Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Taking a longer, deeper view

I’ve had the blessing this year of accompanying several thoughtful writers as they advance their book-writing process.

Each of their projects is soul-sized, and each is the unique distillation that only that particular writer could bring forth from experience, observation, inspiration, and the facets of creating that help bring a story to life.

My experience of living within the worlds in their pages has me reflecting once again on the power of expression in our world, the double-edged qualities of words and speech, the timeless gifts that good questions and good listening can bring us, and the potential of art to convey the wholeness of our experience.

As I do, I’m inspired by words like the following ones from writers with soul-sized perspectives.

In the company of focused writers in a workshop of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG).

“Writing about one’s own or another’s life poses serious challenges. A writer trying to represent his life in a book engages himself in ongoing negotiations about what information to include and what to withhold, what he believes is true and what he wants readers to think is true,” says Helena Hjalmarsson.

“The need for synthesis–coherence, connections between past and present–is a constant struggle … ” Hjalmarsson notes.

“Often, the sense of life as a logical, purposeful unfolding becomes more important to the autobiographer than objective truth.

“Also vital to writers of autobiographies is the drive to make their work relevant and accessible to their readership–as well as a desire for connection, a social and spiritual need to ‘reincarnate,’ to have their hard-won perspective exist outside themselves.”

Courtesy Justice St. Rain

Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life.

“And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself.

“Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ ” Lahiri cuts right to the core of the matter, in this.

Author Elizabeth Sims shared timely words about this process in a blog post called “A Real Writer’s Duty”:

“These days when extraordinary, historic events occur, everybody becomes a writer. Social media enables all of us to spew impassioned opinions—joy, outrage, elation, despair—if we want to. And so many do. And free speech is great. 

“But a real writer of either fiction or nonfiction takes a much longer and deeper view of human affairs and human nature than most people.” (How I love this. Indeed, I live for it.)

“A real writer is more curious than defensive,” she continues.

“A real writer explores. A real writer is ready to be surprised. A real writer never panics. A real writer knows the world is in the work.”

 

Find Elizabeth’s Zestful Writing Blog here:

http://esimsauthor.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-real-writers-duty.html

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It’s always right now

Photo courtesy of Tamela Rich.

When the web site It’s Write Now ran a feature for my novel last week, I reconnected with the very enjoyable interview the site offered me last year.

In its timely way, my revisiting of those questions is helping me reflect on my current writing project, a sort of spiritual memoir, as I look back on the process of writing The Munich Girl.

It’s another powerful reminder that right now has what’s just right for right now. 🙂

 

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?

Eva Braun, left, with her younger cousin, foreground, and friend, right.

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experiences, 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 are lessons you learned during this glimpse into wartime Germany that have endured in your mind?

One paradox that I think could tell us a lot about our present imbalances of inequality in our world is that the very sorts of caring, nurturing qualities that the Nazis sought to demean and suppress were exactly what Hitler came home to Eva Braun for.

With sister writer and International Women’s Writing Guild member Kelly DuMar at the IWWG’s summer conference.

One question for me is, when, and how, will we find the collective will to value and honor these qualities in both genders, and all situations? It is the devaluing of them that has allowed, and continues to allow, violence and atrocities like the Holocaust to happen.

I admire your desire to explore and present things like this paradox in terms that people can understand and learn from, but I am curious to find how working in this sensitive situation has impacted your writing. Do you feel energized or exhausted working to ensure that you present this period well?

Sometimes the struggle is in making peace with the inescapable fact that every writing work has its own timetable. It’s directly related to the one connected with my own development, and it’s wise not to try to force or speed that up. What never fails to delight me is that I’m always happy when I let myself be absorbed in a project that attracts me, and it’s something I can pursue anywhere I am in the world.

Find the rest of the interview at: https://itswritenow.com/84433/author-interview-with-phyllis-edgerly-ring-of-the-munich-girl/

Find The Munich Girl at: ‘The Munich Girl ( ASIN: B01AC4FHI8 )‘.

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Fence post: Now available on Audible

 

I am thrilled that my novel, Snow Fence Road, is now also available as an audio book on Audible, just in time for summer reading lists.

Narrator Sheri Beth Dusek has done a wonderful job of capturing the heart and spirit of the book.

To celebrate, the book’s Kindle version is discounted from May 18-25 — and the new audio book is there on the same page:

https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Fence-Road-Phyllis-Edgerly-ebook/dp/B00DDVB106/

I sketched down Snow Fence Road in my 30s after a vivid dream about the trauma that shatters its hero’s life, then spent the next 20 years writing nonfiction.

