Going to the chapel

I decided on a title for my second novel, the story of a British officer of World War I with amnesia who returns to England to face an aristocratic life he can’t remember and the Romani wife he doesn’t know. I decided to call it AFTER THE BELLS. Bells of victory, you know, bells.

And now I have this stuck in my head:

 

But the bells we generally associate with June are wedding bells. My parents would have been married 70 years this year. My father was going to college on the G.I. Bill when they met. They set up housekeeping in a house he had built for her, a classic little just-like-the-neighbors bungalow, and they proceeded to have five children, just like the neighbors.

My father had a girlfriend before the war. She wrote him every day. He received her letters, usually more than one at a time, during calm interludes between horrific storms. After the war, he couldn’t bring himself to see her because he associated her with his terrible combat experiences.

Before World War I, she could have sued him for breach of promise. An engagement was a serious contract in those days, a delicate dance of etiquette performed to conceal the nitty-gritty negotiations going on behind the scenes. When the suitor asked her father for her hand in marriage, he was talking about money, or status, or some other quantifiable thing. Even for the Edwardians, romance was a nice extra.

Like so much else, those conventions were blown out the door by the war. Nobody wanted to wait six months to get married — in six months, the groom might well be dead. Many young men popped the question, said, “I do,” and had at least one night of honeymoon all during one leave. Who knew when he’d have leave again? Who knew whether he would come back? At least she’d have a soldier’s pay, and there might be a baby, the ultimate reminder that life goes forward even if we don’t.

But no matter how practical their thinking, they still got dreamy! The British newspaper the Telegraph reported in 2013 the results of a study by Genes Reunited, a family history website, that reviewed contemporaneous news reports related to romance and marriage, including the trend of courtships carried out via the mail and resulting in weddings of complete strangers.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10406047/WW1-romances-and-the-hasty-weddings-scare.html

Here are some brides on the big day. Note the German couple.

Bridal couple

Bride street clothes
Married in streetclothes — no time for a wedding gown?

Bride with huge bouquet

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The bride is in mourning.

 

Wilfred Owen, War Poet

wilfred-owen-hires-cropped

I’m still reading poetry from WWI, specifically from the poets who died in the fighting. Among them is Wilfred Owen, probably now the most-read of the war poets. He wrote about the horrors of the trenches and the futility of the war. He was killed Nov. 4, 1918, just seven days before the Armistice that ended the war. He was 25.

I’ve read and read aloud … and realized from the docudrama “Anthem for Doomed Youth: The War Poets” (Britbox) that there’s a huge difference between my little voice and a man’s bigger, deeper voice.

Here is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, though his more popular work is “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” This is my favorite line from “Anthem.”

“The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4–FiANvXE

 

 

“Orisons” means “prayers.”

 

 

 

Poetry and soldiers

I worked on TIN SOLDIERS for two hours the other night. If an agent asks for a full manuscript, I can send near-perfection. Although, I always have it in the far back of my mind, and when it’s published, I might be seen rushing after buyers in a bookstore, shouting, “I just want to make a little change on page 147!”

In the interest of finding a title for my Romani novel, I have been reading WWI poets. The book I began with was a collection of works from the soldier poets who were killed in the fighting. You would think none of them had ever lived in a city, the way they go on about sheep on the hill and thrush in the hedges, but those represented England to them, and everyone on the battlefields was homesick, and living in horror.

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My favorite is Lt. Ewart Alan Mackintosh M.C. (The Military Cross is equal to the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross.) He served in the 4th and 5th battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders. He wrote a parody of the comic song “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” that goes “Sniper Sandy’s slaying Saxon soldiers.”

He also wrote the poem “In Memoriam: Pvt. D. Sutherland Killed in Action in the German Trench May 16th 1916 and the Others who Died.” Here’s part of it.

Oh, never will I forget you, / My men that trusted me, / More my sons than your fathers’, / For they could only see / The little helpless babies / And the young men in their pride. / They could not see you dying / And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant / They saw their first born go, / But not the strong limbs broken / And the beautiful men brought low, / The piteous writhing bodies, / They screamed, “Don’t leave me, Sir,” / For they were only your fathers / But I was your officer. 

He was killed Nov. 21, 1917. He was 24.

www.iwm.org.uk/history/9-poets-of-the-first-world-war

 

 

 

He did what??

zander belinda

My hero did something that completely astonished me. How could he?!? How do we writers think these things up, these bits of story that seem to come out of nowhere? Is it just our subconciouses at work, or is there some font of imagination that we tap into?

However, it happens, it happened to me, and now I have to deal with the consequences. What comes next, what, what?

I am trying that technique where you write down a question — “What happens between this event and the next? What fills that gap?” You write the question on paper: tactile sense, visual sense. You read it aloud: visual sense, auditory sense. I suppose you could lick the paper or smell the ink, but that seems kind of silly. Read it to other people, type it on your keyboard. Read it aloud to yourself just before you go to bed. And when you wake up, you have the answer.

