A Letter from Home

grilsonwagoncropped

Esther and her sisters around 1918.

About four months ago, I finished my novel manuscript entitled A Letter from Home that follows Harry, an American soldier, and Helen, a Salvation Army volunteer, in their search for humanity and God within the ongoing destruction of World War I. John and my friend, Tamra Higgins, read it and gave me some feedback. I worked on the novel some more and then sent out query letters to literary agents who expressed interest in historical novels on their website. So far, the silence has been deafening. Actually, I did get one reply that seemed like she at least read the letter. She said it didn’t grab her. Oh, well. Hard to know how to read that. Trying to find an agent or publisher is an interesting process and so far, it seems as challenging as everyone says. A crap shoot, as my dad would say. Today, I worked on another query letter and a synopsis to send to another agency.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 1. The reader is introduced to the trenches and Harry.

August 25, 1918

The front-line trench stretched thirty feet before it cut left, a sharp turn that made it look like it ended. It didn’t. Along with communication and reserve trenches, it kept going, zig-zagging through France and Belgium, with the German trench system on the other side of No Man’s Land even more complicated. Tree-branch braces and woven sticks shored up collapsing walls. Sand bags lined the rim, and rough uneven planks called duckboards ran along the bottom. A step was built into the side of the wall that faced the enemy lines, the fire step, and sometimes men stood on it to shoot at the enemy. Mostly, they used it for sitting or lounging or napping. The barbed wire entanglement in front of this section of trench, a mish mash of a thousand yards of wire with razor-sharp barbs every two inches, extended about fifteen feet into No Man’s Land. The entanglement protected the troops from enemy patrols, but it also made it difficult for their own nightly forays. During the day, enemy snipers, machine gunners, and shells kept the men on both sides hunkered down in their holes.

Private Harry Peterson bit on the end of his pencil and stared at the woven branches of the trench. An unwanted memory of the sapling cage he had made as a boy for a baby raccoon wormed its way into his thoughts. He tugged on his helmet strap and yanked on the scratchy service-coat collar that half choked him trying to rid his mind of the image of the helpless creature that a few days later lay dead in the corner of its cage. His oldest sister, Esther, said it died of fright, poor thing, and that it wasn’t right to keep an animal like that caged up. Harry bit down hard on the end of his pencil, breaking a piece off and rolling it around in his mouth. No. It wasn’t right.

World War I Triptych

World War I Triptych

Encaustic and paper on barn board

Excerpt from “Somewhere in France”

Shouts and sudden movements woke Harry in the middle of a dream about little Alice trying to put doll clothes on one of the chickens. He quickly rolled off the step, all thoughts of home gone. A deep whirring sound sent him and the card players scuttling toward the hole in the trench wall. An ear-splitting explosion was instantaneously followed with rock and earth falling on Harry’s back and clunking his helmet. Men yelled and pushed from behind while the smell and sting of chordite and burnt earth filled his nostrils. Harry stumbled through the hole and then fell hard on the dugout floor when someone landed on his back. The gas mask satchel dug into his side, piercing him. His hands and chin hurt. His face lay pressed against the loose rock and soil in the dugout, which caused his helmet to dig sharply into the back of his neck. He tried squirming further into the hole, but the soldier lying on his legs trapped him.

A high shriek of a shrapnel shell and the answering shrieks of earth and men caused a flurry of commotion. Harry belly-crawled forward and heard another whirring sound. The ground shook and shuddered. Pressed in from all sides by other men, he lay face down against the wall of the dugout, listening to the sound of his pounding heart.