Monday, August 12, 2019

Modern Fiction Inspiration from Iceland's WWII era


Inspiration comes from many sources for a writer. It’s often a situation, snippet of conversation, image, or the unique personality of a memorable person. That spark of inspiration grows, and it becomes a story, and it happens to me all the time. I have never found myself short on inspiration, the stories grow naturally from experiences all around me. 

Recently, I had the occasion to reminisce on one such inspiration that found its way into my first novel.  My mother is from Iceland and met my father in 1944 during WWII when he was stationed with US forces at Keflavík. At an Icelandic heritage event in Mountain, North Dakota, I had the pleasure of chatting with several Icelandic dignitaries, one of who was extremely well-versed on WWII and Iceland’s unique role in the conflict.

Iceland wished to remain neutral. The British recognized the island’s strategic importance and the German diplomatic presence in Iceland was disconcerting to the British. At this time, Iceland was a fully sovereign state known as the Kingdom of Iceland but still maintained union under the Danish king. When Germany took over Denmark on April 9, 1940, King Christian was still considered the Icelandic head of state. Britain approached Iceland, seeking cooperation in exchange for assistance both a ‘belligerent and an ally,’ but Icelandic officials declined. After that failure, the British Royal Navy and Royal Marines invaded on the morning of 10 May, 1940, to occupy Iceland and deny it to Germany. 

The Royal Regiment of Canada quickly followed suit, Empress of Australia which landed at Reykjavik on June 16, 1940. Defending the move, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King on June 18, 1940, said: “I need hardly point out the strategic importance, not only of the security of the North Atlantic sea lanes but to the defence (sic) of this continent, of maintaining control of Iceland.”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill in an address at the House of Commons on July 9, 1941 regarding US Troops in Iceland said, “The military occupation of Iceland by the forces of the United States is an event of first-rate political and strategic importance; in fact, it is one of the most important things that has happened since the war began.”

During that time, and still today, the Icelandic population was divided in its position on the occupation and the war. It was one they referred to as "blessað stríðið" or "the Lovely War." It was a time of economic revival for Iceland, but also social upheaval and a situation some thought of as loss of sovereignty. The positive economic impact from the occupation came in the form of a new network of roads and bridges, hospitals, airfields, and harbours across the country. However, relationships between Icelandic women and occupying troops caused much controversy and political turmoil. Icelanders severely censured the sexual relationships between the two and women who engaged in such were often accused of being prostitutes or traitors.

The Icelanders referred to this as Ástandið, "The Situation." Over two hundred documented births resulted from these liaisons. They were called the ástandsbörn (children of the situation).  In 1941, the Icelandic Minister of the Judiciary investigated over five hundred women who were suspected of having sex with troops station in the country. Many Icelanders were said to be “ upset that the foreign troops were ’taking away’ women, friends, and family.”

The government opened two facilities in 1942 to house women who slept with the soldiers while they investigated. The government subsequently closed both within a year after their inquiries determined that most of the liaisons were consensual. As a result of the occupation, approximately 332 Icelandic women became ‘war brides,’ marrying foreign soldiers and relocating to their new husband’s country.

In my story, Her Viking Heart, a character recalls memories from the war-time occupation and to write these in the most realistic manner, I spent several hours interviewing my Mom and asking questions about that time. It was so touching to talking with her about those childhood memories and the special times she spent with my father as they were courting in Iceland. I used a number of the stories in my book, but I think my favorite was the USO dance. 

