Friday, April 24, 2015

Sigrid MacRae: Uncovering Family History

Everyone's Story welcomes author Sigrid MacRae. I was first introduced to Sigrid and her work when I read a book review of her then just released non-fiction telling of her family life, A WORLD ELSEWHERE. I had to read tho book! Sigrid's account of the Baltic-German father she never knew, of the strong American mother who saved her children from great turmoil and hardships during and post World War II, struck the very themes I enjoy reading and writing about. I contacted Sigrid and was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to appear on my blog. Sigrid offers valuable insights to a time that no one should ever push aside and forget. Do check out her Giveaway offer, her intriguing book excerpt, and please welcome her warmly. Both Sigrid and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sigrid is offering 1 copy of her non-fiction A WORLD ELSEWHERE to 1 randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, May 1st between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment


Prologue from A WORLD ELSEWHERE by Sigrid MacRae

The box was beautiful. My mother had bought it in Morocco many years ago, and as a child, I admired it in secret, stroking the tiny pieces of motherofpearl inlay on the surface, its patterns conjuring far away places. Its ivory keyhole held a key with a striped ribbon attached. Turning the key always produced a soft pling-plong, but never opened the box. After many decades, my eightyfiveyearold mother was tired of Maine winters and was moving to Arizona. Parceling out her possessions and the memories they held to her five surviving children, she now held the box out to me, saying simply, “Your father’s letters.”

I had always suspected that the box held them. Exotic and mysteri ous, it was the perfect receptacle for the treasured relics of a husband long dead and a father I had never known. It contained a chapter of my mother’s life that she had closed long since, one I was reluctant to re open. The moment was freighted with feeling; her expression suggested things that I was afraid I could respond to only with tears. Neither of us felt comfortable in such emotional territory, and we cut it short. I stowed the box tenderly in the car along with the other pieces of her life she had designated for me: a miscellany of books, pictures, rugs, silver. As the car pulled away, she stood, small and contained, the enormous firs by the garage dwarfing her as she waved goodbye. Behind her, morning sunlight skittered across the bay.

At home the box sat—still beautiful, but still steadfastly, stubbornly locked—keeping its secrets. Though my mother had given it to me, I felt that breaking this family reliquary open by force was wrong. Besides, I was reluctant to discover what the box held. Inside was the person who had changed the shape of my mother’s life, whom my older brothers and sisters loved and remembered, a real person to everyone in the family except me, the youngest… (who never knew him)… 

My mother died about ten years after she gave me the box of letters, and not long after, turning the key opened it. Inexplicable, I thought, magical, until my husband confessed that he had tinkered with the lock. After all these years, my father revealed himself quickly...The voice of my mother’s young lover, so long silent, emerged from his letters like a genie out of a bottle. From the pages of one letter slipped silken, nearly transparent poppy petals of the palest salmon pink—the tender gesture of a longago love. So this was the person who had lurked inside the box all those years...

Questions for Sigrid MacRae:

A WORLD ELSEWHERE is as much your story as it is a story about your mother, Aimée, a strong and resilient woman. Is there a central message that you would like to encourage other women with using your mother’s life story as an example?

People are often capable of far more than they imagine. Why and how my mother, a weak and affection-starved child, grew into an indomitable force is not easily explained, but when the need arose, she demonstrated enough courage for an army. Though she may have flinched privately, she was an example to her children, an inspiration to many.

The lesson: Don’t underestimate yourself, and never give up

Born of an American mother and a Baltic-German father (killed on Hitler’s Russian front before you were born) you were born in Germany and came to live in the United States at the age of 6. Through a child’s eyes did you experience any kind of prejudice and resistance once you left Germany? How did this shape you as an adult?

In first grade in Hartford, CT, a boy named Skippy yelled “Nazi” at me. As a fresh off-the-boat displaced person, just turned six, I had no more idea what a Nazi was than I knew that the jar in which Skippy brought his dessert with a big red Skippy on the lid was a peanut butter jar. But I knew it wasn’t good. This was post-war America; it was only the first of many incidents. I held my father responsible for that taunt and others that followed me through childhood and beyond, making me feel alien and “in this world but not of it ” - a double-edged sword that is hard for a child to deal with. Sometimes it still is, but time, maturity, and writing the book taught me to overcome such knee-jerk prejudices. Now I appreciate the other edge of that sword, and see that it is an advantage that enlarges my perspective.

