Ginger Curls

The unforgiving wind whipped her grey toned skin as she lay bare under the chill of a February sky.  Her body tangled up in layers of seaweed. Her ginger curls had lost their spring, long soaked by the waves lapping up from the shore.  It could still be quite a while before someone happened upon her in this isolated bay in the middle of winter.  Perhaps a hardcore fisherman who ignored the harshness of the season.  This abandonment had been well planned to give plenty of time for the elements to do their thing.  There would be little left of her by the time the authorities became involved.

Who is she? How did she end up lying on the shores of the majestic Oslofjorden, lodged between a few hefty boulders and covered in seaweed. Wrong place at the wrong time? What was her involvement with “The Group”? Was she followed and then eliminated by a master plan? Did she know too much? Was she inappropriately inquisitive with the wrong people?

Anita generally asked too many questions. She needed to know every detail. Her discernment meter could be a bit off when it came to certain people. She trusted too much. Martin had been leery of her ability to follow orders when it came to discretion. He questioned Otto’s judgment in bringing her into The Group in the first place. During her training, Martin would call out instances of weaknesses in her approach to various assignments to the higher ups, only to find his opinions batted away. They liked her. More importantly, Otto liked her. They all wanted to believe in her. Martin worried about her safety and the safety of his comrades. Would she end up being their worst vulnerability? Could her personality and innocence result in harm to the team, or worse yet- a disastrous end to a vital assignment? Otto was unconvinced that she had been a mistake. He kept repeating over and over again that she could be the Ace up their sleeve, the honey to draw the bees. With her supple body, brilliant red curls and sultry ruby red smile, she could be useful in uncovering hidden plots through the plying of her charms to the enemy. It was risky, but he felt she could be that sweetheart that softened a Nazi soldier into giving away secrets. It had perhaps been a naive proposal.

At any rate, she had not received enough training and they had not allowed enough time to fully ensure that she had the full understanding and scope of her difficult assignments; that she had the right appreciation for the necessary precautions that she must take. They had needed more time to hone her instinct. They had likely sent her out into enemy lines way too early. But time was not something for which they had a surplus. Each day and each month deepened the hold the Nazis had on Norway. Letting time pass was not something Martin or any of the leaders of the Group wanted to nurture without some progress in thwarting the Nazi master plan. So they pushed her out of the nest early, and hoped she could fly. And she flew like the best of them for a time. What they had not counted on was that her heart would get tangled up in a romance with one of the Nazis. They had not fully considered that she was a feeling young woman with hungers and hopes for a future that included full fledged romance and belonging. And, poor sweet Anita had trusted the wrong man. While her parents had no idea where Anita ended up, The Group had a strong suspicion that her disappearance had something to do with Helmut. She had not returned from that last assignment, and that assignment had everything to do with Helmut. He had been the key to advancing their project, to gaining better insight into the next steps.

Was this her fate,then? Lying in a pool of seawater, her eyes staring up at the heavens as if asking for help a bit too late. Her face was void of any meaningful expression, her soft green eyes offering only a blank stare up at the sky, as if to say: “look there, a fluffy cloud”. The innocence of her death would break anyone’s heart, even the coldest enemy couldn’t take this scene in without knowing that on both sides, people – human beings, were casualties of this war. Regular citizens trying to make a difference, becoming involved in the layers of intelligence that in a normal healthy world, would never have been necessary. These civilians would have led simple lives with regular jobs and marriages and children. But in these years of occupation, people stepped up. Ordinary people. And in some cases, these ordinary people did not have the skills or insights to properly navigate the traitorous waters of war.

As Anita lay in this agitated pool of seawater, one could not see any trace of a final fear or any strain in her soft face. There was no detection of tragedy to mark her final moments of life. It was as if her death had been a soft and simple comma in a long string of hopeful words. There was no exclamation point to be found here. This was a fade to black moment on an otherwise beautiful sun drenched horizon which invited the waters into a soothing embrace of her body, leaving behind dark green moist ribbons of seaweed to cover her up from peering eyes.

