My Inspiration for “Chasing the American Dream”

When I told my older brother (about 2010) that I was looking around for a topic to write a novel about, he said I had to write one about what our dad did in the war. Dad (Edwin Franklyn Brush, shown below with his brothers ca. 1942) had told us thrilling stories about his time in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II, and I thought perhaps my brother was right. I resonated with the idea of writing a thriller about Dad’s spying exploits. I headed to the National Archives II, just outside Washington, D.C., which houses O.S.S. papers.

Dad is on the left.

I spent about six months pouring over reports from the OSS concerning Secret Intelligence, my dad’s section. I started with his personnel files, reviewed his training, his London assignments, and what he was assigned on the Continent. I had heard that, at times, he was attached to the Field Photographic Unit and the Target Forces, a good start. Then I expanded to the commentary on all his OSS activities produced by each of the Army and Navy units Dad was attached to, and by General Eisenhower’s staff at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was fascinating, and the staff at the Archives were a phenomenal help. In the end, I wrote up Dad’s location and activities for every week he was abroad and sometimes had information on each weekday.

Imagine my reaction when I discovered that all the stories he had told us were a lie! For instance, he said he’d been dropped behind German lines, took the identity of a German major named Karl Ludwig Fischer, and became a liaison officer who carried messages from unit to unit. It was a perfect set-up to gain valuable information for the Allies. His code name, when reporting back to the Allies, was Lorelei. He argued with my mother to give me that name because it had kept him safe during the war and it would keep me safe. Lovely thought, except:

  • OSS never sent anyone into Germany who wasn’t a native speaker. My father, himself, said at the end of the war his German was “poor.” He was certainly no native speaker.
  • No OSS agent was ever code-named Lorelei.

That was just the start. Once I knew what he had done, I was certain he’d made up most of his stories. But why had he felt he needed to? Many returning soldiers simply didn’t wish to speak of their time in the war; my dad could have joined that group.

I did find an explanation that seemed to fit. At the end of the war, all OSS members signed an oath promising that they would never speak of their activities during the war. Until the time Dad died in April 1972 (when I was 25), he had kept that oath—in his own way.

I think he desperately wanted to be a hero and believed the war would give him the opportunity. But it didn’t. Before he joined OSS, he was a part of the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army. His assignment in 1942-43 was the Sun Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Before (and after) the war, it made rubber squeaky toys for children, like the ones in the pictures below:

Lorelei Brush
Author

His assignment was to help the company construct gas masks for children with the faces of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Imagine the embarrassment of a man who enlisted to be a hero when he discovers he, quite literally, is assigned a “Mickey Mouse” job! It’s no wonder that, when his unit asked for “volunteers” (and he heard a rumor it was for OSS), his hand shot up.

Unfortunately, from his view, his first OSS assignment was as an administrative assistant to the director of Secret Intelligence in London. He made arrangements for others to travel, ordered supplies, and took notes at meetings. Next came the Target Forces, which went into German cities just after the Nazis left, to find persons of interest, locate important work at research facilities, and pry products from industries of interest. He was in charge of microfilming the confiscated documents. He cannot have been a satisfied man.

Next stop, Cleveland, Ohio with the war at an end. Back to teaching high school science. Even though he used the GI Bill to get a law degree, he practiced family law (after the school day ended) and made little money. He was one unhappy—and angry—man.

And that’s what he was throughout my childhood: angry. I wrote Chasing the American Dream to figure out how he might have made his way out of that anger and resolved his need to be a hero. Maybe even find contentment.

P.S. When I showed my summary of Dad’s activities to my older brother (with copies of the Archive’s materials), his response was anger. He threw the document across the room and yelled that Dad had done every one of the things he’d told us about, that OSS staff had cleverly disguised his true activities in all these papers. Dad was his hero. I, on the other hand, laughed. To me, this man had finally put his feet on the ground; he’d kept his oath. Instead of a superhero, he was like all the rest of us, someone who struggled all his life to make his American Dream come true.

Contact Lorelei to pre-order your copy of Chasing the American Dream, which is expected to hit bookstores this Fall.