Your mother’s story unfolded years after she gave you a box of letters written by the father you never knew. Did you open the box right away? Why or why not? What emotion did this release in you?

The box was locked. It was a beautiful family reliquary of sorts, and I could not bring myself to force it open. I was also reluctant to find the man who lurked inside. He was half of my mother’s love story, yet in some way I also held him responsible for her countless difficulties, and for my being called a Nazi for years. After my mother’s death, my husband tinkered with the lock. The little pling-plong opened to door on someone so young, so vivid, thoughtful, and funny, that it was hard not to fall in love with him too.

Upon learning of your family’s history, the one your mother and you had chosen not to rehash, did you learn of any particular pleasantry you would like to share?

I am not sure what you mean by “pleasantry”; will these do?

“Life is a verb, everyone has a story,” she used to say.

Another favorite dictum: “Life is full of surprises, ready or not…”

What did you hope to accomplish in publishing your personal family story?

First: I wanted to find some answers for myself.

Second: To show that history is not necessarily what is found in textbooks, but rather many thousands of individual histories and motivations, and that my father and many others did not fall under the blanket ”Nazi” rubric so routinely and carelessly applied to anyone caught up in Hitler’s war.

I’m a firm believer that history (the tragedies) tends to repeat itself if not shared and that is one of the reasons why I admire A WORLD ELSEWHERE. However, some stories are not easy to pass down. Did you experience any trepidation in publishing this very personal account?

Yes, of course. I felt like an intruder while reading my father’s early letters, and my mother’s too. But it was important to share what I learned from those extensive letters. Shaped by a civilization that disappeared like Brigadoon in the Bolshevik mists when he was a boy, my father was part of Hitler’s war on Russia, trying to recapture what was lost, and to free the Russian people from a dreaded Stalin.

It must have looked like the closest vehicle that might bring what Hitler’s regime had prevented him from accomplishing in Germany.

I suspect that he knew it would kill him, but that his death might accomplish what he had not accomplished in life.

Another point: The huge, ongoing sensitivity to the “Nazi” issue meant that historical accuracy and scrupulous honesty were crucial. Yes, my father had joined the party, but understanding when, why and how - and that he was also thrown out of the party and into jail for religious principles not long after, is critical too.

Any parting messages?

There are few open and shut cases in history. I hope that the book will strike a blow against ideology – a form of blindness and a common excuse for evil. There’s no room for ideology in our shrinking world; it deserves no patience.

People are often capable of far more than they imagine. Why and how my mother, a weak and affection-starved child, grew into an indomitable force is not easily explained. She had imagined a bright future that turned fairly quickly into a story of ongoing disasters. While she may have flinched privately, she was equal to terrifying circumstances when the need arose, a lifesaver to her children, an inspiration to many.

Sigrid's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story: Meet Sigrid MacRae, author of true family life story in Nazi Germany #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author Sigrid MacRae: What happens when a mom passes down an unexpected family legacy? (Tweet This)

Like family biographies showing strong women in face of WWII? Visit Sigrid MacRae #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Sigrid MacRae is the coauthor of Alliance of Enemies, about the undercover collaboration of the German resistance to Hitler and the American OSS during WWII. She holds a graduate degree in Art History from Columbia University, spent many years in publishing, and lives in New York City and Maine. 

Places to connect with Sigrid:


Karen Campbell Prough: Why I Chose Not To Give Up

Everyone's Story welcomes debut author Karen Campbell Prough. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Karen and collaborating on our Christmas Treasures anthology through our agent Linda S. Glaz of the Hartline Literary Agency. Through the months I've watched and cheered as Karen became a debut author. With more novels to come, this is an exciting time for Karen--understatement! I hope you can share an encouraging word with Karen, and do check out her excerpt and special Giveaway offer for 2 winners. 

Both Karen and I look forward to hearing from you!

***I'll love for you to take a moment and take this month's short poll on the right-hand sidebar. Thanks so much.

Karen is offering 1 copy of THE GIRL CALLED ELLA DESSA  to 2 randomly chosen commenters. The winner will be announced here on Friday, May 1st between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment

Enjoy an excerpt of Karen's novel:

THE GIRL CALLED ELLA DESSA by Karen Campbell Prough

Thursday, September 15, 1836

“Mama, talk to me. I can’t do this by myself.”

