Invasion and Occupation (Amélie #1, Sophia’s War short story series)

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Contains medium spoilers for Sophia’s War: Death Knell (#6). Links to find out more about my WWII series can be found below!

This is the first short story for the character Amélie Luther. Because of the current events in France, I felt compelled to write about her and her friends and family. I’ve always admired the French spirit and the bravery and sacrifices of ordinary French citizens during WWII. Their courage and contributions to winning the war should not be forgotten. Hope you enjoy!

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to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Paris, France

1940 May – June

“The Germans are coming.”

Mama was yanking open drawers, shoving shirts, knitted socks and satin underthings into suitcases. Moments ago, she’d been cooking in the kitchen, an apron over her pencil skirt. The sleeves of her blouse fluttered with each frantic movement, strands of her silky raven hair loosening from her formerly elegant bun.

Amélie watched from the doorway. They’d heard the advancing popping of gunfire, the whistles and thuds of shells bursting from miles away. She’d seen the tension around Papa’s eyes as he smoked his pipe in the evenings, the trembling of Mama’s hands as she knitted.

“But…the radio said our troops are repelling them.”

She said this more out of hopefulness than conviction. Mama only looked at her, unlocking yet another suitcase. “Where is Henri?”

Remy was purring, rubbing his sleek, smoky fur against Amélie’s calves. Amélie picked him up. “Down the street. He’s playing marbles with the twins.”

“Go get him. Then put on your best shoes and traveling clothes. We’re leaving today.”

“Where are we going? What about Papa?”

“He will follow. We’ll meet him in Tours.” Mama became stern. “Now go. Fetch your brother.”

Shaking, Amélie released Remy, leaving Mama to pack. Out on the sidewalk, her apprehension worsened. The unusual sight of cars loaded down with luggage and other valuables sped past. People were dragging children by the hand, gripping suitcases in the other.

It was really happening; Paris was being overrun.

Heart pounding, she broke into a jog, the urgency of leaving the city fueling her steps. It wasn’t until she reached the corner that someone jumped out from the doorway of the butcher’s shop in front of her.

Amélie gasped, going rigid as she tried not to scream. With dark, amber eyes, Rafael Chevalier stood before her with outstretched arms. “I knew it was only a matter of time before you came running.”

Catching her breath, Amélie soured, shoving him in the chest. “Idiot.”

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Rafael asked, stalking after her.

“To get Henri. We’re leaving the city.” She glanced back at him. “You should be, too.”

“And go where, ma chérie? It’s too late now. For all of us. There is no escape. I will become a jester, and you, some German’s plaything.”

She halted in her tracks, glaring at him. “Never.”

Rafael whistled. “Say it like that and I’ll make you mine. Feisty.”

“And you, Rafael, never taking anything seriously. You are nineteen years old; you should be out there fighting.”

Rafael chuckled. “Still going on about that, are you? Our army is no match for the Germans. It grieves me that you would have me die in vain.”

“I would not have you die, I would have you fight!” she hissed, facing him. “If I was a man, it’s what I would have done. This is our country; this is our home. I wouldn’t have run from them.”

“Like you’re doing now?”

This rendered her speechless. Innocent Henri was in sight, playing with the Leverett twins in the park. Gunfire stitched from somewhere outside the city, echoing through the walls of the buildings. She just wanted to be safe; she wanted Henri safe, but Rafael was right. It was too late for that.

“I’m just a woman, Rafael,” Amélie said.

Rafael was no longer smiling. He backed away. “And I am just one man.”

She watched him turn the corner before remembering her brother. Henri told the Leverett twins he’d see them tomorrow, and Amélie didn’t correct him, accompanying him back home.

It surprised her to find Papa had returned. She’d heard his and Mama’s elevated voices from the hallway. They were arguing in French—the language they had in common—and Mama was crying as Amélie and Henri walked in.

“Twenty-one years, Konrad! Twenty-one years, we have been married!”

“I know this. I have been here.”

“Don’t be clever with me. Not now. Why would you do this?” Mama asked, tears streaming her face. Amélie laid a protective arm over Henri’s shoulders as Mama grabbed a porcelain pitcher, throwing it to the ground. It shattered at her feet. “Why would you do this to me?”

“What’s going on?” Amélie asked.

Papa, with his ash blond hair and perpetually wooden countenance, was unflustered as always, standing across from Mama. Mama had her hand on her chest, gasping for air.

“Ask your father!” Mama shouted, pointing at Papa. “Ask him!”

Where Henri had the dark hair and olive skin of their mother’s Italian heritage, Amélie favored Papa’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed German ancestry. Both Amélie and Henri, however, had inherited their father’s calm demeanor, neither of them ever as excitable as Mama.

Papa looked at Amélie. “I am not leaving to Tours. I am staying here, in Paris.”

Amélie swallowed. The porcelain crunched beneath Mama’s knees as she fell, sobbing.

“Then…” Amélie cleared her throat. “I’m staying here with you.”

Her parents were horrified.

“Are you insane?” Mama shrieked, pulling at her hair. “You can’t stay here! The Germans are right outside the city, mon coeur! Konrad, do something!”

Besides the wrinkles around his eyes, Papa remained even-tempered. “It is not a good idea. You are a beautiful, young girl, Amélie. You have reading the letters your uncle Erik is sending. The Nazis are brutish.”

Her sight became blurry, and her voice trembled, but she wouldn’t budge. “Everyone is running. Everyone is hiding. Whether countryside or coast, the Germans will take it, too. This is my home. I will not run.”

Papa didn’t argue, revealing his opinion only in the downturn of his lips. Mama was a mess, rocking where she sat. “Konrad—”

“She is nineteen,” Papa interrupted Mama. “She’s an adult. And besides, she is right.” He lowered onto the settee. “They will swarm France. In the end, nowhere is safe.”

