at once. A few days later the couple married in Ruggles’ parlor.  The Rev. James W. C. Pennington performed the ceremony.

Like Bailey, Pennington (born James Pembroke) was a fugitive slave.  He had escaped in 1827, at the age of twenty-one, from Washington County, Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, leaving behind his parents and ten brothers and sisters.  Pembroke’s journey to freedom proved far more harrowing than Bailey’s. He started out on foot but with “no knowledge of distance or direction,” ended up heading southeast, toward Baltimore, not north.  He received advice from a number of people, white and black, about how to avoid slave catchers, but at one point a group of men seized him, hoping to claim the two hundred dollars reward his owner had advertised for his return.  Pembroke managed to escape from his captors and eventually made his way to southern Pennsylvania, where a Quaker couple, William and Phoebe Wright, sheltered him for six months, paid him for work as a farm laborer, and taught him to read and write.  Pennington moved on to New York City in 1828.  He found a job in Brooklyn, attended classes in the evening, and became a teacher in a black school on Long Island.  By the time he officiated at the Baileys’ wedding Pennington had become pastor of a local Congregational church.

Unlike Pennington, Frederick Bailey/Johnson did not remain in New York.  He considered himself “comparatively safe,” but Ruggles appreciated the precarious situation of fugitives in the city.  Soon after their wedding he gave the couple five dollars (more than a week’s wages for a manual laborer at the time) and told them to head to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where another black abolitionist would receive them.  A major port city, New Bedford was the world’s whaling capital.  Its shipyards and ocean-going vessels provided employment to many free blacks and escaped slaves.  Indeed, because of its strong abolitionist movement and thriving black community long accustomed to sheltering runaways, the city was known as the “fugitive’s Gibralter” (or, as a Virginia newspaper put it, “a den of negro thieves and fugitive protectors.”)  In the fall of 1838, having discovered that in New Bedford, Johnson families were “so numerous as to cause some confusion in distinguishing one from another,” Frederick Bailey changed his name one last time. Henceforth, he would be known as Frederick Douglass.

Purchase your copy of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroadwinner of the American History Book Prize by the New-York Historical Society, from your favorite retailer:

Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  |  Find your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe―whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize.

Visit Eric Foner’s website.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 15, 2017: #SaturdayScene

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 9.57.29 AM

“Illuminating . . . an invaluable addition to our history.”
– Kevin Baker, New York Times Book Review

“[A] detailed narrative . . . infused with the spirit of freedom.”—Bruce Watson, San Francisco Chronicle

“Riveting . . . a visceral chronicle of defiance and sacrifice.”—Edward P. Jones, O Magazine

More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America’s history. In Gateway to Freedom, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian makes brilliant use of extraordinary evidence—and, once again, reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.

This week’s #SaturdayScene is excerpted from Foner’s Gateway to Freedom—the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom.

The nineteenth century’s most celebrated black American first tasted freedom on September 4, 1838, when he arrived in New York City as a nineteen-year-old fugitive slave.  Frederick Bailey had long hoped to escape from bondage.  As a youth in Maryland he gazed out at the ships on Chesapeake Bay, seeing them as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.”  He secretly taught himself to read and write, understanding, he later wrote, that knowledge was “the pathway from slavery to freedom.”  In 1836, he and four friends devised a plan to abscond by canoe onto the bay and somehow make their way north.  But the plan was discovered and before their departure the five were arrested, jailed, and returned to their owners.

Two years later, while working as a caulker in a Baltimore shipyard, Bailey again plotted his escape, this time with the assistance of Anna Murray, a free black woman he planned to marry. She provided the money for a rail ticket and Bailey borrowed papers from a retired black sailor identifying him as a free man.  Dressed in nautical attire he boarded a train, hoping to reach New York City.  Maryland law required black passengers on the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore line (which opened only a year before Douglass’s escape) to apply for tickets before 8 a. m. on the day of travel so that their free papers could be examined and, if necessary, investigated.  But the measure remained largely unenforced.  Douglass used a printed timetable to arrive at the station at the moment of a train’s departure and purchased his ticket on board to avoid scrutiny.

