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Little Russia

During the month of November I am participating in the worldwide annual paroxysm called NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. Here in Quebec City, about thirty people participate each year. You would think they would write in French, but although the activities are all carried out in French, most write in English. I think it is partly the youth culture. Many write fan fiction. There are some serious writers working towards publication or maintaining published works, but many participants seem to do it more for the pleasure of writing, or as a personal challenge. I enjoy being connected to this group, and my creative production is certainly amplified in November, but I rarely have difficulty turning out words, so generating the required 50000 words is no great challenge.

This year, with Plenum in press, and Messioph submitted for evaluation, I have decided to work on the expansion of my novella, Goodness In Small Doses. I may have mentioned before that this manuscript of about 28000 words attracted the interest of an agent during the spring 2020 #PitMad exercise on Twitter. However, after reviwing the full manuscript, the agent pointed out that it was really more a novella than a novel, and that given its difficult subject matter, it would be hard for her to market, and therefore she declined to pursue the project. It is worth remembering that the book was written during the Three Day Novel Contest and was based on field work I carried out in France in the summer of 2016. I had intended to write about the "rescuers", people who had put their lives at risk to help refugees from the Nazis during the Second World War, but I had also been attracted to the plight of people with disability, especially children. In the version that found itself worked out on paper, the story focussed more on that issue than on that of the rescuers, who had been my initial focus. So with the feedback from the agent, combined with my own desire to write a book that more fully addressed the motivations of rescuers, I decided to devote this year's NaNoWriMo exercise to expanding the novella with an additional 25000 to 30000 words. To make up the 50000 words needed for NaNoWriMo, I also propose to advance my Clangworld YA project and maybe do some more work on Face Down, my historical thriller. And I guess this blog posting adds a couple hundred words into the mix as well.

Now, without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, the manuscript as already written deals with Mags, a young girl with cerebral palsy, and her Jewish Belgian parents who are fleeing Brussels and attempting to cross the Demarcation Line, the artificial border created by the Nazis that cut France into two pieces (actually there were a few other pieces as well), the occupied zone in the north directly under the Germans, and the non-occupied zone under the authority of the French government, which largely cooperated with the Nazi regime. Escape from Europe was possible (although difficult) through port cities such as Lisbon, but to get there you needed to cross the Demarcation Line first, then make your way to the Spanish and Portuguese borders. Goodness in Small Doses focuses on several individuals in the region around the town of La Rochefoucauld, just outside Angouleme, mostly members of the same family. The story then jumps to a second section dealing with events near Toulouse towards the end of the war.

To expand the story, I develop the backstory of another member of the same family who was already mentioned in the first version of the manuscript. This person came close to being a collaborator, but also provides insight into the other members of her family. Through the involvement of this character, I also introduced a section in the middle of the book dealing with resistance groups (the beginnings of the maquis) in the Limousin region. This region, which became a hotbed of resistance cells, was called 'Little Russia' by the Germans later in the war, since the difficulties they encountered there were reminiscent of the problems the Germans encountered in Russia. Since this section is still under development, it is difficult for me to say more at this time. All this writing requires a collossal amount of background research, sometimes dealing with specific incidents, but more often than not just providing a sense of the times and places and cultural tissue of the times. Also, the field work I did in 2016 has played a substantive role in giving the story more realism and a better anchoring in the region's geography.

Limousin region of the French Resistance was R5, called by the Germans, "Little Russia"

The result of this effort is, I believe, a fascinating portrait of the complexities of the experience of living in that period in wartime France.

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