Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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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

 

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The gifts of listening, watching; waiting

Ten years ago, I made a bid on an eBay item that would change my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Something within me was strongly drawn to it, though I didn’t yet understand why. It was a portrait of Eva Braun drawn by an artist who never gained acclaim for his work — though his infamous name is branded on history forever. Eva Braun chose to die with him 73 years ago this spring.

That portrait is at the heart of everything that became a part of my latest novel’s story, set largely in the Germany of World War II.

The experience of writing The Munich Girl showed me that, rather than being something I “do”, writing is a process that acts upon me, strengthening my sense of connection with my own wholeness.

My responsibility, I feel, is to listen and watch, rather than impose ideas or plans of my own on what comes forth as a story.

Albert Einstein described the intuitive mind as “a sacred gift” and the rational mind as “a faithful servant.” We have, he said, “created a society that honors the servant, and has forgotten the gift.”

Creative process invites me to find a balance between that intuitive mind, which encounters the unlimited and the unknown, and my rational mind, whose tendency toward structure is what ensures that a story will be cohesive and accessible.

People often hurl themselves at creative process “head first” with the rational mind, trying to force or control things. My experience is that in creative process, intuitive mind is waiting for me to meet it, so that it can help me know and understand in new and wider ways.

Gertrude Stein expressed this beautifully: “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.” She gets straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower, rather than a distraction or plaything.

The difference, for me, is a willing surrender into seeking and unknowing, rather than a presumed knowledge of any kind.

I know I’m immersed in that when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle. But first, I must surrender to a great blankness that can seem as though it will never yield, no matter how I push or try to break through it.

And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding, so that intuitive mind can impart its secrets to me.

This was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and recognized that in order to swim, I must meet the water on its terms. I must yield to and merge with the way it envelops and supports me.

On the pathway that the portrait of Eva Braun opened before me, every aspect of the story in 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 created for myself. When I yield to and receive what intuitive mind wants to offer in the creative process, I am met by what I’m able to receive and integrate on the deepest levels.

I’ve come to believe that the rational mind serves best when it’s not trying to lead, or force, but to follow, when we’re seeking to discover what we don’t yet know. When we are willing to do that, the revelations that arrive via our intuitive mind will often surprise and delight us, both because they feel so inevitable, and also because they are beyond anything that rational mind, whose scope is confined only to previous experience, could imagine or predict.

The magic in the process is that when we open up to meeting the greater possibilities of what we don’t yet know, we’ll be repeatedly astonished that what comes to meet us is disarmingly precise, unfathomably generous, and remarkably right.

Find more about The Munich Girl at https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987 .


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Women, war, and the secrets we keep

Reader and author Ginny Towler has given The Munich Girl the kind of insightful and engaged review at Goodreads a writer can only dream of.

Also, a Giveaway for print copies of The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War is up at Goodreads through May 25 (link below).

Ginny’s kind words:

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70     “Phyllis Ring’s writing conjures up a different era, of a 1940s sensibility, where the less said, the more is explained. …

“… That I should feel any sympathy with a woman who was romantically involved with one of the most heinous human beings ever to be brought into this world is disturbing to me.

“Which is one of the reasons why this book is so important.

    “As someone who had loved film most of her life, I had wondered about Eva Braun’s importance to both German cinema and filmography, as I was aware that her films extolled Hitler’s iconography, as it were.

  “… Although the book is labeled fiction, truthfully, it’s hard to believe it is, as the details jump off the page. Phyllis appears to have traced the comings and goings of this enigmatic woman, who, was encamped in her various places of refuge, waiting for her man, Der Fuhrer, to return to her.

“And it is in this capacity that we understand her: a woman of her time period, who turned the other way while her man went off to war, doing these “manly,” but hopelessly imbecilic and crazy things. He would return to her periodically, every couple of weeks or months, while she waited for him, dutifully. Did she remain willfully blind, ignoring the atrocities that were being committed in the name of the Fatherland? Or was she too close to him to even know what he was doing, because when he returned to her, he was her lover, not her military commander?

    “Was the man who could butcher so many people the same man who could come home to her, and luxuriate in the arms of his beloved, exposing his vulnerabilities to her only? I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but there’s an inkling of what Eva probably felt during the years that she was with him (17 years, I seem to count). Was there any redeeming quality in her that makes her seem more human, and less a monster of historic proportions, in our hatred of all things Third Reich? You’ll have to read to find that out for yourself.

