Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!

       Greetings from the Jeschke clan! We send our warmest wishes for a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year. This past year, we celebrated two big anniversaries: our graduation from UVA at our 40th reunion in June where we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” friends and Melanie’s Christian housemates from “Shamrock Rd,” and the 20th anniversary of the founding of The King’s Chapel (TKC) in September. We are so blessed to serve such a wonderful church family and to have all our children involved in ministry. On August 8th, we welcomed a precious new granddaughter into the family: Molly Elizabeth to Mark & Beth.  After living with us for nearly 2 ½ years, my parents Earl & Betty Morey have moved to a lovely assisted- living facility close to the church. My mom’s Alzheimer’s has sadly progressed while my dad, who has congestive heart failure, has finally been approved for an artificial heart-valve replacement the end of January, before his 91st birthday. Despite his health struggles, he still manages to give excellent Bible teachings most Sundays at TKC. In November, shortly after my parents’ move, I received an unexpected call to teach 11th grade English fulltime at Trinity Christian School. Going “back to school,” while continuing to teach my classes at Northern VA Community College, has been quite a challenge! Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say that all of The Oxford Chronicles (Inklings, Intentions, Expectations, & Evasions) have now been released in a revised e-book format, thanks to Helping Hand Press.We are grateful for our times together with family and friends. May the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord, be born anew in our hearts today. Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!
                Many blessings, 
                              Melanie M. Jeschke    twitter: @jeschke_m   

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Getting Old Isn't for Sissies"

             My mother often repeated with wry resignation Bette Davis’s famous quip as my parents faced the challenges of aging. The saying became my mom’s mantra in the early days of my parents’ move to our home over two years ago. We felt led to take them in—although at the time we had no inkling how much my mom’s Alzheimer’s had progressed, how much my dad’s heart and physical pain had worsened, or how much their living conditions on their own had deteriorated. My husband and I worked hard to give them a happy home and to improve their standard of living. With numerous errands and doctors’ visits, we enabled my father to get help with his heart, hearing, and eyesight. As my mother increasingly faltered with completing daily living tasks, we hired caregivers, who assisted several times a day. Last winter crawled by with the challenges of harsh weather and harsher sickness. Over the spring, I began visiting assisted living facilities—nine in all—just in case we were no longer able to give my parents the care they needed. Despite all the emotional and physical stresses of sharing our home with them, I was determined to make it at least two years.

            We passed the two-year benchmark the end of May, but my mom’s “descent into the darkness” of Alzheimer’s has relentlessly progressed. Meeting her basic daily needs requires more help than we can provide, and so we painfully and prayerfully made the decision that the time had come for my parents’ move to an assisted living facility. Of the nine I had visited, the one I thought best for them actually had an opening. I am so thankful that some terrible crisis did not precipitate the decision to move them.  However, once we made the decision, we had to move rapidly, and the past few weeks have been physically and emotionally exhausting.

            I have mixed emotions: sadness that we couldn’t take them to the end, but immense relief from the day to day pressure of ensuring their safety and comfort. I know many of my generation are facing these same difficulties and decisions with their aging parents; and even though my parents are currently being well cared for, we will continue to face even more difficulties and decisions in the days to come. I am also considering what lies ahead for my husband and me, aware that we are almost senior citizens ourselves. Before too long, our own children will have to meet these same challenges in dealing with us.  I must choose not to worry about the future, but rather trust that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 My mom no longer quotes Bette Davis. I don’t think she can even remember the saying now, but I still can. It resonates with me more than ever: truly, “getting old isn’t for sissies.”   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digging for Details: Researching Historical Fiction

“The German planes drone with a menacin’ sound while ours hum with their lovely Merlin engines. But the Spitfire—ah, the Spitfire—she sings.”

          Historical fiction has to be my favorite genre. I plead mea culpa to having learned much of my history through novels. Experiencing historical events along with actual or created characters makes history real to me. However, since many people besides me learn history through films and novels, authors should be faithful to ensure their stories remain as historically accurate as possible. It’s no good thinking, “Well, it’s fiction, so I can make it up. No one will notice.”  Oh, yes, they will! Astute readers are happy to point out mistakes. I once had an on-line reviewer castigate my book Inklings for being historically inaccurate because I described my 1960’s character wearing a mini-skirt when the fashion hadn’t been introduced yet.  I was only off by a few months! My goal was to evoke the era for my readers by using a well-known visual image; nevertheless, to cover my bases for future potential nit-pickers, I dutifully added the discrepancy to my list of carefully documented historical departures in my author’s notes for a revised edition. 

