Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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On a first-name basis with an angel

Through the generosity of several kind book bloggers, readers have been finding — and responding to — excerpts from my novel, The Munich Girl.

The following is from a chapter in which two lonely 16-year-olds are about to become friends when they meet on a train traveling from the Austrian border to Munich in February of 1928:

 

Excerpt from The Munich Girl:

 

As I reached for Eva’s hand, the door to the main corridor slid open and the conductor seemed to fill it with his blue uniform.

“Where did you come from?” he asked my companion accusingly.

I smelled schnapps on his breath. And saw tears gleam in Eva’s blue eyes.

“From Simbach, where she waited for this tardy train. It’s not as though she was invisible.”

His head snapped back.

“With no one there to help, she barely made it on board,” I accused.

“But I saw no one at Simbach!”

“It’s hard to see, when you’re not on the platform yourself.” Then I asked Eva, “Do you have your ticket?”

Nodding quickly, her expression like a chastened child’s, she started digging in her leather shoulder bag.

The conductor was weaving in the doorway, tapping his boot impatiently. Just like most of these useless bloody uniforms, throwing their authority around. God help you if you actually need their help. They’ll be too busy having a nip and a smoke out of sight, as this joker obviously had. Probably been drinking since we’d left Linz—he’d even neglected to announce some of the stops.

When Eva found her ticket and handed it over, he snatched it without a word, fumbling for the hole punch dangling from a chain on his waistcoat. Then he thrust it back without looking at her, muttering to me, “Your parents should have taught you better manners.”

“My parents taught me people should do their jobs, especially when jobs are scarce. And that men who want to be taken for gentlemen should behave like one.”

I took great satisfaction in saying this, though I did so in English.

Across from me, recognition sparkled in Eva’s eyes.

As he stared at me, I asked in German, “How long will it be to Munich?”

“A little over an hour,” he mumbled. When he lurched back, the door his bulky frame had propped open slid closed with a thump.

Eva burst into a shower of radiant giggles. “Now I know you are an angel.”

“As I was starting to say before we were so rudely interrupted, I’m happy to meet you, Fräulein Braun. I’m Peggy Adler.”

“Nein, nein—Eva,” she insisted. “If you don’t mind.” She used German’s familiar “du” pronoun. “I think I should be on a first-name basis with an angel, don’t you?”

“Yes, let’s dispense with formality,” I agreed, relieved. I reached into my rucksack for my Lucky Strikes. “How about a smoke? Help us relax after that ordeal?”

Eva’s eyes were like stars as she reached for one tentatively, then settled back in her seat after I lit it. Her lids fluttered shut as she took an extended drag, then exhaled with luxurious pleasure. “How wonderful. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a cigarette. And I’ve wanted one so often.”

As I inhaled deeply on my own, she said, “You speak English, and your name is English, too, yes?”

I nodded. “My real name’s Margarete, but I never use it. My father is English, and I lived there until—I came away to school in Austria.”

I’d been very close to saying, “Until my parents separated.”

“I love what you told the conductor!”

“Oh, in English, you mean? You understood?”

“Absolutely!” she replied in heavily accented English, then lapsed back into her Bavarian German. “I thought I’d choke, trying not to laugh!”

“Are you studying English at school?”

“Oh, not so very much. From films, mostly.”

Now that she’d touched on one of my favorite subjects, the time and kilometers flew past as we talked about actors and music, jazz, dancing—and clothes. When I pulled out a movie magazine for us to look at, her chubby face came alive as she offered succinct assessments of the actresses’ clothes.

“I had to hide my magazines at school. Under the mattress,” she said. “My family thinks I’m going back next fall, but it’s not the life for me. I haven’t told them yet. The Sisters or my family.”

“Sounds like we’ve made the same decision. I’m not going back, either.” The thought of the scene that likely followed my unexpected departure last night launched a plummeting sensation in my stomach.

“Don’t you want to be out there in life—really live?” Eva said. “These are modern times, nicht? Not our grandmother’s days. There’s more to life than finding some lord and master and being under his thumb. I swear I’ll never live in such a prison!”

“You know,” I decided to confide as I leaned forward to light us fresh cigarettes. “My mother’s more independent now.”

I stopped, suddenly. What was I doing? I never talked about the divorce.

