The tear in my flesh

Jackson Pollack "Autumn Rhythm"

This mothering thing is hard. No one really tells you how hard it will be. Or maybe they try and you just can’t believe it until you live it on your own. No one tells you that your heart will be torn in two and you will go through repeated cycles of trying to figure out who you are and how to match your independent desires with your desires to serve and love your family well.

No one mentions how messy it all is – that the desires will never match up, will never fit and yet somehow it all comes together anyway, but it looks more like a Jackson Pollack painting and less like Michealanjelo.

Before we were mothers, we were all something besides…mothers. We had dreams and longings and aspirations and desires that went beyond cleaning and scrubbing and washing and drying and refereeing and surviving.

When motherhood sets upon us, those dreams don’t disappear, but they do shift. Our desire to be Mommy becomes so much stronger than any other thing we’ve ever felt and we give ourselves wholly and fully to the task and yet….there remains something else inside.

The truth is, I sometimes feel like a big failure for not accomplishing more before I became a Mom. And I fight the feeling of failure for not attaining more even after I became mother. I compare myself to others and I wonder why they seem to accomplish so much and I can barely get through  my days.

Then I remember that every journey is different.

I wish I was finished with this novel. I wish I could write it faster. I feel like I’ve failed already for taking so long. But the truth is, this is the best I can do. I cannot stay up until all hours of the night writing, because that’s not how I operate or function.

I can’t do this any faster and still do my job as Mom well. I’m learning to be okay with that.

I wish I had more time. I wish it were easier. I wish I could accomplish more in the few hours I have alone. I wish I could shirk every other duty and focus solely on the one thing I want to do the most – finish this book.

But that is not where life has me right now. Right now I don’t have the solitude needed to be a great writer. I do, however, have everything I need to be a great mother. I have all the tools and all the abilities and all the time to excel in the role that matters most.

I will finish the book. I know that I will. But it’s taking time – so much more time than I want it to. I won’t finish it in the wee hours of the mornings because I must sleep in those hours so that I can be alert to pour all my energy into my number one job. And I will save a bit of time, a bit of energy for the desires and longings that are mine and will work fervently in the little time I have to reach that goal.

But it won’t be a quick ascent. I am the tortoise in this race. I’ll reach the finish line, but only through perseverence because I’ve found that, for me, slow and steady is far more successful than fast and furious. I’m much less prone to burn outs that way.

Lisa-Jo Baker wrote a wonderful post on writing the other day. It has encouraged me so much. If you feel like you’re always a step behind, like you can’t keep up, I suggest you read “If You Wish You had an Island to Write On Alone.”  This quote by Madaleine L’Engle bounces off my soul and clangs inside my heart:


“I uncovered the typewriter. In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was. I had to write. I had no choice in the after. I didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent. If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.”


Day 16: If you, like me, feel frustrated with the longings that war against once another, take heart. It will all come together, and though it may look messy and wild, in the end it will be considered a masterpiece. 

Image Credit

Believing means doing

No post today. Part of believing I can means I have to do it. Today I feel the creative juices flowing and I need to work on my book. I’ve got Hershey’s chocolate by my side, a mug of pumpkin coffee, Mozart playing in the background and two hours to myself.


Wish me luck!


And have a great weekend! Any fun plans on tap?

Another peek

Want another peek? This is Frederick, a Nazi soldier stationed in Kiev in World War II. He is a torn character who is ugly and horrifying and completely and totally sympathetic. I have really loved writing his story.

I was ten years old the first time my father took us all to Berlin. The year was 1934 and the memory dances through my mind in moving pictures, every emotion joined together in fluid motion. I remember the sights and sounds of the bustling city as we exited our train at Berlin’s Lehrter Bahnhof and moved to the Nazi provided car. The officer appointed to transport us was solemn and stern and I shrunk back in fear when he looked at me prompting my Father to pinch the back of my neck in annoyance.

He always hated when I showed any semblance of fear and I felt his disappointment as we slid into the plush car.