“Above all, this book is about women. About friendship. About the way we protect each others’ vulnerabilities. Of the secrets we keep. And about our loyalty to each other, though we carry out our daily lives supporting our men, as that’s what women did, especially back in the day.

“… The story is also a mystery, of the history behind a portrait that hangs in the home of an American woman of English and German descent. It is a story about longing to reconnect with our beloved deceased, of learning the things that our parents could not tell us for fear of destroying our own lives yet to be realized.

Phyllis has done a very brave thing, sharing a history with us that might be part of her own past, on some level. But the care that she took in making it plausible is also a gift to the reader. She dares look at the soul of the German during WWII, and the aftermath, in a reconciliation of sorts, that still hasn’t been accomplished beyond the Nuremberg Trials, except through the bravery of women like Phyllis who are willing to open the door a crack to give us an opportunity to ask questions, ponder, and reconcile our humanity with our inhumanity.

I’m sure I’ll read this book a second time. There are so many layers to it. I found it an irresistible and important read.”

                                                           ~ VL Towler, author, Severed

Goodreads Book Giveaway:

The Munich Girl by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

The Munich Girl

by Phyllis Edgerly Ring

Giveaway ends May 25  – 15 print copies available.

Enter here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/275158-the-munich-girl


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The secret life of an ordinary Munich girl

“They called her ‘stupid cow’, though she was smart enough to capture the man she loved when everyone—he, most of all—said he’d never marry.

Considered insignificant by those around Hitler, she was one of the Third Reich’s best-kept secrets and filmed the private lives of many notorious Nazis.

Eva Braun paid a big price for the name ‘Hitler’. And in the end, it was hers only for a day, and now, no one ever calls her ‘Eva Hitler’.

Her life with the Führer mirrors Germany’s: He first seduced, then neglected and abandoned them. Finally, he led them into the jaws of destruction.”

EvaWith these words, Anna Dahlberg begins an exploration of Hitler’s infamous mistress and her friendship with Anna’s mother in my novel, The Munich Girl.

Seventy-three years ago this month, Eva Braun’s world, and life, were coming to their end as Germany succumbed to defeat and ruin. From a bunker under Berlin, she wrote her final letters, to her younger sister, Gretl, and longtime friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

She writes to Herta of preparing to die, and bewilderment at how things are ending, for Germany. “Greetings to all my friends. I’m dying as I have lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that.”

On this same day, she chose an action whose significance would only be revealed later, during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg. In testimony there, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, on April 22, rather than to someone who would actually carry them out.

As a result, the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war were saved. Among them were likely two relatives of mine, and a whole lot of those who were the loved ones of tens of thousands of people.

When writing fiction that includes elements of history, accuracy must always trump creative possibilities. It’s been suggested to me several times that Eva Braun’s “character” in the story might be conveyed through letters. However, her very last letter, to her younger sister, Gretl, asked that most of her correspondence be destroyed, and the remaining small amount hidden. It has yet to surface, and those who’ve tried to track it down doubt it ever will.

So, any story true to Eva Braun’s consistently private personality must reference only the handful of pieces of her correspondence that are still in existence.

And seek, as so many stories do, to find the story of a life between the lines.

Book clubs and groups who are interested in adding The Munich Girl to their schedule are welcome to inquire about discounts on book pricing.

I also love visiting with book groups via skype or, where possible, in person.

Learn more by emailing info@phyllisring.com.

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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Readers are writers’ angels

The “writer” interrupted.

In a world with “too many” books in it, I wonder each week how it is that I’m attempting to write another.

The fact that its story is about how another book came to be can make the whole thing seem ten times crazier.

A recent experience with reviews for The Munich Girl reminded me once again that when our doubts arise, Life often meets them with a kinder, gentler course correction.

I heard from a reader who had just finished reading the book and wanted to share it with her book club. She had found the novel through the insightful review that writer Margaret Dubay Mikus left on Story Circle Book Reviews a year ago.

While it’s a grace to have a book reviewed at all, and for the response to be a positive one, it’s a gift of heaven when the reviewer both captures and expresses what leads a writer to create a book in the first place. This Margaret did with real power, and its echoes still had effect all this time later.

Margaret writes:

Readers like Nancy Vincent Zinke keep a writer’s spirit boosted.