Papa stared at the ground. Mama was sniveling. Already, Amélie was imagining what horrible things the Germans might do when they found her.

Henri looked between the three of them. “I want to stay and fight the Germans, too.”

“No,” Papa, Amélie and Mama said in unison, though Mama shouted it.

“If I am to go, it will be to save at least one of you!” Mama wept, pushing herself up from the floor. She grabbed Henri by the shoulders, pushing him through the living room. “Come now, Henri. We must get dressed.”

Henri scoffed, digging his heels into the floor. “Papa—”

“Do as your mother says,” Papa said.

They could hear Henri’s protests through the walls, Mama’s overwrought voice overpowering his. Amélie went to the kitchen, coming back with a broom. She swept up the broken pitcher as Papa watched.

“Why are you staying, Papa?” Amélie asked.

He worked for the local newspaper. There wasn’t going to be anyone here to read it.

“I am already being through one war,” Papa answered. “Perhaps I am too wearied to pretend we can avoiding another. The Germans will come. We cannot stopping it. Their blood may flow in my veins, but I am French in spirit. Someone should being here to keep the heart of France beating.”

Sitting beside him, Amélie took his hand. “Then mine will beat alongside yours.”

He concealed her hand with the two of his. She pretended not to see the way he blinked tears from his eyes.

Mama had arranged for the Babineaux family to drive them as far as Orléans. Papa and Amélie went down to help Mama and Henri tie their things to the roof of the car.

Madame Babineaux huffed. “I wish you would have told me your husband and daughter weren’t coming, Lucrezia. We could have packed more things in the car.”

Papa shut the door, leaning in the window. “They are just things, Madame.”

He kissed Mama’s lips and Henri’s head. Then Amélie stood beside him as they watched the Babineauxs’ car pull away. Weeping, Mama had her head out the window; the back of the car was too full to see out of. Handkerchief flapping in the wind, she waved goodbye as the engine faded away.

The streets were still and silent. Artillery fire tapped in the distance, punctuated by the occasional explosion of bombs.

“And now, my girl,” Papa said, turning back to the apartment. “We wait.”

Days passed. Every night, she practiced German with Papa. She was as loyal to her native tongue as she was to her country, but having an understanding of their inevitable conquerers’ language would be an advantage.

Papa went to work, though he was the only one there. Still, they weren’t the only ones who had stayed behind. Salina, the hairdresser, still opened up her salon everyday, though no one came. Guillaume Legrand, the concierge at the hotel a few blocks down, walked up the street every morning and back down in the evenings.

Amélie set to work in an attempt to preserve her virtue. She pried up a plank under her bed, hiding her dresses, her mother’s make-up, and everything else that indicated a woman lived in the apartment. She let out the seams of Henri’s pants, drawing in the seams of a pair of Papa’s, until they fit her own narrow waist. She even bound her breasts. Having found an old newsboy cap on the street, she put it on, tucking her hair underneath it. Maybe the Germans were killing every able-bodied man they crossed as they entered France, but she would die like a man before she’d let them take her as a woman.

“What do you think?” she’d asked Papa, rotating on the spot.

Papa grinned. “Your Mama would have a spell. Nothing at all how a respectable young woman should be looking.”

Food had become scarce. The butcher’s shop and the bakery were closed. The grocer’s shelves had been emptied the same day Mama and Henri had left. For a week, Amélie and Papa stayed fed on a jar of jam and boxes of crackers that Papa rationed between them, along with what was left of the coffee. Once, though, Amélie had come home to find Papa setting a loaf of stale bread and a block of cheese on the table.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“Madame Rousseau. Downstairs.”

Amélie narrowed her eyes. “Madame Rousseau isn’t here.”

“That is right,” Papa said, a mischievous gleam in his eye. “So she will not be needing it.”

Day after day, Parisians trickled back into the city. Cars had broken down. Their money or belongings had been stolen. They’d been turned away at the full to bursting train stations. It was a relief when even the butcher returned, though there was no meat to be found.

And then, one morning, Amélie awoke to the marching of boots.

She pulled on her usual costume, tucking her hair haphazardly under the newsboy cap. Rushing out into the hall, she found Papa in the living room, peering out the window. Though it disturbed her that he would allow himself to be so visible, neither of them spoke as she sidled up to him.

Motorcycles roared. Horses whinnied. Tanks rumbled. All of this, with the rhythmic thumping of boots, filled their motionless town. Cannons rolled in on giant wooden platforms, soldiers in greenish-gray uniforms roosted on top, taking in the beautiful city they had seized. This was Paris; this couldn’t be happening.

Amélie was sniffling, whimpering, holding back tears. Papa put his arm around her.

“Come,” Papa said.

He stepped out onto the sidewalk first, and Amélie followed. There were people watching from the sidewalks; men, women and children alike. One elderly woman did little to disguise her perceptible hate.

“Boche,” she murmured, spitting on the ground.

One man was snuffling, wiping at his cheeks with a handkerchief. One little girl had paused in a game of hopscotch to watch the parade of soldiers before continuing to play. Down the street, a red flag with a swastika unfurled over the balcony of the municipal building.

Something furry brushed by Amélie’s legs and she gasped as the cat darted out into the street. “Remy!”

On impulse, Amélie ran after him, even as her father called out for her. It startled one of the horses as she burst onto the street, the soldier on its back trying to regain control. Amélie clung to Remy, expecting the soldier to pull out his gun in a show of force, but he spurred the horse, trotting around her. Too stupefied to move, her father gripped her arm, pulling her out of the way of a gray armored tank at the last second.

Papa was cursing in undertones, praying in the same breath, though he held her to his chest. Remy struggled between them and Amélie let him go, leaving him to his own fate.