Despite the short distance–less than two hundred miles–the trip proved arduous and complicated. Thirty-five miles north of Baltimore the passengers had to disembark to cross the Susquehanna River by ferry.  At Wilmington, they boarded a steamboat for Philadelphia.  There, Bailey later recalled, “I enquired of a colored man how I could get on to New York.” The man directed him to a depot where Bailey took a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, then the Camden and Amboy railroad to South Amboy, then another ferry across the Hudson River to a dock at the foot of Chambers Street.  Less than twenty-four hours after leaving Baltimore, he disembarked on free soil.  “A new world burst upon my agitated vision,” he would later write.

To be continued. . . join us next week for another excerpt from Gateway to Freedom. 

Can’t wait? Get your copy of Gateway to Freedom, winner of the American History Book Prize by the New-York Historical Society, from your favorite retailer:

Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  |  Find your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe―whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize.

Visit Eric Foner’s website.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 8, 2017: #SaturdayScene

New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson (Dead Wake) called it “A rip-roaring saga of hair-breadth escape,last-home-island-book espionage, and resistance.” Being Nixon‘s Evan Thomas notes “Lynne Olson is a master storyteller.” I could not agree more with either of these gentlemen, and I am delighted to share with you, dear readers, this week’s #SaturdayScene from bestselling author Lynne Olson.

Excerpted from her latest work,  Last Hope Island—an epic, character-driven narrative of Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War—this week’s #SaturdayScene opens on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Denmark and Norway, April 1940.

“On April 8, 1940,  just after midnight, officials in the Norwegian government were awakened by urgent phone calls informing them that several ships of unknown origin had entered the fjord leading to Oslo. A sea fog blanketing the fjord made it impossible to identify the ghostly armada’s markings. Within minutes, however, the mystery of their nationality was solved when reports of surprise German attacks on every major port in Norway and Denmark began flooding Norwegian government offices.

            Aboard the German heavy cruiser Blücher, Gen. Erwin Engelbrecht, who commanded the attack force heading for Oslo, reviewed his orders with his subordinates. In just a few hours, more than a thousand troops, equipped with minutely detailed maps and photographs of the Norwegian capital, were to disembark from the Blücher in Oslo’s harbor. Their assignment was to slip into the sleeping city and storm government buildings, the state radio station, and the royal palace. Before noon, King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, and the rest of the royal family would be under arrest and the Norwegian government under German control. A band, also on board the Blücher, would play “Deutschland Uber Alles” in the city’s center to celebrate Germany’s triumph, while German military officials took over administration of the country and its two most important material assets — its merchant marine and its gold.

            When a Norwegian patrol boat spotted the flotilla and had the temerity to issue a challenge, the boat was machine-gunned and sunk. Further up the fjord, two small island forts, alerted by the patrol boat, also fired on the ships, but the heavy fog made accurate sighting impossible and the vessels swept on untouched. Shortly before 4 a.m., the convoy approached Oscarborg Fortress, an island stronghold built in the mid-nineteenth century and Oslo’s last major line of defense. The Blücher’s captain was as unperturbed by the sight of the fortress as he had been by the pesky patrol boat. On his charts and maps, Oscarborg was identified as a museum and its two antiquated cannons described as obsolete.

            The maps and charts were wrong on both counts. The fortress was operational, and so were the old cannons, fondly called “Moses” and “Aaron” by their crews. The fog lifted a bit, and as the darkened silhouettes of the ships came into view, a searchlight on the mainland suddenly illuminated the Blücher.  Moses and Aaron erupted at point-blank range, their shells crashing into the 12,000-ton heavy cruiser. One shell smashed into the Blucher’s bridge, destroying its gunnery and navigational controls, while another slammed into a storeroom filled with aviation fuel.  Shore batteries also began firing. Within seconds, the Blücher was ablaze, the flames leaping high in the air, burning off the fog and lighting up the snow-covered banks of the fjord.

            With a great roar, the ship’s torpedo magazine exploded, and less than an hour later, the Blücher, commissioned only seven months before, rolled over on its side and sank. Nearly one thousand men went down with her, including most of the elite troops assigned to capture the royal family and government officials. Gen. Engelbrecht was one of the several hundred survivors who escaped the burning oil covering the fjord’s surface and swam frantically to shore.

            Throughout that day –April 9, 1940 — Hitler’s audacious, meticulously planned invasion of Denmark and Norway had gone almost exactly as planned. By early afternoon, virtually all the Fuhrer’s major objectives  along 1,500 miles of Norwegian coastline had been taken. All, that is, except Oslo, the political, economic, and communications center of Norway and the key to the operation’s eventual success.”

Order your copy from  Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  or from your favorite Indie bookseller.

