On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month . . .
November 11, 1918. After four long, dark years of fighting, the Great War ends at last, and the world is forever changed. For soldiers, loved ones, and survivors, the years ahead stretch with new promise, even as their hearts are marked by all those who have been lost.
As families come back together, lovers reunite, and strangers take solace in each other, everyone has a story to tell.
In this moving, unforgettable collection, nine top historical fiction authors share stories of love, strength, and renewal as hope takes root in a fall of poppies.
More than a little tremor of trepidation passed through me as I squinted beneath the early afternoon sun from where I stood on the Pont de la Concorde. This was the very bridge from which Addie had thrown herself not quite four years ago, to be fished out hours later by sympathetic Bateau-Omnibus passengers not yet inured to the sight of death. At the time I had mourned her as a coward; I now thought her brave.
And now I was the coward, intimidated by the long, unknown vistas of life as I was by the long, unknown vistas of the war.READ MORE
Try as I might, I couldn’t ignore the truth: I had very little money, I knew very few people in Paris (well, who would acknowledge me outside the cover of night), and very little claim to anything resembling a home. Memory of a letter I’d hoped to be my salvation suddenly sprang into my mind, like a blast of artillery. It broke me to pieces like artillery too, and I tightened my grip on my suitcase to cross the bridge to the Right Bank, where the remnants of last night’s orgy of celebration littered the Place de la Concorde. French flags, American flags, British flags and striped bunting fluttered from windows and balconies of the Hotel de Crillion, wreaths of flowers now encircled the Strasbourg statue at its center, and multi-colored confetti blanketed the pavement, shushing beneath the wheels of the motorbuses and automobiles crossing the square.
The gurgling waters of the Fontaines de la Concorde were a balm, however. They reminded me of the first time I saw Paris; a dazzling, beguiling Paris that seemed to offer endless opportunities. Charles had often discussed settling here on a permanent basis, perhaps in one of the bucolic suburbs, as the French had been the most welcoming and enthusiastic over our coloured dance troupe. That was why we hadn’t left Paris during the mad rush during the war. By the time Louis had been killed at Artois, six months after he and Charles joined the French Army, it was far too late for me and Addie to leave the country, even had we desired it.COLLAPSE
I’ve never written a short story–and any attempts to write novels that hit the sweet spot between 80,000 and 100,000 words has been my bête noire–so contributing to A Fall of Poppies has stretched my writing chops.
Because of my inexperience with the story story format, I cycled through numerous plots (most of which I knew were too “big” to fit into 40 pages) until my narrator, Morven Williams, suddenly leap from my fingers onto the page: resilient and on the precipice of choosing her future. Precisely the theme of the anthology and the emotions that swept the world after the war ended.
The genesis of my story derived from a number of elements, namely my seminar on 20th century European history and my support of #WeNeedDiverseBooks (and its offshoot #WeNeedDiverseRomance). World War I was a global war, yet popular images of the era focus heavily on white European and American soldiers. Our image of the post-war era is of flappers, gin, jazz, and nightclubs–but without black musicians (and the Harlem Hellfighters in particular) and performers in early 20th century Europe there would be no Jazz Age. I wanted to fill in this gap in the historical record with my story and–admittedly–indulge in my love for ragtime and early jazz, while filtering the war through a woman’s eyes.
There are a few easter eggs, so to speak, that nod to some of the things I’ve been reading or watching during the time of writing this short story. Hopefully they’ll stick around so you can find them!
The title of my story derives from a popular early jazz song released in 1918, which plays into the historical backdrop of After You’ve Gone.
Morven is based loosely on Dora Dean, Aida Overton Walker, and Irene Castle, all of whom were extremely popular cabaret and theater dancers of the Edwardian era.
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