Their daily routines didn’t change with the German occupiers. If anything, life resumed. Though Amélie continued to resist the vulnerability of dresses and skirts, she no longer refrained from looking like a woman in public. Women shopped, fearing little more than enduring gazes from the young Germans in their uniforms. The Germans even brought money, giving the shops business again.

Papa wasn’t the only one working for the newspaper anymore; he was even made head editor, since the former had abandoned his post in the mass exodus from Paris. The baker and the grocer came back. To Papa’s dismay, Mama and Henri came back, too.

“The rails were destroyed,” Mama recounted solemnly. “The Germans told us to return to where we’d come from.”

“At least we will be together,” Papa said, hugging them all.

From the outside, if Amélie looked past the German uniforms, it appeared Paris was the same as it had been before. But there were changes seeping in beneath the surface, transforming the very fabric of the life Amélie had always known. A nightly curfew was enforced. The lights had to be out by a certain time, the windows blocked with heavy blackout curtains. Germans got priority over Parisians.

And every Jew in the city had to document themselves. Those who failed to do so were arrested.

Whether with a woman they passed on the street, or while conducting business with a shopkeeper, the Germans were polite and amiable. It was easy to forget that they were unwelcome occupiers, in those moments. Running an errand for Papa at the photography shop, Amélie had waited in line, witnessing the attractive female clerk be taken in by one of the young soldiers, who was leaning on the counter. “You be good to me, I be good to you. We help each other, see?”

That seemed to be their mentality in general. They behaved like gentleman, as long as their wills and wants weren’t challenged.

The baker had been caught selling bread at twice the price to Germans. In the middle of the day, a surly captain barged in, flanked by soldiers. Customers fled as they proceeded to destroy his bread, dumping bag after bag of flour on the floor. To teach the baker a lesson, the captain had forced him onto the ground, commanding him to lick it up.

Rumors spoke of coercion; of noble French girls resisting German advances, only to be blackmailed by threats against their families. One girl claimed she had been raped—which the senior officers took seriously—but after an investigation, it was determined the girl sought revenge after discovering she wasn’t the soldier’s only lover. No one knew what was true and what wasn’t anymore. Either way, it was undesirable to be caught in the sights of an amorous Boche.

Amélie had done well avoiding this, until one day when coming out of the market.

The first time she’d seen him, he’d been leaning against the wall outside, smoking. She could tell from the brazen way he watched her that he was familiar with her. It chilled her, and she wondered how long he’d been aware of her without her noticing. Pretending she hadn’t seen him, she walked away.

Bonjour,” he’d said, catching up to her. He’d attempted to charm her with a broad smile.  He spoke in slow French. “Uh…my name is Reinhart. What is yours?”

Her grip clenched on the wicker basket she held. “Amélie.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. May I help you to carry that?”

His smile twitched as she yanked the basket away from him. “No. Thank you.”

He’d pestered her all the way to the doorstep of the apartment building she shared with her family. He might have followed her upstairs if it weren’t for Papa having been there waiting for her.

“We saw you coming up the street with him,” Papa murmured next to Mama once they were in the seclusion of the apartment.

Amélie set the basket on the table. “He wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Her parents stared at her as she took out the food; it was the first time she thought Papa had looked afraid.

“Amélie—”

“Papa, don’t worry,” she said. “I can handle it.”

But she wasn’t sure she could. Suddenly, Reinhart was everywhere she went, waiting outside for her while she shopped, loitering outside her apartment building, sitting at her table whenever she stopped at a restaurant. It was a demanding balancing act, making her indifference to him apparent without offending him outright. She knew it wouldn’t be long, however, before he grew frustrated, either forcing her, threatening her, or having her arrested on false charges.

Papa had been at work, Henri at school, and Mama was tidying the apartment. Amélie watched from the window as Reinhart paced the sidewalk all morning, counting down the minutes to noon; he’d told her yesterday he had training exercises. She watched him check his watch before trudging down the street in defeat. The moment he was out of sight, she tucked her hair under her cap and bolted outside.

Though she didn’t run—lest it elicit unwanted attention—she walked at a brisk pace to the hotel on the corner. Guillaume was working at the counter. “Mam’selle—”

“Where is he?”

Guillaume blinked, pointing toward the ceiling. “His usual. But Mam’selle!” he cried as she started up the stairs. “He has company!”

Amélie ignored him, finding the room at the end of the hall. She barged in without even knocking.

The woman in the bed screamed, yanking the sheet up to cover her body. Rafael lay beside her, stirring from the commotion, though upon seeing Amélie he closed his eyes, settling into his pillow.

Amélie looked at the girl. “Get out.”

“Who are you?”

Amélie glowered on her. “Your worst nightmare if you do not get out right now!”

The woman fumbled, looking at Rafael as she buttoned her dress under the sheet. “Tell me she is not your wife.”

“She wishes.”

Amélie stepped out of the way as the woman rushed out. Amélie slammed the door behind her, locking it.

Rafael still didn’t open his eyes. “Jump in, ma chérie. The water’s fine.”

She sat in the wooden chair across the room, her face in her hands. “I’m in trouble, Rafael.”

He became alert at the sound of her distress, sitting up. “What’s wrong?”

She sighed, slumping in the chair. “A soldier. He follows me everywhere. He waits for me, even outside my apartment.”

“Has he tried anything?”

“No,” she answered, detecting a sinister tone in his voice. “Not yet, anyway.”

They sat in silence. Amélie shook her head. “I thought everything was the same, but it’s not. They allow us the appearance of independence and normalcy to keep us controlled. They’re planting their roots here in our soil and we’re just letting them. Why did we let them in, Rafael? Why is no one doing anything?”

She wiped at her cheek. “Papa said a lieutenant has been posted to supervise the newspaper, reading over his shoulder every time he reviews the daily stories. Papa began working there to inform the people. Now it’s all propaganda; lies, exaggerations.”

