The Last Letter: A Reflection on a Soldier’s Letter from WWI

Soldier WWIToday I haven’t been feeling well, so I’ve had the heating pad, pencil and notebook, and research in bed with me today. My Master’s Thesis deals in part with Mitchell Reid’s book, “The Vacant Chair,” and how hand-written letters become a replacement for that vacant chair within the domestic sphere. One of my readings today was a small booklet, not more than 90 pages, of fragments of letters that a young nineteen year old French lad, who had been studying in school to become a missionary, wrote home. {The book was published in 1917 and reprinted in English in 1918. The title is “For France and the Faith.”}

Alfred Evgene Casalis merged his role as a man of faith and as a volunteer soldier, his ideals ardently expressed in his letters home. He believed it to be his duty for country and for his fellow man to stand along side of those who fought at the front, even though he was a pacifist, not only to defend his country but to minister to his fellow comrades.

He took part in the First Battle of Ypres in May 1915, and it is his last letter which touched me:

May 8th

Since Thursday evening I have been back in the trenches, knowing that the big attack is near at hand. And since that time my life has been one tense and anxious watching for the coming hour. But I am at peace, I fear nothing. I shall be able to do my duty with the aid of God.

The bombardment is becoming more and more violent. Today, particularly, the artillery is firing without a stop and one can hear only the noise of the shells. They whistle through the air, on a level with the trench, like a great heart-rending sob. Then they explode over yonder with a dry crash, and everything flies – earth, wood, and iron. Finally come the shell splinters, reaching up to where we are and falling on all sides. And to think that it is scarcely the fiftieth part of the artillery surrounding us which is firing! What will it be like when all belch forth at once? Therefore I am hopeful. The attack can not fail to succeed. There will be some wounded, some killed, but we shall go forward and far—–

This letter was incomplete. A footnote made at the very end noted “The letter was unfinished and was found in the pocket of the capote when he was buried.” 

Sent back to his mother and father, the last letter found its way home as a material reminder of its author in the visual image of the vacant chair at the dinner table. Alfred’s life was cut short, his last hours filled with the sounds of guns and death. Within the exploration of my thesis, I discuss how families during the early twentieth century coped with the lost of a loved one during WWI, especially if they could not even perform the ritual of normal grieving and burial. How important were those letters to the family?  In the case of Alfred, the Major of his company, wrote his parents that his body was not recovered, it was learned later that he was placed “in a common grave dug on the battlefield near the place where he fell.” It is not a wonder then, that his family published this small booklet of certain parts of Alfred’s letters. These were the last material memories they had of him, a symbolic representation of their son, which they wished to share with the rest of the world. This is how they finalized the grieving for the son who would not come home to fill his vacant chair.

The Next Chapter…

Chapter One

It has been an exciting week for us here in Green Isle land. The series has been added to the GMTA Publishing family, all nine books, and the contract was signed and delivered yesterday. (Six books in Legends of Green Isle and three others, which will feature a prequel story of Green Isle’s beginnings.) Our wonderful cover artist, Sandip, will be hard at work helping with a revision of book one’s cover, along with creating book three’s design.

What a blessing to have met Kitty Bullard and her publishing firm. Everyone in Green Isle is doing a happy dance. After the celebration, we’ll be back at work on book three – “Revenge of the Salamander King.”  Join the adventure by following us on Twitter @GreenIsleAuthor or our Facebook Fan Page at https://www.facebook.com/LegendsOfGreenIsle

Happy Friday everyone!

Reflections of a Graduate Student – Year One.

imagesCA20KNSZWell the first year of graduate studies are completed. I have discovered quite a few things about graduate school. I will list my top ten as follows:

1. Having the department head as your Historiography professor the first semester is scary, especially when he looks at you during seminar with a look that says: “Why are you here?”

2. My office is in the basement and I see no sunlight for a good part of the day. I’m happy summer is here.

3. Students, whose papers you grade, feel like you are out to get them, when in fact, you are only trying to help, and they look at you with a look that says: “Why are you here?”

4. Grading 80 finals in two days is torture, especially when they are all essays and answer the same 5 questions. I applaud the professors who do this for 4 classes at the end of the semester.

5. Your “Statement of Purpose” really doesn’t have a purpose for getting you into the Masters’ programs. They don’t even look at that until you apply to Phd school.

6. You can change your thesis at least a hundred times before you get something cohesive.

7. I have lost weight hoofing from the commuter parking area at the very back of Clemson with my numerous bags of books. If you don’t phone the meter maid at the campus police that you’re dropping off books before you park your car in BFE, you will get a ticket if she sees you doing it, and will give you a look that says: “Why are you here?”

8.  There’s never enough research.

9. Russian literature is actually pretty fascinating.

10. Writing a 25-30 page research paper becomes second nature. I remember when I used to whine about 10 pages.

Any way, summer is here, so I’ll be posting a bit more. Lots of great things happening this year. Happy writing!