 

No one in her personal circle missed her because she had been absent for so long. It had been years since her parents and sister had seen her. Thinking back, her family might say she had been gone almost since the moment that those u-boats headed up the Oslofjorden in the Spring of 1939. But it wasn’t quite that long ago. It was actually just over a year into the conflict and occupation that Anita had found her way into a friendship with Otto, and it had made all the difference in her world. Her parents had never met Otto, but they knew of him. Anita had mentioned Otto to them early on in her friendship with him, but then just as suddenly, she stopped talking of him. Her parents did not know this, but her silence came along once she had been officially recruited into The Group. When her parents would ask about him, she would offer vague responses and then change the subject. In fact, on most topics, her usual bubbly and energetic responses were lacking. She had become more and more secretive. She had changed.

 

When she disappeared on that day in late August of 1940, they were not that surprised. They had a feeling she had gotten involved in something to do with the underground, but they were not sure of the exact details. They missed their sweet Anita. She was one of those people that commanded an audience. She always entered a room with a full voice and lifted people out of the doldrums. She was a mood booster. She enjoyed people and they enjoyed her. Her absence was definitely felt. The world was not the same without her. As with most people, Anita’s mother hated the war, but she despised it all the more because it had taken Anita from her.

Characters: Organic and Planned.

My efforts at novel writing during the recent NaNoWriMo contest this past November has provided the ground work or perhaps better stated, the initial soil, for a novel that has completely captured my senses. This jump start has provided a tremendous launch into a project that feels in some ways to be the project of my life. It is the corner on the street that, once I turned, I was brought face to face with a breakthrough in my life’s purpose. Strongly stated I know. Perhaps a bit dramatic. But it’s true. I absolutely love writing this novel, each day, in every way- love love love it!

I have stopped writing plot and have backed away from the 53,000 words I had accomplished during the contest. It is time to pause and to learn how to organize, structure, outline and develop the characters, plot, theme and purpose of this novel. I take a step back to ask vital questions and make sure I am on track. It seems a little out of sequence, but this time, because of how those 53,000 words poured out of me during those thirty days of writing, I find it important to step back and look at it with different eyes. It’s the only way. Next time, meaning with my next novel (crazy how I am even consider that prospect),  I will likely outline first. But to be honest, I didn’t even know what outlining was before I started this past NaNoWriMo contest. As such, I proceeded based on what flowed best from me at the time.

So, I am now starting with what are called: Character Sheets. These reside in my fairly newly purchased Scrivener program. Several authors have given me some tips with their own books on: how to write a novel. Before me, I have these 46 character questions that I am meant to answer for every character in my novel. For each and every character, I am called upon to answer specific questions. It starts with the basics: name, age, height, eye color, physical description. Then, there are some deeper questions that will help shape the character: favorite clothing, defining gestures, fondest memory, special skills, religion, favorite food, physical health, any phobias. There are questions relating to the character’s role in the novel, his or her purpose and goals. The list goes on: 46 questions.

 

I am amazed that this is a strategy employed by so many writers. I understand the benefit of this step. So far with my novel, my character introductions and developments have been an organic process. The characters have shown up on the page when they were needed. And now, I can see going back and filling in the gaps in terms of their individual backgrounds. But I am not sure how I would have known at the very beginning, before my novel was to the point where it is now, who these people would have been. I understand the concept of creating the main character first, and perhaps his or her major supporting role players. But there are many background characters that I simply would not have known about until the main character had encountered them.
For instance, in one scene, the main character in my novel has just moved to Oslo, Norway from her farm village situated south of the city. One night, after a full day of work at a family run bakery & grocery market, she stops in at the butcher shop on her way home. I wouldn’t have known about the young boy behind the counter that is helping an elderly lady and how he then turns to help Nina with her own order of pork and beef ground mixture planned for a meatball dinner that night. I would not have known about this little sprout until she opened the door to the butcher shop and walked in and found this adorable young boy working behind the counter. His stature is so slight that he can barely reach from behind the counter to provide the customers with their order. His thin wheat colored hair sticks straight up at the back of his head, perhaps from the dryness of the air and the electrical charges he is capturing in the room. He swims in his apron. His thin arms work hard as he digs into the meat mixture for Nina, using a very heavy metal scoop. Nina watches him work hard behind the glass case. He has wonderful manners and Nina wonders if he is the son or grandson of the butcher shop owner. All of this unfolds before my eyes as I brought Nina into the butcher shop. How would I have known about him before starting my story? And in my view, he is not a minor character, not really. Because I have this feeling in my gut that he and his family will play an instrumental part in a subplot surrounding the occupation of Norway and the ensuing underground movement. But even that is forming in my mind as I type this paragraph.