Rafael was pulling on his pants. “Not all of it.”

Amélie stared at him. “What do you mean?”

Rafael didn’t reply, further disheveling his untidy black hair as he put on his shirt. “What’s his name? The German who’s been following you.”

“Reinhart Pfennig. He’s a corporal.”

Straightening his jacket, Rafael withdrew a cigarette from his pocket, lighting it. Amélie closed her eyes, bowing her head. “I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid…I’m afraid he’s not going to give me a choice soon.”

Rafael tossed his lighter on the nightstand. “Not while I’m here, he’s not.”

Cigarette dangling from his lips, he yanked the cap off her head. “I can’t believe no one’s told you yet how ridiculous you look in that hat.”

Settling it on his own head, he slammed the door shut behind him.

—————-

Like what you read? Meet more of the characters from my Sophia’s War series here!

Check out the novels in my Sophia’s War series here!

Less Is Always More.

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Don’t tell anyone. Please. This is a tremendous secret that, as an author, I could be judged harshly for:

I love editing. I love having word limits. I love going through and finding things to cut. To me, it’s like taking an ugly, clumpy blob of clay and cutting and shaping it until it’s something beautiful you can set on a book shelf with pride.

But I didn’t always feel this way. I’m naturally a very detailed person when it comes to verbal or written storytelling. When I first began writing the manuscript for my Sophia’s War series as a newbie writer when I was 19 years old, it was 303,300 words and the sequel was 245,034 words. I remember thinking, “If anyone ever tells me I need to cut my word count, I don’t know what I could possibly cut! Everything I’ve written is absolutely necessary!” That’s a very immature, inexperienced outlook to have.

However, if this is the stance you currently have on your own work, take heart! Give it time! With more writing under your belt (and more reading. Don’t forget the reading!), you’ll come back to that manuscript in a few months or years and you’ll be astounded with how merciless you become. You’ll hack through those excessive words and superfluous details with glee to find the well-groomed story underneath.

I’ve begun taking the approach that if I even think I should cut it, I cut it. (If I’m on the fence about it for any reason, though, I have a document titled “Spares” that I paste these lines or dialogue onto just in case it fits better somewhere else later). Something that helps me is, I read the sentence or dialogue with and without the line or words in question. 99% of the time, it sounds more concise and less contrived without it.

Another thing we have to keep in mind (and something I struggled with for years) is to trust your readers. They aren’t stupid. You don’t have to point out why something is funny or why a character makes certain decisions. That was one of the most liberating things for me to discover as a writer. I felt it improved my writing by a tenfold. There is a way of doing this without making it feel as if you are rushing through or skipping necessary transitions.

So don’t balk at word limits or being unsparing during the editing process. These restrictions can be your best friend, if you let them. To me, these limitations make your editing process more liberating than encumbering.

%22I'm writing a first draft and reminding

What is your opinion on word limits? On cutting sentences or whole paragraphs from your works?

In The Defense of Naive Characters

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Like most people, I always read the good and bad reviews on a book I’m curious about reading, or even books I already love (just because I like to see how other people perceived it), and I’m often taken aback by how hostile some readers are toward naive characters.

Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than a character who just doesn’t learn; a character who, after plenty of opportunities, just doesn’t get it. But why is the general state of innocence so repellent to some?

That’s a conundrum with naive characters because they don’t yet have the capability to make insightful decisions⎯⎯otherwise and they wouldn’t be called ‘naive.’ Their perspective is often fallacious because of their lack of understanding and lack of empathy for the world around them. So how do you, as a writer, redeem these types of characters?

I read an article on K.M. Weiland’s page (if you’re a writer and aren’t already following her blog, do yourself a favor and DO!) that said the number one way to write an unlikeable character is to continually make them oblivious to their own personality, or their circumstances, or other characters, or their environment; they persist in making the same gullible decisions with the same immature thought processes. You can construct a totally rude, jerky, selfish character, but as long as they are aware of who and what they are, the reader is more likely to be sympathetic to them than a character who is good but ignorant.

The way to save your naive character from being reviled is to showcase their ability to change. I personally LOVE when a character starts off ingenuous and over the course of the story, we see their thought processes and reactions to certain events evolve. They may face a considerably traumatic event that alters their perspective, or they may experience a close call that awakens them to all the what-ifs and could-have-beens, catapulting them into a state of self-examination.

Both innocence and experience possess their own kinds of beauty, though. I personally love naive characters, but only if I see them develop and learn over the course of their stories; I value that, I relate to that, I love that. I also love characters that begin damaged and scarred, because we get to watch them discover their own strength and that past mistakes or past shames don’t have to define them; I value that, I relate to that, I love that.

We all come from different points of view as readers, and none of them are necessarily wrong. I just want to plead a case for naive characters. I think a lot of readers dismiss them out of frustration (which is understandable), but sometimes, it’s not about the character; it’s about the way they grow.

So writers, beware: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a naive protagonist. But if you keep your character and their innocence on a pedestal, preventing them from developing over the course of your book, you are inviting readers to remember them for the wrong reason⎯⎯because of how much they hate them.

 

Who is your favorite naive character?

 

Who is your least favorite?

The Art of “Show, Don’t Tell.”

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The whole idea of “Show, don’t tell” was one of the most intimidating concepts for me when I started writing my first novel nine years ago. Now, it excites me; I see it as a challenge. It’s too easy to just say “Mary was angry,” and much less interesting.

What do you envision when you read that? “Mary was angry.”

The throbbing temple?

The clenched fists?

The red face?

Why not just say that instead? It’s those little details that are going to jump out at the reader and paint a picture for them. That’s what makes readers feel like they are in the character’s head, seeing and experiencing emotions and events firsthand.

Show, don't tell!

Show, don’t tell!