            Getting the facts right takes time, but research often yields not only details that enrich the setting of one’s story, but often the story itself. Besides reading a copious pile of history books and biographies when I was working on Evasions, a novel set in WWII Britain, I watched documentaries, visited several war museums, attended a WWII event in Pennsylvania (complete with re-enactors, a big band concert, and vintage planes), read numerous interviews and memoirs, and conducted my own interviews with four people who had lived in England during the Battle of Britain. The museums and documentaries supplied the rich sensory details of the daily living of the period, especially clothing, music, and rationed food.

However, the first-hand interviews and memoirs proved to be the most productive mine for details, leading to plot development, emotional responses to events, and even character dialogue.  In Evasions, my depictions of the sinking of the Athenia, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the bombing raid on the RAF base at Kenley are based on recorded memoirs as well as historical documents. After interviewing Pamela Allen, who had worked at St. Bart’s Hospital in London, I decided my fictional nurse Annie Little must work there too. One of my interviewees described her feelings about being cooped up in a London bomb shelter during the nightly air-raids, attributing her struggle with claustrophobia to those frightening times. Her husband clarified how he learned, as a boy during the London bombing Blitz, to tell whether approaching aircraft were enemy or friend by the sound of their engines. I quoted his delightful analysis in Evasions when my character Pilot Officer Eric MacKenzie explains to Annie how he discerns the difference: “The German planes drone with a menacin’ sound while ours hum with their lovely Merlin engines. But the Spitfire—ah, the Spitfire—she sings.”

  I still smile when I read that line. Forgive the cliché, but sometimes digging for details yields pure gold.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Home Sweet Home?

           This past winter, cooped up by unrelenting snow and cold, I found myself constantly searching for a beach house where we could vacation and lie in the sun. In fact, I obsessed on this search until I found and booked “the one.”  I literally counted the weeks and days until we were able to make our escape to the beach this summer. At the same time, I knew our time away would seem all too short; and even before we got there, I was dreading how quickly it would go by. I’m very grateful for our wonderful family vacation, but I’m already longing to return to another “dream house” by the ocean.

            I should be content where I am. We live in a lovely home in a friendly neighborhood.  We moved out here nearly three years ago so that we could accommodate my aging parents. We left behind our beloved family “homestead” where we raised our nine children and lived for twenty-three years. To say the move was difficult would be an understatement, but we felt clearly that God would have us take this step. Despite all that we have grown to love and enjoy about our new house, it somehow still doesn’t feel quite like “home.” My husband and I often find ourselves talking about the next house, a special house just for us, our “dream house.”

             Meanwhile, I post interior decorating ideas that catch my eye on a Pinterest board. I likely won’t ever be able to afford them, but it’s fun to dream about possibilities. Similarly, my mother-in-law kept a manila folder labeled “dream house,” filled with pictures of designs and features she liked. Sadly, at just fifty-four, she died of cancer before having the opportunity of living in her “dream house.” As sad as this is, I am confident that she is with the Lord, and that she is now in a far more beautiful heavenly home than we can ever dream or imagine.

            My faith in that heavenly home causes me to wonder if my constant longing and desire for my “dream house” is really my longing and desire for heaven. As fabulous as some places and houses in this world may be, they will ultimately leave us dissatisfied and yearning for something more. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis so eloquently phrased this idea:  “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Home sweet home? Sounds like heaven to me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Place: The Importance of Setting (Part II)

Time and place are the two aspects of setting in a work of fiction. In this post, I will discuss the importance of “place” in my Oxford Chronicles series. The place of a story can serve as a plot catalyst, but it can also serve as creative inspiration. In fact, the idea for the series came from my first publisher after he looked at photos I had taken of Oxford and the Eagle and Child pub. “What do you think about setting a novel around that pub and the writers (the Inklings) who met there?” he asked, and from that seed of inspiration grew my first book Inklings

As I’ve traveled to different locales, various impressions and observations find their way into my storylines. Cambo House outside St. Andrew’s, Scotland, led to the pre-WWII love story in Evasions of Eric and Laurene. Having spent the night myself in the “dowager” wing of the mansion, sleeping uneasily in a Victorian tester bed in a capacious room with heavy curtains and mahogany wardrobes, I could easily describe
those details when Laurene is quarantined with the flu to her grandmother’s room. Walking St. Andrew’s
 famous golf course with my friends enabled me to understand Eric’s love for
 the game and the fun he has finding lost golf balls in the gorse. And our adventurous
 drive up into the highlands to stay in a lighthouse near Gairloch led me to incorporate
 that starkly beautiful landscape into the frame story of the MacKenzie clan. 
Thanks to the generosity of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, I was able to spend a 
night in Lewis’s home the Kilns; in fact, I slept in his bedroom. Well to be honest,
 I was so excited I could barely sleep! However, that night allowed me to “experience” 
a little of what living at the Kilns could have felt like for Annie Little when she finds
 refuge there as a wartime evacuee.