Eva was looking at me kindly. “Oh, my parents had a time, too. When I was small.”

“My parents divorced,” I relinquished, finally. “After the war.”

Might as well get it over with. I’d probably never see her again anyway.

She reached across the gap between our seats for my hand.

“My brother was killed, just before his nineteenth birthday. Right near the end of the war.” My voice was suddenly growing tight.

“I am so very sorry.” Eva moved to the seat beside mine and was offering a soft handkerchief.

“I tried.” I could barely get words out now. “To tell them. I knew, you see.”

I had seen it before it happened, that final end that was so horrible not only for Peter, but so many others lying there around him in that muddy, hellish mess. That place I didn’t want to see. Didn’t want to look. But it had kept coming back.

When I had tried to tell them—beg them—not to let him go, Father had called it morbid. Wicked. Been enraged that I would even suggest the danger that loomed.

Then, afterward, he’d looked at me as though I’d made that terrible thing happen to Peter, simply because I’d seen it ahead of time. And tried to warn them.

 

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How our choices become our stories

It’s an extra special gift when I can be in Europe at all, and when a trip coincides with the history and story of my novel, The Munich Girl, it’s an added blessing.

An interview I had with the writers’ blog It’s Write Now helped me reflect and delve back into the atmosphere of the book and its story, as the scenes in which it unfolds are appearing around me once again in real life.

What originally inspired you to craft a story about a portrait that turns into a journey to uncover World War II secrets?

My original intent was (and remained) to explore more about the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. When life led me to information about Eva Braun, it opened up whole new questions, particularly because she came from a background of everyday Germans – not what many would expect to be Hitler’s choice at all. When the question: “What if you had known Eva Braun, but hadn’t known the role she played in his life?” arose, the story’s momentum became unstoppable for me. A number of people actually did have this experience with her, didn’t find out the truth of her situation until after her death, because she was required to remain an invisible secret in Hitler’s life. That way, he could sustain the adulation he received through the myth that “his bride was Germany”.

The whole fact of Eva Braun as a character naturally brings a range of response. That includes those who connect, even empathize with her, those who connect with the story but struggle with connecting with her, and those who absolutely don’t want to connect with her, who object to her being there at all. I’ve been astonished when readers who I might not expect to easily relate to her – those whose families experienced huge losses during the Holocaust, for example – actually have a lot of empathy for what she reveals as a character. One editor asked early in the book’s process, “How are you going to get people past the fact it’s her?” I knew I wasn’t. Readers are either willing to go that distance or they’re not. It’s never been my intent to redeem her in any way, but rather for her to act as a motif for the self-suppression and repression that are still rampant in many lives. For me, she also represents that we are a mixture of strengths and character deficiencies, and we make a meaningful life through the choices we make in relation to those.

The experiences of Germany through this period is really told through the characters that the readers meet during the book. How you breathe life into these characters?

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experience, of never feeling that she can be fully herself – of having to choose between things, based on others’ views of her, is conditioning that overshadowed my own life for a long time. Today, I know that I experience my own power of choice more deeply as a result of the process of letting myself explore a potentially controversial or volatile subject like Hitler’s mistress in as neutral a way as possible, to see what sort of larger picture might emerge as this story unfolded for me.

You really are tackling a controversial or volatile subject in ‘The Munich Girl’. What did you want to give readers who were brave enough to explore this subject with you?

Initially, it was to give a glimpse into the experience of Germans during the war, and show how varied it was. Though they lived in a very dangerous place they could not necessarily escape, many Germans took risks to help and protect others, but many of these stories got lost once they were seen as part of the “losing enemy” country. Within the first year of writing, I also began to accept that the goal, to the best of my ability, was to convey themes that the story was suggesting. These include that any good we seek to do will always have an enduring effect, sometimes for successive generations. Another is that it is our willingness to build what is good, together, that is the legacy of love that always outlasts war, destruction, and violence.

What line do you feel best sums up ‘The Munich Girl’?

“Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined because we believe in the things that are good. So that there can be good things again.”

Find the whole interview at:


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Kindness, the very effective servant of Love

New Hampshire author and librarian Linda Tiernan Kepner shared words about my novel, The Munich Girl, that strike a grateful chord in me.