Ella Dessa Huskey’s mama sat upright on the bed. “It’s too soon. I need help.” The lantern’s dull glow caused indistinct shadows to shift over the log wall and drift across the woman’s thin face and tangled straw-colored hair.

“I don’t understand what to do.” Ella knew nothing of birthing babies. Her twelve years of life hadn’t included that experience. She felt a surge of panic, which caused her stomach to roll. “Tell me what to do.”

Mama collapsed back on the flat pillow. Sweat poured down her face. She panted, her blue eyes staring upward. “Ella Dessa, remember,” her voice sounded weak but understandable, “I might go to screaming before it’s here.”

“What do I do?”

“Keep clean sheets under me so your pa can’t see the soiled bed. There’s more in my trunk.” She groaned, twisted sideways, and shifted her narrow hips. “I can’t catch my breath. I’m too tired. Ohh … another one’s coming.”

Her mama grimaced. Ella clamped her teeth on her bottom lip and scrunched her face.

Just as the contraction peaked and faded, the cabin door opened. The morning’s meager light slipped into the grim interior. Her pa ducked his head, stepped in with an armful of dried wood, and snatched the door shut with his right hand.

With one swift movement, Ella leaned across the bed and let her disheveled hair hide the side of her face. She placed her lips against Mama’s ear. “I’m skeered. He should go for Granny Hanks. Let me ride there myself.”

“No— hush.” Mama’s sunken eyes went shut. “It’s too late.”


“Jacob?” The callous tone in Pa’s voice brought Mama’s exhausted blue eyes wide open. Her quivering hands wiped at the sweat on her forehead.

“Is Ella Dessa a help or is she a hinderin’ you? If so, I’ll kick her outside.”

Ella twisted sideways on the lumpy mattress and stared at her pa. Her initial panic doubled, and she clutched Mama’s clammy arm. I won’t go, unless I’m told to ride for Granny. She hoped her touch relayed those feelings to her mama. Words couldn’t be spoken with Pa glowering at her.

“She’s a help. Leave her be.”

“Mama,” she whispered. “I want to be here. But I fear I might not know what to do.”

Unable to answer, Mama shook her head. Her colorless lips twisted with agony. She panted through the next contraction, and her body sagged to the bed. “Don’t let it frighten you. Just stand by to tie the cord. Ella Dessa, you’re brave. Remember that always.” Her barely audible words drifted away. Her eyes closed.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ella saw her pa squatting near the fireplace. His large-knuckled hands stacked the split wood. The fire had died to gray coals, and the cabin chilled. She had a hazy grasp on the birth process, and the immediacy engulfed and terrified her.

With her thumb, she rubbed the sweat from Mama’s eyelids. “How’s the pain?”

“Let me rest.”

“Pa?” She clenched her jaw and turned toward him. “She’s too weak.”

He dropped a piece of wood. His curse sliced through the room.

The irregular flicker of the lantern threw a jumpy, distorted reflection over the sagging bed, and the cabin’s one window cast a dull hint of daylight into the room.

“Oh, Lord, give me strength.” Mama’s voice rose in a whispered prayer. “Let it be a son.” She clutched at the bedclothes and moaned through colorless lips. With the mounting contraction, she struggled to lift her head and upper body off the sunken cornhusk mattress.

Ella wedged a rolled blanket behind her back. “Better?”

Mama grasped her knees, pulled them toward the sides of her chest, and strained. A deep groan erupted from her throat. “Awww. No— awww!”

Firewood clattered to the clay floor and rolled. Ella whirled toward the sound. “Let me go for Granny.”

“It ain’t needed.” Pa pivoted on broken-down boot heels, and his savage kick sent a stick of wood spinning at her. “Yell for me when it’s here.” He crammed a worn-out hat over his unwashed hair and shoved long arms into his coat. “I’ll be at the corncrib.”

“Pa, no. I ain’t never done this. You ain’t gone for Granny. You can’t leave me to do this.” She ran and grabbed at his worn shirtsleeve. “Stay.” Her fingers clung with determination, even though she knew the danger of touching him.

