You only have power over people so long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power - he's free again.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle

Tthe Aisne River flows in a northeast direction through northern France, at least until it reaches Reims, where it bends nearly due west and continues to its confluence with the Oise, and then on to the Seine and into the English Channel at Honfleur and Le Havre. The scenery alongside its banks is tranquil and bucolic, lined with trees and pastures as it has been for centuries.

In 1917 a ferocious battle was fought between French and German armies for a ridge near the Aisne River called Chemin des Dames, which translates to English as “the ladies’ path,” and was the preferred route for the daughters of Louis XV when they journeyed from Paris to the Château de Boves.

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Wwe had a crazy amount of rain when I sat down to write this post. You know how sometimes the rain falls so thick and so heavy that it looks like a grey curtain? Well, it rained like that. But just for a short time. The clouds rolled in, the bomb bay doors opened, the cloud burst thunder in my ears, the rain fell, and then it all packed itself up and went on its away.

Whenever it rains that hard I’m reminded of my friend Bob. Bob was a sailor in the Navy in WWII. He gave me a copy of the journal that he kept during the war. In it he wrote about how his ship, the USS Panamint, was attacked by kamikaze planes during the Battle of Okinawa. There’s some pretty insane stuff in that journal.

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“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The first time I found the little jar of gourmet honey on the floor in the pantry I figured it had just been knocked over by accident. When I found it on the floor the next morning I thought it was odd, but whatever. A couple of days passed and the honey remained steadfast on its shelf. And then I woke one night and heard scratching sounds downstairs. It didn’t sound like the ice maker in the fridge, which can raise an ungodly racket when it gets going, so I investigated. The scratching sound continued as I crept down the stairs, then stopped when I flicked on the kitchen light. The sound had seemed like it was coming from the pantry, so I opened the pantry door. I looked in and sighed. The little jar of gourmet honey was on the floor again. But that’s not all that was on the floor. There was something else: mouse turds. An entire Normandy beach of them. It was 2:30 in the morning so I went back to bed. La Raymunda was half awake and asked me what was going on. “We have mice,” I said. “Oh, that’s just great,” she replied and …

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One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

George Orwell, Diaries - April 1, 1942

Isabelle Dequenne’s great-great-grandfather (or, if you prefer, her arrière-arrière-grand-père) Frédéric Dequenne was an Alsatian winemaker and a perceived Protestant. In 1871, the Prussian Otto von Bismarck besieged Paris, reduced Europe’s most epicurean diners to eating dogs, cats, rats, and flowers, and subsequently annexed Alsace-Lorraine for Germany. Not wishing to be German, Frédéric fled Alsace and settled among distant relatives in the Manche department of Normandy in the village of Pont-Bocage. Upon arriving in Normandy, Frédéric abandoned his perceived Protestantism, converted to a perceived Catholicism, and began distilling brandy. As a point of curiosity, Frédéric brought with him a Swedish wife named Karin Cecilia. No one knows how they met, only that she was young and beautiful, he was handsome, and there was a boat to Denmark involved. From the Brechard branch of the family Frédéric bought land that sat on the edge of the marshes beneath Pont-Bocage and called the farm Chez Marais, where he planted an orchard of apple trees and established a herd of dairy cows. Frédéric ingratiated himself among the local citizenry and by the time Isabelle was born fifty years later, the insular villagers were cautiously contemplating the possibility of perhaps thinking of maybe recognizing the …

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Sstory guru Lisa Cron recently wrote an excellent article for Writer Unboxed, Don’t Accidentally Give Your Characters a Time Out, where she asked the question: Where do your characters go when they aren’t in the scene you’re writing? Although the answer seems obvious (“Well, they’re doing stuff”), I realized I hadn’t fully considered the question and that I was probably as guilty as anyone about ignoring my little babies one they exited the stage. The good news: they say that half the battle is knowing, so once I knew I was guilty of character-neglect, I took action. I decided to work out what had happened to my novel’s citizens thus far and see what trajectories they were on – and what actions they’ll take as a result – while offstage, and then see how that exercise impacted the overall narrative of the story.

I started with Isabelle’s godfather, Vincent Auvray. (Isabelle is the protagonist of The Gospel of Isabelle Dequenne.)

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But hurry, let's entwine ourselves as one, our mouth broken, our soul bitten by love, so time discovers us safely destroyed.

Federico Garcia Lorca, Sonnet of the Garland of Roses

Ii‘ve recently started meditating in the mornings. I find that it calms my ADHD-powered rocket-brain and helps me get an even-keeled start on the day. It’s just simple mindfulness meditation—nothing too exotic or sexy – although I will admit to burning incense and turning on the red and black lights in the Rock and Roll Room to create a space different from The Everyday World. I’ve found that sometimes while I’m meditating—usually about twenty minutes in, if it happens at all—I get some rather odd, but peaceful, sensations floating around inside my head.

So this morning I was doing my thing, perched cross-legged on two stacked pillows, wrists resting on my knees, a black light dazzling the Jimi Hendrix poster hung on the wall behind me (no, I’m not joking), when I sort of felt my brain start to hum. Just thrumming away in its little bone-lined Continue Reading →