She calls it “well-researched and, in its own way, kind.

It brought to mind something another reader once said about my novel, Snow Fence Road:

“One of the things I also enjoyed was that this story took place in a kind world, with supportive and loving folks, despite their past difficulties, even with each other.”

That is the reason that I write, from the stubborn belief that this is the sort of world that all of our hearts want, and that those hearts long, innately, to help bring it into being.

Because that is what they are created for.

15338851_1492828510767849_7853887363639341138_nKindness is a very effective servant of Love. Maybe that’s why the two are paired in the soul-comforting phrase “loving-kindness.”

“All of the particles of the world are in love and looking for lovers,” Rumi wrote.

Mother Teresa captured this kind essence of love quite touchingly: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

I read recently that much of what is expressed out into our world aims at a lowest common denominator.

But have we not a highest common one? A kind and willing servant of Love?

What sort of love letter to the world can be written for — and from — this treasure?

How can each and every one of us value, protect, and manifest it, like infinite candles, brighter than any darkness, whether imagined or real?


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The legacies that always outlast war

My novel, The Munich Girl, is about many things, including a secret friendship between two women, one of whom was Hitler’s mistress, and later wife, Eva Braun.

But its themes are really about two realities that matter a great deal to my heart.

The first is the experience of reunion with and “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter in our life. We each have our own timetable for this, but my opportunity to accompany many people toward the end of their lives has assured me that this is so. That privilege also allowed me to see that the benefits of achieving this inner reunion always extend far beyond our own small selves.

The novel’s second and particularly fascinating theme, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in the process of how our inner reunion occurs, often in highly unexpected ways.

As a child in Germany, and when I returned to visit as an adult, I heard little about the years of the Second World War — mostly just “thank God it’s behind us.”

Yet, similar to characters in my novel’s story, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and to help others as they did. 11072937_833787143357991_5837640068723456300_n

They found the way to endure, not lose heart, and keep faith and hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering.

And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves.

I believe that the example in their lives applies more than ever in our world, and that we’ve barely tapped into the spiritual gifts and lessons they offer.

As Elizabeth Sims, novelist and contributing editor at Writer’s Digest noted in her kind comments about the novel:

“Love can manifest itself in enigmatic—and unexpected—ways.”

And, as one character in the novel observes:

“Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined, because we believe in the things that are good.

So that there can be good things again.”

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of The Legacies That Outlast War at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987


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We meet what we are able to receive

You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result,

but think of the writing in terms of discovery.

~ Gertrude Stein

I’m always searching for descriptions of what writing and creative process feel like in their essence, and haven’t found any that describe it better than Gertrude Stein does here.

She’s gone straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower.

The “price” for this is willing surrender into seeking and not knowing, rather than a holding to presumed knowledge of any kind. The fact that what she observes about the experience of writing also applies to that of living makes her simple truth seem even more sublime.

As she suggests, my experience of writing is of something to be approached on the only terms it truly allows – the terms of discovery. I know that I’m immersed back in that process when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle.

Also, I simply feel good. If the pathway of shaping a novel taught me anything, it is that when I welcome a better-feeling inner emotional tone, it becomes a bridge to what inner life and intuition have to offer up to me. Before I reach that however, there’s the unavoidable surrender to that great blank that seems that it will never yield, no matter how I push on or try to break through it. And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding.

This was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and remembered that in order to even be able to do this, I must meet the water where it is. I don’t take hold of it or try to manage it, but rather I yield to and work with how it envelops and supports me.

Every aspect of the story in my novel, The Munich Girl, every theme, revelation, and scene, came to meet me in a similar way when I was ready to receive it, after I had immersed myself in its atmosphere and waited, listening, watching. Trusting.

Believing that I “know” anything about a story before it has fully shown itself is the only “writer’s block” I’ve ever placed in my own way.

Every story I’ve accompanied through to completion began with seeing or hearing something in the daily noise of life that stayed with me and took root inside, or was like a silent presence that followed me home. Just as with an animal for whom we would offer a home, it requires that a relationship of mutual trust be built.

Part of that trust for the soul who surrenders to creative process is that we will be met by what we are able to receive, and to integrate, on the deepest levels. A swimmer flailing in fear will not find herself very well supported by the water, even though its quality of buoyancy is always there. We learn to swim by learning to respect the qualities of the water, and shape our own ability to working with it. In a way, we become one with it.