 

My way of writing forms as I go. I am on the adventure myself. The scenery changes as I pass through the scene with my characters, I layer in past impressions of places I have seen in these locals, images of people I have encountered, and actual moments I have experienced. Then, my imagination mixes it all together, and I create the tableau. It’s mesmerizing. Great fun. And I can only hope that one day, someone else will enjoy reading the adventure as much as I had enjoyment in writing it.

 

So the instructions I have to write out for the Character Questionnaire Sheets for every character in my book, before writing the novel itself, feels challenging to me. But, perhaps, I could complete this exercise for the major characters and since I have those 53000 words of the novel to work from, I have what I would consider to be some basic ingredients with which to craft the novel and it is exciting. All the while, I read anything I can get my hands on from as many expert writers as I can, to learn strategies on how to write a novel well.

 

In particular, I like ideas presented by Elizabeth George as well as K.M Weiland- and there are many others. It feels as if I have signed up for a Master Course on novel writing which I am taking on my own, without paying tuition, just diving into books written by great writers and applying principles to my daily efforts. It’s so much fun! While frustrating for moments, in the end I press on and progress happens.

 
One character question that launched me into a marvelous exploration yesterday, was the idea of favorite music. Suddenly, Nina is lying on her bed with the door open so she can hear her younger brother Gunnar practicing the piano downstairs. The music flows to the upper levels of the house. Nina loves to spend time listening to Gunnar because although he often practices scales, he also delves into the Romantic Era pieces which are Nina’s favorites. She relaxes completely on hearing Debussy’s: Girl With The Flaxen Hair. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s: Elegie in E flat minor, Op 23, No 1 – helps her to consider sadness mixed with moments of joy. There is despair in that piece as well as hope. When listening to music, Nina finds herself experiencing a movie in her mind. She imagines herself running free or riding Lilly, her fjord horse, along the fjord’s coastline. Schubert’s Trio No 2 in E Flat brings images of a horse show, with several horses in the ring – dancing in cadence with one another. With some pieces, she can actually feel the wind on her face and watch and listen to the birds soaring overhead. Music provides the backdrop for her day dreams.

 

And as I considered all this yesterday, it occurred to me that Gunnar, her little brother, has an amazing gift. He is not just talented but intimate and passionate about his music. He is gifted and a natural. He likes composing his own pieces and can spend hours playing. The rest of the family thoroughly enjoys his practice sessions and they look forward to them each day. And here, as I type, I suddenly sense that later in the book, after the war is over: is Gunnar still alive? Perhaps not- and does the silence from his absence and lack of playing become unbearable for his mother Mona.

 
These moments of character development are moments that simply happen. But, this moment happened by answering questions #29: Favorite bands, songs or type of music. I like these questions.

 
And it occurs to me that this cast of characters, this geographic area, the time period, the historic events, the nuances of plot and the main theme of war and romance and purpose, all of these things will likely bring me several years of writing pleasure. I hope that in the end, this novel will capture the hearts of others. But my goal is more natural than that- my goal is to get to know these people, the historic events of the Nazi occupation of Norway, and how these ordinary people get caught up in an extraordinary life.