This is a short excerpt from that book, a fictional account inspired by my own mother’s actual memories of meeting my father for the first time:

There was so much military there then, in the city. We weren’t touched too much by the war, but the servicemen were everywhere. We were encouraged to keep a distance, but they were so exotic compared to Icelandic men. Their courtesies and gallantry were so different. Icelandic men treated women as equals and didn’t have any of the courting rituals like flowers or holding the door open. We giggled and simpered like American girls when the military men were around, and the Icelandic men would just walk away in disgust,” she said laughing.
“My, I had forgotten that. So, one day, my cousin begged me to go to the USO dance with her. They were having a famous American singer, Marlene Dietrich. She wanted to hear the music and maybe dance with one of the dashing soldiers.”
Anna smiled at the nostalgic tone in Sunny’s voice.
“It was late in the summer, maybe early fall. That time when the Midnight Sun doesn’t shine anymore but sometimes the early Northern Lights fly overhead.” Sunny’s eyes closed, and a sad smile played on her thin lips.
“I remember a slight chill in the air as we hurried down the street. We could hear the music from at least a block away. As we got closer, there were all sorts of military men milling about on the street, coming and going. I don’t think the door ever stayed closed. When we got inside, it was heavy and warm from so many people. We left our coats and made it through the crowd to get a drink. There were a few people there I knew, girlfriends from town, but mostly it was men in uniform.”
“Was that the first time you had been to the USO?”
“Oh, yes. I hadn’t been in town long, but Arna knew my English was good enough I could help her talk to any young man there.” Sunny laughed. “I am certain to this day that was her intention.”
Anna grinned and silently encouraged Sunny to continue.
“I don’t remember the songs, really, but I remember the feeling. It was exciting and new. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I was looking all over the room. I ran right into the back of a soldier, and not just a little bump. I nearly soaked his shirt with my drink.” Sunny laughed in memory. “He turned around like he was ready to defend himself against an attack and had to look down to find the threat, I was so much shorter than he was. And then he smiled. Oh my, what a smile.”

              -Chapter 20, Her Viking Heart
 

Her Viking Heart is available from Amazon and other online retailers in paperback or e-book. 


Thursday, September 27, 2018

I call it My Bloodright


When I was growing up, I knew my Mom was special, but she was also different from the other Moms. She talked different and her outlook on the world was different. We used to laugh at the funny way she pronounced words like “volleyball” and “bushes”. She never warned me that my nose would grow if I told a lie, she would tell me to stick out my tongue to see if it turned black. I never thought of her as strange, just Icelandic. Growing up in Central Illinois in the 70’s and 80’s, there weren’t any other Icelanders so she was always a novelty in that respect. Looking back, it seems odd that it never occurred to me since she was Icelandic that I was too. I remember the 4th of July in 1976, our town celebrated the bicentennial by having a Best International Costume. My sister and I wore traditional Icelandic dresses and won first place, getting to march in the parade with an American and Icelandic flag. It seemed like we were honoring my mom’s heritage an immigrant, again, not my own. I learned from her only a few words in Icelandic; how to say hello and goodbye, which I remember pronouncing as “golden-dye-yun” and “vet-ta-bless”. When I was about ten years old, my Icelandic grandfather traveled to America and I met him for the first time. I recall two of my mother’s brothers also visiting, for short stays and it was always exciting to listen to their strange language and hear their stories of Iceland. The heritage was not real to me as a part of who I was, at least not at that time.

American Family & Icelandic Cousins
My first visit to Iceland was shortly after I graduated from high school. The country was amazing, exciting, and beautiful. I met Icelandic relatives during a whirlwind tour, cramming in as much as possible in a week-long trip. I loved everything about the country and the people, but it still didn’t feel like an integral part of what I was. That didn’t change until 2013, when at the age of 88, my mom published her memoirs of growing up in Iceland. I was so proud of her. As I read her book I found that amongst the stories of her adventures with her sisters riding their Icelandic horses and spending summers at her grandfather’s farm, there was the prevalent theme of folklore, trolls, and Hidden folk. At that time, I was passionate about a hobby creating wood yard art and for Christmas that year, I made a set of Icelandic Yule Lads for her yard. She was so proud of them and insisted calling the local newspaper, who ran a story that ended up being featured in the Morgunblaðið, an Icelandic newspaper.