Ready for a Thrill? . . . A Sneak Peak at My New Book

Today’s newsletter is longer than usual, as I’d like to give you the first scene in my new novel, Chasing the American Dream. I’ll talk more in a later newsletter about where this novel came from but know now that it started with my curiosity about my father’s role during World War II. He’d signed an oath at the end of the war that he’d never speak of his activities in the Office of Strategic Services. Finding out what he actually did took me months in the OSS Archives. All those details are for another time. Right now, just enjoy the novel that came from that research. Continue reading “Ready for a Thrill? . . . A Sneak Peak at My New Book”

A Bit of Fun for Authors – and Readers!

I read a lot of advice for authors, and though I can’t remember the source, someone, years ago, suggested it would help make characters real if we found pictures of the people who embodied our characters. In theory, it should then be easier to describe them more vividly, more empathetically. So, in the process of writing Uncovering, I tried the idea out.

Continue reading “A Bit of Fun for Authors – and Readers!”

The Status of Women in Pakistan

Several readers of Uncovering have asked about the status of women in Pakistan: Is there a women’s movement? Is it just in the northwest areas of the country that strong conservative beliefs about women’s role prevail? How prevalent are the conservative voices? I’d like to use the example of the celebration of International Women’s Day 2020 to address these questions.

The Women’s March

Women planned a series of rallies for Sunday, March 8, 2020 in the three major Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. These events, called the Aurat March or Women’s March, were set to mark the day, hoping this year to focus on economic equality. The CNN report of the day[1] explains several complaints, “…as Pakistan grapples with issues including incest, rape, child abuse and female genital mutilation, the feminist cause is important. Pakistan ranked 151 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020. In 2019, Pakistan Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that over 5 million primary school-age children in Pakistan were out of school, ‘most of them girls.’ Another HRW report said that ‘early marriage remains a serious problem, with 21 percent of girls in Pakistan marrying before the age of 18.’ The United Nations Population Fund has reported that Pakistan has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in South Asia.” All of which suggests that, if women are to reach their goal of equality with men, there is a great deal of reason behind these feminist marches.

Women in Islam

But there were objections to the very idea of such a march, well before the day it was scheduled. Conservative lawyers in Islamabad and Lahore asked the courts to ban the affair, arguing vociferously against a sign sometimes seen in earlier marches: “My body, my choice.” The slogan was declared to be against the “norms of Islam.” Both cases were dismissed.

A Rival March

The cleric at the conservative Red Mosque in Islamabad mobilized the students at the mosque’s female madrassa Jamia Hafsa. (You may remember these institutions from Uncovering). Teachers and students organized a rival “modesty march.” According to Diaa Hadid, reporting for NPR,[1] “dozens of the seminary women turned up at the counter rally, clad in long black robes, headscarves and face veils (see picture below), segregated from dozens of men who stood in a nearby park. They stood in military-style rows, their fearsome appearance only jarred by blue, green and pink bows pinned to their shoulders, to identify which bus they should return on, explained one 25-year-old, who only gave her first name, Rubina. ‘We don’t want women to make choices for their bodies. The choice rests with God,’ she said.”

Islam and Feminism

And there were others objecting as well. Diaa Hadid again: “Demonstrators belonging to Islamist groups attacked an International Women’s Day rally in … Islamabad on Sunday, hurling rocks, chunks of mud and even their shoes. … As the protest was winding down, dozens of men tried to push through the police barricade… According to a video uploaded to Twitter by a BBC reporter, police used batons to push them back. Still, for the next few minutes, they hurled projectiles that scattered the women’s day protesters, as journalists huddled behind concrete road dividers.”

Feminism and Islam

CNN also reported that one of the organizers of the Islamabad March, Tooba Syed, said, “Feminists are seen as bad women because talking about the body is so taboo. It’s a politicization of the private sphere of family life—any discussion about taking women out of the confines of the home causes a backlash.” … “Syed added that in Pakistan it is still controversial to even use the word body because ‘bodies are controlled, reproductive rights are controlled, traditional gender roles in society are controlled’ by men.”