Expectations opens in Oxford, but quickly moves to Paris. Since I had lived there for a semester,
I could easily place David and Kate in my Passy apartment with a skyline view of the Eiffel Tower.
I had attended a bilingual school with some illustrious classmates, including the granddaughter of
Winston Churchill and daughter of the British ambassador, who kindly invited all the girls in our class
to her birthday dinner party at the British embassy. I was dazzled by the embassy with its ornate ballroom
and Queen Victoria’s throne, which the queen never sat on but we schoolgirls did. My memories, as well as
my diary entries from that important time in my life, gave me rich sensory details for the story I was to
write decades later.

These kinds of details belonging to “place” can bring verisimilitude to one’s writings as well as trigger
numerous plot points. Discovering the right setting, both in time and place, could be the key
to unlocking a successful story.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Time Traveling: The Importance of setting (Part I)

Setting encompasses both time and place. Where and when a story is set obviously has a major impact on the shape of the plot and development of the characters. Although conflict and themes are universal, they play out in vastly different ways in different times.  For example, in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, the contemporary Darcy pursues his love in a manner necessarily unique from Jane Austen’s 19th century Mr. Darcy: cell phones replace letters; fast cars, stately steeds; and passionate kisses, formal bows.   

Time periods help tell the tale.  Customs, dress, slang, architecture, and even fads create the ambiance surrounding the characters and aid in plot development. I set the first books of my Oxford Chronicles series  (Inklings, Intentions, and Expectations) in early 1960’s Oxford, a time when rock groups like Jerry and the Pacemakers  and The Beatles are coming to the fore and hints of cultural shifts like civil rights, “free love” and the women’s movement are on the horizon. By opening Inklings on the day of C.S. Lewis’s funeral (November 26, 1963), I could ground my story in a very specific time-frame. In Inklings and Intentions, I also used the actual Oxford University eight week academic calendar for 1964-1965 to plot out what my characters would be doing day by day so that the action flows logically.

I set the sequel Expectations in the following academic year of 1965-1966. Since J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith are actual characters in this book, I was delighted to learn that they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March of 1966 so that I could include that event in my story. Yvette, a bi-racial character refers to the Civil Rights movement and quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have dream” speech.  Some of the novel takes place in Paris, and because I lived there myself for a semester in 1969, I could search my memory and old journal to accurately describe the city in that era.

Evasions, the prequel of the series, is set during the early days of WWII and the Battle of Britan.  As a history buff, historical fiction is my favorite genre. I love experiencing true events through fictional characters. I was able to interview several people who had lived through the events of the war in Britain and read numerous eye-witness accounts, which aided me in giving personal and vivid details to my characters’ experiences. I learned what was happening day by day and could incorporate those historic events of bombings, air-raids, dog-fights, lives lost, and so on into my plot. The fact that most communication between servicemen and their loved ones took place through letters enabled me to employ the “epistolary” technique to reveal the conditions and daily experiences of wartime Britain as my characters exchange letters, using their own unique voices.  

Without question the “when” of a story has a tremendous impact on the story itself. In writing and reading historical fiction, we can become literary time travelers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Tribute

                                   My republished Memorial Day tribute 
                                  in memory of Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, USMC

                   "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).                               

Memorial Day has changed for me since my nephew Gunnery Sgt Ryan Jeschke, USMC, was killed in Afghanistan in August 2012. In the past, I honored the memory of my husband’s Marine Corps family members who had faithfully served our country, but who died in their beds after living a full life.  Now Memorial Day is not only a day of remembrance; it is a day of mourning.

While most Americans play and picnic and mark the beginning of summer fun, I know Ryan’s young wife, mom and dad, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends are marking another reminder of his ultimate sacrifice to enable all of us to enjoy the freedom to play and picnic.

In another conflict, one hundred and fifty years ago, Unions and Confederate troops clashed on the rolling fields of the Shenandoah Valley near New Market, Virginia. Among them were teenaged cadets sent up as reserves from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), ten of whom lost their young lives. Although the South’s struggle to uphold slavery was morally indefensible and rightly defeated, these boys were fighting to protect their homeland, families, and friends. They were all, on both sides, mothers’ sons.

