Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Facts, fiction, and female characters

Autumn in Murnau, Vassily Kandinsky, 1908.

Author Dianne Ascroft, who writes historical fiction, offered me a wonderful interview.

Her questions are some of the most enjoyable I’ve received and as I explore the path of The Munich Girl in my current memoir writing, they’re especially helpful:

Describe how you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel.

PER: Invented characters act as catalysts for what a writer discovers about the story, so that’s a huge part of the pleasure of coming to know them.

Characters who were real people require research accuracy, of course. A paradox I encountered is how very much information published about Eva Braun is inaccurate, including many photos in which someone else, including her own sister, is identified as her.

While she’s not the protagonist, I was looking for more of the emotional story that her life showed. The novel’s goal has never been to try to exonerate or “redeem” her, or how she is perceived. She’s an excellent motif for examining how people, especially women, suppress our own lives, and what forces and factors lead us to do that.

She also offers a way to look at the reality that human beings are complex. She clearly had a conscience, and acted on it, tried to make good choices.

She also made ones that served neither herself nor others very well. Do we negate or devalue the contributions that someone makes because they also do things that are misguided, ill-advised, or even personally destructive? Do we not all share this same complexity in experience? These are themes I wanted to explore.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

PER: As closely as possible when it came to information from the WWII era and the years that preceded it in Germany. As my husband says, if the characters ride a train on a certain line at a certain time of day, there had to really be one.

There’s a lot of factual information in The Munich Girl and I’ve heard from readers that it can be hard to know where the factual leaves off and the fiction begins. It’s easy to know where: in the emotional lives of the characters, including those people that history remembers. That’s where my own attempt to read between the lines of daily life watched for the signs of interior life I could recognize and convey as the story revealed itself.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

PER: This was one of the most delightful parts, for me, as I spent extended spans of time in various locales in Germany that are a part of the story.

Also, in the time I spent poring over Eva Braun’s photographs and films, I got to know both the interiors and exteriors of the settings as they appeared during the 1930s and ‘40s.

A fun element of research was what has become, for me, a growing collection of vintage postcards that show scenes from that era in many of the settings of the story.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters.

Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

PER: I love stories where there’s a balance that hints at what a world with equality might look and feel like. This novel has a lot more scope for female characters. At its heart is a friendship between two women, one of whom was a megalomaniac’s mistress, and the effect their emotional intimacy had in each of their lives, and in the lives of those who came along in a next generation.

But it’s really about two facets of human experience that matter a great deal to me, ones I imagine are still characterized as more “feminine” than “masculine,” though I believe they apply in all of our lives. The first is the inner reunion of “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter. The second, and even more intriguing facet, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in that process, often in highly unexpected ways.

One particular paradox I discovered might open the door to a deeper conversation about gender equality, one that examines it from the perspective of human virtues. It’s that the qualities of compassion and care that Hitler and the Third Reich sought to demean, reject, and suppress are precisely what he came home to Eva Braun for. This unexamined and very common imbalance, which distorts and abuses the value of the very things we need to heal as a world, continues to play out on a massive, violent scale in human life.

Find the full interview here:  https://dianneascroft.com/2016/08/05/meeting-the-munich-girl/

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Love, friendship, and the Munich girl Hitler chose

Heartfelt thanks to book blogger and author Lisa Binion for hosting me and The Munich Girl so kindly — plus offering a great interview experience.

When you first learned about Hitler and Eva Braun, did you think of either of them as having friends?
I don’t think that Hitler really had the capacity for friendship. It requires a sort of mutuality of which he just wasn’t capable.

But Eva Braun, characterized by many who knew her as warm, thoughtful, and full of love for life, most surely was. Regardless of how people make assumptions about her based on her link with Hitler, history shows that she was a genuinely caring friend to those who, in addition to being morally respectable people, were very appreciative for her friendship. As with the situation in the novel’s story, some of them did not know of her connection with Hitler until after her death.

What inspired you to write about the friendship of two lonely women in Nazi Germany? Do you know of someone who made a discovery similar to what Anna discovered?
I chose this focus, in part, because friendships were what helped many everyday Germans survive the war. Such friendships were also what helped protect and save those who were most vulnerable to persecution by the Nazis. Also, I was taken by the paradox that two people could know and care about – value – each other yet never know about complexities in each of their lives that could seem to put them on different “sides.”

As for what Anna discovers about Peggy (her mother), my own war bride mother had many surprising secrets in her background, revealed only after she died. Some of them, much like Peggy’s friendship with Eva Braun, were things she might not, in her own history, have felt safe to share.

What is your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
I love revisiting a time period and immersing myself deeply within it. An added plus is looking at it with the hindsight we have now.

The tricky balance in writing the story, of course, is to be able to stay in the perspective of those times, even when you do have that hindsight. Realizing that many events were something people of that time didn’t know about or couldn’t see coming shows how much trying to judge them from the perspective we have today is unrealistic and even unjust. One very important reason for us to study history—and reflect on what patterns we can find there—is that without that reflective understanding, we will imitatively repeat it.

Obviously Eva Braun and Hitler really existed, but how many of the other characters were taken from history?
The two individuals to whom the book is dedicated, and who are each referenced in the story, were under-recognized heroes in their time. Poet/artist Erich Mühsam and Jesuit priest Father Alfred Delp each resisted what the Nazis were doing. They took enormous risks to help others who were being persecuted, and ultimately paid with their lives—Mühsam in a concentration camp in 1934 and Delp by execution by the Nazis close to the end of the war.

The stories of both men came to me quite serendipitously as the novel was unfolding. I felt it was as though those stores wanted to surface, to be known.