2020 is the third year of a women’s day march, suggesting there is a strong push from women to organize and press for reforms.. They continue to move forward to initiate societal change through peaceful means, following the rule of law (or arguing that the laws be amended). But there doesn’t seem to be great public will for such changes, and the conservative religious establishment throughout the country is strong and vocal. Government chiefs and law-makers must continual define the fine line they will walk to enforce their rules of law and yet honor the fundamentalist beliefs of many of their citizens. The country is, after all, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The issue is the interpretation of Islam that should be followed.


[1] They plan to march for gender equality. In Pakistan, that has caused outrage.
By Sophia Saifi, CNN; Updated 10:14 PM ET, Sat March 7, 2020. Available at:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/07/asia/pakistan-womens-marches-intl-hnk/index.html

[2] International Women’s Day: With Shoes and Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally. March 8. 2020 2:18 pm ET, By Diaa Hadid/NPR. Available at:

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/08/813443312/international-womens-day-with-shoes-and-stones-islamists-disrupt-pakistan-rally

What happens after the book ends?

One of my readers asked if I intended to write a sequel to Uncovering. I don’t. So, she asked, “What happened to Shahnaz?” I thought it would be fun to speculate, given what I know and love about this character—and some of the others in the story.

First and foremost, Shahnaz remains committed to doing her utmost for the health of Kashmir’s mothers and babies. She continues to work for Peace (which is a fictitious non-governmental organization) or other NGOs in the area who sponsor and train Lady Health Workers and visit with women in their homes. Unfortunately, even now, 12 years after the setting of the book, there is a great deal of resistance to vaccination, and areas in Pakistan are at the top of the world’s list of outbreaks. All too frequently, people administering vaccines are killed. So far, Shahnaz is in good health, but she always travels with a team when the purpose of the visit is vaccinations.

Second, she and her husband Naseer agreed that she should have a full health workup with Dr. Humayan to uncover the reason for her multiple miscarriages. He started with a 2-D pelvic ultrasound and discovered that she had a septate uterus, one in which fibrous tissues divides the organ in two and there isn’t sufficient room for the placenta to grow. It took minor surgery (a hysteroscopy) for the doctor to remove the excess tissue, and not long after, she conceived and bore a son. Thirteen months later she had a daughter. And the couple decided two would be enough.

pakistan reconstructionThird, life in their multigenerational home whirred on with joy. Noshaba loved having more babies to care for. This young woman, not quite liberated, happily watched over Shahnaz’s babies along with her own two daughters. Zainab and Riffat adored their young cousins, and the home was continuously alive with laughter and the antics of young children.

Between 2008, when Uncovering ended, and 2020, the household has changed in a number of ways. With Maryam, Shahnaz, Naseer, and Jamil working, the younger siblings could finish school and the house was repaired from the earthquake. Nooran, the eldest of Naseer’s sisters, finished medical school in Muzaffarabad and transferred to a hospital in Islamabad for her residency in anesthesiology. She fell in love with a fellow medical student, and when they appealed to Maryam and Naseer for permission to marry, it was readily . Soon after, mother and eldest son found a young woman for Jamil to wed, and this couple, too, settled in Islamabad as Jamil found work at a bank that allowed him a good salary to set up his own household. Sadia, the second sister, became a primary school teacher. She married a cousin and lived not far from her family’s home. Rizwana, the youngest of the girls, is still in a Master’s program in biology. It’s not yet clear where this will lead her. She is content to live at home. And then there is Qadir. More than ever, he spends his time writing poetry. He’s had several arguments with Naseer about this. The now-eldest brother believes every male must earn money, so Qadir is also writing periodic articles for several news outlets, some online, and sneaking in his days of poetry-writing whenever he can.

I’m sorry to say that Rabia’s marriage has not worked out particularly well. She and her husband did move to London, which initially made her very happy. But her ambitious husband often left her at home, and she did come to miss having her family around. Her Ammi and Abu visit every year or so, generally after each new baby. So far, there are three. Shahnaz has yet to make the trip, but she conscientiously speaks to Rabia on the phone once a week.