Finally I realized after half a century of life that what I want most is to explore the real power of relationships – their healing power. And if they are the gold on life’s path, fiction is all about them.

There are the relationships that the characters reveal to the writer, and the ones that writers and readers develop with them – and ourselves – as we connect with their story. Hearing that characters remain with readers like enduring friends is a wondrous gift. Yet the only reason this book exists is that the characters stayed with me for so long, and reflected to me what I was learning about giving and receiving love.

Once a rootless military kid, I find that place becomes a living part of story, for me. When readers say Snow Fence Road feels like an actual visit to Maine, I’m grateful because this place I love so much has always felt like a “fully-developed character”, to me. Small-town life there, as in the story, is human-scale. That’s the one that helps us learn the most about others, and ourselves, I think.

As it follows the developing relationship between Tess Johansen and hard-tested loner, Evan Marston, both ravaged by grief and gun-shy about love, this story is categorized as romance. But it probably seems a whole other country from what many perceive romantic fiction to be today. It’s a love story, and about relationship, but I’m always most interested in what transcends the impermanent, what helps hearts open, and heal, and reach the greatest potential for which they’re created.

Snow Fence Road aims at more emotional and spiritual themes because in the many wounded hearts I’ve encountered, no amount of physical love or attraction ever healed or helped them trust again, but real love did. Real, lasting love requires accepting, and sharing, vulnerability, which in itself can be a miraculous and eternal kind of beauty.

This story also explores the weight of secrets — why we keep them, when they drain our life away; when there isn’t even need to, though shame and guilt convince us otherwise. We learn to keep secrets to avoid vulnerability, then never get to know what real intimacy is.

While a lot of current writing may focus on pain and horror and give center stage to the fear these generate, I think there are higher, kinder, stronger visions to reach for. My goal is always to highlight the beauty and meaning that can exalt human lives.

When people ask me now, “Why do you write?” I may have finally found an answer, the same reason I get up each day: for the increase and advance of the one thing that lasts — the love that brings us home to our own hearts.

It’s a process that began one morning a long time ago when a dream’s sorrow lingered with me, and I began to love and listen to people I will never meet, but who became as real for me as the pages on which their story is printed now.

Find Snow Fence Road at: https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Fence-Road-Phyllis-Edgerly-ebook/dp/B00DDVB106/

A village on the coast of Maine holds painful secrets- the kind only the miracle of new love can heal.


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Synchronicity knows the desires of our heart

An experience with a review of my novel, The Munich Girl, reminded me, once again, of the beautiful synchronicity with which Life works — perhaps in spite of our “best planning” — and the delicious surprises that result. It was another sweet affirmation that the desires of our hearts aren’t lost, though the way in which they come into reality is often far beyond what we imagine.

When the novel’s print version came out, I hoped that the book might receive coverage at the Story Circle Book Reviews network, a very thoughtful place where readers connect.

I was grateful when they agreed to receive a copy for potential review, since the world of books has become, now, a seemingly infinite universe of them. 11800190_10155878221225385_4242285263363148219_n

I was advised that the book might or might not be requested. And, indeed, the available copy sat there, unrequested, over many long months.

Then reader (and fine writer) Margaret Dubay Mikus delivered the lovely surprise: she had read the book, shows real understanding of both the story and its themes, had been kind enough to write a wonderful review — and Story Circle Network had accepted and published it!

Margaret writes:

“The [Munich Girl] also looks at the role of women in different cultures and periods in a way that is quite relevant right now.65675077782_000161_2

“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? EB pix Germany and more 672

“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.”

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


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Finding a life between the lines

 

Following the trail of The Munich Girl

Seventy-four years ago this spring, 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.”

Footage of Eva Braun with her childhood friend, Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

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 during the Ministry Trials of 1948, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, 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.

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


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The Munich Girl through European eyes

I have another chance to be in Europe this spring, and it has made me extra aware of the response of European readers to The Munich Girl

Susanne Weigand, a reader in Germany, writes: “I am German and both my parents have lived through WWII and it was something we often talked about in my family. And in my time at school we were taught a lot about the war and Nazism. Later I read a lot of articles and several books about this dark period of German history.

“But for some reason I always shied away from learning more about Eva Braun, probably because I couldn’t understand why a young woman would willingly devote herself to a man like Hitler. So when I learned that Phyllis Edgerly Ring had written a book about her I became very curious.