That trip to Berlin was the first time that I remember being in awe of my father’s status. He was so revered that as we exited the car, hotel staff hurried to us, picking up bags and rushing to our room to set it up in a fashion that was worthy of someone with such great importance.

We stood in our expansive room on the top floor of the Esplanade and looked out over the beautiful city. Talia and I pressed our noses to the cool glass and pointed out the cars and people walking far below us. I was awestruck at the bustle and energy that buzzed through the city.

“The cars look like small toys,” I cooed just before my father stepped up behind us.

“Stand up children,” he snapped, his words sharp and clipped. Talia and I stood and faced our father, my heart beating like a drum. “Good. Now, who can tell me what we worked on earlier this week.”

Because I was always so frightened of my father, it seemed to take me a long time to register any question he asked. Panic that I would produce an unacceptable answer left me mute. Talia thrust her hand in the air.


“We learned to remain quiet and calm and to not speak unless asked a direct question,” she said with a smile, her bright red hair cascading over slender shoulders. Father smiled and ran his hand down her cheek.

“Very good, my darling,” he said. “Now, Frederick,” he said turning to me. “How are you to greet any official that walks your way?”

My heart raced as I searched for the words to answer my father. I couldn’t find them, so I merely thrust my arm in the air, straight up above my head. Father sighed and shook his head.

“Yes, Frederick,” he said with a heaping portion of annoyance, “but what do you say when you greet them?”

My hand, still high above my head, shook as I searched for the greeting that I knew so well. Why did I always feel so incompetent in his presence?

Talia snapped her heels together and threw her arm up next to me. “Hile Hitler!” she said, throwing me a sideways glance.

“Hile Hitler!” I repeated after her and Father nodded at us both.

“Very good,” he said. “Now go prepare yourselves for dinner.”

©Kelli Stuart, October 2012

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Ever so slowly, I chip away at my novel. Just like The Little Engine that Could, I find myself slowly chugging up the mountain, straining to reach the top. The problem with writing a novel (particularly a historical fiction novel, which relies as much on historical accuracy as it does creative license) is that it’s an up hill climb the whole time. And simply finding the time to write is proving to be the biggest hurdle of all.

I need another week in California to knock this thing out.

Just sayin’…

Whatcha think, Babe? Think I could sneak away for five more days?

You wouldn’t miss me…right?


Here is another sneak peek at the novel that I am fighting to finish. I hope you enjoy.

Set up: Maria and Polina have been sent from Kiev, Ukraine to Northern Germany to work in a slave labor camp assembling armaments for the Nazi’s. The conditions are poor, just a step above those in the concentration camps.

A deep, rattling cough has settled in Polina’s chest and I see her movements slowing down steadily. She is sick and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Nothing but offer her half a piece of stale bread and a hand to hold on to in the dark.

It’s been a little over a year since the war began – since everything changed. I have nothing left of my former life but the memories that haunt my dreams – the echoes of laughter and sorrow that mix together in a swirl of black and yellow each night. I worry about Sergei and wonder where he is and what he’s doing. Is he alive? Is he well?

I have convinced myself that Anna is safe and refuse to consider the possibility that she might not be. I’ve heard from the other girls that when they examined our hands at the train station, they were looking for strong hands that could perform hard labor. If the hands looked too soft and the girls too dainty, they were sent to another part of Germany to work as housekeepers or nannies.

I pray this is where Anna is, because then I know she must be safe. In a house full of children with only the chores of cooking and cleaning, Anna will be in her element and it gives me hope for her survival.

I cannot think of Mama and Papa without my chest burning with sorrow. How frightened they must be with all of us gone and no hope for knowing where we are. It is the thought of them that gives me the most heartache.

It’s dark tonight and we are finally heading home. We work sixteen to eighteen hours a day and the labor truly is wretched. We stand the whole time, sometimes lifting heavy containers. My fingers are raw and rough from the long days of moving metal and turning and screwing on the caps that will seal the fate of one of my countrymen.

