Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Creating a Family to Be Proud Of

Today, I have asked a wonderful new writer to share how she came to write her debut novel, Friends and Enemies. I love this post. 

Creating a Family to Be Proud Of
By Terri Wangard

A batch of forgotten letters was found in my grandmother’s house. Written in 1947 and 1948, they came from distant cousins in Germany. My grandparents and other relatives had been sending them care packages. My great-great-grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1870s, as did two brothers. A fourth brother remained in Germany, and these letters came from his grandchildren.

When I revived a dream to write in 2008, I decided the family in the letters would be the perfect subject around which to craft a story. Research revealed life in Nazi Germany as increasingly grim before the war even started. The letters provide a fascinating glimpse of life in war torn Germany, but nothing about the war years. How had the family coped? I turned to the internet and searched the family’s factory name. I found it all right –in a list of German companies that used slave labor. I wanted my family to be the good guys, but that hope grew shaky.

Contact had ceased in 1948 after the German currency reform, and with their silence in the letters, many questions couldn’t be answered. Why had they refrained from any mention of their thoughts and activities during Hitler’s regime? Desire to forget? Shame of the vanquished? Concern the American family wouldn’t help if they knew the truth?

Circumstances of their postwar life offer a few facts. The family consisted of a brother, his wife, and three young children, as well as a sister and her husband, and their “old gray mother,” who turned 66 in 1947. Another brother languished as a prisoner of war in Russia, not returning home until 1949. I learned this from the German department for the notification of next of kin. The sister and her bridegroom had lived in Canada for five years, returning to Germany in 1937 because she was homesick. They were bombed out of their homes and lived in their former offices, temporarily fixed up as a residence. Before the war, they employed about one hundred men, but in 1947, had fewer than forty-five, with no coal, electricity, or raw materials to work with.

My imagination took over. The family, not the newlyweds, came to Wisconsin. Because one of my critics scorned someone returning to Hitler’s Germany due to homesickness, I gave them a more compelling reason when I rewrote the story. The grandfather had died and the father had to return to take over the factory, much to the daughters’ dismay, who loved their new life in America.

They did not support Hitler, but because their factory had to produce armaments and meet quotas imposed on them, they had no choice in accepting Eastern European forced laborers, Russian POWs, and Italian military internees.

The older daughter (my main character) took pride in committing acts of passive resistance. Now a war widow, she hid a downed American airman, an act punishable by execution. When they were betrayed, a dangerous escape from Germany ensued.

Maybe the family did support Hitler. Many did before realizing his true colors. My version probably doesn’t come close to the truth, especially concerning the daughter. The real daughter was twelve years old in 1947. No matter. This is fiction, and this is a family I can be proud of.

World War II rages across Europe, particularly in Germany, claiming the life of Heidi Wetzel’s husband. In a bid to escape her grief and the frequent bombings of German cities, Heidi and her sister flee Hagen to a farm in the German countryside, where they help care for orphaned children. While there, Heidi comes across an American airman, Paul, with whom she spent time when her family was living in Milwaukee during her high school years. When Paul’s plane is shot down over Germany, his only thought is survival—until he hears God’s voice guiding him to his late wife’s friend.

Meet the Author:

Terri Wangard’s first Girl Scout badge was the Writer. These days she is writing historical fiction, and won the 2013 Writers on the Storm contest and 2013 First Impressions, as well as being a 2012 Genesis finalist. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in library science, she lives in Wisconsin. Her research included going for a ride in a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Classic Boating Magazine, a family business since 1984, keeps her busy as an associate editor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Squeeze Some Fresh Creative Juice

The holidays are over. The days are growing longer at a snail’s pace and February Blues loom large. How do you get back in the groove? How do you tap your creative spirit? Where can you find the secret to renew your energy and interest in those projects you started last fall?

Here are a few suggestions.

Seek Out an Interesting Conversation…or at Least an Interesting Conversationalist
            Do you know someone with an interesting hobby or profession? Someone who holds a different perspective on life? Strike up a conversation with someone older than you…or younger. Spend some time with someone from a different cultural perspective. You can share your views, but your real job here is to listen.
I recently had a conversation with a seven-year-old. He told me that when he grows up he wants to have a farm where he and his wife will live. His brother and his wife will live in a house on the same farm and so will his sister and her husband.  His mother is expecting a baby in August so Jeremiah has also planned for his newest sibling to have a home on the farm. “I’m going to build a big house in the middle with four or five bedrooms and a kitchen so when we have company, they can stay there,” he told me. Seven years old and he’s building a family compound in his head. Interesting.

