Author: MJ Brett (Margaret Bourland-Brettschneider)Posted: September 19, 2012
When I received orders to go to a Border base in Germany during the Cold War, I never dreamed my high school students would push me to crafting books. “Why don’t you write a book?” they said. “I don’t have time. I have YOU,” I told them (plus I had a million English papers to grade). But once I retired, they sent emails, “You have time to write the book now, and you made us do our term papers!” This little piece of blackmail forced my hand, or I might never have started down this road.
It seems that almost every experience in Dodds, every trip, every friendship, every classroom full of student minds, even every night at the O’Club yielded fodder to be shaped into (so far) eight novels.
First came Mutti’s War, done through interviews and research from my new German mother-in-law, Eric’s mom. She gave me a new perspective on an old war…that of a fly on the wall in the enemy camp. Travel around Germany, learning German culture, and the proximity of the Odessa File in Ludwigsberg made that novel come together.
Shadows on an Iron Curtain came directly out of my seven years in Bamberg, watching our troops work very hard at a suicidal job, that of keeping us out of WWIII. It also documents the teachers’ contribution to the “family” at a Border base–both the camaraderie and the intrigue. I got military clearance on this manuscript, and both DoDDS teachers and the Air and Ground Cavalry have adopted it as their own.
Between Duty and Devotion came out of many bull sessions with five of my ski buddies at the Officer’s Club–lieutenant colonels whose marriages were falling apart. Soon as they knew I’d camoflage their identities, they came forth with letters and diaries that made this tale of the “geographical bachelor” (that we have all met, I’m sure) come alive.
Street Smart on a Dead End is a tale only a teacher could love. While non-teachers read it and say, “The story is a good one, but why didn’t those teachers just throw that drug addict and gang member out?” Teachers know that we never give up on a child. DoDDS teachers “get it.”
Mama Told Me Not to Come is a comedy travelogue of two teachers, one quite accident-prone, that mirrors my own travels with several friends. Somehow, we naively got into trouble every place we went. I truly believe every DoDDS teacher could write the sequel.
I Think I Can, I Think I Can The difficult childhood of an abandoned child is one I swore I’d never write, but it almost poured out all by itself. Again, teachers became mentors as I watched my creative and adventurous colleagues in DoDDS work miracles with children. The child that a good teacher can make believe he or she can accomplish the impossible, will always find a way, and all children must find their way to belonging somewhere.
Dancing in the Wind is a tale for all of us “retired” DoDDS teachers. This elderly and spicy lady returns stateside to find her family wants to put her into a retirement home. It’s a delicate dance we all must face eventually–to find the balance between helping the elderly, yet not taking away their independence. Gran turns her DoDDS counseling experience on her own grown children to make her point. Soon, however, she is needed to save her family. After all, I thought it better to laugh a little in a gentle way of treating this difficult subject, than to moan and groan about it. Maybe we’ll all find some answers here to dealing with our parents or our grown children when ours want to take away our keys.
Stand Silent, Stand Free We DoDDS folks have all at some time worked with children with handicaps of one type or another. This novel develops how the handicapped were treated in the early pioneer days–most often hidden away or institutionalized. One deaf-mute young man refuses to be hidden away, and takes it upon himself to break out of the pattern to accomplish his goals and win respect. It always seems one person must be strong enough to stand up against prejudice of any kind.
All of my stories are based on fact, but I change the names to protect the guilty, so I must call them historical fiction.
I know I never would have finished and published any of my stories if it hadn’t been for the many experiences and characterizations of our diverse DoDDS teachers and students. Even without every writing a line of our DoDDS lives, I wouldn’t take a million for having had that experience. It’s one of a kind, and we had the best of it. We laughed together, we cried together, we helped each other through classroom and personal dilemmas, and we became friends.
It doesn’t get any better than that.