As if they were nasty, he plucked her fingers from his sleeve. His cold inflection spoke of his disdain. “Take yer hands away— gurl. This be jest another untimely birthin’. She’s goin’ to kill it, ag’in. I got more important things on my mind, like a bear-damaged corncrib to repair.” He reached for the door latch and disappeared into the frosty dawn.

His frail wife writhed in pain. But he didn’t look back.

Fury and alarm choked Ella. She knew her mama wouldn’t kill her babies. Her pa just didn’t care. Crisp air rushed in at the wide-open door, and her hands shook as she closed it.

Mama struggled for another hour, growing weaker with each contraction. And Ella cried tears of relief when the blue-tinged baby, resembling a skinned rabbit, arrived. The infant slipped from its mother’s tortured body, onto stained sheets between skinny bent legs. A short span of eerie silence filled the cabin. The shrill screams of tormented birthing ceased.

She stared in disbelief at the infant until it gave a pitiful wail. “It’s here, Mama. It’s … here.” She stammered on the simple words expressing her astonishment. “It’s a real baby. This ain’t nothin’ like the pigs and cows droppin’ young. Mama, did you hear me?”

“It’s alive?” The woman sank back on the feather pillow, not bothering to examine the baby. Matted hair framed her head. The muslin gown, soaked with perspiration, clung to her emaciated form. Her once-beautiful face lacked color. She shook with chills. “If it’s a girl child, I want it named Aileen, after my mam. Aileen … such a soothing sound.” Her blue-veined eyelids closed.

“It is a boy. He’s awful little.” Ella spoke in hushed tones and marveled at the miniature human and the miracle of birth she’d witnessed.

The baby’s concave chest heaved. Delicate arms waved in the air, as his bluish-tinged legs and feet curled and drew tight to his body. He made pitiful raspy noises with every breath he tried to draw into his lungs.

With her eyes still shut, Mama smiled. “Ah, a boy. Let your pa name him.”

“Pa’s at the corncrib.” She shoved sweaty strands of hair out of her eyes. “He walked out.” She lifted a square of material and tried to wipe the quivering damp infant.

“Just as well.” Mama’s voice lost strength.

“The fire went out. He ain’t helped with that neither.” Bitterness welled inside her. She pressed her lips together to prevent another string of heated words.

“Don’t fret. The kettle of water will still have warmth.”

“He should’ve stayed!”

“Stop talking of him … like that. He’s done enough by you.”

“I don’t understand. Done what by me?”

“Hush. This be a woman’s trial. God’s punishment. Clear your brother’s throat and mouth with your finger. Has the cord stopped beating? Tie it like I showed. Keep him warm. I need to rest, I’m … so tired.” Sighing, she closed her light blue eyes. “Jacob Huskey can now stop bothering with me. I done paid the price for his name, accepted my duty. I bore him a live one. A son.”

“I’m not sure ‘bout it, Mama. I don’t know if I can cut it.” Her fingers trembled. She wrinkled her nose while she concentrated on tying two narrow pieces of cloth about the slippery cord. It reminded her of spilled hog guts at butchering time, and she shuddered.

“You can do it.”

“It’s makin’ me gag.” Soft moans of disgust escaped her lips as she used a knife to slice at the shiny, supple cord. “It’s done!” She felt as if she had run a lengthy race. “He’s his own sep’rate self.”

“I knew you’d do it. You’re a … brave child.” Mama’s bloodless lips formed the low words with short puffs of air. “Ella Dessa, stay that way. Keep faith in God … alone. Without His touch, we can’t stay strong. Don’t let no man beat you down.”

“I won’t.” She lifted the pot of lukewarm water out of the fireplace and set it on the clay floor. She used a dipper and poured water into a shallow pan. “I’ll clean the baby.”

She washed the baby’s body and bundled a scrap of blanket close around his trembling form. She felt older than her years as she cuddled her brother and rubbed her nose over the softness of his head. Ella drew in a deep breath. His sweet scent reminded her of baby rabbits plucked from a summer nest of dried grass.

She tucked him into the bend of her mama’s blue-veined arm. It took a moment or two of patting and jiggling Mama’s shoulder to get her to open her eyes.

“He’s right here by you. See?” Ella touched the baby’s diminutive hand and caressed each perfect curled finger. “Look at him. He ain’t cryin’, now.”