***

24 hours later: Got it.

 

1920

tommy writing home

The new project, which bears the unfortunate name of that Gypsy thing, is going well. I’m at the stage where research is so much fun, it takes over my writing time. I have no idea where this story is going, or even what it’s about, but I keep writing, one scene at a time, and trusting that the answers will come organically and any meaning I try to force on it now will only distort the work.

I’m keeping a chart: date, scene(s), word count, time of writing, and how I feel. So far, my predominant feeling is “What is this about?” and my hot time of day is late afternoon, during what I have always thought of as the dead time. 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the dead time. If you don’t get something going, you will sit in a meaningless state for two hours that can linger into the evening. It’s the loneliest time of day. Maybe it goes back to Marion — I can remember feeling this way when I was 6 — and the time between getting home from school and supper, when I was waiting for my daddy to come home from work.

We always had supper at 6 p.m., always. After I left for college, I would look at the clock at 6 and feel so homesick. I was lonely after I left home, even when I lived in the sorority house. No one was ever around during the dead time there.

I miss my mother.

 

Photo: I don’t think this guy needs to do any research. National Library of Scotland.

What to do, what to do

medicinal chocolate)

Maureen has a new group going that is supposed to trigger imagination and help the writer begin a new project. I am so stuck, it isn’t even funny. I have three choices:

  1. The story Mike and I worked on while lying on inflatable mattresses in Traverse Bay, about the girl who lives at a lifesaving station in 1911 and gets involved with spies, including a British intelligence agent disguised as a Russian countess. It would require a lot of research and possibly a road trip.
  2. The novel I wrote about Esther and Carol and me, about their search for love and my efforts to stop Alix from getting married. It was supposed to be comical. I remember parts of it as being funny. That’s the query I sent to Ms. Snark. She wrote back, pointing out that there was nothing at stake. What would happen if my characters didn’t get what they wanted? Good question.
  3. The novel I wrote in high school about Gypsies and a soldier just returning from World War I to his home on a horse farm in Ohio. I know nothing about horse farms. That one was mostly about sex. Thrilling when you’re 15, less so when you grow up.

I feel left out. Everyone else is scribbling away with their new ideas, and there I sit trying every technique Maureen suggests to spark imagination. Clustering. Asking the Universe for help, or whatever it is when you write down your question, go to bed and wake up with an answer, messing around with index cards. I got nothing.

Too bad I already wrote a memoir. I used myself up.

 

My mother has a brain tumor. She can no longer open her eyes or swallow easily, and she has trouble talking so that she can easily be understood. She’s in hospice care. It’s breaking my heart.

Photo: medicinal chocolate.

Nightmare in Michigan!

A west-side family suffered a night of near-tragedy Saturday when their daughter fell ill and doctors feared for her life.

The drama began when Little Cinderella could be not awakened, despite it being Pancake Day and the pancakes being chocolate chip. Her mother, Queen Elsa, took the child to see Dr. Barbie, who performed a complete checkup and pronounced the girl to be healthy. However, Barbie was called to Little Cinderella’s side after the child returned home. Barbie had her admitted to Hayloft in the Playskool Barn Hospital, where she was attended by Nurse Olaf.

After being discharged, she was admitted twice more before the night was over. She was treated with new medicine from Mexico in the shape of greenery from a train set and had open-heart surgery, during which a broken piece of her heart was replaced with a good piece.

At lat Little Cinderella recovered in time to celebrated her birthday with her relieved family. She marked the occasion by eating chocolate cake and rolling in the buttercream.

 

Have you guessed yet that Nana was babysitting? As well as directing the health care drama, I guessed that Prince Wednesday in her Daniel Tiger book would be appearing in the Halloween Parade dressed as spinach (no), a rabbit (no), or a clump of mud, the funnest thing I have ever said in her life of three years.

She’s a cutie.

Bad night last night, but I feel fine now. I’m going to the gym later — that should help. I had hoped to start Chapter 2. I just need a first sentence…

This coming weekend, my children will celebrate their 36th birthday. Where have all those years gone? I wish Mike were here. It’s always hardest on holidays. He’s been gone seven years now.

Buster continues to cause trouble, although Alix did follow my suggestion and rearrange the living room to make it more inclusive. He spent my babysitting night playing video games with his friends. If he played alone, I would worry more, but he is interacting with his pals. There was no fighting — at least, none that I had to witness — Saturday night.

I begged off my little job today, because of my lack of sleep, and then overslept, which is the reason I got the job in the first place. I need more working out! And more reasons to haul my butt out of bed. I dreamed I was wearing leggings, but could’t figure out what top to wear.

The dog needs to go to the groomer, as do I. I’m getting my hair done Wednesday, thank God.

Mike with birthday kids
Happy birthday, kids!