Searching for Primary Documents – The obsession with World War I

all-quiet-on-the-western-front-2As I begin the task of constructing my Master’s Thesis, I have found myself occupied with the search for World War I primary documents. I was happy to find a collection of 88 letters and assorted other materials from Ohio. Waiting to get them in the mail is hard: I’m impatient sometimes. Putting together the chapters and researching is going to be a great joy. This subject is near and dear to my heart.

Memory and commemoration of those who served and died in war, and the ways that people on the home front dealt with healing and piecing together their lives during this period is particularly interesting to me. The type of trauma associated with this war appears to be entirely different from any other war before it. This is what I’m discussing in my thesis. If anyone out there has a collection of letters from either the first or second war, and would be willing to let this graduate student have a moment with studying them, I would love to hear from you. I’m on a quest to discover something that’s never been discovered before. Guess that’s why I’m so obsessed with letters and memory.

The ending to the first semester of Graduate School.

WolfIf anyone told me twenty years ago that I would be attending graduate school in my late forties, and at Clemson University, I probably would have looked at them strange. Higher education is something you must be committed too, and ten or fifteen years ago, I didn’t understand that kind of commitment.

It’s taken me awhile to get here. Many ups and downs, lessons learned the hard way and so forth. The past five years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about others. And now that I’ve finished up the first semester of grad school, I’ve learned some additional things about commitment. Graduate school isn’t easy. There’s a lot of reading, and your writing skills must be honed to perfection, especially when you need to crank out sever 25 page papers in a semester and the research that goes with it.

I also thought I had a clear picture of what I wanted to do for my thesis, but I found after writing a paper on World War I, that I’m changing from the era of the French Revolution to this time period. I watched a film called “My Boy Jack,” which was based off the story surrounding Jack Kipling, Rudyard Kipling’s son, and his death in World War I. (If you haven’t seen the movie, I suggest you do.) The emotion from the film stayed with me for several days. I couldn’t shake it. It was if a million voices of the lost generation called out to me, and I found myself committed to a topic that caught not only my imagination, but my emotions. I guess that’s what fuels commitment, deep and unfathomable emotion. It’s too bad we don’t incorporate that into everyday life. Perhaps the people who are most important to us would feel better appreciated, and understand our love.

The ending to this year is bringing some changes to me. I don’t know if anyone else sees them, but I know they are there. I sense these changes, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have a wonderful 2014!

Help! How do I Name my Characters in a Young Adult Fantasy Story?

May 6th, 2011 @ 23:14:38When I was creating the series of Legends of Green Isle, one of the biggest obstacles I came across was naming characters. I didn’t want them to sound silly. (I could see them frowning at times when I posed a name that was reminiscent of a comic book hero).

Fantasy characters like my dragons, elves, fairies and the like were dependent upon me to get something that was easy to say.  As a youngster I’ve read many fantasy books with long character names that seemed unpronounceable, and it would confuse and frustrate me to no end because I just ended up nicknaming the book’s character.  I’m sure that it took away from the character’s ‘soul’ and depth, not knowing the true pronunciation of its name, and the writer’s extension of that character. I didn’t want any of my readers to feel the same emotion I did.

Most of my Earthly characters have names which are old family names. My grandmother on my mom’s side passed away during the first beginnings of Legends of Green Isle and out of respect for her, the last names are from her heritage.  One character who shows up briefly has her given name (Martha Gay). Green Isle characters were a different story.  They were the fantasy characters, and thus needed other worldly names.

You may not believe this, but sometimes they just gave me their name. Take for instance, Lamfada, the leprechaun who forged the Sword of Balorn.  He actually had a different name before this one.  It didn’t read well with the story though, and he knew it.  One day, while proof reading, I could hear the Irish tilt of his scorn as the name Lamfada popped into my head; “don’t ye think that ya be namin’ me some fruity name with this one wee lass? Why don’t ya try Lamfada? That be my name and I’m stickin’ to it!”

Some names were derived from research I did on the Scottish and Irish folklore, and delving into the mythology of Atlantis. Elvish names were a little difficult.  I hunted around the web looking for some help with this one.  One website I found, included several tables of prefixes and suffixes of elf names.  I was able to create things which had some meaning for the elf characters and elf places within the book.  I also used some of the names for the Nuada Findi people and the Shadow people of Murias Donn (Druids). You can find these tables HERE.

All in all, I would suggest reading your story out loud to yourself.  Listen to your characters’ voices. (If you’re like me, they are always up there in the attic of your mind hanging around waiting for the next scene.) Does the name fit their personality? Does their name amplify or take away from who they are in the story? Is their name something the readers will be able to pronounce when reading?  Getting the right names are important.  They help create a believable story  around the characters themself.

Happy writing all!  Enjoy some time in your imagination today.