Monthly Archives: October 2017

Laying the Foundation for a Story

I’m working on a project that is inspired by a letter my mother wrote about one of her experiences during the Second World War.The Nazis invaded and occupied The Netherlands in 1940; my mother was sixteen at the time. The occupation lasted five long years and the Dutch population suffered more than the average person knows.  Throughout her lifetime, my mother rarely talked about those years, and when she did she glossed over details of what life was really like then. So when she handed me the letter a few years before her death, it was like she was giving me a gift.

At the time, my life was quite full and preoccupying–three teenagers to raise, a masters thesis to write, a studio of students to teach–so I filed it away, thinking the story she wrote about would be a great novel to write some day. And I promptly forgot about it.

Now, many years later, I was struggling to find a writing project and my mother’s gift called to me. But her letter, like her stories while she was alive, was vague and lacked many details. As a fiction writer, this shouldn’t present a problem. I’m writing fiction after all. I love making up characters and details, filling in gaps with made-up stories. Yet, within my storytelling, I want to remain true to my mother’s tale by presenting life as it truly was during that horrific time.

Until I started my research, my knowledge of the Nazi occupation of Holland was very limited. What I have discovered through books and writings by people who lived in Holland during those years is nothing short of sobering. Understanding what my parents and their families and friends lived through has given me some insight into the people they were in later years. I regret not being able to talk to them now, wanting not only to learn, but to simply listen and  hug them.

Friends ask me how my book is coming, knowing I’ve embarked on a new project. It’s difficult to answer that question since I have yet to write the first word of chapter one. Research has taken my writing time these past months, but it is laying the foundation for a story that I hope my mother would be pleased I wrote. My head has been filling up with characters and settings. Soon they will find their way onto a page.

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Look up to see the view

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Yesterday I was chopping vegetables for dinner, focusing on the task at hand, although my mind was working through a problem in the novel I’m writing, and I was humming along with Van Morrison who happened to be singing from my playlist. I was in a kind of multi-tasking scenario.

The air outside was warm and breezy, so I had the door open to our patio, and the birds were singing along with Van Morrison too.

So there I was chopping carrots and I happened to look up. The late afternoon sun shone on the patio furniture outside and illuminated the blue waters of the Great Sound. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive, to be living where I do, to have a life where I can look up from chopping vegetables and see this. I had to put my knife down and step outside, breathe in the air, feel the sun on my face, and stare at that azure water.

Those few minutes in my day made me realize that I need to look up to see the view more often. We all do. Sometimes we get so focused on the tasks at hand, or lose ourselves on the Internet, or get caught up in the day to day detritus of our lives, that we forget to take time to experience the world around us.

So I challenge you. Right now. Stop what you’re doing and look up to see the view. Do you see something interesting?

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