My July 2017 Femnista Article

This month’s Femnista theme was The Wild West and I chose Laura Ingalls Wilder as my subject.

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Like many of you, I’m sure, I grew up watching the show “Little House on the Prairie.” It wasn’t until my teen years that I read Laura’s books and fell in love with the plucky, little pioneer girl.

So, I hope you enjoy my observations on Laura Ingalls Wilder, the books, and the Wild West.

Click here to read it!

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The Zookeeper’s Wife: Movie Review

(Beware: There are spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t watched the movie, or if you’re not familiar with the story, you might want to postpone reading this.)

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I recently watched “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which tells the story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski who ran the Warsaw Zoo in the 1930s and 1940s. The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939 and occupied Poland until 1945; during that time they killed millions, the majority of them Jews. Rather than look the other way, Antonina and her husband chose to use their zoo as a safe haven for those they smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto. With the exception of a mother and daughter, the Zabinski’s rescued hundreds of Jews who eventually survived the war. Antonina kept a diary, which became the basis for Diane Ackerman’s book, “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”

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I was ecstatic when I heard that the book was being into a movie. Excellently crafted, the acting was superb, the pacing and cinematography was great. Watching Antonina work with the animals, I was mesmerized and could sense her deep abiding love for them, which extended for all living creatures. I never lost interest in the stories told. For the most part, the movie remained true to the book and Antonina’s story. While not for general family viewing, due to a scene towards the end of the movie (where one character is threatened with rape), it is the perfect tool to introduce someone to the subject of the Holocaust. Especially if you’re not ready for something like “Schindler’s List.”

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There were historical inaccuracies though that I couldn’t ignore. In one scene, Jan Zabinski takes his young son with him to the ghetto to smuggle Jewish people out. I can’t imagine any parent doing that, bringing a child straight into the lion’s den. Later on, Jan scolds his son for following to him on a resistance mission. Those two scenes contradict one another. Staying on topic of the son; at one point the boy shouts “Hitler ist Kaputt” which wouldn’t have happened. While it was painted all over Warsaw, children knew better than to say such a thing aloud. They knew it would lead to death. Also, Lutz Heck (the Zabinski’s former friend and now Nazi enthusiast) gives the boy the Nazi salute…while it may have been an attempt to trick him into trusting him, Germans looked down on the Poles as subhuman. A Polish person could not use the Hitler salute.

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The Zabinski’s Jewish guests hide in the cellar and some of the children paint on the walls. That may have happened, but the Jewish guests would not have painted Stars of David on the walls. It would have been evidence of their existence. Antonina also would not have painted Star of David’s on the structures in post-war Poland, because antisemitism was still running rampant. My biggest issue has to be how Antonina used her “feminine wiles” to lead Lutz Heck on, as a means of protecting her Jewish guests. Yes, the Zabinski’s and Lutz Heck had been friends and Zabinski’s used their friendship to manipulate Lutz. Lutz probably had feelings for Antonina too, but they were never on the brink of an affair. Nor did Antonina go to Lutz and offer herself up for information, and it did not turn into an attempted rape. Lutz locking Antonina in one of the animal pens and leading her son off to be shot, did not happen. (Also, what happened to the baby? She disappeared not long after her birth and showed up again as a two-year-old.)

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Aside from those minor objections (I can be persnickety from time to time), it was a remarkable movie about remarkable people. Antonina is someone we can all aspire to be.

 

Have you seen “The Zookeeper’s Wife?” What are your thoughts?

Rejection

Rejection is a part of life. No matter where you go or what you do, at some point you will be rejected. It’s painful and it sucks, but it is something we learn and grow from.

Now as a writer, rejection is something that you become intimately familiar with. Trust me, I know this to be true. I started writing as a kid and when I joined a writer’s workshop, I was immediately forewarned that when you begin to submit your work, you will receive rejections. Not just a few, but you will have enough to paper a whole room. Boy, were they WRONG!!!! I’ve received enough rejections to paper a house. Maybe two houses even. Thankfully everything is digital now and I don’t have to print out my rejections.

Every literary great faced rejection. It took Jane Austen approximately sixteen years to get “Pride and Prejudice” published. Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to her teaching.” Charlotte Bronte couldn’t get “The Professor” published in her lifetime, despite that fact that she eventually wrote the best-selling “Jane Eyre.” Beatrix Potter had to self-publish “Peter Rabbit” because no one would touch it.

There are different kinds of rejections too. There is the form rejection, where they more or less say “it’s not you, it’s me.” There is the “this story has potential” rejection, which feels like a demoralizing pat on the head, but it can be useful (it’s a challenge to completely revamp your work). There is the “ritual hazing” rejection, where you do receive actual feedback from an editor or an agent. This kind of rejection, though probably truthful and for the best, will destroy little pieces of your soul. You’ll find yourself torn between huddling in the corner, sucking your thumb (reevaluating how you make life decisions), and throwing violent temper tantrums.

Then there are those rare, awe-inspiring rejections. The ones that confirm what you hope, that your project is worth something. That maybe, just maybe, if it falls into the right hands, your dream of publishing this piece will become a reality. These are the kind of rejections that have been known to cheer me up on a bad day. It’s not a yes, it’s not even a revise and resubmit, but this person has taken the time and effort and thinks you’re on the right track. They’re not the right editor/publisher/agent for this WIP, but they encourage you anyway.