Saying 'takk' to Grýla for her story
Everyone seemed to be caught up with the story of the Yule Lads. I had always loved reading, particularity loving folklore, fairy tales, and mythology. This now was the spark that ignited my passion to embrace my Icelandic heritage. I began researching the folklore and was fascinated at the way the mythology reflected the culture and attitudes of the people. I brought more of the traditions into my own life, and sought out Icelandic organizations and clubs to join to learn even more. I returned back to Iceland several times and allowed myself to experience the land itself. My Mom had often said that when she returned to her homeland, that she could finally breathe. I understand that. As an adult embracing the heritage of the land, I felt that connection on my first trip back in 2014. I had been researching the people, the stories, and the customs. I understood now that this was my country, my heritage, and the people here had the same history and bloodline as I did. That time, when I stepped on the land, I connected. I took a deep breath and felt the significance. As I saw the sights and visited the historic areas, it was a profoundly moving experience.

Fishing like my Grandpa! from Hofsós
I have returned every year since then. My connection with my heritage has grown stronger, and my appreciation deeper. I started with the tourist highlights, then sought out lesser-known areas, and visited locations of family significance. I love Dyrhólaey, in Southern Iceland, where the ocean waves crash against the rocks, mesmerizing and haunting in its beauty. My favorite town is Hofsós, a wonderful village with historical significance and views of Drangey, the small island, which is the site of my favorite Icelandic legend. Vopnafjörður is where my mother spent her summers, and the site of so many stories of her grandfather’s farm. Reykjavík, her hometown and the capital city. Stykkishólmur where my maternal grandmother’s family was from and the amazing scenery of Snæfellsnes and Reykjanes peninsulas. These are all as familiar to me now as memories of American State Parks and campgrounds from my childhood.

Just outside Vopnafjörður
I was born and raised in the Heartland of America, educated and instructed in the things deemed important in the United States. I was not raised with an understanding of my Icelandic heritage and growing up in that culture was not my birthright. It is, however, my heritage and my history - because of that it is my bloodright, which I gladly claim and fiercely protect. I want to continue my trips to Iceland each year, or more frequently. I dream of owning a home there, spending entire summers in a small cottage perhaps around Borgarvirki, the old Viking fortress ruins that spark my imagination and inspire my creative writing. My deepest desire is to converse freely in Icelandic, to be able to speak, understand, and read the language as easily as my native English. As many places as I have been in Iceland, there are many more left to explore. I have ziplined, ridden horses through the mountains, and gone paragliding off the coast of Vik, but I’ve never snorkeled at Þingvellir, I’ve never stood at my great-grandparents gravesites, and haven’t explored Grímsey. These and so many more thing are on my ever-growing list of Things to Do in Iceland. In the meantime, I’ve added the Yule Lads to my Christmas celebration, try to find a Thorrablot dinner to attend each February, and stay active in Icelandic clubs to have the company of others interested in Iceland.
I am proud to be an American made with Icelandic parts, an Icelander living in North America, between trips back to my heart’s homeland.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Réttir - Annual Sheep Round-up


 
September and October bring the annual autumn ritual of sheep round-up, one of Iceland’s oldest cultural events. Icelandic sheep roam free throughout the summer and will graze anywhere wild grass grows, which in Iceland can be pretty much everywhere but on the glaciers. There are few restricted pastures, so everyone’s flocks may become intermingled or wander far and wide. Sheep do not have migratory instincts and they don’t know when the cold is coming and shelter is needed. So, at the end of the summer, a country-wide round-up is held to bring them in to the barns for winter. All the farmers head out on horseback (although today ATVs are also used), accompanied by sheepdogs, and spend up to a week getting the sheep to corrals for sorting. During round-up, participants stay in tents or mountain huts, using temporary pens to hold the sheep collected, then add to the flock as they work towards the corral. There are many sorting corrals throughout Iceland used for this annual event. The sorting process separates out the lambs, ewes, and rams belonging to each farmer based on the unique notches cut in the ears, which are put there shortly after birth. Each farmer keeps a tally of their sheep beginning with spring birth records, so they know if a second-search, or “eftirleitir” is needed. After the round-up, a large party with lots of singing and dancing, known as ‘Réttaball’, is traditionally held to celebrate the completion of the work. Dishes such as black-pudding blóðmör and liver sausage lifrapylsa are often served.

