Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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We meet what we are able to receive

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.

~ Gertrude Stein

I’m always searching for descriptions of what writing and creative process feel like in their essence, and haven’t found any that describe it better than Gertrude Stein does here.

She’s gone straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower.

The “price” for this is willing surrender into seeking and not knowing, rather than a holding to presumed knowledge of any kind. The fact that what she observes about the experience of writing also applies to that of living makes her simple truth seem even more sublime.

As she suggests, my experience of writing is of something to be approached on the only terms it truly allows – the terms of discovery. I know that I’m immersed back in that process when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle.

Also, I simply feel good. If the pathway of shaping a novel taught me anything, it is that when I welcome a better-feeling inner emotional tone, it becomes a bridge to what inner life and intuition have to offer up to me. Before I reach that however, there’s the unavoidable surrender to that great blank that seems that it will never yield, no matter how I push on or try to break through it. And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding.

This was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and remembered that in order to even be able to do this, I must meet the water where it is. I don’t take hold of it or try to manage it, but rather I yield to and work with how it envelops and supports me.

Every aspect of the story in my novel, 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 placed in my own way.

Every story I’ve accompanied through to completion began with seeing or hearing something in the daily noise of life that stayed with me and took root inside, or was like a silent presence that followed me home. Just as with an animal for whom we would offer a home, it requires that a relationship of mutual trust be built.

Part of that trust for the soul who surrenders to creative process is that we will be met by what we are able to receive, and to integrate, on the deepest levels. A swimmer flailing in fear will not find herself very well supported by the water, even though its quality of buoyancy is always there. We learn to swim by learning to respect the qualities of the water, and shape our own ability to working with it. In a way, we become one with it.

Creative process, when met with regard and respect, brings a very similar kind of connection with our own wholeness, and that of the whole world.

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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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Just an ordinary Munich girl

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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?”

I had a chance to ponder these questions again during this summer’s conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.  The IWWG is a wonderful network that fosters the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. MunichGirlWebAd

An extra treat there this year (and there were many) was hearing CBS Sunday Morning contributor Nancy Giles as keynote speaker. Her blend of insight and humor lingers and encourages me, still. It was right in line with IWWG’s focus on the development of our  “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 author Maureen Murdock, I had a chance to ponder some of those “subtle interconnections” as I reflected again on that Eva Braun question. In one workshop activity, I wrote: “What a paradox that she often spoke very directly to — even scolded — her tyrant of a lover, yet also ceded her entire life to him. crop Adolf-Hitler-und-Eva-Braun

“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.

f942aa87bc9784474cbe5fa1c5b1915aIronically, 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/

 


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Thank you, Let Them Read Books blog

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Blogger (and gifted cover designer) Jenny Q. kindly included a guest post of mine at her Let Them Read Books historical-fiction blog last week.

The post’s theme came back to the same focus I find so much response about The Munich Girl does:

“The question people asked me at the outset is the same one they still ask: ‘Why Eva Braun?’

“The story’s goal has never been to try to exonerate or ‘redeem’ her, or how she is perceived.

She simply makes a fine motif for examining how people, especially women, suppress our own lives, and what forces and factors lead us to do that. 42590298_5_l

“She also offers a way to look at the reality that human beings are complex. She clearly had a conscience, and acted on it, and, like most of us, tried to make good choices — choices to serve good — when she could.

04_The-Munich-Girl_Blog-Tour-Banner_FINAL“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.

12342460_10208150312625888_7743673090992892225_nMy thanks to Jenny, and to commenter Eric, who has read The Munich Girl and describes it as a story  “about the human spirit, survival, friendship, love, betrayal, discovery and denial.”

You can find my guest post at the Let Them Read Books Blog:

http://letthemreadbooks.blogspot.com/2016/08/blog-tour-guest-post-munich-girl-by.html#comment-form

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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Creativity’s invitation to discovery, and wholeness

IMG_2709Very grateful this week for the opportunity to share a guest post at reviewer Rachel Poli’s blog:

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

“Creative process invites me to find a balance between my intuitive mind, which encounters the unlimited and unknown, and rational mind, whose structuring perception helps a story be both cohesive and accessible.

424 “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.”

Read the rest at: https://rachelpoli.com/2016/05/17/creativitys-invitation-to-discovery-and-wholeness/

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70And for those so inclined, a Goodreads Giveaway for the book is offered beginning at midnight Wednesday, May 18, through May 27.

Find entry info. at: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/187198-the-munich-girl-a-novel-of-the-legacies-that-outlast-war?utm_medium=email&utm_source=giveaway_approved


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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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Some story behind the story

IMG_4080My thanks to videographer Maxen McCoy and to Exeter’s Water Street Bookstore for preserving my recent author visit for posterity –

waterlogoI’m especially grateful for the welcoming circle (well, irregular oval) of attendees that shared the evening with me, along with your great thoughts, reflections about The Munich Girl, and questions that helped the discussion dive into some of the novel’s deeper themes.

Thank you, Stef Kiper and Water Street Bookstore, for the real friend you are to readers and writers, and thanks to Maxen for  filming, and for offering me the chance to share an interview, as well.

Find the video of the March 23 author event here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LENxN8W379k