The baby’s convulsing limbs relaxed. His face took on a waxen appearance.

“I’ll look later. Ella Dessa, remember … I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She leaned to kiss the baby’s cool cheek. “This be home, little brother.”

“Ella? I feel …” Her mama grew silent.

Disjointed Trails by Karen Campbell Prough

My path to a published book has been a lengthy and disjointed trail. But it started when I was about eight. A wooden bookcase in my grandparents’ Michigan farmhouse teemed with books written by James Oliver Curwood and other old authors. Their descriptive words fueled my first dreams of becoming a writer. But my mother planted the seeds.

Those seeds took hold, sprouted, and grew my wild imagination. She let me cut up her outdated catalogs and create paper doll families, who soon lived crazy adventures! We made furniture out of cardboard, and I learned to entertain my two younger brothers with tales of mystery and intrigue. Poor boys, we didn’t have a television in those days, so they had only my storytelling.

I grew up, got married, and most of my writing was stored in a box. But after our first child was born, I entered a short story contest and won a full-course meal for two at a fancy restaurant. During the following years, a few of my fiction and nonfiction stories showed up in magazines. And then one of my books gained some the interest of a publishing house … until their review board met. That book now resides in a dusty box under my bed.

Writing is fun. You can get lost in another life or imagined world. You might urge your characters to avoid danger and find the right person to marry. But life sometimes takes its toll on a writer. Discouragement hovers, whispering the lines from all the rejection letters you compile. Family members go on with an authentic life, and they leave you sitting on the porch of a haunted mansion, which is piled high with moldy, rejected manuscripts.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about a lonely child living in the mountains during 1836. My imagination took over, and I felt compelled to tell Ella Dessa’s story. I wrote and wrote, and my children moved out to follow their own path in life.

Interest in my writing peaked at three different writer’s conferences. One agent said she wanted to represent me, but proceeded to chop the story to bits. And then Joyce Hart, at Hartline Agency, took interest in my book and asked for my manuscript. But after a year, they said the market wasn’t good enough—but they loved the story! A southern publishing house wanted it, but finally said no—they went with a nonfiction book instead. A large publishing house looked at my book three times, but said it was too long and not their style.

But their words helped me search for help. Eva Everson took on the job of editing and soon told me she was in love with the characters. But when the editing was done, the book remained too long. Months later, I divided the large book into three manuscripts and fleshed them out.

I attended the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference and from that conference, I signed with an agent. Thrilled, I began more edits on book one, but the contract with the agent was soon canceled. She had to retire because of health issues. Despair took over, but so did stubbornness! I attended the BRCWC once more. While there, I got enough courage to sit down with an agent from Hartline Literary Agency. Through that agent, I made a connection with Linda Glaz at Hartline Literary Agency. It was a full circle. I was back to the same agency, which had loved my book years before. Linda decided to make me one of her writers! And tucked under my arm was three books—not just one.

Ella Dessa could be your neighbor, a child who suffers from rejection and sorrow. But blossoming within my character were the words her mother whispered more than once. They were strong, comforting words, telling Ella not to accept humiliation from anyone—that she was strong. Ella’s battered and beaten mother read words from the Bible and pointed to them. She told the girl there would be someone who loved her and she shouldn’t accept less.

THE GIRL CALLED ELLA DESSA is the first book of a long journey. I could have given up. Many times, I almost did, but the need to write pulled me to continue. It stood in my mind as a story, which needed telling.

Karen's Ah-hahs To Tweet:

Visit debut author Karen C. Prough @KCampbellPrough & read about her road to publication (Tweet This)

Karen C. Prough @KCampbellPrough shares tough struggles of debut novel THE GIRL CALLED ELLA DESSA (Tweet This)

#BookGiveaway of Karen C. Prough’s @KCampbellPrough debut novel THE GIRL CALLED ELLA DESSA (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Karen Campbell Prough writes historical fiction and a broad range of short stories. Seven of her short stories have been published in a variety of magazines. She has won awards at the 2014 BRMCWC and the 2015 FCWC. Her first book, The Girl Called Ella Dessa, came out April 2015. 

Karen knows her life-long desire to write comes from God. The love of books and the heartfelt urge to be a storyteller has been with her since childhood.

Places to connect with Karen:

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