In the early days, the shearing would follow the round-up. Everyone who helped in the round-up and shearing would be rewarded with a bag of wool. That wool was then worked into cloth and would become sweaters, socks, or cloth by Christmas. Legend deems that anyone who does not have new clothes for Christmas would become the prey of Jólakötturinn, the Christmas Cat. The tradition continues today that clothes or at least a pair of socks is always on the Christmas list of every Icelander. Just in case.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Short Short: This Day

A new novel is in the works - the first in a series of four. It's set in Colorado and has lots of cowboys, a little mystery, team roping and the challenges of finding love. I think you'll love Jace and Hailey and their story Crossfire.
 
To help me transition from children's stories and Icelandic tales, I've been writing some flash fiction - very short stories -  to encapsulate emotion. Here's a recent one entitled This Day
 
 
Her hands trembled as she took the first step, heart thumped wildly in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she willed her legs to move forward, towards her goal. The aisle of the church stretched out in front of her. She felt lightheaded, the buzzing in her ears nearly drowning out the melody of the slow organ tune. The church was filled with hushed whispers. As she moved forward, she felt the weight of many sets of eyes watching her.
She saw him at the altar. His beautiful profile so familiar to her, the face of the man she loved. He was still and silent in front of the priest. Later, this moment might be remembered as a brief flash, but right now, time seemed to stand still. The scene wavered, blurring, and she blinked quickly to squelch the tears before the overflowed. Her mind was filled with the memories of them, him and her, the love they shared and the undeniable connection. She was vaguely aware that she put one foot in front of the other, moving toward him. The scent of so many flowers overpowered her senses.
Suddenly, he was there in front of her. She reached out and touched his hand. So cold. He lie there, his beautiful blue eyes hidden beneath lids that would never again raise. His lips were arranged in a restful line, no hint of the teasing grin he so often wore. He had aged since she last saw him. Behind him, his widow and several grown children stood, as a testament to a life filled with family and love. His choice. Her choice. Their love was one without limits, but against destiny, saved for a time that never came. He had been a part of her, in her heart and thoughts as she pursued her career in medicine. She knew with every fiber of her being she had been with him, in the back of his mind even as he was surrounded by the family he built without her, the life he lived with them. Their connection transcended all that.
She leaned down to kiss his cheek and whispered “Not a day has passed that I haven’t loved you. We might have been just a memory of past love, but maybe our time is yet to come. Find me in the next life.”
 
-Heidi Herman 2018
 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Guardians folklore collection

Well, it's been a busy few months and very exciting things are happening.
 
The novel was released and shortly after, I was notified that the folklore collection was honored as a finalist in the International book awards. It is wonderful to see Icelandic stories and heritage being honored in such a way because it raises visibility so that more people will read the folklore and learn about Icelandic heritage. Some stories are similar to other Scandinavian folklore, which makes sense because we all share the same heritage. In the story, Now I Should Laugh, you see a similarity to The Emperor's New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, who was a Danish writer. Independent thinking and resisting crowd mentality is a common cultural position in Scandinavia. Much of the folklore, not only in this book but in the majority of cultures, exists to teach the young about interacting with other and provides lesson about consequences, alternatives, and morals. One of my favorite examples of this is from Drangey Consecrated, which exemplifies the Icelandic attitude of acceptance and efforts for peaceful coexistence among all creatures.
 