How does this help me as a writer? After that particular conversation, I began thinking about what a family compound might look like if I designed one for my children and grandchildren. My compound had a golf course, hiking and biking trails, a swimming pool, craft room, and a chapel. It was self-supporting with roles for all members of my family. My creative juices were flowing. The mental exercise was refreshing. I may never use the setting in a book, but then again, I may. I’ll know who receives credit in the acknowledgement section.

Pick the Brains of an “Expert.” Learn Well Grasshopper.
            I’m not necessarily talking about a professional, but someone who has mastered a particular skill or has become well versed in a subject. Recently, my toilet continued to run. (Stay with me here.) Water wasn’t leaking onto the floor so I knew something was wrong inside the tank. My first thought was to consult my good friend, Google, for advice. I watched a few YouTube videos on toilet repair. None of them looked much like the plumbing in my house. I turned the water off going into the tank and went to bed. The next day, I called a good friend who, though not a plumber, is a pretty good handyman. Like Tom, he isn’t afraid to tackle any problem. I described the problem and Bob came over with a little red rubber ring in hand. Here is the best part. He didn’t’ fix the toilet for me. He stood there and talked me through the process. I fixed the toilet!

How does this help me as a writer? I felt empowered. I walked around all day with that sort of  “if I can do this, I can do anything” feeling. Furthermore, I’m convinced the more I know and understand how the world works, the better I can address any issue arising in my book.

Connect with an Old Friend
You can do this…and I’m not talking about Facebook here! Call a friend and have lunch or a cup of coffee. Spend time catching up on each other’s lives. Reminisce and revive old dreams. You have a history with this person. You can be yourself. You don’t need to run every idea through a filter or explain where you are coming from in your thinking.

How does this help me as a writer? My friends will often ask me to tell them about my latest project. I try desperately to not bore them. Yet I find that even by offering a quick version of what I’m writing, talking about it renews my interest in it.

Find Your Theme Song
            One cloudy day last week I dug up an old CD: Greatest Hits of the 70’s. It was fun and energizing. I don’t want to scare you, but yes, I danced around the kitchen singing along into my wooden spoon “microphone.” November 29, 2014, a writer friend posted the original Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water on Facebook and dedicated it to me. He had no way of knowing that song was in my wedding. I clicked on the YouTube site and turned the volume up full blast.

How does this help me as a writer? Music touches every creative fiber of our being. It clears my thinking. I happen to like all kinds of music so different genres inspire me in different ways. I’ve considered several songs to claim as my theme song. Those have changed over time with new life experiences, but each book I write seems to have a song of its own. What is your theme song?

Rise to the Challenge
This year I’ve been challenged to
·      Read a book a week
·      Write a thousand words a day as part of the 365K Club
·      Walk 10,000 steps a day
Yep, there are challenges out there. Challenges to read, write, lose weight, meet new people, try new foods, travel more, or join a club. You name it. The challenges are there. The key is to not say yes to everything but yes to one or two challenges. I decided to accept the read a book a week and walk 10,000 steps a day. I’ve also decided to write a review for each book I read.

How does this help me as a writer?  I did not sign up for the 365K Club challenge. That may surprise you. It may appear as the most obvious for a writer. Taking challenges outside of my writing world stretches me. And walking clears my head, gets me away from the computer screen, and gives me time to think through the plot or characters or rehearse the dialogue I’m about to write.

What Else? Where do you go to drink in a little creative juice?     

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Writer

Ten Things You Should Never Say to a Writer:

1. I hate to read. 

2. So you don't work…you just write?

3. Aren’t you finished with that novel? I mean, seriously, haven’t you been working on that for like a month?

4. Do you ever want people to read what you write? 

5. Writing is a nice hobby. My grandma used to write little poems for us kids. You could try that.

6. You are so lucky you don’t have to work like real people.

7. Yeah, my uncle wrote a book once. He has a garage full of the ones he couldn’t sell.

8. Are you famous? Do you know Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel? No? Are you a real writer?

9. What a great idea! I always thought I should write a book about my dysfunctional family. I have a week of vacation time coming. If I could write it then, I could publish it by summer.

10. So how much do you make? I was thinking about writing a best seller. 
Some days are just like that...