And that’s the goal. You want your book to be written in such a way that the reader forgets they are even reading. You want it to play like a movie in their head. The way to do this is with vivid, seamless description.

I am about to break a cardinal rule by using an example from a film rather than a book, but that’s only because this was the first time the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique began to click in my head. It happened while watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Aside from fact that it was not proper etiquette for the time period for a woman’s bare hand to touch a man’s bare hand in such a manner (which I didn’t know until researching glove etiquette for this article), there was something so significant to me about this scene. Watch it here:

From the moment I saw this movie for the first time, I loved this scene, but I wasn’t sure why. Now, as an author, I do. It’s because no one ever says out loud what Darcy and Elizabeth feel for each other. Darcy and Elizabeth don’t even say what they are feeling; we see what they are feeling, the way Elizabeth’s lips part and she stares in surprise upon feeling the bare touch of his hand on hers. She doesn’t yank it away, showing us that she’s not embarrassed or scandalized by it. Even more revealing is the way Darcy turns around, as if he’s not even sparing their physical contact a second thought. In contradiction, though, we see the way he stretches his hand at his side as if in discomfort, conveying to the viewer that he’s feeling an ache he isn’t comfortable experiencing.

There are little tidbits like this throughout the film before they declare their feelings to each other, but this one was always the most striking to me. These little “showing and not telling” moments are stepping stones in a novel or film, a buildup that allows the climax to really pack a punch. This is why Darcy’s proposal to someone he purportedly views with condescension (Elizabeth) doesn’t come out of left field for the viewer. If we weren’t given these little signals beforehand–if the tension wasn’t being built under the surface–the big reveal wouldn’t have such a potent, memorable effect later. If we weren’t already primed for the possibility that Darcy and Elizabeth were falling in love, we would feel nothing when he finally proposes to her. It would just seem implausible.

However, there is a very fine line we authors must walk. Yes, we must drop hints, but we have to be careful not to come right out and say it. It’s okay for the readers or viewers to assume or hope, but we don’t want them to know for certain until we are ready for the big reveal to actually occur. Showing–and not telling–is definitely an art that must be perfected over time.

So it’s okay if you feel you haven’t mastered the skill yet, or if you feel you don’t even understand how to do it properly yet. Just keep trying, and most importantly, keep writing. What I’ve discovered–for myself at least–is that I improve a little and grasp the concept a little better with each sentence, each novel I write.

So don’t give up! We’re in this together! You’re doing great!

sunset skies

For more great articles on the art of “Show, Don’t Tell”, check these out!:

Helping Writers to Become Authors: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell

The Write Practice: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell

Five Incredibly Simple Ways to Help Writers Show and Not Tell

Music Is My Muse

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I think I already wrote another blog post similar to this, but at the request of a friend, I felt compelled to write about it again.

If I drew a pie chart of where I draw inspiration from for my writing, at least 50% of that chart would be “Music”. On one of the many “writers” pages I follow on Facebook, one asked, “What is a must-have for you when you’re writing?” You’d think most of us would have responded with:

A pen!

Paper!

My computer!

My journal!

Instead, most responded with “A quiet place by a bay window overlooking a meadow as the sun rises and birds sing in the distance” or “Coffee!” I answered with, “My iPod.” Seriously. I don’t go anywhere without it. Music is with me wherever I go—in a car ride to visit family two hours away, or making a trip to the gas station 2 minutes away. Something to play music on is as necessary to me while showering as soap is. If there is ever a quiet moment, I’m either putting my headphones in or blasting it while I do mom-stuff around the house.

girl with headphones

I mean, haven’t you ever just listened to a song and thought, “Man, this is EPIC!”? It may be a song that is totally unrelatable to you, but there’s just something about it that makes you keep it on repeat. It makes you feel something, even if you don’t know exactly what that “something” is. For me, the moment this occurs, I start asking myself, “Why is this epic? Who is this about? Why do they feel this way?” Snippets of what look like scenes from a movie never made flash through my mind, and suddenly I can see and feel all the things that this unknown character does, all because of a song. And then, I  WRITE about it, because I want to share what I just experienced with other people.

Writing to me is more than just putting characters and their stories on paper (…or my computer screen, I suppose, would be more accurate). Music isn’t just about filling the silence; it’s an experience. The lyrics, the tone of the music, the passion in the singer’s voice or in the instruments sets scenes up in my head. I listened to Joshua Bell play the violin for “o mio babbino caro” and it set up not just a scene in my novel, A Captive Heart, but that song created a connection between my two main characters that endures throughout the entire series. While listening to Sia’s “My Love” when I was in the middle of writing the sequel to A Captive Heart, all of a sudden, I began to see the heroine of my novel in a room full of mirrors where she…well, I won’t ruin it for anyone since that book hasn’t even been released yet, but I knew it was a scene that had to be worked into my book. It ended up becoming one of my favorite moments in the series.

Sometimes, it’s not even a scene that music inspires for me. “Beautiful, Beautiful” by Francesca Battistelli helped me understand and better develop my character, Sophia, in my series, Sophia’s War. Just the same, “Let Me Go” by 3 Doors Down helped me develop Adrian in the same series. (I could go on and on giving examples of where songs have assisted me in character development, but I fear it might give away some facets of my characters I’m not willing to reveal outside the series…I like to surprise you guys, you know!)

And other times, songs blanket an entire book or series with its overall essence. For instance, I can’t listen to “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns or “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons without seeing the entire Sophia’s War series play out in my head as if I were watching a music video. Same thing for “Love Story” by Taylor Swift—all I see when I hear that song is Cassie and Friedrich’s lives from A Captive Heart playing out in my mind.

I may not be on my computer or jotting down notes on a note pad every second of every day, but I, like most writers, am always writing, especially when I have a playlist going. Also, when a song has enraptured me (one can usually tell this after I’ve had it on repeat for the past five hours), it’s dangerous to interrupt my thought process. I am prone to get angry like a gorilla being taunted by some kid making faces on the other side of the observation glass…amiright?