The elder generation is aging gracefully. Maryam has finished her books under that 2008 contract and has decided to try retirement for a bit. Shahnaz’s mother and father, now retired, have moved to Muzaffarabad and may often be found playing with their grandchildren.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip into the characters’ future. I’ve been taking walks each day of this COVID-19 pandemic, often thinking about my characters and what I want to have happen for them: a life not without its issues but one that is generally contented and often very happy.

Women’s Fiction Writers Association podcast on Uncovering

Lorie was featured as a debut author on the WFWA podcast in October 2019. On this podcast she discusses how the book came to be, the processes of writing and publishing, and the hiccups in these processes. To listen to this inspiring podcast, please click here.

How to Use Fiction to Resolve Conundrums in Your Life (Part III)

Memoirs or Fiction Pen and Quill

Memoirs or Fiction: Bringing Stories to Life

In the previous messages in this series I’ve talked about conundrums or puzzles in your life that you may be able to successfully solve in your writing. In planning the approach you want to take, you may want to write a memoir or you may choose fiction.

If you choose memoir, know that a lot of people have taken this path. Many believe they’ve had interesting lives and that others would enjoy reading about those lives. And then comes the evolution of 15 or 20 chapters detailing this life, followed by weeks or months of difficulty figuring out the ending. For a memoir to be successful, the author must pull from the themes of the story to summarize how she has changed, how he has dealt with life’s challenges in a way that can be inspiring to others. I have known several memoir writers who have given up at this stage. They just aren’t sure what they have actually learned from the issues they have faced.

How to Write Fiction Well with Lorelei Brush

I have found it easier—and in the end more satisfying—to write fiction. I take a person like my protagonist Shahnaz in Uncovering, stick her in the difficult situation of living with a fundamentalist who is in charge, and spin the plot from there. It was hard, given the complicated context of northwestern Pakistan to decide on an ending. I tried “rehabilitating” the antagonist, Raja Haider, to bring him back from his more extreme views into the positions held by the rest of his family. I researched possible methods; for example, how gang members are rehabilitated, but there isn’t any such program in Pakistan, and the character I’d drawn was very resistant to change. It took about five different endings to resolve what I felt were critical issues. But I’m pleased to say I’m satisfied with the ending.

In The American Dream I endowed my protagonist David with many of the character traits of my father, set him in the 1950’s, and figured out how he might perform heroic deeds. Without giving the story away, let me say that he does so—and there are consequences. But he ends up a different and far less angry man, as I would have liked my father to be.

Three Steps to Character-Building

So, by now you likely have a potential list of puzzles from your life that you’d like to solve. Next steps:

• If it’s a character trait, invent a protagonist who has that trait (though he/she may differ from the model in other traits) and think about the situations you may put that person in and how he/she would react. Make things complicated. See if that trait could be modified in satisfactory ways, given the experiences you invented.
• Similarly, if there are actions in your life that you cannot explain—but think are significant—devise a character and force her to reenact that scene. Again, make things complicated (they always are in life!) and see how that protagonist acts. Your creative mind may come up with multiple explanations for the action, allowing you to choose how you want the story to progress and end.
• For a question about why a context was so hard to understand or adapt to, trap your protagonist in exactly that situation and play it out.

I admit freely that the endings I come up with as a writer may not be “correct” in reality. I don’t honestly know what would have happened to a woman like Shahnaz in a family headed by a fundamentalist. She might well have given up her passion and simply acquiesced to her brother-in-law’s demands. But not in my world!

There is great power in this process of inventing a world where difficult people, actions, and contexts become understandable. And huge satisfaction in solving those conundrums we all encounter in life. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

How to Use Fiction to Resolve Conundrums in Your Life (Part II)

Journaling with Lorelei Brush

In Part I of this series, I talked about the possibility of resolving conundrums or puzzles in your life through writing about them. I’m certainly not the first person to suggest writing about what’s on your mind. Lots of people do it through journaling, often as a daily activity. This can be a wildly successful part of your life (and help you sleep) as you “give away” the problems you’ve faced during the day by leaving them in a diary. Of course, the problems rarely disappear from reality, but the sad or scary or depressed feelings they’ve generated may well be alleviated in the writing.