With the 150th anniversary of many Civil War battles, my husband and I have been visiting battlefields: Gettysburg as well as Manassas/Bull Run and Bristow Station, which are near where we live. A month ago we decided to walk the New Market battlefield with our son, who was graduating from nearby Eastern Mennonite University. We had heard the tragic story of the fallen cadets back in the fall when we had toured VMI, my father-in-law’s alma mater.  We walked through the meadow, named the “Field of Lost Shoes” because torrential rains had turned the field into a muddy bog, which pulled off the boys’ boots and shoes as they charged barefoot up the long hill.  Walking a battlefield is a moving and sobering experience. One can easily imagine the flying bullets and the falling men—all mothers’ sons.

In one of those amazing providences, on our return from this excursion, we received an invitation to the premiere of a new feature film, Field of Lost Shoes, which opened the 8th annual GI Film Festival held in conjunction with Memorial Day observances here in the nation’s capital.  A dear friend from college and one of my husband’s groomsmen, David M. Kennedy, wrote and produced the film. Dave is an Irish-Catholic genius, who was the President of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, a Commander in the Navy, a top-gun pilot, and the military consultant for films like Pearl Harbor and Behind Enemy Lines. We had last seen Dave at Arlington National Cemetery for the burial of his brother alongside his oldest brother, a hero killed in action in Vietnam. While there, Dave took the time to visit Ryan’s grave with us, where he and his son Sam, a ROTC student at UVA, gave Ryan an honor salute. Needless to say, we were very touched by their tribute.

For many years, Dave had dreamed of making a feature film about the VMI cadets who fought and died at New Market. What a thrill to be invited as his “honored guests” to the premiere of this dream fulfilled.  We hope Field of Lost Shoes will get the attention and distribution it deserves.  I’m pleased to say that the film is excellent and a moving tribute to these mothers’ sons.

This weekend I trust we will all take the time to pause and remember the many men and women (sons and daughters all) in countless conflicts, who have laid down their lives to protect our homeland and our freedom. And while we remember and honor the fallen, please pray for their families who are also remembering---and mourning.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Stepping into the Stream of History"

I set my novel Evasions, a prequel to The Oxford Chronicles series, in England and Scotland during the early years of WWII and the Battle of Britain.  After creating my fictional characters and having their basic story line in mind, I discovered in my travels and research that many times fact intersected with fiction. Some may call such intersections “coincidences,” but I believe they are “providences.” Whenever I stumbled upon these providences, a dear friend and fellow traveler would say that I had “stepped into the stream of history.”

           For example, I thought that my American nurse Annie Little would possibly work at the Churchill Hospital in Headington because of its proximity to C.S. Lewis’s home the Kilns, but I wasn't sure when it had even been built.  On a trip to Oxford, I met a friend for lunch at the hospital, where she worked as a pharmacist. In the course of our conversation, she told me that it had actually been built by the Americans in WWII to care for wounded soldiers, something she “happened” to know because of an historical photographic display in the hospital’s former lobby.

Part of my story revolves around the refugees who lived at the Kilns during the war years, in particular, my character Annie, pregnant with her son David, who is the hero of my previously written novels Inklings, Intentions and Expectations.  As I researched, I came across a letter C.S. Lewis had written a little girl, in which he stated that they had a number of evacuees staying at the Kilns and one was a six-week-old baby boy!  In another instance, I learned that the Reverend Peter Bide—who had married Jack and Joy Lewis, the role I had given to my fictional Eric Mackenzie—had served in WWII and after the war decided to become an Anglican clergyman. He had a wife and children, and Lewis helped him finance his return to his studies at Oxford and then seminary—just as I had envisioned for Eric.

After I had decided that my Scottish Eric MacKenzie would begin the story as a caddie at St. Andrews, I was given a book about the caddies of the Royal and Ancient golf course called A Wee Nip at the 19th Hole. The author, Richard Mackenzie, was the caddie manager at St. Andrew’s; and when I visited the golf course, stopping by the caddie shack, he “happened” to be there.  Not only was Richard very kind and willing to help with some wonderful stories about the MacKenzies, which I wove into my novel, but he is also a devoted Christian.

These providential leadings made my story more grounded in reality, and also served as markers along the way of God’s guidance and encouragement. Plus “stepping into the stream of history” can be amazing fun!