Thoughts on Authors, Reading,
Writing, and Other Things

Stephen King and Natalie Goldberg

For anyone who loves to write, is looking for inspiration, or simply enjoys books about writers, I have three recommendations for you!

Natalie Goldberg has written two great books about writing – Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. These books are not your typical “how to write” books. Goldberg completely exposes herself to teach people how to free their inner writer. The books are filled with personal stories that she ties back to her craft. She even offers many great tips and exercises. I loved the books so much when I read them years ago that I attended one of her workshops in Taos, NM.

A third book I recommend is called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. Everybody loves the Master of Horror, but this shows us a different side to King. In the first half of the book he talks about his background, his family, his battles with addiction. In the second half, aspiring writers find their inspiration.

For me, these three books are effective and fascinating because they go far beyond the typical manual-style, mundane “how to write” books. They are entertaining. They dive into the dynamics of the human soul. They touch our nerves. They inspire us. If you love to write, but do not know where to start, or if you are simply looking for a little extra inspiration, pick up one, two or all three of these books. You’ll be glad you did!

New Year Resolution: A New Focus for My Blog

Happy New Year! With a new format for my website (Thank you, Ed!!), I’m trying something different for 2015. I would like to focus attention on different authors, their thoughts and books. There is so much talent out there and I would like to highlight as much of it as possible. Some authors are well known. Others are not. If you love to read or write or both, this blog is for you. Whether you enjoy stories written by the king of horror, Stephen King, or the light and witty work of Janet Evanovich, or the deeply researched stories by James Michener, or maybe work from lesser known authors, or you just want to write your own novel, this blog has something for everyone. (Whew! That was a ridiculously long sentence!).

Until the next entry, may 2015 be a great year for all! Check back from time to time to see what’s new!

Peter Gabriel Singing at the Brandenburg Gate

I heard Peter Gabriel was supposed to be performing for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The gala will be taking place at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday, Nov 9. You can read more about it here.

The motto for the event will be “Standing up for Freedom!”

And When the Wall Came Down, They Failed to Celebrate!

In just over three weeks, people will be paying tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I am looking forward to seeing what they do in Berlin. I remember seeing footage of people dancing on the Wall back then. Years later, while speaking to a dancer/choreograph (and now director) who was born and raised in East Berlin, I asked her if she was perhaps one of those people celebrating on top of the Wall. Her response was rather anticlimactic.

Beate, my contact, explained that on that very evening, she was attending a reception after a performance. In the midst of the event, everyone heard the announcement that the borders were opening up. These announcements were being broadcast over loudspeakers from the West. It was one method the West used to send information to citizens behind the Wall. People at the party stopped what they were doing and walked over to the window to try to hear and see what was going on. Observing a buildup of tanks in the streets, they concluded that the news could not possibly be true. Beate told me that she remembers feeling irritated that the West would play such a prank by sending “false announcements” over the loudspeaker. They simply ignored it, shut the windows, and continued on with their event.

After the reception, Beate returned home and went to bed. It wasn’t until the following morning, after waking up, that she found out that the West had been telling the truth, and that she had missed the biggest party of all. :-)

A New Description

In New York City, 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, world-renowned prima ballerina Andrea Brandt is accused of murder. She admits to her attorney that the “devil got what he deserved”, but she says she has no recollection of what happened. As her attorney presses her for more information, Andrea begins to tell her story, taking him back in time to WWII, five years before her birth, in what would eventually become Soviet East Berlin.

The reader goes back in time to 1943 Berlin, when Andrea’s parents first meet in a club in which her mother, Ingrid, works as a dancer. As their relationship grows, so too do the hardships as they struggle to survive the allied air-raids, followed by the invasion of Soviet Forces, and the subsequent occupation.

Andrea is born in 1948 and knows nothing but her parents’ love. However, when she is only four years old, she witnesses a terrible tragedy, which dramatically changes the course of her life. She becomes withdrawn, refusing to talk, haunted by the recurring nightmares of her past, until she finally realizes that she cannot change anything.