I think it’s pretty awesome that artists can inspire one another, despite the different way we choose to express ourselves. For instance, go on YouTube and you will find many unknown artists who have written songs inspired by a character or book. Ask any writer what songs influence their writing, and if they are like me, they will most likely begin to gush about what song reminds them of a character or story they wrote. [*WARNING: I will not be held responsible if you approach an author with this question and ultimately find yourself unable to get another word in edgewise.*]

What about you? Whether you are a musician, a writer, a painter, etc., do you find inspiration in music? If not, what do you find inspiration in? I’d be delighted to know! Sound off below! I always respond 🙂

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Why I Wrote the Sophia’s War Series and Why You Should Read It

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As some of you already know (that is, if you read my article on Harry Potter), I’m a huge J.K. Rowling fan. I consider her one of my greatest inspirations as a writer. I have always been a reader, but the Harry Potter series gave me an experience I’d never really had before. It was my first time reading a book(s) where I didn’t feel like I was a mere observer to someone’s life through a one-way mirror; I felt as if I was there in Harry’s world, being faced with the same challenges and emotions as Harry. I felt like the characters jumped off the pages and into my life in such a way that they were my friends—characters with redemptive qualities and flaws that I treasured. I loved them. I still do.

Another huge inspiration to me is Jane Austen. I love not only the romance of Austen’s novels, but being swept into such a curious time period that was early 18th century England (actually, I love any time period in England). Austen’s heroines are independent and generally selfless and good-natured, while her heroes are handsome (so handsome) and complex. I would gush to myself while reading, eager for when the stubborn heroine would come to her senses and for the hero to come rushing in at the most perfect, exquisitely romantic moment possible. Austen’s twists and turns—the way she makes her heroines as well as her readers think one thing only to discover another—was one of my favorite things about her novels. It’s my favorite thing about any novel, really. When I’m reading, I love being surprised. I love being wrong.

Magic book with bright light coming from its open pages

I didn’t plan on being a writer. From the time I was 4 until I was probably 20, I wanted to be a singer. I’ve sung in too many competitions, events, talent shows and auditions to count. I even made a couple of albums (covers for friends and family) and I’m a songwriter. When I was inspired to write a novel, it never occurred to me that it would evolve into a passion that would consume my life.

It began while I was in college. Since elementary school, World War II has always been an intriguing era to me, though not nearly to the degree it is now. At 19, I got a hankering for a particular kind of romance set during WWII. I can’t even describe to you, really, what it was I was searching for; I just knew I’d know when I found it. I looked in local and chain bookstores. I looked online. I couldn’t find the book I was looking for anywhere, so I thought, “Hey! I know! I’ll write it! If I can’t find it, that means other people can’t find it either! It obviously needs to be written.”

It started out lighthearted enough. I’d never written more than poetry and songs (and a couple of short stories in elementary school). I began researching World War II in depth and contemplating what I wanted my novel to be about—what lessons I wanted to leave with anyone who read it. (Fun Fact: The first storyline I intended on pursuing for Sophia’s War is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what it was to become…probably going to use that original idea in a future novel, though…) I watched and read every single thing I came across that had to do with World War II. If there was paper nearby, I was jotting down ideas and quotes. If I was walking around outside, I was watching scenes play out in my head. The concept for Sophia’s War slowly began to come to fruition in my mind. Daily, I was getting visions of new scenes that propelled the story forward and experiencing all the emotions I wanted to evoke for my readers. Initially, I drew most, if not all, of my inspiration from Rowling and Austen. I wanted to write a novel that made readers feel as if they were standing right next to Sophia, experiencing it all with her. Romance was a must, though it ended up not being the focus, and I wanted to play tricks on people—make them think one thing before turning their worlds upside down with something totally unexpected…

The more I learned about the war, though, and the more I immersed myself in German history, my writing style and writing philosophies began to mature and expand. Though what I gleaned from Rowling and Austen is still a priority to me, I discovered I have a passion to write about “real” characters. I mean “real” as in genuine, not necessarily “alive” (though they are all very much alive to me!) I couldn’t take the light from Austen’s novels and use it in mine; not during a period as dark as 1940s Germany, when millions of people were being systematically murdered, Nazism was running rampant like a cancer throughout Europe, and war was turning good men and virtuous women into people who must do anything to survive.

I am a Christian. Unabashedly. Though one of the novels I have already written (and a couple I have simmering in my mind) could be classified as Christian fiction, most of my work that’s set in WWII is not. Because of my faith, I often write from the perspective of a Christian character, but the fiction itself I do not feel belongs in the Christian genre. I appreciate Christian fiction and feel that it is fulfilling a demand in the industry, however, I have a few issues with a lot of Christian novels I read. They don’t feel “real” to me—genuine. I love seeing God move, even in a novel, but what drives me insane about a lot of Christian novels is that the main character often makes bad decisions only because they are the victim of someone else’s sins. Or, let’s say they haven’t made bad decisions at all; let’s say they are good all the way around. They make almost all the right decisions (oh, besides that ONE time he looked too long at a woman in a bikini or she skipped that woman’s prayer meeting, but she had gotten caught up in a hilarious scene where a series of unfortunate events caused her to be late, so it wasn’t really her fault after all…) The people who don’t know Jesus are often portrayed as stereotypical, or pitiful and ignorant, though they almost always open up to God and you can count on them accompanying the main character to church at the end. You can always point out the Christians in the book and also the non-Christians—clearly. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things, as it is geared toward a certain group of people within the industry (and even a certain group within Christianity, in my opinion), but that’s not really what I wanted people to think about my work. I wanted to be something different.