About the Author: Lynne Olson is a New York Times bestselling author of seven books of history, most of which deal in some way with World War II and Britain’s crucial role in that conflict. Born in Hawaii, Olson graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a journalist for ten years, first with the Associated Press as a national feature writer in New York, a foreign correspondent in AP’s Moscow bureau, and a political reporter in Washington. She left the AP to join the Washington bureau of the Baltimore Sun, where she covered national politics and eventually the White House. Olson lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Stanley Cloud, with whom she co-authored two books.

Visit Lynne Olson’s website to learn more.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

June 24, 2017: #SaturdayScene

This week’s #SaturdayScene showcases author Mary Carlomagno’s debut novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. Jersey Girl Jessie DeSalvo has her dream job at one of New York’s top publishing companies. After ten years of hard work the day of her big promotion has arrived. Unfortunately, her company has other ideas. Instead of a corner office, Jessie is handed her pink slip.

BFFH Cover_v4.2 7.38.40 AMMy new hot pink crocodile iPad case was lined up with its office accessory family. The iPad itself was just one of the many things I was going to buy to celebrate my promotion to Publicity Director. Being Assistant Director was a big job at my company, despite the fact that there had never been a director for me to report to. It had only taken me T-E-N Y-E-A-R-S to make it from Assistant to Assistant Director. When “STS” came up on my phone screen, my heart leapt in excitement. I got it, I thought. Maybe there was even a little surprise breakfast being planned. I dreamed of that office deliveryman bringing trays of treats to successful executives. Really successful people never sneak a bagel with a schmear at their desk, but are served mini-muffins on faux silver trays and drink their coffee out of real china cups and saucers. Finally, I thought, this would be me.

To read more:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Indiebound

About the author: Mary Carlomagno spent years in book publishing before taking on the world of self help as a professional organizer where she quickly became a media expert.  She has published three books on the topic, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Program and the Today Show.  She continues to write freelance, speak to corporations and represent blue chip companies through her consulting company called order.  

Find Mary here and here.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

Scarred Receives the National Indie Excellence Award for Military Fiction

da328f_f76ae4a077a242b09d8edcfd8b5af27d~mv2

SCARRED: A Civil War Novel of Redemption was recently announced as an NIEA Award winner in the Military Fiction category! This award, open to all English language printed books available for sale, including small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, and self-published authors, is given annually.

Posted in Awards, Scarred, Writing Life

eLit Book Awards: Scarred takes Silver in Historical Fiction

eLit_silver_outline_final copyI am delighted to share that SCARRED: A Civil War Novel of Redemption has been awarded a Silver medal for Historical Fiction in the eighth annual eLit Awards—”a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing.”

I’m honored to be among these outstanding writers!

 

Posted in Scarred, Writing Life

Reviewers Choice Award: Honorable Mention for Scarred

RV-Awards-2016SmithMichaelKenneth copy

 

Posted in Scarred, Writing Life

Shifting Gears: Writing from a Woman’s Point of View

a82ad1c76a7345eb3f4fe9f8c604b253I’m a guy. I write mostly about men. Men at war. Shooting guns. Riding horses. Doing brave deeds. Becoming heroes. From the male perspective, of course.

So, how does an author shift gears and write from a female perspective—and what would prompt him to do so? For me, the answer to this question can be found by exploring a scene from each perspective.

Here is a scene from my first book, HOME AGAIN, at the Battle of Shiloh:

Off to the right of their line and behind the Rebel line several hundred yards away was a slight rise, and a line of Confederate cannon was being brought up. As the horses pulled the cannons up, they were unhitched, and the cannoneers pushed them into a line aimed directly at the bow in the Northern line about where Zach was with his new company. The first fusillade of shot came from the big guns nearly simultaneously. All the shots appeared too high.

The sergeant, whose total energy was now focused on the battle at hand, said to Zach, “Take that contraption in your hand and see if you can discourage those Rebel cannon. They are about to blow us to smithereens.”

Zach looked around for something to prop his rifle up against as he always did. No rocks or trees were nearby. Dickson, who had heard the sergeant, knew what Zach was looking for. Not seeing anything he sat on the ground facing the target and said to Zach, “Try this.” Zach squatted behind him, placed the rifle on Dickson’s steady shoulder and sighted through the scope at the first cannoneer to the right of the line. The ground was soaking wet and he could feel water penetrate his still-damp clothing. The wind was negligible, and the range could not have been over three hundred and fifty yards. He would be shooting up, and experience always told him to aim a bit low when shooting up. John was breathing and with each breath, the crosshairs would move up and down.