As she grows up, Andrea becomes increasingly rebellious, but learns the hard way that some level of conformity is necessary to achieve her dreams. However, after having achieved success behind the Iron Curtain, she sets out to break away from the East, only to have her past catch up to her years later.

Two Days of Book Signing

Today the base exchange at Fort Leavenworth hosted a book signing for Berlin Dancer. A big hearty THANK YOU goes out to their manager, staff, and customers for top notch hospitality. The signing only lasted a couple of hours and, by the end, the store sold out of the book. I truly enjoyed meeting the customers and hearing their many stories!

East Germany: Who Could You Trust?

In the German Democratic Republic, it was difficult to know who you could trust. It was not uncommon for children to turn in their parents, teachers to turn in students, and friends to turn in one another.

In his book entitled Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, John O. Koehler writes, “To ensure that the people would become and remain submissive, East German communist leaders saturated their realm with more spies than had any other totalitarian government in recent history. The Soviet Union’s KGB employed about 480,000 full-time agents to oversee a nation of 280 million, which means there was one agent per 5,830 citizens. Using Wiesenthal’s figures for the Nazi Gestapo, there was one officer for 2,000 people. The ratio for the Stasi was one secret policeman per 166 East Germans. When the regular informers are added, these ratios become much higher: In the Stasi’s case, there would have been at least one spy watching every 66 citizens! When one adds in the estimated numbers of part-time snoops, the result is nothing short of monstrous: one informer per 6.5 citizens. It would not have been unreasonable to assume that at least one Stasi informer was present in any party of ten or twelve dinner guests.”

For this reason, the people of East Germany were extremely cautious in what they would divulge and to whom. You could never be too certain who might turn you in for an infraction as minor as having an antenna pointing toward the West so that you could pick up Western broadcast radio stations.

Vom Westen! (From the West!)

After the Berlin Wall came up in 1961, many family members found themselves cut off from one another. In the East, some of the things we Westerners take for granted, such as chewing gum and chocolate, were hard to come by. Once in awhile, a family member from the West would send a package to his or her relatives in the East.

In the German Democratic Republic, there was a constant state of paranoia. People could never be too sure about who they could trust. There were informants everywhere. Without knowing what was in the package, it was best to open in private, which is what main character Andrea does, before any of her friends arrive for her small birthday celebration.

The following short excerpt from the novel, Berlin Dancer, offers a glimpse into what it was like for a ten-year-old to receive one of these packages. Andrea is getting ready to celebrate her 10th birthday when her father brings the package to her.

Andrea’s eyes lit up. “Vom Westen!” she exclaimed. “This is the second time we’ve gotten a package from the West!” Medwin was Victoria’s little brother, who lived in Bavaria. While Andrea had never actually met him, she knew all about him from Victoria’s many anecdotes.

Andrea put her hands gently around the package and smelled it. “You can tell it came from the West by the way it looks and smells,” she said dreamily.

“Go ahead and open it before your friends arrive,” urged Hanna, who had walked up behind her.

Andrea carefully folded down the edges of the package and then reached inside. First, she pulled out several packages of chewing gum. “Kaugummi!” she cried out. “There’s enough here to share with the girls!” Also in the box she found chocolate, nail polish, a jar of peach preserves, a brush, several hair ties, and a doll dressed in a white tutu. “She’s beautiful!” Andrea gasped, hugging the doll.

Escape Tunnels

During a conversation with Beate Vollack, a dancer/choreographer (and now dance director… congratulations!) who was born and raised in East Berlin, I asked her about the different ways people tried to flee the East. Her response was, “If you can imagine it, somebody tried it.” People were quite creative. Some examples include hijacking a train, using a hot air balloon, jumping the wall, and using escape tunnels.

If you visit Berlin today, you can actually tour some of these escape tunnels.