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The truth is, I don’t really know where my work belongs. I’m proud of that, but it’s also a little scary. My characters don’t always make the right decisions. My characters aren’t always principled. Being at war, my characters will find themselves guilty of doing much worse than missing a prayer meeting. Some of my characters get drunk; some of my characters curse. My characters have sex, in and out of wedlock; sometimes by choice, and unfortunately, sometimes not. Some of my characters know God, some of them don’t. Sometimes my Christian characters find themselves far from God because of the choices they’ve made. Even the most moral of my characters will find themselves coming to terms with sins they once thought they were incapable of engaging in BECAUSE THEY ARE IN A WAR. I write them like that because it is what’s real. And I love them for it. All of them.

I love even the most sinister of my characters because I know them inside and out, and without them, the heroes and heroines of my novels would not be the same. (Fun Fact: One day, while musing over this and acknowledging the fact that I have a deep affection for some of my villainous characters, I suddenly realized that’s the way God feels about us. He handcrafted every one of us, chose us for parts in His story. Does that mean I believe God intends for some people to be evil and others to be good? No. It’s like the story of the prodigal son; the righteous son stayed with his Father, tending to the sheep, but there was a great celebration and mercy was shown when the prodigal son returned out of repentance, regardless of his sins).

I write like this because it’s “real”. It’s life. Our life—yours and mine. I don’t write about Christians; I write about people. The reason I said it’s scary not knowing where I belong as a writer is because, as a Christian, I’m afraid my Christian readers might go into my novels with a certain expectation of flowers and butterflies. But we do not live in a Christian world, so it’s unrealistic to me to write about a main character who somehow has an indomitable, constant faith and somehow makes it through life unscathed, or with sins that are mere “surface scratches” instead of wounds that have pierced their very souls. At the other end of the spectrum, I have already experienced the fact that non-Christians will see the Christian influences in my writing and automatically assume that my work is “just another Christian work of fiction,” when it’s not. The Christians in non-Christian works are often portrayed as legalistic, hypocritical and insensitive, so when a Christian character comes along that loves Jesus but is not any of those things, they are disregarded and automatically categorized as “Christian fiction.” Both of these notions, in my opinion, are shortsighted. No, we do not live in a Christian world, but we do not live in a world without compassionate Christians who follow Jesus, either. I have tried to keep my work in that narrow area in between, because I feel that there is a literary void between these two mindsets.

I had an epiphany last year. I was sitting there, dwelling on a scene (in a future series, actually), and I remember stopping for a moment and thinking, “Whoa. That’s disturbing. Someone who isn’t like me—someone who has no interest in even fictionally witnessing a horrendous act of war—isn’t going to understand why I put something like this in here.” I began to pray, because I didn’t want to compromise the truth of the darkness in war, but I didn’t understand how portraying some of these “sins” had any redeeming value. Was it all for entertainment? What was the purpose? Was I going too far?

In the midst of my prayer, it hit me, and this is something I remind myself of often now:

“You have to show them how bad war is so they can see just how great God is.”

We don’t serve a mediocre God. We serve a powerful, awe-inspiring God who has the ability to wipe clean the black on our hearts from things much worse than missed prayer meetings.

I always cringe when I hear a song or read a book where faith in God comes across as corny. God is not schmaltzy and clichéd, and regrettably, it is my opinion that most Christian fiction is. That is not to say that I think all Christian fiction is clichéd. In particular, I find Francine Rivers’ work to be fantastic and a welcome exception to the rule. And I’m not saying that my work is somehow better than anyone else’s just because I have different goals as an author—I respect and admire anyone who pours their tormented, impassioned heart into words. Besides, who am I, but a budding author with a dream and a fiery heart? I suppose all I want is an opportunity to explain my writing philosophy and my purpose in writing so you might see what makes it unique—so it might appeal to you enough to take a chance and dive into Sophia’s world.

Sophia and all the people she meets and builds relationships with have come a long way since I started this journey almost eight years ago. Originally, I wrote it as one giant manuscript before deciding to come back to it and turn it into a series. Though I love the characters and the story, I felt that it was written so poorly (first endeavor to write a novel, remember!) and it was so long that I didn’t think it would ever find its way into readers’ hands. It needed a lot of work, and I’m constantly moving from one project to the next, so I didn’t think I would ever make time to go back to it. It had been five years since I had even looked at Sophia’s War, when one day last year I began to reminisce about the dynamic between Sophia and another character in the series. I suddenly realized the world had to know about them. It didn’t matter how long it took, what other projects I needed to put off or how much work needed to be put into it. It had to be done!

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So that’s where I am now. I have been improving on the series for the past 8 months. Book 3 in the series, Stalemate, will be released in February and I’m currently in the middle of editing and rewriting scenes in Book 5. There’s still more to come and I can’t wait to relive it all again with Sophia.

Today, I invite you to meet Sophia and the others who bring this story to life. Sophia’s War is a series with vivid characters, romance, suspense and surprises that will draw you in and make you cheer for every small victory and fear what comes next with every step Sophia takes. It’s a perilous adventure that will be on your mind long after you’ve finished reading it.

You never know. It might be just what you’re looking for.

Get started today!

Want to meet the characters in Sophia’s War first?: Your Next Favorite Book Characters

Purchase Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1) here!: The End of Innocence

Purchase Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies (#2) here!: Lies and Allies

Confessions of an Imperfect Person

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ADD is one of those conditions that is akin to the reject of all mental disorders. I say that affectionately, as I have suffered from it for the entirety of my life. I can function, but often I feel like I’m living in my own sitcom (you know, the way characters jump from one unrelated funny joke or scenario to the next). I used to resent that ADD was a part of me, and though it took a few years, I finally embraced the quirks and airheadedness that often accompanies the chaos in my brain.

