Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lassoing Life

I think we can all agree that 2016 was an incredibly difficult year. Too many things happened locally, nationally, and internationally: beloved celebrities passed away, the Syrian civil war and terrorism took far too many lives, and the US presidential election strained relationships and us as a nation. On a personal level, I had my share of struggles: my husband ended up in the hospital for another staph infection (on the week we closed on our new house) and ended up in the ER later that year for a work-related accident; my father had a stroke and I flew to Denver to be with him; my stepson had overwhelming challenges that required our assistance; and my health took a nosedive.

Of course, no year is free from challenges. But some years are simply harder than others. Now that the year is nearly gone, I'm trying to regroup and find my way back to better health, better time-management skills, better coping mechanisms, and yes, better ways to find motivation to write. Thankfully, I've had some time to relax and regroup. I work at a university and every year we have a nice holiday break where everything is shut down from Christmas through New Year's. I love it (though I wonder if I'd like a bonus more!).

Yesterday, I accomplished quite a bit. I made a list of things I'd like to get done on our house in 2017, went through the huge stack of paperwork that had accumulated on my desk, paid bills, got in a work-out on my treadmill, and found recipes that fit my healthy eating plan. In other words, I felt like I'd lassoed the bull that has been running rampant in the corral, bashing into the fence and kicking up manure everywhere. Yes, that's how life has felt for the past year.

When you have a chronic illness, a set schedule is almost impossible. Waking up with a horrible rheumatoid arthritis flare means I miss work, miss my workout, usually make poor eating choices (though I'm hoping to change that), and miss writing. I end up in bed and take long naps, watch movies, surf the 'Net, and just try to ignore that I feel awful. My schedule ends up in shambles and every day I have to regroup. It becomes utterly exhausting physically and emotionally to go through this on a weekly basis (sometimes I'll make it two weeks without getting sick, but that's becoming rare).

And yes, this affects my writing life. It also feeds the horrible beast known as Resistance. It takes mental energy to write. After every flare, I'm drained and writing is the last thing I want to do. This saddens me considering writing is my fuel. But with Resistance tackling me at the one yard line every single time I try to work on the novel, I either 1) go down before hitting the goal line or 2) push through and make a touchdown (i.e. write all the words!). Unfortunately, #2 is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

How to change this? I'm trying to figure it out and come up with some strategies to help. But I've come to the conclusion that, as a person of faith, none of my solutions will work unless I put God first. Praying for guidance and strength is a must. Yet I constantly forget to do this. Whether it's the brain fog inherent to rheumatoid arthritis or my brain crowded with too many thoughts, I tend to misplace my best intentions.

We all try to make New Year's Resolutions, yet by March, most of them are gone by the wayside. I'd rather not do that. Instead, I'd like to create coping strategies I can use for the rest of my life. I'm tired of flailing in the ocean with my head barely above water and the current trying mightily to push me under. I can't do it anymore. I need to find a strong ledge so that the water can rush around me, but I can stand firm.

What does this ledge look like? I'm not sure. Bullet journals? Lists? Meditation? A reminder on my phone to stop and pray? A blocking device so I can't access social media after 5 p.m.? Maybe a combination of all?  All I know is that I can't keep walking down my current path. Something needs to change.

And isn't that the beauty of life? We can stop and say, "No more" no matter what day or month it is. We don't need to wait for New Year's to press the reset button.

For me, I'm looking forward to taking each day as it comes. As the song by Merle Haggard says,

"One day at a time sweet Jesus that's all I'm asking from you
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine
So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why I Write World War II Historical Fiction

I’m an emotional person. It doesn’t take much to make me cry. A poignant commercial about a father and a daughter on her wedding day? Tears. A movie scene where the hero confesses his love to his girl? Tears. My cat tenderly cradling the kitten while he licks its head? Tears. (Yeah, I’m hopeless).

What does all of this have to do with writing World War II fiction? A lot, actually.

I’ve tried to uncover why I love studying this time period and why I continue to gravitate toward it when other eras have tried to compete for my attention (in my previous teenage life, I was a devout historian of the American Civil War). It’s not the military aspect – the battle tactics and uniforms and planes, tanks, and guns. Though I love the music and the clothes of the era, that’s still not what holds my attention. Neither is it “good triumphing over evil,” though that's certainly part of it. And goodness knows I hold no excitement for learning about the massive casualties and horrific deaths of millions upon millions of people.

What keeps me interested, fascinated, and altogether obsessed with World War II is this: emotion.

There is an absolute plethora of human emotion contained within this global war. There’s fear and horror and joy and laughter; there’s sympathy and empathy, courage and cowardice. There’s anger and guilt; forgiveness and redemption. And exploring those emotions within my fictional world is not only challenging, it’s crucial to understanding the human side of World War II.

Here's an example. It’s easy to think of the boys who stormed the beaches at Normandy as just a group of nameless soldiers: but the fact is, each one was an individual with their own story. Each one. Can you imagine what was going through their minds as they rode in the Higgins boat and watched the French coastline grow closer?

I hope Mom got my last letter. I hope she knows I love her.

Just stay alive. Just duck and cover, but don’t run. Don’t be a coward. Don’t abandon your post. Do your duty.

She said it wasn’t my fault, that it was just “this stupid war.” Now I’ll never get a chance to make it right. I’m not going to see her again. I feel it in my gut. This is it. So long, pal.

When you think of all the human drama created by this war, there are millions of stories, and emotion is at the heart of them all. I cannot help but explore these numerous facets. I want to somehow understand, as best I can, what the war was like through their eyes. Whether it be a soldier, a German immigrant, a Jewish survivor, a Red Cross nurse, a mother waiting at home, a factory worker, a Resistance fighter, or just an average citizen trying to live life day to day, I want to experience it.

As a writer, that’s my job. I’ll never get it completely right because I wasn’t there. But it makes the war more real to me. It’s too easy to read facts in a book and skip over notable dates, battles, leaders, etc. Yet that is, in my view, dangerous. The men, women, and children of World War II were flesh and blood, and deserve more than to be remembered as just words and numbers.  They felt. They hoped. They dreamed. They loved, they lived, and many of them died. They were real in every sense of the word.

So that, in a relatively large nutshell, is why I study World War II history, and why I write World War II historical fiction. I have a desperate need to connect with the past and to feel the emotions of those that experienced it. Because, to paraphrase a famous quote, those who do not understand the people of the past are condemned to forget them.

I refuse to forget.

And I’ll gladly shed as many tears as it takes to remember them.

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net