Creative Journaling and Resolution

What I’d like to talk about here is taking the journaling process one step further: imagining what might have happened to make things work out all right for you and the people concerned. I suggest this because the process of inventing outcomes often leads to a better understanding of where the problem or puzzle has come from. In other words, it may “put the issue to rest” in your mind. For example, a friend of mine recently lost her husband to cancer. He had decided not to have chemo and died long before she thought he would have, had he had the treatment doctors suggested. She has berated herself for not being more persuasive with him, for not convincing him that chemo was in his best interests. Journaling has helped. But think of what would be possible for her if she decides to write further about the experience. She’d likely do a lot of research on people with cancer who refuse chemo versus those who go through it. I believe she’d gain a deeper understanding of why many refuse, and, perhaps, be able to forgive herself for not being able to keep him alive.

My Father’s Journey

World War 2 story from Lorelei Brush

Now, certainly, she wouldn’t have to write and publish a memoir to gain such understanding. But I’ve found that unless I take a long view on a puzzle, I’ll only “solve” it superficially. The full solution comes when I’ve put myself in the shoes of my protagonist, set up the context, and explored how he/she acted that I begin to honor the decisions my model made. For example, my second novel is based on my father. He was a captain in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Secret Intelligence Branch, during World War II. When I was growing up in the fifties, he told my brother and me heroic stories of his activities. One of them concerned how I got the name Lorelei. My mother was against giving a child a German name in 1946. My dad said it was his code name when he was behind German lines, and it had kept him safe. He wanted me to be gifted with that same safety.

I grew up with that touching story and also with the image of my father as a superhero. My brother and I agreed that we might not have had the courage to act as he did. So, in the late 1990’s, when I announced I wanted to write fiction, my brother challenged me to take my father as a model and write about his heroics. I took a few years to decide to give it a try and then spent about six months in the National Archives, carefully researching every day of my father’s time in Europe. He never was behind enemy lines. No agent ever had the code name of Lorelei. The OSS only sent agents into Germany if they were native German speakers. My father, on his exit papers from the Army, listed his proficiency in spoken German as “poor.” In fact, every story he’d told us about his OSS activities was a lie. Rationally, I understood why, as all OSS members signed a confidentiality agreement at the end of the war never to talk about their activities. Dad honored that. And lied to his family.

A Novel Inspired

I gave my brother a 34-page single-spaced report of where dad was in his year abroad (with footnotes). Our superhero had been an administrative assistant in London and then in charge of microfilming documents when he moved to the continent. The only time he was in Germany was after the German army had retreated from an area. At that point he and his team would roll in to copy documents of interest to the Allies. My information on his whereabouts came from many sources from Eisenhower’s staff to Dad’s immediate supervisors to his own reports, and included quotations from documents stating his orders. My brother told me it was all lies, that Dad had done all the things he had told us, and OSS had forged all the papers I reviewed to cover up his heroic actions. Frankly, to my mind, my brother simply couldn’t to give up his vision of a heroic father. Now me? I laughed. That idiot father of mine had so wanted to be a hero, he made up a whole different war for himself. It was an immense relief to feel he hadn’t been a superhero but a mortal.

So, I thought to myself. Why? What happened to him that he had such a need to be a hero? And how would someone with such a powerful need act in the context of the 1950’s when men were supposed to be happy to be at home with wives and children? My dad was angry at everyone. How else might he have behaved? This started my second novel The American Dream.

Exploring Life’s Puzzles

Soldier in World War II Public Domain

Now, think back on your own life and start asking questions:

• What episodes in your past remain unexplained? Did a friendship or marriage end in an odd or abrupt way? Were you ever refused a job or an honor without having a clue why? Has there been a rift in the family that doesn’t made sense to you?
• What characteristics or habits of important people in your life seem weird? Why did your father drink? Why did your mother hate fish and fishing? How come your sister got so much attention and you so little?
• In what puzzling contexts have you found yourself? Did you ever move residences and find yourself with the oddest neighbors? Although you were popular in high school, did you find yourself left out in college? Were there problems adjusting to the changing culture of a new company?

In Part III of this series, I’ll talk about how to take this puzzle you’ve identified to the next level. That is, how to develop the situation and people into a story with a conclusion that satisfies these conundrums from life.

To be continued. . .