Polina wheezes steadily next to me, her chest giving off a deep rattle. She is so sick.

“You shouldn’t work tomorrow,” I say, my voice thick with fatigue.

“If I don’t work, they will kill me,” she responds.

“I thought that’s what you wanted,” I answer quietly and immediately regret my words. Polina labors forward a moment in silence.

“Yes,” she says finally. “It is what I want, but…” She grows quiet and I wait as a coughing fit racks her body. Stopping to lean forward, I hear her coughing up fluids and spitting bitterly in the grass at our feet. I cannot see her in the dark, but I can guess that she is spitting out blood and my heart goes cold.

Taking a breath and straightening up, Polina pulls hard on my arm. “Help me back,” she whispers. I hear the sound of the German boots coming up swiftly behind us.

“Walk quickly!” he snaps, jabbing me in the side. Polina and I stumble to catch up to the moving line.

“I don’t want to die at their hands,” Polina whispers, her voice tight and constricted. “I don’t want them to have the satisfaction of hearing me moan as they burn my body alive. I want to die on my own.”

It’s true, what she says. I know that it is. I haven’t seen the ovens where they burn the bodies, but I’ve heard of them. They are real and sometimes girls are still alive when they’re lit. Tears prick my eyes, hot and bitter as we step across the threshold of the camp, our home in hell.

“I just need to lay down,” Polina says and I nod. Most of the girls make their way to the bath house where they will wash off the grime of today’s work, but I turn with Polina and we slowly walk back to the barrack. I pull Polina through the door and set her down gently before heading to the lamp and striking a match to light the wick inside. The single, burning lamp gives a light orange glow which dimly flicks at each barren wall with a sorrowful shadow. I pick Polina up under the arms and drag her to the small pallet on the floor that is left for the sickest girls who are unable to climb into the bunks along the wall.

She is so light, her body nothing but skin stretched taught over bones.

©Kelli Stuart; October 2012

The Nester has issued a 31 Day Challenge in which we write for 31 days on a single topic. Over 1,000 people have joined in and the internet is ripe with learning and encouragement right now. I have chosen 31 Days of Believing I Can. Scroll down for more of what I’m learning as I embrace confidence. Today, I believe I can finish this book…by the time I die. Let’s just go with that.

Are you participating in 31 Days?

One more glance

We are on our last days of vacation. Tomorrow, the kids and I begin the two day drive home from Arkansas where we’ve enjoyed a week of swimming and playing with family. I’m tired and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

I’m still plugging away on the novel. It’s coming, very slowly but very surely. Some days the words flow freely. Others days it’s like plodding up Everest with a bag of rocks on my back. Some characters are sure and free and beautiful. Others are chunky and in need of a good editor.

But it is coming along.

This character, Maria, is coming into her own. Her story is heart wrenching and a couple of times I’ve had to stand up and walk away, the emotions have run so high. When I told Lee this he looked at me with narrowed eyes. “You know you’re the author, right?”

Yes. I do know that. But sometimes I’m not writing the story.

Kinda weird.

Here is one more piece of Maria’s story:


For three full days we rocked slowly along the tracks, all of us stuffed in tight and wrapped in heat and terror. After the first day, when dehydration and starvation began to set in, emotions ran high. We were a car full of teenage girls, all ripped from the ones we loved and forced into a situation of extreme stress. The tears fell freely and emotions ran hot. By the afternoon of our second day on the train, girls were screaming and wailing. Panic set in and several beat on the sides of the train until their fists were raw and bloody.

Others tried to shut out the wailing. Polina and I wrapped our arms around one another and slid to the floor, each a lifeline to the other. After awhile fatigue set in and most of the screaming faded into pitiful wails.

If the sounds of our enclosement didn’t set me over the edge, the smells threatened to. We all forfeited every bit of dignity we had as time went forward. Girls defecated publicly, and threw up repeatedly from stress and heartache. Even I had to finally give in to the calls of nature and with the deepest of sorrow in my eyes I released the pressure on the floor right where I sat.

Never have I felt such a sense of shame.

Polina did all she could to allow me some sense of dignity. She did not mention it and gently turned her eyes away from me when I could resist no more. And she did not complain when together we finally had to sit in the mess.

By the third day, everyone had made a sort of pile on the floor. In an unspoken agreement, we all allowed the smaller girls to lay on top of the larger ones, making a sort of long patchwork of grief and fatigue.

It was this day that I thought we would die. I envisioned the Nazi’s pulling open the door to find us all rotting in our own stench and somehow I took some comfort in this vision.

But it was not to be so.

Instead we finally pulled into a station and stopped. We had made many stops along the way, but this was the first time that the door was opened. The light that streamed into the cabin assaulted my eyes and left me blind. We were all so weak by this point that the Germans who began herding us out the door had to physically lift most of us and set us on our feet. Polina and I did not let go of one another’s hands. We clung tight as they set us upright and both of us, stiff-legged and squinting, followed the line of females into the unknown.

We were soiled, dirty and smelled of human feces and vomit. We did not look like young girls, but old women who had endured years of abuse. What a difference three days made.

There were four girls who did not make it. I watched as their lifeless bodies were pulled from the train car and tossed on a waiting truck with such indifference that I wondered if our captors were, indeed, even human. How can one witness death with no expression at all?

I don’t understand it.

©Kelli Stuart, 2012

Livin’ it up in California

Last year, right around this time, I came to this beautiful lake house in Northern California and spent five days soaking up wisdom and inspiration from my favorite people in the world.

I’m back here again, still working on the same book, still soaking in wisdom, honored and blessed to have the privilege to come to this spectacular place do the thing I was created to do. I have come down with a nasty cold and my throat feels like it’s been excavated overnight, so I’m not sure how much actual writing I’ll get done today, but I will rest and will go home rejuvinated and renewed.

Have an amazing weekend, everyone!

Take a few minutes to do the things that make your soul sing.

I wrote 22 pages on my novel yesterday. It's hard not to be inspired here.

Yes. We're eating food like this every. single. day.

The Novel

I’m not going to finish my novel by June 1st. This writing a book thing is hard. Really, really hard. Like child birth kinda hard, complete with back pain from all the hunching over the keyboard.

Today I laid down to take a nap and I was flooded with ideas. My characters began swimming and talking and I decided to listen. I fed my family, packed up my computer and headed out where I promptly grew totally overwhelmed because my fingers cannot type fast enough.

I know where the characters are going, but getting them there takes time and I’m impatient and frustrated and wish I could just get it all out at once. Instead, I type a few pages, my heart starts beating really fast, my pulse quickens and I literally feel like I’m falling – like I’m leaning into the finish line and my feet can’t keep up.

So I have to step away, take a break, then dive back in. Do you know how slow this is going?

I’m almost to 200 pages and their stories are just ramping up. This is the longest labor ever in the history of all time.

Would you like to read one more sneak peek? Okay, good. Because this girl’s story is my favorite and it is the story I simply can’t get out fast enough. So here you have it – this is a bit more of Luda’s story. I first introduced you to Luda in Sneak peek #1. Her story is complex and full of beauty and pain and grief and joy. Isn’t that how life goes?

Beauty and ashes all mixed together.

(Disclaimer – This is the unedited, first rough draft. It’s not perfect, but it is coming out and that is a step in the right direction.)

Leaning back, I turn my face up to the ceiling and take in a long, deep breath. The pieces all began to fall into place. “So my mother was not a whore,” I say, less to him and more to myself. Every single image of my mother that I’d conjured up as a youth came flooding back. Her laugh that sounded like a thousand bells. The sound of her voice singing softly over me. The way her hair swung loosely over her shoulders. Could these be real memories? Could it be that the very few moments I had with my mother had been stored inside of me all along?

“I’m sorry, Luda,” Alexei says quietly, breaking the silence. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorry that I failed you…and your mother.”

I nod, then ask one last question that has been pressing against my heart like a vice. “What is my mother’s name?”

Alexei’s eyes widen. “He never even spoke her name?” he whispers.

I shake my head no. “He only spoke of her when he was drunk and he always referred to her as ‘My darling,’ in those rare moments. I have never heard my mother’s name.”

“Marianna,” Alexei said and a gentle smile spread across his face. “Your mother’s name is Marianna.”

I nod and my eyes fill with tears. “Thank you,” I whisper. “Thank you for giving my mother back to me.”

Alexei reaches across the table and grasps my hand. “You are just like her, Luda. You are going to be an excellent mother just like she was.”

I nod slowly and allow a smile to form. The first genuine smile I’ve given in months. I look at my stomach and breathe in deep.

Like your mother.

For the first time in all my life, I feel peace.

©Kelli Stuart, May 2012

My new goal is to hit 200 pages by June 27 when I head to California for a writer’s retreat. I’m going to finish this thing, you guys. It’s actually going to happen!!!!

If it kills me…

And it just might…

But let’s hope not because I really need to finish this before I die…

The End.

About the book

I’ve been hard at work on my book lately. I’m not going to finish it by June, but I’ve got momentum going now so I fully intend to finish by the end of the summer. Want to read a little more?

For some context here is Sneak Peek Part One, Part Two and Part Three. You have now met three out of the five characters. Today I will introduce you to the final two characters. Maria is becoming one of my favorite stories to write and it shouldn’t come as a surprise because her story is based on the story of a woman I knew and loved in Ukraine.

Maria’s story inspired this book.

Fourteen-year-old Maria and her brother, Sergei, are the oldest and the youngest of Ivan, who you met in Sneak Peek Two. Sergei has joined the Red Army and without him, Maria feels lost. Ivan has survived Babi Yar with his life, but emotionally and mentally he is failing. Maria longs for her brother and this passage has become a sweet moment for my characters as Maria escapes to the confines of her memory.

A particular memory keeps folding over me. The bitter, biting cold of January pushes the sun beyond the hill overlooking the Dneiper River earlier each night, and I find myself overcome with this one moment in time. I can’t escape it and so I have given myself to it. The shadows of night make fighting too difficult.

Tonight is no exception.

I’m eight years old again and we’ve gone to our dacha for the summer. The dacha – our happy place. On this particular day I wake up early and tiptoe outside to watch the sun lift up over the small lake settled at the back of our property. My long gown soaks up the morning dew and I shiver against the chill of daybreak.

As I come out of the trees into the clearing, I see him. His back is to me, long and thin, always stretching out and up. I don’t speak but the rustle of my feet in the moist leaves reveals my presence and he turns, his thin face breaking into a smile.

“What are you doing here?” he says and gestures me to come sit.

“I wanted to say good morning to the sun,” I reply and he laughs. I have always loved his laugh and even now, as I listen to it dance through my mind, I feel a smile spread slowly.

“Well, sit,” he says, and together we drop onto the banks of the lake, the rocky soil digging into the backs of our legs. I look at him, my brother, and I am completely at peace.

“Sergei?” I ask.

He turns and looks at me, his thick eyebrows raised. In this memory he is more boy than man. At twelve years old, he didn’t feel that much older, but then Sergei never did feel too old for me. Anna, on the other hand, has always seemed to be light years ahead of me in maturity despite only being two years older.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” I ask.

Sergei takes in a deep breath and looks back out over the lake. A thin layer of orange and pink is beginning to pull up over the horizon. Daybreak is coming and our solitude will quickly slip away. I find myself wishing then and there that the sun would never rise. If only I could have frozen us on the bank of the lake for all of eternity.

If only…

“Don’t know,” Sergei says with a smile.

“You don’t know?!” I ask incredulously. “How do you not know? It’s very important to know.”

Sergei laughs again. Magic. “Well, I just don’t know yet,” he says with a grin. “Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?”

I open my mouth to answer, then snap it shut. Afraid.

“I don’t want to tell you,” I finally answer and Sergei gives me a gentle push. “See, you don’t know either,” he says with a laugh.

“I do know!” I protest. “But you can’t tell anyone yet.”

Sergei nods. “Okay,” he says and he means it. My Sergei always keeps his promise. Taking a deep breath I lift a small handful of sand and pebbles and toss them into the water, watching as a hundred droplets form rings that pierce the sheer glass of its surface. The strip of orange is getting brighter. Morning dawns.

“I want to join the circus. I want to be an acrobat.” I don’t look at him while I say this and I wait for him to laugh at me. I know I can’t even turn a cartwheel, but I truly believe acrobatics are my destiny.

Sergei is silent for a moment and I fear he is just laughing too hard to answer. Slowly I peek at him, barely turning my head. He isn’t laughing. Instead he stares intently at the rising sun. Now that she has broken the surface of the horizon it seems she is racing toward her perch in the sky. Time sped up – never slowing down.

“Okay,” he says, his eyes narrow and serious.

“Okay, what?” I ask.

“I think you should do it. I think you should plan to join the circus as an acrobat.”

I narrow my own eyes and study his profile seriously. “Are you making fun of me?” I ask evenly.

Sergei turns and looks at me, his eyes a little deeper and different. The sunlight gleams in the dark parts of his eyes swirling with an intensity that I’ve never seen before.

“Masha, you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. You’re good and you’re a fighter. I believe you can do it…if you want to.”

We study one another for a quiet moment then he turns to look at the sky again. The colors reach from left to right as far as our eyes can see, vibrant, full and brilliant. The golden orb hangs above, giving forth the heat that will ultimately dry the grass and give way to a day of grace filled memories. I lean gently into my beloved brother and sigh.

“Thank you,” I say with a small smile.

Sergei is quiet briefly before responding. “When I grow up, Masha,” he says softly, “I will make sure that you can do and be whatever you want. That’s what I want to do.”

©Kelli Stuart 2012

Have a great day, friends. I leave tomorrow for Tanzania! Eeeek!

Why writing a book is a lot like life

I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m writing a book.  I might have mentioned it once or twice…or a hundred times.


The thing is, I really believe in this book.  I’ve been working on it a long time…and by long time I mean more than a decade.  Oy. I have started and stopped, re-written and tossed.  I have had two characters remain at the core of the novel this entire time.  They are my friends…at least I think they are.  They may hate me since I’ve taken so long to tell their story.

How’s that for deflection?  I’ll blame my ficticious characters for my unfinished novel.

This latest draft, however, is The One.  You know how people always say you’ll “just know” when you meet the person you’re going to marry?  Well, I just knew the second I wrote the first sentence of this version that I had finally tapped into the core of who my characters are.

I found them.

Now, the challenge is to keep them moving and flowing forward in a cohesive manner.

Stephen King, my writing guru, says that when writing a novel you need to get it out as fast as you can.  Don’t stop to make edits, don’t get hung up on the details – just write.  You can go back later and fill in the holes.

I am finding this very difficult, Mr. King.  I see the validity of this and want to follow this advice, but the temptation to edit is powerful.  Because, you see, there are some moments in the book that are wonderful.  I love how they read and the imagery is powerful and I was obviously in the zone when writing.

There are other moments in the book, however, that are worthy of no more than kindling for a chilly night.  The rest of the book falls somewhere in between brilliant and suckalicious.

The problem with having worked on a book this long is I know exactly where I want my characters to go.  For the most part.  Some of them have already surprised me a bit.  But it’s the getting there that is slowing me down.  I’m so impatient to get to the exciting part – the part of the story that I know  – that I’m frustrated with the journey the characters are taking to get there.  I am bogged down in the details.

Life in general is full ofsimilar  ups and downs, isn’t it?  We have moments of excitement – first day of school, graduation, college, wedding day, birth of a child and so on…We live for these moments and anticipate them never really realizing the journey we take to get to those moments is every bit as important.  Those important moments are the peaks and after every peak we must descend for a bit before we reach another milestone.