I didn’t get diagnosed until I had almost reached adulthood, but looking back on my childhood now, I had all the indications. Relationally and in my day-to-day life, my ADD didn’t show itself except in my forgetfulness and the fact that I was easily distracted. Where it affected me most was in school. I was a well-behaved kid, which seemed like a contradiction to the fact that my grades were often average or very poor. I had teachers call me lazy, as well as my parents. I began to think that was who I was, part of my identity—I was lazy—which didn’t make sense to me, because when something genuinely interested me, I worked very hard at learning everything I could and would focus 100% on that one thing.

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I hate taking medication. I hate the idea of being dependent on a little pill for anything. I will suffer through headaches and the curse of woman-dom without ibuprofen and feel like Xena the Warrior Princess at the end: “Rah!!! I endured PMS without a single painkiller! Fear me!” When it was suggested that I take medication for my ADD, I resisted. I had operated fine for 19 years. If I did indeed have the disorder, I wasn’t going to use it as an excuse; I wasn’t going to use medication as a crutch. At my mom’s insistence, though, I agreed to give Adderall a chance. At the time, while I was in college, I remember calling her in tears because I had studied hard for three tests and failed one of them and almost failed the other two. It felt like no matter how hard I studied, I couldn’t retain information. I missed things in class because by the time I processed enough to write down what the professor said, he or she was already talking about something else. When I started taking Adderall, I remembered thinking, “Hmm…I don’t feel any different. I bet this isn’t even working.” I didn’t notice a difference physically, so I thought the experiment had failed.

Until one day, I realized I had been taking 4 pages of notes instead of my customary 2 lines. In every class. My test grades jumped from Ds and Cs to As. By the end of the semester, I finally felt my grades reflected my efforts. I didn’t feel embarrassed anymore, and I was grateful that I’d given Adderall a chance. I finally felt normal, wondering if I was finally experiencing the world the way everyone else did.

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And that was what made me hesitant again. I am not perfect, but I’ve always endeavored to be a good person—to do what was right, to seek forgiveness when I’ve done something wrong. I have always been a dreamer, and whether I’m ever successful or not, I’ve always wanted to inspire others to pursue their own dreams. I don’t believe you are ever too old; I don’t believe you’ve made too many mistakes or that you don’t have what it takes. I don’t let what people think about me change me (does what others think about me bother me sometimes? Yes, of course. But I don’t let it change my personality or traits). I have always been accepting of myself and most of my flaws and have always trusted that God would use me whether I was a lump of coal or a diamond. Taking the Adderall changed me. It made me more observant and alert; it made me more pensive and more particular about the thoughts I chose to verbalize. None of those are bad things at all, and I don’t regret the benefits I reaped…but I chose not to take the medication on weekends. I also chose to live without it once I left college. Talkative or not, forgetful or not, ADD or not, all those things were still a part of me. They were the quirks, the habits that made people say, “That’s Stephanie,” whether it was out of frustration or amusement.

I haven’t taken Adderall in eight years. Somedays, I laugh and enjoy making other people laugh at my articulated unbridled thoughts. Other days, I feel like my head is filled with white noise and I need to be left alone to keep from getting overwhelmed. I’ve found that music helps me a lot, with Classical helping me the most on my worst days. As an author, ADD aids my imagination in leaps and bounds, while at the same time, it hinders me by keeping me fighting constant distractions. Some days, whether by ADD or writer’s block, I can only manage to write a sentence or two. Other days, I can write pages. Either way, I never count it as a loss or time wasted. As long as I have put my best foot forward, that one sentence is a success.

I intend to take Adderall once I start school again. Though I embrace who I am without it, I can’t ignore who I am with it, either. I do need the extra help sometimes and I’m not ashamed of that anymore.

What I hoped to accomplish by sharing this part of my life with you is to:

A) Be careful and conscientious of your words. I was labelled as “lazy”. Parts of me very well may be, but laziness is an action. It is not mine or anyone else’s identity. If I’d chosen to embrace that word as a part of who I was, I might not have ever discovered the truth. I might have used it as a justification for why I did poorly in school instead of being encouraged that there was a way to fix it.

B) Don’t dismiss health conditions you may not physically see. I have been told by a few people that I do not have ADD—that ADD is a fake term used by doctors to force medication on people. I am not easily offended, but that offends me. I can’t count the tears that I’ve shed in the past over the frustration that sometimes, I just cannot focus. Though you may not be able to experience my brain and its peculiar ways firsthand, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a problem—it just means I’ve adapted in spite of it.

C) The people who can empathize with me are cheering after point B, but here’s another unwanted truth: Don’t let yourself use any disorder or condition as an excuse. Having ADD does not make me more or less exceptional than the next person. I still had to study hard, I still have to hold down jobs and treat people kindly whether they understand my daily struggles or not. I also do not use it as an excuse from myself to myself; when it comes to my writing, I have made a vow to write at least one sentence a day. It sounds easy, but there are days it absolutely is not. Small steps are still progress, and I have to remind myself of that everyday. I can choose to look at my ADD as a curse, or I can take pleasure in the fact that small victories for most people are huge victories to me!

And D) Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” My struggles have made me unique, and as long as I remain in Him, God will use this to bring glory to Himself. I am not defective; I am different, but God still expects the same thing out of me that He does everyone else—to turn to Him instead of being ashamed of my weaknesses. As the lyrics in a song I wrote years ago says: “The clarity my imperfections undo, were made to shine as reflections of You.”

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You are loved and you are not alone in the struggle. Don’t be ashamed of what makes you you. Don’t be ashamed of getting help if you need it, like I was. Get convicted, though, if you let it stop you from living, if you let it stop you from trying, if you let it stop you from being who you were made to be—an imperfect person made to bring Him glory.

Moses had a stuttering problem, but God chose him to be the one to confront Pharaoh and lead his people out of Egypt. You and I have no excuse, either.

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