You can find Lisa’s full interview, along with a review of The Munich Girl here:

http://lisaswritopia.com/phyllis-edgerly-ring-interview-the-holocaust-eva-braun-and-friendship/

 


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Between the Beats hosts The Munich Girl

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My deep gratitude to author and book reviewer Elizabeth Horton-Newton, who wrote a wonderfully insightful review for The Munich Girl.

Her kind hospitality as blog-tour host included an interview with me. Among her good questions:

What kind of response have you received for your depiction of Eva Braun?

A broad range that includes those who connect, even empathize with the character of Eva, 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. eb-pix-germany-and-more-672-e1423236371410

I understand you met and interviewed some people who knew the “subject” of your search? How did you find them and how did they feel about discussing their relationships with you?

They “found” me — as with so much in the process of this book, it led me to them, and they were most willing to share their thoughts. One of the most helpful was from a family that had been treated very badly by the Nazis. She had every reason to hate them, and Eva Braun by association. But she had met and interacted with her and described her as a person of true character. She’d been as baffled as so many have about why Eva would care for Hitler. But this source emphasized how thoughtful and kind Eva Braun often was.

What was your ultimate goal in writing this book? Did that goal change over time?

munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ringInitially, 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 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.

Find Elizabeth’s full post here:

https://elizabethnnewton.com/2017/02/17/the-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring/


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Taking the path of The Munich Girl

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Thank you so much host Kevin Avard and producer Dick Gagnon of Nashua TV’s Gate City Chronicles for inviting me to be a guest on the show.

Talking about the life of Eva Braun and my related novel, The Munich Girl, wound up covering a whole lot of ground! eva-braun

 

ebmonogram1Those who’d like to give a listen can find the Gate City Chronicles interview here:

https://www.goodreads.com/videos/112893-the-munich-girl—gateway-chronicles

 

 

 


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Thank you, e-Books India

Ring Phyllis

Photo: Diane Brown

 

I was honored to be interviewed by e-Books India recently. It was fun to reflect a bit on the process that led to the publication of The Munich Girl.

Since writing and supporting authors is a big focus for this publication, I was asked such process-oriented questions as whether I approach writing by following structures and writing rules or write in a free flow way, and whether I have preferences about time of the day for writing, or particular settings in which to pursue it.

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Photo: Penny Sansevieri

“I definitely write in a free-flow way when I am capturing down a story. It is seldom in chronological order, at least not until certain segments begin to form themselves into pieces that show a relationship to each other and begin to reveal the story’s wholeness and coherence.

“It is a highly intuitive process for a long time, until enough takes shape and my inner editor can begin to apply both structure and logic.

“For the generative part of the process, I seem to work best in a very public environment like a coffee shop, in the early half of the day.

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Photo: Jane Crisi Tufts

“By the time I enter the revision aspect of the work, which I love (and I often go back and forth between the two in the rhythm of the way I work), I need to work in a more private, retreat-like setting, also in the early half of the day.

“I’m a true ‘morning person,’ rather like a farmer.”

 

Find the interview at:

http://e-booksindia.com/an-interview-with-author-phyllis-edgerly-ring/

 


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The writing path of The Munich Girl

I am honored to be an interview guest this week at New Hampshire writer Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews Blog.

944080_1103095966369547_7004980646450369999_nWhat inspired you to write this book?

German families were among my very first friends and Germany made a deep impression on my heart when my family lived there in the 1960s. I wanted to understand more about Germany’s experience during the war.

Shortly after I decided this, I received a copy of British/German writer Angela Lambert’s biography of Eva Braun. Then a combination of still somewhat baffling circumstances led to my owning the portrait of Eva that features in the story. You never know where a decision will lead. At the time, I was simply looking to learn and understand, not necessarily write a book. I certainly never imagined that the pathway of my discoveries about Germany would follow the life of Hitler’s companion.

What exciting story are you working on next?

IMG_6046My next book is likely to be a memoir-style reflection about where this novel has led me. Nothing about it is what I would ever have imagined or predicted on my writing path, and there are experiences I’ve had in the course of this book’s coming together that I’m probably never going to be able to understand, let alone explain.

One of the most personally stunning …

Read the rest at: http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/2016/01/interview-with-historical-fiction_29.html CU6VjsYWIAEv_Sc

 

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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Summertime, and the reading is …

photo  SNOW FENCE ROAD, here and there  Nadine1060751_549914665068524_1623995313_n

Left, Samantha French Brown and son, Logan, find a cozy reading spot near New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee. Right, Nadine Iglowski with her beach reading on Nantucket.

I love receiving photos like these — please keep sending them!

 

And thanks so much, Laurie Jenkins, for including an interview about Snow Fence Road on your blog:

Teaser 

Book-blogger Laurie:  Tell us about your current book release.

PER:  Snow Fence Road is a love story about how hearts are healed. Now that even “sweet” romance can lean heavily toward physical attraction and arousal, this book might seem like a vegetarian at the barbecue in terms of how it’s categorized.  It aims at more emotional and spiritual themes because in the thousands of lives I’ve encountered, so many wounded — hardened-off — hearts seem determined to believe they’ll never love, or trust love, again. No amount of physical love or attraction heals that, but real love of heart and soul can, and does. The story began when I dreamt the accident experience that shatters its hero’s life as if I were a witness at the scene. I needed the intensity of such an emotional impact to shift into the commitment and focus it takes to write books after 25 years of freelancing for magazines and other publications. Snow Fence Road also explores the weight of secrets – why we keep them, when they drain our life away; when there isn’t even truly need to, though shame and guilt often won’t let us recognize that. 
Read the interview at Laurie’s blog: http://networkedblogs.com/N5HDL

Find book purchase info. here: https://phyllisedgerlyring.wordpress.com/make-a-beginning-and-all-will-come-right/