“I like the picture that the author has drawn of Eva Braun, her pride and her ambition, her insecurities and loneliness, her devotion and heartbreaking friendship and the story of her life.

“But, and this is more important: This book is offering so much more. The story of three women (and only one of them is Eva) and how their lives crossed and intertwined. The story of a family and their complicated, but heartwarming connections. And even a love story I enjoyed. (And I seldom enjoy love stories, mostly they are too cheesy and sweet.)”

Book blogger and reviewer Anne writes: “Growing up in the Netherlands, where every first week of May is basically dedicated to WWII, and with parents who were both born during the war (my mother even before Germany invaded Holland), I thought I was pretty well-informed on the topic. I studied History for two years in which, again, a lot of WWII was covered. Then I started reading this book and realized I still only know so little.

“I think I already knew who Eva Braun was when I was around 8 years old, but I never actually knew the face and the story behind the wife of Hitler. I always imagined she was a stern looking lady, with dark brown hair (maybe due to her last name as well) and a riding crop in her hand. Someone to match Hitler perfectly. Now look at the cover of this book. That’s actually Eva Braun.

“The Munich Girl tells us the story of three women: Anna (the main character), Peggy (Anna’s mother), and Eva Braun. … The story is told from three different perspectives: Anna’s life in 1995, and Peggy and Eva’s life pre- and post-wartime. There aren’t only fifty plus year old flashbacks, but also flashbacks within 1995 itself: before and after a plane accident (this is no spoiler because the book starts with Anna looking back at the accident) Anna is involved in.

It’s safe to say that Eva suffered from fear of abandonment. As Anna, later on in the story, says about her life with [her husband] Lowell:

It’s as if I have always felt, somehow, that I had to do the right thing, so he wouldn’t stop loving me. Wouldn’t leave.

I think this is what applied to Eva as well (and is actually a pretty big similarity when it comes to the relationships between Anna and Lowell, and Eva and Hitler).

Adi had given her a life she would otherwise never had known. She would not betray this generosity, or relinquish the honor of being one of the few who had this trust.’

I am grateful for the readers in many parts of the world who receive the story of The Munich Girl, give it their precious time, and then make the time to offer their insights and reflections about it. U.S. reader Nancy Vincent Zinke wrote, “I’m not surprised that The Munich Girl is getting worldwide attention and positive reviews. Its themes of fear and love, loss and redemption, pain and understanding, patience, trust, and more give this book a universal message of hope, and finally, acceptance of what was, what is, and what may be. It touches my spirit, and in that way, helps me know a little bit better what it means to be a spiritual being.”

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70Find more about the book here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27914910-the-munich-girl#other_reviews


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The reality of unity in our midst

Photo: Herta Goetz

Fifty-eight years ago, in a little German village, my older sister, then a high-school sophomore, taught these words of Edwin Markham to me:

He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him in!

~ Edwin Markham,  Outwitted

My endlessly patient older sister and me, circa 1960.

Many evenings, my parents and I would climb the hillsides above that village to reach the table-like land at the top, where there were old orchards of apple trees. It was a LONG climb, especially on short legs. The reward was the sweet fruit waiting at the end of the climb, and the sunsets visible from that vantage point. That’s a metaphor that has stayed with me for life.

Until my sister reminded me of this poem recently, I doubt I’d given it concrete thought for years. Yet when I “heard” it again, something began to play inside me like a song. All through the time and distance I’ve traversed since that German summer, this has traveled with me, setting the roots of the tree of my life into the soil that grew my view of myself, always, as a citizen of the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to return to this village several times with my husband, and even once with our grown children. Although my family lived there a bare eight months, I realize now that the war-weary Germans there who showed me such kindness insured that it’s at the heart of all I’ve loved about their country ever since.

Interior of the Baha’i House of Worship, near Frankfurt, Germany.

I also know today that because my WWII-veteran father could appreciate Germans, my British mother, injured in the Blitz, could forgive them, and my sister could be so determined to teach me the principle of oneness, my pathway of becoming a Baha’i no doubt began growing from the seed of my life that very summer.

Because so many different people were willing to care about me, and about showing an open heart, I would come to recognize instantly, as though it were a song already inside me, the truth of these words:

 

Bahá’u’lláh has drawn the circle of unity, He has made a design for the uniting of all the peoples, and for the gathering of them all under the shelter of the tent of universal unity. This is the work of the Divine Bounty, and we must all strive with heart and soul until we have the reality of unity in our midst, and as we work, so will strength be given unto us.                 ~’Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks