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I Know What I Know

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October 2015

Veterans’ Day 2015

Last week, some of my students I coach for the high school speech team approached me about speaking at our school’s annual Veterans’ Day assembly. A younger me (sixteen, perhaps, the age of the girl who made the request) would have sneered at anything patriotic. Adolescent Amelia, in all her gothy glory, crossed her fingers while saying the Pledge of Allegiance, because she hated rah-rah sheep-conformity, and didn’t believe in this God person our nation was supposedly under.

A lot has changed since then. Things come in gradients. Everything is so black and white when you’re a kid. Or, I guess, red white and blue or not, as the case may be. Patriotism is something I have struggled with, because it has grown on me over time, and I’m not sure it should. Yet I can’t forget my family’s roots, my relatives’ proud military service, or how I’ve seen the army transform two of my childhood friends from hot messes into functional, wildly successful adults. Yet, I’m also the child of a pair of formerly long-haired hippies. My aunt, whom I greatly admire, often clashed with my grandfather (who retired a Brigadier General) about matters of national pride. Again, black and white – rock and roll or the way of the hawk.

What I do know is that I can’t make it through a Veteran’s Day assembly without tearing up. Every year as I march my kids down to the gym to listen to the band and salute our colors, I stuff a wad of tissues into my pocket for when the inevitable glisten comes to my eyes. I don’t want to be a blind follower of our government, to proclaim that ‘Murica is number one no matter what, and I acknowledge we’ve made some terrible mistakes in the past. But the older I get, the more I have to protect. I have a little girl now, and I like our way of life as Americans. I love our prosperity and our freedom, and I think the military plays a hand in preserving these ideals. I’m probably way off base, but I think there are some places in the world that would really benefit from a chance to become more like America. And let’s face it, there’s a lot of evil out there that I think needs to be battled against. Sometimes that requires a military response.

I can’t help but be proud of my military family, because the armed forces are such an integral part of it. Two grandfathers in World War II, one in the European Theater, one in the Pacific. My maternal grandfather, Bob Scharnberg, was a Seabee engineer. Yes, he went to war, but his family also served. My grandmother traveled all around the country with him. It floors me to think of this little farm girl from small town Iowa going to California and New York. My daughter is four months old – I can’t imagine what it would have been like giving birth to her without my husband Lee there. But that’s what my grandma did, and my grandpa didn’t meet his son Gary until the kid was three or four years old. Can you imagine missing all of your baby’s childhood? When a family member is in the military, all those connected with him or her are also serving alongside in one way or another. That German Lutheran Midwest perseverance is what I’m proud of.

My maternal grandfather, Robert Scharnberg
My maternal grandfather, Robert Scharnberg

Family members pay a price. My grandfather’s brother, Russell, was shot down in his fighter plane over Germany escorting a B-17 on a bombing run. His young wife gave birth to their son a few days after he was declared MIA. My grandfather shouldered the responsibility of sole heir to the family farm and helping support everyone. I know all of this happened after I was born, but now as a mother I’m able to fully appreciate the sacrifices that were made by the Scharnberg clan to rid the world of the Axis. This is why it matters to me that Uncle Russ’s grave sits empty in our family cemetery. This is why it matters to me that parts from his plane were found in East Germany in the 70s, but we were just contacted about the discovery because the information had been buried by the Communist government. This is why it matters to me that someday his remains are returned.

And this is why I cry at the Veteran’s Day assembly every year. Wish me luck in making it through my speech without breaking down in front of the entire town of Alburnett.

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Thank Heaven for Little Girls (Harvest of Ash, Season 1!)

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This adorable little bug is my daughter, Alyssa Dean. She was born June 20th, and she’s fussing right behind me while I’m typing this. Hold on — brb.

Okay, she’s cool now playing with her kick n’ play gym. Anyway, I owe this little girl. Of course, for all the usual reasons. She’s my baby. She brings light to my life and presents me with challenges that make me a better person. But I never thought I’d say that I owed my success as a writer to a three and a half month old poop and spit-up machine.

Not long after I gave birth, I found myself home alone with my infant daughter. I was hooked up to the breast pump like a dairy cow, and I’d set Alyssa in her little bouncy chair. She started crying and wanted to be picked up. I was trapped in the recliner with the pump on and a baby in my arms and nothing to do for 15 minutes (I couldn’t reach the remote or my phone!). I’d read that talking to babies promotes their language development, so I decided to tell Alyssa a story.

What stories did I know by heart? I settled on Cinderella, a timeless tale, the quintessential fairy tale, the penultimate princess. Except, the longer I talked, the more I didn’t like the story I was feeding my little girl. Cinderella is pretty much the poster girl for a crappy heroine who kicks pretty much zero ass. So I started changing things, and the story I told that wrinkly little bean-shaped ET in my arms was the inspiration for a piece of writing called Harvest of Ash.

I submitted the first three chapters of the story to a very awesome, ground-breaking, and forward-thinking company called Big World Network, an “episodic literary network” that publishes stories in seasons, broken down into episodes like a TV series. The seasons are released in print on the site and in audio form with one episode a week, and then are published as a novel in print. And they wanted Harvest of Ash!

Now my warrior Cinderella has a home, and I couldn’t be more excited. BWN has been fantastic, and I really enjoy working with my editor, Amanda, and connecting with other authors on social media. I’ve recorded the first three episodes of my audio book and November 1st the first episode will drop on the site. Here’s the synopsis to tickle your interest:

Tagline: A Cinderella with ambitions beyond a prince and happily ever after. She didn’t lose a glass slipper — she left behind a bloody dagger.

Synopsis: This series is the story of Ash, a girl of two worlds in a land divided by religion and teetering on the brink of war. Aligning with the traditional Cinderella story, Ash is orphaned and raised by a cruel stepmother. There’s a prince, a ball, and a chance to be chosen as the Kingdom of Anaphiel’s princess, but a political assassination destroys the fairy tale and sends Ash on a path marked with the shadows of intrigue and stained with blood. The Cinderella story is an enduring and timeless tale, lending itself to endless retellings and reiterations. This gritty, dark fantasy version explores politics, feminism, war, and religious conflict, adding elements that give the old story a fresh and compelling makeover.
With cover art by Jeff Randall!!
Who would have thought that being home on maternity leave would be such a fruitful, creative time with so much potential?
See you November 1st on Big World Network!

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