I received one of these awe-inspiring rejections recently and it did my heart a little good. So, I’m going to keep trying and hope that you do too!

Faith in Fiction

As a Christian, writing about faith in my WIP’s and shorter pieces can be a challenge. There was a time in my life when I strictly wrote Christian fiction and wanted to be known as a Christian novelist. My main characters would be Christians or would end up as believers by the end of the novel. There would be a great, evangelical message and sinner’s prayers, numerous Bible verses, speeches, prophetic dreams, etc. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t meant to write for the Christian market. I couldn’t. No matter how “baptized” my WIP’s were, the quality of the story was poor and the characters weren’t realistic.

Life is not black and white, its full of shades of grey. I try to write respectfully about faith and God, but I also try to be realistic about it. I never want to take Christ or God the Father lightly. But it takes all types to make a world. Writing about one kind of person – or one group of people – again and again, fitting a story to certain generic formula strips a WIP of all its creative potential. God didn’t make us all the same; we are all made in His Image, yet we are all unique and special. Therefore we shouldn’t write our stories or our characters in the same repetitive way.

While some of my characters are professing Christians, others are atheists, agnostics, pagan – some are straight, others are gay, some are nice and others aren’t. I’ve written about Protestants, Catholics, Jewish people who find themselves at odds with God – some do make their peace with God, others don’t. I think there must be a way for a Christian to write for the mainstream markets, create stories of substance, touch on subjects that are usually off-limits to Christians, and still bring glory to God.

If there isn’t a way, then we’ll just have to make a way ourselves.

To Walk Invisible

I have watched the new Masterpiece Theater Drama “To Walk Invisible,” several, several times. It features the story of the Bronte family. For years the only Bronte that I liked was Anne Bronte (she is still my favorite), who wrote “Agnes Grey” and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” But I loved the idea of a movie depicting the lives of three literary sisters in Victorian England. I love movies about women writers.

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I loved it. It’s very gritty; don’t expect something pristine or wholesome. This is not Jane Austen or one of her comedy of manners. While the stars of the Bronte sisters rose, the star of Branwell Bronte – their ne’er do well brother – fell. He became addicted to alcohol and opiates; the movie shows how he spiraled out of control and how it affected the lives of his three sisters and his elderly father. “To Walk Invisible” more than implied that the Bronte sisters incorporated their wayward brother and his troubles into their works, “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” Branwell was extremely talented and he had such potential, which only made his early death much worse. In the end, he had nothing to show for it.

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And while the Bronte sisters achieved success, it was short-lived. Emily caught a chill at her brother’s funeral and died three months later. Anne was the third to succumb to consumption and died a few months later. Charlotte lived a few years longer, to publish further works and find a small measure of happiness before dying mere months after marrying her father’s curate. The father, Patrick Bronte, outlived them all and in his lifetime, he had buried his wife and six children.

Unlike “Becoming Jane” and “Miss Austen Regrets” (biopics on Jane Austen) there are no manufactured romances in “To Walk Invisible.” This is simply a story of three sisters who are determined to pursue happiness no matter what obstacles lie in their path. The world was against them: society frowned on women who earned a living; Christians condemned their books; they had to use male pseudonyms to be taken seriously, and then a rumor started that “Currer Bell” (Charlotte Bronte) was really the author of all of their novels. But they persevered.

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Since my first viewing of “To Walk Invisible,” I have read “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights” and reread “Agnes Grey” and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” and have become a Bronte addict. What are your thoughts on the Brontes? Which Bronte is your favorite? Which is your favorite book?

Fun Facts for “The Judgment of Solomon”

Below are a number of fun facts about my WIP, The Judgment of Solomon, that takes place in Poland during and after WWII.

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One of the main characters is named Lidia. She was named after the tour guide of the group I was in. This woman was extraordinary; she was a walking encyclopedia.

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Another character is named Ewa, she was named after Eva Mozes Kor. Eva Mozes Kor was a Mengele Twin, she survived the war and started the C.A.N.D.L.E.S. Museum. Eva is a remarkable woman, who has publicly forgiven the Nazis and encourages others to forgive, as a way of sowing seeds of peace.

 

The C.A.N.D.L.E.S. Museum hosts an annual tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow. I went on their 2015 tour. It had always been a dream of mine to go and I was doing research for my WIP.

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The WIP is tentatively called “The Judgment of Solomon.” It was inspired by the passage in the Bible: 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two women approach King Solomon, each claiming a certain boy as their own. King Solomon offers to cut the child into two that way they will each have him. The real mother backs off, hoping that the boy will be spared. This is a running theme in my story.

 

My WIP primarily takes place in Krakow. Although they are not featured in my story, historical people such as Oskar Schindler, Amon Goethe, Dr. Mengele, Cardinal Hlond, Hans Frank are mentioned.

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Some of the places shown in the story are St. Mary’s Basilica, Main Market Square, Podgorze Ghetto, Wawel Castle, Gestapo Headquarters, Kazimierz District, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

The story spans from 1941 to 1946.

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The first draft took nearly four months to write. And then when I revised it, I had to rewrite a lot of Part Three.