“John, take a deep breath, let it half out and just hold it.”

Dickson did, and while it wasn’t perfect, Zach aimed at the first cannoneer’s chest, rubbing his finger on the stock…deep breath…exhale…half breath…squeeze…

“Another breath, John.”

Zach squeezed off another shot.

“Again.”

Another shot.

Three more times and all six cannons were silent. In less than sixty seconds, the entire battery had been decommissioned. The other soldiers on both sides were too involved to see or realize what had just happened, but the one who counted, the sergeant, did.

In this scene the character, Zach, finds himself in the middle of an offensive line of soldiers at Shiloh during the early stages of the Civil War. He is empowered by his ability to effectively use a rifle at long range. His mission is to eliminate a threat, as perceived by his sergeant.

In contrast, here is a scene from my short story, THE WALL, just before the Allies swarmed through Bonn on their way to Berlin in WWII:

“Helga? Are you here?” the captain called as he entered the front door. He went straight to the bedroom to check. “Ah, yes. There you are, Honig,” he said relieved. He came to the bed and kissed her. He drew the covers back and saw she was naked. “Ah, perfect. It’s been a long day,” he said sighing. “I’ve been thinking of you for some time.”

Helga watched him undress and she immediately started to build her wall. The wall that would enable her to isolate herself from him and the things she let him do. It was like separating her mind from her body. Her body would go through all the motions, but her mind would not follow. Rather it would dwell on the goal line while her body tried to get there.

She also knew he was a terrible lover and that was a good thing. When he had taken all his clothes off, he slowly pulled back the covers again a gazed at her. He was ready almost instantly. He lay on top of her. His forehead was beaded with sweat and his body smelled like dirty laundry. Helga closed her eyes. Her wall protected her and it was all over in a few minutes. He rolled over and she got up and started to dress.

“Stay for a drink?” He asked.

“No. I must go, but could I make you one?”

“Sure. Will I see you Thursday?” He asked. Then, he added, “I am being transferred back to Berlin. Soon, you will be free of us. Won’t that make you happy?”

She stopped in her tracks. “Berlin? Who will take your place?”

“What! You’re not worried about me?” He asked sarcastically. “I could easily capture the two Jews you are hiding, then ship you with them to Dachau.”

She watched him through the mirror as she brushed back her hair. “Yes, you could, but then I wouldn’t be here on Thursday,” she said.

He got up and went into the bathroom. As he passed her, she reached for his bottle of Scotch and poured some into a glass. She looked toward the bathroom as she took one of the ampules from her purse. He was just out of sight and she squeezed the ampule hard, breaking the glass and the yellowish fluid dripped into the Scotch.

From the bathroom he said again, “See you on Thursday?”

“Yes, captain,” she said, wiping the glass chards off on her skirt. Then she went down the stairs and out the back door.

As she walked back to her flat, the impenetrable wall that she had constructed started to crumble as she thought about the Scotch. She forced the sense of violation away and by the time she arrived back to her flat, she felt human again. She also felt a sense of triumph. Thinking again about the Scotch, she smiled.

This scene takes place in Germany during WWII just before the Allies come through. Despite the distance of time between these two scenes, there is a common thread: Though empowered in very different ways, both Helga and Zach want to destroy the enemy. Helga is empowered by her own moral compass and uses the age-old weapon of her female sexuality to help save Jews from being exterminated. Zach, on the other hand, is instructed to kill by his commanding officer and he willingly does it in fine fashion. Helga is motivated by her own sense of right and wrong, which makes her far more compelling to me. She is driven primarily by internal forces—and Zach is more driven by external forces. Helga’s is a crime of expression. Zach’s is a crime of aggression.

This shift of gears from the male to female perspective involves knowing your characters, crawling inside their heads, and being open to seeing things in a new, sometimes counterintuitive, way. While it is much easier (for me) to crawl into a man’s perspective, the opposite takes a little more thought and a better understanding of exactly who the character is. The character is, after all, the author’s creation and by first defining his/her goals, aspirations and dreams, the author can more easily predict and write about how each character will act and react to various stimuli.

My hope is that in shifting gears and incorporating new perspectives, I will become a more effective author with an understanding and approach that will extend to my future characters male or female.

Posted in Writing Life