I have now launched myself into the full depths of commitment to a specific theme and focus for the November Novel Writing Challenge within the NaNoWriMo 2015 writing contest. When the contest first made itself known to me through the Writer’s Digest Magazine only a few days ago, I didn’t have any ideas of what my novel might be about. This of course made me a little nervous, but somehow I knew it would not be an issue for me. Lately, having taken up the daily writing task once again, there are many threads flowing through me.. ideas that I want to explore and delve into.
Many weeks back, Mom and I had been talking about her aunt and the affair and this aunt’s family alliances and interests in communism. This brief discussion ended up being a jumping off point, an entree point into, the romance novel. I’ve never been a fan of the genre… so it was almost on a lark that I continued typing and bringing the characters together with the tension and conflict of their current condition. In one daily writing session,out flowed this story with twists and turns and character development that I tucked away for later. Again, I am not planning to be a romance novelist. But the story came back to me a few times during later days nudging me to pay attention to it. Then one day, sitting at the kitchen table with my parents, I ask Mom if she remembers our discussion about her aunt. She nods, her eyes squint and she cocks her head slightly “Yes” she says tentatively “why”? “Well, you see, I sat down and wrote a piece after our talk, and I wondered if you would like to hear it”. Dad beats her to it “yes”, he says. She nods in agreement “Sure”. Shoot, I think did I really want her to hear this. I wonder how she will react and my brain scrambles back into my memory bank for a moment in an attempt to quickly recall what I might have written that could be awkward when read to parents. I can’t think of anything, it was pretty clean. I leave the kitchen to retrieve my iPad from my bag tht is sitting out on the chair in the hallway. I return powering it up.
I read the story to them. Through it, I hear their sighs and gasps and a small giggle here and there. At the end, a long pause. Silence. They are both looking off into space – facing each other but each one’s vision is focused on a different point, high up on the kitchen walls just beyond one another. “You should really submit that to True Confessions” says Dad. “Thanks, but I don’t think I am ready for that just yet, I just wanted to share it with you to show you what I am up to lately”. Mom is in deep thought. This is when she mentions that she has a picture of her- of her aunt.
So this kitchen exchange has been covered in previous posts- but what’s different now is that I pulled out that story again a couple of days ago. In my reread I see something different. I see possibility- a historical fiction piece with layers of various other themes. World War II, what led up to Norway’s occupation, what life was like during those years – for families and couples and lovers. The aftermath. The pulse of politics of the day in Norway. The various sides of the equation. An adult’s point of view as well as that of a child. I have a ready source right there under my roof. Mom’s memories of what life was like could be the start. My own childhood in Norway – visiting frequently with our cabin there and time spent in Oslo, this gives me a strong knowledge base for place and culture. My interest in history and politics will take me on an historic research adventure to a time and place that lends itself to intrigue, espionage, resistance movement, passion and fear.
Last night, I asked Mom: “What was it like really to be a child living during the war and the occupation in Norway?”. “Well, I was just a small child really. Unlike other places, Norway didn’t have any outward appearances of upset, we just quietly went about our business- we were quiet when we walked the streets. There weren’t any visible fights or conflicts between the german soldiers and the people of Norway. I remember the soldiers walking quietly down our streets with their german shepherds.” And I nod as this part of her story that I recall from many earlier tellings over the years. It’s not that she didn’t share, but now I am wondering about the detail of it all. I am looking for a deeper reach into her memory. And then it comes, something new. “I do remember that we used to get a box once in awhile. These boxes came from Sweden.. You know, they were neutral and at times, we would get these donations boxes from over there. I remember Dad opening up the box and how disappointed we were sometimes – because really, the contents were just people’s throw aways. You know, stuff they didn’t want any longer. That’s why when I donate now, I only put things in that I feel the person would enjoy, something they truly need- you know, for a job interview or something like that. I don’t put things in that are worn out or dirty or just ugly. I put things in that I would want to find if I opened up a bag or a box llike that- give people not just what they need but dignity too.” The box affected her – lasting her whole life.
Listening to her, I imagine a family and a young girl of around five years old, eager to open a box which would contain basic things that they might need because of shortages due to war. Maybe a clean fresh pair of tights and some shoes. Socks for everyone. Maybe a shirt for Dad. Sweaters, mittens, a hat and a scarf. Pants. Needing winter garments. And, even toys to keep the children occupied and content and mostly distracted, during the blackouts and air raids. A doll for a little girl that she could hold on to and craddle during those times of stress and fear. I hear Mom echo her recollections of years gone by: “I used to ask my father all the time: do you think there will be another war?” She was so afraid of another war.. and never really trusted that it was truly over. When the war ended, and Norway was once again free, Mom remembers the parades in the street – with music being played at full blast. She remembers the other parade as well- the one with the women who had been having affairs with the Nazi soldiers during the war. Any woman who had been involved with a Nazi was brought in, head shaved and she would have been paraded on a flat bed truck through the streets. The truck’s flat bed had been outfitted with a wall of wood as a backdrop and these women were now exposed for their war crime- for everyone to see. This was a stigma for these women that lasted for years to come. Some women fled to other countries, in the hopes of starting over.
So many impressions to explore. So, I use my Nina story from weeks gone by as a starting point and my mother’s memories and my history as a treasure trove of possibility. My travels to Norway, my understanding of language, religious perspective, political slant and relational backdrops to flavor and feed this novel. This NaNoWriMo 2015 is a challenge to finish a first draft. This opportunity is perfectly timed. So now, I work on the outline, the research and preparation of the basics for the official start date: November 1, 2015. My prep time is fairly short, but my background and my daily pages practice over the years (off and on I know- but nevertheless, I have been writing for most of my life- it’s just never been focused before). Now, I feel a focus and a wave of excitement that I have never experienced before… I am poised for lift off.