But don’t we so often find ourselves impatient in the valleys and plateaus of life?  We get bored and frustrated.  We lose sight of the good of right now and only long and hope for the joy of the next big moment.  But we need the valleys and the plateaus.  They are, in fact, what builds…character.

It’s the same with writing a book.  The journey to the peak of each character’s story is so important, but in the anticipation of the big moment, I am impatient.  I’m bogged down in the details and the climb to the big moment feels endless and frustrating.

I just want to get to the good part.

But if I’m willing to relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the process of each step these characters take toward their individual peaks, I may actually learn a little something along the way.  And in the end, the story of their lives will reveal so much more beauty through the toil of their climb to the top.

And yes, as I wrote that sentence I totally started singing this song.

*sigh* I’ll bet Stephen King never busts out with Mily Cirus while he’s writing…

The sliver of light

When I arrived home from Cali the other night, it was wickedly late.  I stumbled to bed and switched off the lamp that my husband had so thoughtfully left on for me.  Though I was tired to my core, sleep was a bit elusive.  The impending move out of our house has proven to push my mind over the edge.  But there’s more than that.  My mind was full of details that began to oppress my already fragile emotions.

As I lay in the darkness, I willed myself to fall asleep.  I watched the clock slowly tick the hours away.  1:30. 2:30…I finally started to drift off when I felt the room go from darkness to light instantaneously.  I opened my eyes in a bit of a panic to see Lee’s iPad, which was sitting on his bedside table, illuminated.  I figured he must get some kind of notification for emails and closed my eyes again.  Five minutes later the room lit up again.  And I got annoyed.  Who emails at 3:00 in the morning?

Then I marveled at how bright the room was from that one tiny light of the screen.  Turns out he gets weather notifications and his iPad was warning us of the impending storm that rolled through ten minutes later.  But the visual of the light piercing the darkness stuck with me.

As already mentioned, I had a wonderful time in California, but it was hard too.  I was processing a lot of emotions.  And on top of that, the subject matter of the novel I’m writing is oftentimes hopeless and desperately sad.  As I researched the events surrounding World War II, I found myself terribly sad.  The darkness of that time is so deep and as I read story after story of heartache, my stomach turned into a tighter and tighter knot.  I wondered how I would portray the characters in my novel with any sort of redemption, any sort of hope.

And then I saw it.  That one sliver of light that pierced the darkness.


As I read the personal accounts of survival during those heinous years of war, I saw a thin trail of Hope.  One woman described seeing a tiny sprig of green growing from the frozen ground as she marched to the concentration camp.  Why did that small plant stick out in her mind?  It was Hope.  It was the knowledge that after winter, spring arrives.  After death, life springs forth.  A sliver of light in the pitch black can illuminate a whole room.

I read an account from a young mother whose infant was killed at birth by her Nazi captivators.  And she rejoiced, because a swift death was better than a slow one behind the barbed wires.  Did her heart ache?  I imagine it tore into a thousand tiny pieces and was never fully reassembled.  But she saw the sliver of light and sometimes that’s all we need to guide us through the darkness.

I read story after story like this.  Some of them were so horrific, I didn’t see how there could possibly be any hope – any redemption.  But many of the stories had a sliver.  Enough to give me the emotional strength to keep reading.  It was the same when I went to Ukraine nine years ago.  I interviewed veteran after veteran and saw so much Hope.  They were happy, jovial and so full of light that I wondered how they possibly survived such horror with their spirits in tact.  That’s the redemption of so many of their stories.  And that spirit is what I hope to capture in my characters.

A blade of green amidst the rubble.

Darkness is repelled by light – even the smallest sliver of it.  Sometimes the darkness is still oppressive and the pain remains ever constant, but that tiny bit of Hope is what keeps us going.  For me, that tiny sliver of Hope is the thing that keeps me moving forward with this book project.  It’s the tiny bit of light in an otherwise very dark story.  I am reminding myself to focus on Hope as I continue to research and write.  If I don’t, I fear the heartache will become too much.