“The [Munich Girl] also looks at the role of women in different cultures and periods in a way that is quite relevant right now.

“Do women choose to play the lead in their own lives or do they sacrifice themselves for others?

Ring also leads us to ask what we know of our parents’ lives. How might their experiences or traumas be passed down to us? How open are we to the changes that can come from deep healing?

“You will want to cheer for Anna as she is drawn into the discovery of her past, re-creating her present, releasing her to soar into a future of possibilities. Engrossing and engaging with surprises and plot twists. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next.”

You can find Margaret’s full review at: http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/munichgirl.shtml 

I’m also grateful for kind response to The Munich Girl from author and reviewer Joe Kilgore at the US Review of Books:

“Three stories beguilingly intertwine in this novel. There is the story of Anna—a mature woman beset by a crumbling marriage, physical hardship, and emotional upheaval. There is the story of Anna’s mother Peggy—a World War II survivor with secrets she may have kept too long. And there is the story of Peggy’s friend Eva Braun—a young woman captivated by a man history has forever deemed a monster.

“The plot flows like a river with the author sliding in and out of tributaries that continually add context, illumination, and depth. Anna’s tale is the current. It sweeps readers along as she discovers things about her husband she doesn’t really want to know, then uncovers information from her mother’s past she finds hard to believe and accept, and finally shines a light on a dark figure from history that few have ever understood.

“Action in Ring’s novel weaves present and past into a mosaic that focuses primarily on Anna’s exploration of her mother’s past. Peggy and Eva’s war years in some of the Third Reich’s most iconic settings unspool like flickering black and white images of life in those ruinous days. This juxtaposition of different times and locales enhances interest and adds impact as revelations stack one upon another.

“Ring is a gifted writer who employs language rich with emotional resonance. While constructing an intricate narrative that manages to personalize a huge swath of history, she also empathetically plumbs the depths of Anna, Peggy, and Eva’s immersion into friendship, love, betrayal, and sacrifice.

If you enjoy fascinating stories intimately told with compassion and grace, you should definitely make time for this book.

From:

http://www.theusreview.com/reviews/The-Munich-Girl-by


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The quest for breadth and depth

Photo: Liz Turner

As I dive deeper into a new writing project, I am reconnecting with the power of my relationship with my thoughts — the very narration of my days. As every one of my storyteller friends knows, narration is both a daily companion we can’t escape and a maker of meaning that we all need.

I revisited an insightful article on the topic by writer Steve Almond, which is reminding me of what’s missing in much of writing these days: an effective narrator. It reinforces for me how much I need one personally, just as my writing does.

In the cultural shifts of the last decades that turned many into viewers rather than readers, “we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us,” Almond writes.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

Narrators serve the role of portraying big things, conceptually: how individual fates collide with history. More than just awakening readers’ sympathies, they help enlarge their moral imagination as “they offer a sweeping depiction of the world that helps us clarify our role in it,” he says. The perspective that narration offers helps us make meaning of a story, and of our lives, and also find a sense of place for ourselves in the scheme of things.

In times whose only constant seems to be constant change, we need narrative more than ever, even as it’s fast disappearing. While publishing gets downright pedantic that writers “show, don’t tell,” a well-developed narrative and its vital contribution to a story, like nutrition in a diet, becomes endangered through ignorance and oversight.

Narrative is as essential in human life as purpose is. It’s the one thing that, when time is shrinking, spinning, rushing past us with ever-increasing speed, points faithfully to what is timeless. We don’t need it to spoon-feed us, naturally. But we do need its signposts.   

Almond notes that media has created increasingly passive audiences, able to absorb and react, but not to imagine. That’s a pretty low (survival-based) level of human experience. And, accordingly, the focus of a lot of current writing is on the instinctual aspects of human beings — survival or perpetuation of the species (chase scenes and preoccupation with the sexual, often voyeuristically so).

Author Nathan Rutstein predicted this more than 25 years ago. He had worked in television and other media and authored many books when he made the observation that human society was increasingly losing sight (literally, as if not seeing it) of the higher possibilities and qualities in human potential as it grew more fascinated with and gripped by materialism, both in media and in the rest of what was called culture.

Almond’s article describes the approach of most media as that of “minimizing sustained attention,” which results in a flitting, easily distracted behavior that doesn’t ever engage with any depth – becomes incapable of doing so, perhaps. That’s almost the exact opposite of what a novel (or painting or play) was designed to require and invite. Or a spiritual, contemplated life.