I will always be interested in the Icelandic culture, as my own personal heritage, and will continue to write from that perspective. I recently returned from another trip to Iceland, and I'll be sharing details of that trip in another post. I am committing to posting more frequently to this blog this year and sharing more of my projects, both Icelandic-inspired as well as other works. I am currently working on a series of novels involving cowboys, city girls and how they meet through online dating. I am having so much fun with these new characters and, of course, the required rodeo research. Also to share new work, I will try to post some flash fiction - micro-stories of 500 words or less.
 
Until next time, have a wonderful day!
 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Her Viking Heart



What are people saying about "Her Viking Heart?" Fifteen five star reviews between Amazon, Apple iTunes, and Goodreads.

Have you read it yet? If not, use the link at the bottom to grab your copy and please leave your own review. I'd love for you to share your honest feedback1

Here are a few of the reviews:

A MUST read. Captivating from beginning to end! Wanted more!
Five Stars Good Read! It was researched very well April 25, 2018: The first few pages started slow then bam without realizing it you are hooked. I would read another book by this author.
...
Loved this book! The storyline was anything but straight. There was great detail given in each scene of the book, which gave added depth and a feeling of being a real part of the story. Thanks for the awesome read.
...
 I enjoyed this book. There were enough unexpected twists to keep my attention without getting bored. I tend to like a little racier content but it was still engaging and yet suitable enough for a younger reader should your 13-year-old daughter pick it up. Overall, it was an enjoyable, easy read.
...
Relationships, dilemma, love and loss. It really kept me waiting to see what came next!
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A page turner. This book is emotionally real <sic>l. Anna is on a quest so if you are interested in how we are grounded in our histories, I’m experiencing rural America with her or a very real romance, this book will keep you interested. I found myself thinking about her even when I wasn’t reading!
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I got an e-ARC of this book free for review from netgalley.com.  I was a bit confused at first as I had this book mixed up with another. Once I realized it was a romance and not a historical fiction I really got into it. Being a research nerd myself I loved the research aspect of it, and I also loved the Icelandic/Viking roots. This was a wonderful book and I'd definitely recommend it!
...



Grab your copy now. EBook is only .99 for a limited time! https://www.books2read.com/u/4jw00Z

If you enjoyed this one, you'll really love my next one. The first in a four-part series, Crossfire has cowboys, romance, intrigue, and great action. Hailey and Jace are just the beginning. Get on my email list for exclusive previews, free content, and inside info on the characters. http://gem.godaddy.com/signups/aaa34361ae754f1aa301ced898ade24b/join

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Spring always brings new stuff!

It's officially Spring! Maybe not according to the thermometer, but things are still heating up and new stuff is popping up!

It's been a pretty busy couple of months! Her Viking Heart went through evaluation by a group of Beta readers and then a couple rounds with editors... it's now in the final stages of preparation before it's published. Keep watch over the next few weeks for the release. I'm so excited to share the story with everyone! I'll be launching a special .99 promotion on kindle to celebrate the release.

In the meantime, I've been working on a novella entitled Queen of the Night and nope, it's not even remotely about vampires. It's an emotional journey of discovery for a woman caught in the desert of Arizona walking a fine line between life and death. But no, not vampires. You'll have to wait and see!

I have also been preparing for another work called Expression of Generations that incorporates my grandfathers previously unpublished poetry with my photography from Iceland and short life essays from my mom. It's a labor of love and a tribute to family and our Icelandic heritage. I have enjoyed working with the translations and selecting the most powerful images to showcase Afi's poetry. Along the way, I realized I have so many gorgeous photos of Iceland that I wanted to share. It led to the creation of an adult coloring book based on these amazing images from Iceland. I've put together a gallery of the photos for everyone to enjoy and to use as coloring inspiration for the pages. The gallery is on my website or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1759547327685648.1073741832.1412214802418904&type=1&l=db0d4d7ca3

The coloring book is available on Amazon.

This promises to be an exciting Spring and Summer! I can't wait to see all the wonderful things in store for this year!