Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Spiritual breadcrumbs and a dictator’s mistress

Grateful for the Author Interview that Many Books shared with me this month:

With WWII family-history author, Marina Dutzmann Kirsch, at an author event for her book, Flight of Remembrance.

You spent childhood years in Germany, studied ecology, worked as a nurse and traveled all over the world. How has this influenced your writing and your world view?

Growing up in a military family, I felt both like an American and a world citizen.

People’s interrelatedness with each other and our world are at the heart of everything I explore. I focused on friendship in a story set partly in Nazi Germany because friendships are what get people through terrible times, and are what helped many everyday Germans survive the war. They also helped protect and save those who were most vulnerable to persecution by the Nazis.

I was also intrigued by the paradox that people can know and care about each other yet never know about the parts of their lives that could seem to put them on different “sides.”

Your book also explores how German citizens were forced to endure Hitler’s reign. Please tell us more about this.

Eva Braun gathering wild iris in the 1940s.

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. They found the way to endure and maintain hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering. And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves. Many events from their time were things they didn’t know about or couldn’t see coming, which, for me, makes judging them from the perspective we have today unrealistic and even unjust. I think the very fact that we don’t or won’t recognize this is why history, sadly, continues to repeat itself.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Munich Girl?

Aside from tracking historical accuracy, a question someone asked early on actually proved to be a helpful challenge: “How are you going to get readers past the fact it’s HER?” (Eva Braun). I knew that I wasn’t. The reader’s journey depends entirely on the reader’s willingness.

With the help of many kind readers, The Munich Girl was placed in Little Free Libraries all over the US this summer.

Some may be unhappy that the story gives focus to someone associated with “such a monster.” The story never aimed to redeem her, but to look at the ways we come at truth and information, when human beings themselves are so very complex. Much of what had been written about Eva Braun was often incomplete, inaccurate, or even the details of a different person’s life. Yet these things have been widely accepted as truth. This made me wonder how much of the truth we miss because we approach finding it with ingrained, inherited — often blindly imitative — assumptions. In other words, how much do our biases trip us up before we even get started?

What are you working on right now?

Memoir – something I never expected or planned to write, anymore than I did a novel with Hitler’s wife as a character. I’m revisiting the cascade of synchronistic experiences that led the way through writing The Munich Girl, like spiritual breadcrumbs. They ranged from my unexpected discovery of Eva Braun’s portrait to a phone call that brought important research information, though neither I nor the person on the other end had initiated the call! That’s when I began to recognize undeniable, if mysterious, forces at work in the process.

Find the whole interview at: https://manybooks.net/featured-authors/phyllis-edgerly-ring-uncovering-long-buried-ww2-secrets


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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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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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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