Reading, unlike scanning and surfing, requires involvement and commitment, both from writer and reader. The narrator, and a story’s narration, is what facilitates this, helps create a book’s world, then lends it meaning. Many books now feel as much like packaged entertainment as most commercial television, and as unsatisfying and lacking in nourishment for our inner life. Much in publishing seems to train attention on mechanics, a shock-value, attention-getting and contrived writing style and manipulative repetition of “tropes.” A  cookie-cutter approach to more of the same. So much more of the same. Preoccupation with the lower nature, particularly if a series might be wrested from it. In order to have more of the same. Where is the room for discovery, depth, mystery? Soul?

Photo: Karen Darling

Almond describes how although some current works reach for these, “still work heroically to make sense of the world,” they find themselves “on the margins of a popular culture dominated by glittering fantasies of violence and fame. On a grand scale, we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes,” he says.

We’ve bartered away the riches of our indwelling higher nature, what brings meaning and depth to life, for the indulgence and absorption of our instinctual one. In a way, that is the only aspect of human being that seems to get the attention and focus now, perhaps with a thin veneer of the intellectual applied over it, or emotion that’s dealt with mainly in sentimentality, hyper-dramatization or other superficiality.

Narrative, and the meaning it serves, can restore the breadth and depth of human experience and bring it back home whole. Ennobled.

True expression, in any form, and always, in its highest one, is incomplete without it.

Find Steve Almond’s excellent article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-person-who-said-once-upon-a-time.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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No one ever calls her “Mrs. Hitler”

A novel of the legacies that outlast war

“Wars don’t end when the shooting stops,” wrote author Betsy Woodman in her astute — and generous — review of The Munich Girl.

Deep in research now for her next novel, which is set in WW I, Betsy notes that, “In the fields of Belgium and Northern France, people are still being killed by accidentally unearthed bombs—from World War I.”

Eva Braun and her older sister, Ilse, with their father in his WWI uniform.

“We also continue to process World War II—in books, in movies, in the care and tending of monuments—and in our hearts,” she wrote. “Along with the more visible damage, war creates mysteries that leave people feeling uneasy and incomplete. Confusion and grief may particularly affect the war brides who leave home with their foreign soldier husbands, and curiosity about their parents’ past may nag at the children of such marriages.

Author Betsy Woodman

“In Ring’s thought-provoking The Munich Girl, Anna Dahlberg is the child of just such a war marriage. Her mother had both British and German heritage; her dad was an American soldier. We first see Anna in 1995, choked with panic in her airplane seat and clutching a handkerchief embroidered with a four-leaf clover. Mysteries abound: what earlier trauma has produced this state? Why is Anna headed for Germany? What will she unearth in her exploration of events that started over half a century ago?

“Foremost in Anna’s mind is the question, was her mother really a close friend of Adolf Hitler’s mistress (and wife for 40 hours), Eva Braun?

The Munich Girl is not always comfortable to read. Hearing Hitler referred to as “Adi” in conversation will make some readers squirm. Until they think—well, even villains have someone who loves them. In life, as in fiction, so much is a matter of point of view. The reader is invited to stretch and understand people like Eva Braun, who don’t usually arouse much sympathy.

“Ignorance of one’s past and of the people in it can leave a person feeling frustrated, baffled, and empty. Knowledge and reconnection are the cure. The Munich Girl is about healing, rediscovery, and finding one’s way out of the darkness into a bright future. Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s international perspective and deep sympathy for human beings shine through in this unorthodox and subtle tale.” ~ Betsy Woodman

Eva Braun was born 106 years ago today. “Did she really love him? How could she ever love him?” are questions I hear frequently about the woman who became “Mrs. Hitler” for the last day and a half of her short life. Ironically, even though marrying him was the greatest desire of her heart, no one ever calls her “Mrs. Hitler” now.

Anna, the book’s narrator, grew up eating family meals under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun.

Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her mother, Peggy, and Hitler’s mistress had a secret friendship, and a friendship filled with secrets.

The story begins to unfold for Anna with the discovery of a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief and the arrival of a man named Hannes Ritter, whose Third-Reich family history is entwined with her own.

The pathway of this novel’s story dropped many clues in front of me, two of the biggest, a handkerchief just like the one Anna finds — and the portrait of Eva Braun, which, somehow, found me, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War here:

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