Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Following the spiritual breadcrumbs

As I revisit themes from my novel, The Munich Girl, during my travels in Europe over these next weeks, I am mining, inwardly, for facets of my experience in writing that book that have been calling –and loudly — for quite some time now.

Doesn’t matter whether I’m awake or asleep, they mean business, and they’re not going away. What they want even appeared like a sign on a wall in a dream: memoir.

This is always the point at which I hear a voice in my head, with a mild British accent, asking, “Whatever bloody for?” It chimed in frequently over the nearly nine years that The Munich Girl came into being. The process of that book showed me that if I didn’t flinch or back away from that question but met it head-on, that voice frequently shifted to something like, “Oh, right, then,” and actually became a helpful ally.

As a writer, I have actively avoided the prospect of memoir for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is public embarrassment. (“Who cares?” is an effective deterrent, too.) Some might argue that I’ve already gotten the embarrassment part out of the way, perhaps more than once, and I wouldn’t disagree.

When I finally understood enough about the purpose of memoir as focusing in and reflecting about a specific stage or aspect of personal experience, I had a humbling recognition. The fact is, in much the way creative process, in all its mystery, delivered every part of the novel’s story when I was willing to let it lead, it offered up, at the same time, a cache of memoir material. It was like those dual-action machines gaining popularity in Europe that both wash and dry your clothes — it had practically outlined the next book for me.

If I had the heart, and will, to follow the trail again. “Spiritual breadcrumbs,” one friend calls this, adding boldly, “Are you going to be so ungrateful as to let them go to waste?”

I hadn’t planned to write a memoir any more than I had a novel that includes Hitler’s wife . But just as the environs of that story did, something is acting on me in a way I’ve given up trying to explain, but absolutely cannot deny.  As I have more conversations with readers of The Munich Girl, encounter the deep questions they ask and the observations they make after living in the book for a time, the following passage, which played a big part in the emotional themes of the novel, is right back in front of me for re-examination.

Without a doubt, I’ll let it lead again, whatever the outcome, because my heart knows it’s too big a piece of our current dilemmas in this world — too universal a one — not to heed, and honor.

We are all of us searching for love, for the intimacy, closeness, tenderness we may remember from when we were in our mother’s arms or may have glimpsed in a lover’s embrace.

Or we may know it just as a sense of something we always wanted, something missing from our life.

This love is at the core of our being, and yet we search for it everywhere, so often causing our self pain in the process, losing our way, becoming entangled in our desires and all our images of love.

Then, one day, something makes us turn away from the outer world to seek this truth within us.

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Why The Munich Girl?

EvaAlong the path of my forthcoming book, The Munich Girl, a novel about the many kinds of legacies that outlast war, there’s one question I’m asked more than any other:

What led me to write a book about Hitler’s mistress (and eventual wife), Eva Braun?

It reminds me of what so many asked after the war, after her death, when the role she had played finally came to light:

“Why her, just an ordinary Munich girl?”

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Wisdom House, Litchfield, CT, Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

I had a chance to ponder both of these questions further during this summer’s conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild at a welcoming retreat center in Connecticut called Wisdom House. After nearly 40 years of memberships in various organizations, the IWWG remains my stand-out favorite.

IWWG is a wonderful network that fosters the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. While it has nurtured an impressive record of success and achievement for its members in the publishing world, it has always aimed for both excellence and personal transformation. It especially values “an inner ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events, and emotions”. If you’re a woman and a writer, check out: http://www.iwwg.org.

In a wonderful memoir workshop led by Maureen Murdock, whose book, The Heroine’s Journey (among several of hers) has shed important light on my path, I reflected on that Eva Braun question. I also recognized that my next book is likely to be a memoir about the sometimes uncanny, even mystical process that has led to my writing about her, and about Germany during the war. 51-UcjX4oTL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_

For a workshop activity that was designed to reveal more about me as a “character” of my own story, I wrote: “When I watched the films of Eva Braun, I would be moved into depths I could not understand. I was left feeling like a child who didn’t want to pull herself away from play or a remarkable new discovery.

“I wanted to visit with her over coffee, be in the presence of those expressions I saw shape her face as I watched the films in silence — feel that unmistakable lightness that she communicated in those scenes without sound. And, I wanted to better understand the struggle and despair I heard quite unmistakably in the pages of her diary. I was fascinated that she had found her way toward an audacity that could tease, even scold, someone like that tyrant she loved, even as she also seemed to give up her entire life because of him.

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“Who knows which of her unnamed roles was really the more significant, in her time? The buffer she sometimes provided for others around him? The diffuser of tension she so often was, or the soother of circumstances that others undoubtedly came to rely on during the self-will-run-riot mania of a self-appointed despot?

“She seems such an emblem of what so many women do, have done, throughout the ages. Not able to enact their own potential in a direct and visible way, they must resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.”

In Eva Braun’s case, that invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler.

EB pix Germany and more 679Ironically, because she was considered so insignificant, she was allowed to film the visual evidence that proved — though he publicly protested to the contrary — that the Führer did, indeed, have a private life.

One he never would have had without her.

A question that still lingers for me is, did she?

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/0996546987/

To join the book’s mailing list for news about its release and related events, email: info@phyllisring.com


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On the trail of Mrs. Hitler

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February’s the month in which two characters in my novel share a birthday.

Like me, all three women in The Munich Girl have strong connections with Germany, where two of them meet just before World War II.

EB pix Germany and more 598Peggy, is a Leap-year baby with “29 February” on her birth certificate. That kind of thing can make you feel like a fictional character right out of the starting gate.

Eva Braun, always wanted to live the life of a character in a movie or novel. However, as many women have, and still do, she gives her life away to someone who hasn’t the capacity to value it, or, it would seem, to care for humanity at all.

“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 life.

EB pix Germany and more 038Anna, the story’s narrator grew up eating dinner 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 were friends. The secret surfaces with a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief and a man named Hannes Ritter, whose Third-Reich family history is entwined with her own.Eva_Braun_by_PrinzessinHeinrike

These lead her (much as I’ve been led) into the world of the “ordinary” Munich girl who became a tyrant’s consort and her mother’s confidante. As she retraces a friendship that began when two lonely teenagers forged a bond that endured throughout the war, even though the men they loved had opposing ambitions, Anna realizes that she has suppressed her own life nearly as much as Hitler’s mistress did. Ultimately she and Hannes discover how the love in one friendship echoes on in two families until it unites them at last.

It’s a grace to have stories come to find me and, like a kind and patient companion, stay with me, until I catch up with them to find the way home to the finish.

EB pix Germany and more 037In the instance of this novel, the story began by dropping clues, two of the biggest, a handkerchief just like the one Anna finds — and the portrait of Eva Braun, which, somehow, found me, too. It’s what made the process unstoppable, a path that has unrolled itself before me over the last seven years and seems to have recreated my own life, from the inside-out.

IMG_2710Because of that, something memoir-like about this novel’s coming into being is a likely next step. Also, because of the amount of response I’ve received about Eva Braun’s story as a motif for looking at women’s lives, and the state of our world, a work about her seems inevitable, too.

Join the mailing list for author events about The Munich Girl 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/