Creative process, when met with regard and respect, brings a very similar kind of connection with our own wholeness, and that of the whole world.


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The weight of the secrets we carry

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Wassily Kandinsky, “Houses in Munich,” 1908

 

As I was setting up a book promotion recently, I noticed that the site already had a link to Barb Taub’s insightful review of The Munich Girl.

Once again, I thank her for the real service that this review continues to offer to my novel:

“With her book, The Munich Girl, author Phyllis Edgerly Ring points out that an entire nation can’t be understood or explained with one label.

‘She does this by examining the life of one almost-invisible woman: Eva Braun, the “Munich Girl’ who was Hitler’s mistress from the time the seventeen-year-old girl met the man over twenty years her senior until their wedding followed a day later by her suicide at his side when she was 33. image13_zps7eb8aca8

“Although The Munich Girl has the feel of a memoir, it is a historical fiction that tells the story of three women. We first meet Anna, an American woman married to history professor Lowell. Anna has grown up in a house full of secrets, one of which is her father Rod’s war-spoils portrait that has hung in their dining room all her life.

The second is her mother, Peggy, who has died just before the story begins. And of course, the third is Eva, and her doomed relationship with Adolf Hitler. As Anna is clearing out Peggy’s house, she comes across a manuscript that tells both Peggy’s story and that of her unlikely friend, Eva.

image-58034-galleryv9-bfrq-277x300“Anna’s story is told in alternating points of view. First we have her own experience as a child born in Germany at the end of the war, but raised in the United States. Having grown up feeling like an outsider and desperate to belong, she subverts her entire life into supporting her husband Lowell’s career and goals. When he orders her to work at an inherited family magazine that he thinks will help his career, she is at first reluctant but then captivated by her assignments, including Eva Braun’s story. But most of all she’s drawn to the magazine’s German-American editor, Hannes. But when Anna finds that her mother knew Eva Braun, and when she starts to suspect that Peggy’s secrets go beyond the portrait signed with Adolf Hitler’s initials, Anna’s interest becomes an obsession.

“This is an amazing story full of layers and meaning. The settings are beautifully detailed and seem both timeless and perfectly anchored in their little bubbles of time. But within those stories, author Phyllis Edgerly Ring has created three fully-realized women who are very different, but who manage to have so many themes in common. 12342460_10208150312625888_7743673090992892225_n

“One theme is the deals women make with themselves to allow others to achieve happiness or satisfaction, often by denying themselves those very things.

“Another theme is the secrets we keep from others and from ourselves. The one question that history demands of Germany—how could you follow a monster like Hitler?—is brought down to the personal level. Why would Eva remain with Hitler?”goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70

 

Find the rest of Barb’s review at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show?id=1499833670


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BoomerCafé asks, “Why Eva Braun?”

I’m very grateful to author Eric Mondschein and BoomerCafé for featuring an author interview and post about my novel, The Munich Girl, this week.

Here are a few of their thoughtful questions, plus a link to the rest of the article:

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BC: What motivated you to write such a book?

PR: When I reconnected with Germany as an adult after living there in the early 1960s, I wanted to understand more about its experience during WWII. I returned home and was given a biography of Eva Braun written by British-German writer Angela Lambert.

In order to understand Germany and the war, I needed to read more about Hitler and the Third Reich and Eva Braun seemed a likely point of entry. What I never expected was the deeper topics and themes that would arise when I got that close to Hitler’s living room.

BC: What message are you trying to convey to readers?

PR: At least two.

One is that there is a reality that transcends appearances, and we miss a lot of the truth because we don’t investigate it more completely.

This is also a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion of war and destruction by valuing, and believing in, the ultimate triumph of all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together. Many Germans did this, though until recently, their stories have remained unknown.

The novel is also about the eventual homecoming we must all make to our truest self, and the role that others often mysteriously play in that process.

12342460_10208150312625888_7743673090992892225_nRead the BoomerCafé article here:

https://www.boomercafe.com/2018/06/21/baby-boomer-author-unearths-world-war-ii-intrigue/

More about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War:

https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast-ebook/dp/B01AC4FHI8