Welcome New Readers!

“There are few moments when you receive a book and it just captures your attention and demands to be read. This is one of those books. It is powerful, emotional and full of passion. I cried, smiled and my heart broke at various times throughout the book. I was so attached when I first opened this book, it came with me to soccer practice and I read it the whole time we were there. It was definitely a book I read in one sitting and then re-read over again to further appreciate it.” Amazon review

It’s been just under a month since Like a River From Its Course released, and what a ride it’s been. I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to the book, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of this process. So may of you made it an exciting time for me, and I could not be more thankful.

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“Like a River From Its Course is an emotional, moving story that will leave you horrified by the depth of human depravity and yet inspired by the characters’ courage and faith in the midst of adversity. The author’s research shines through this book, as there is an air of realism that permeates the pages. The fact that I was reading about characters whose experiences were based on true stories made them all the more heart-breaking to read about. Kelli Stuart writes with a sure hand, with carefully crafted scenes and the ability to bring her characters to life.” Amazon Review

As I continue to share and spread the word about Like a River From Its Course, it’s also time for me to begin shifting my focus toward the next book launch.

In just two months, my second book will release. CRAZY! Who’s idea was it to release two books in four months?!

Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom is co-authored with my dear friend, Wendy Speake, and I’m unendingly grateful to have her on board this time around. She’s like a book marketing ninja, which is good because I’m almost brain dead after this last month.

Many of you are new to the website, and I’m so glad to have you here! Feel free to poke around.

Visit this page to learn a little more about me.

Visit this page to read some of the true stories that inspired Like a River From Its Course.

Click here to find a synopsis of the book, as well as Pinable images for sharing!

Read this post to see how your purchase of Like a River From Its Course is helping a young Ukrainian girl named Masha.

Contact me here if you have any questions.

You should have already received a message offering you access to the freebies you get for subscribing to KelliStuart.com. These freebies include two ebooks, the first four chapters of Like a River From Its Course, and a Reader’s Guide perfect for book clubs. If you haven’t received the links to those freebies, contact me and I will send them right over!

Stay tuned for some SUPER exciting news! I can’t wait to share an upcoming opportunity with you all!

We are beginning to wind down our summer here in Florida. Only two more weeks until school starts! As much as I’ve enjoyed this break, the return of a routine is always welcome. I will be working on developing a more consistent posting routine again, as well.

In the meantime, welcome, and thanks again for making the launch of Like a River From Its Course such a memorable time for me! I’m looking forward to getting to “know” many of you in the months to come!

Happy Monday!

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Have you ordered your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet?

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Order now and see why people are calling it the best book they’ve ever read!

Click here to order your copy, or to leave a review if you’ve already read it.*

Thank you!!

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Behind the Scenes: The Story of Frederick

Writing a historical fiction novel is daunting.

Setting a historical fiction novel in World War II Soviet Union might just be crazy.

When I set out to write my novel, I wanted to develop a story that was as historically accurate as possible while still offering myself creative license. This proved to be an overwhelming task given the vast history of those years, and the many different conflicting accounts of what happened.

There were times when I wanted to give up altogether.

Other times, I wondered if I should just make it Science Fiction. Hitler could be a Vampire, and all his cronies would be various forms of the undead.

It would’ve been a hot seller, but the premise sounded dumb, so I pressed on.

When it came to writing the Ukrainian characters, the stories flowed (almost) easily. I knew their stories, and so fictionalizing the tale didn’t feel like a chore. But writing the story of Frederick Herrmann, a young Nazi soldier hell-bent on carrying out the mission and task that his country and set before him left me almost paralyzed at times.

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I am a bit of an idealist. The actions of the Nazi soldiers was something I couldn’t quite comprehend. How could so many young people follow so blindly the ideology of a clear tyrant and psychopath? How could they kill so robotically? And how did they live with themselves later?

I needed a reason, and so I set out to find one, but the research often led me to images that were so horrific, I had to step away. There were days when I hated Frederick and all that he stood for. I didn’t want to write of such atrocities, because I didn’t want to believe that people could really be that evil.

Frederick is the only purely fictional character in my book. While all of the other characters are based on the stories of men and women I met in Ukraine, Frederick came a little more reluctantly from my imagination.

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I fought for Frederick. I wanted to redeem him somehow. I wanted there to be a reason for his wickedness, and in the end I think there was some redemption for his character, though it wasn’t what I expected when I began writing.

I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will tell you that Frederick eventually became one of my favorite characters to write. By the end of the story, I no longer hated him. I pitied him, and I pitied all the boys like him – the real ones who believed that they were right and justified in their mission.

I don’t know what the after effects of the war were for those who pulled the trigger senselessly and brutally. I don’t know how the killings of Babi Yar, where 33,771 men, women, and children were slaughtered in two days time affected the young men who did the killing.

I have to believe that there were lasting effects. I have to believe that for many, though I suspect not all, of those young men, the images that they saw, that were caused by their own calloused hands, haunted them for the rest of their lives.

How could they not?

Frederick Herrmann was a young man swallowed by the ideals of his country, and by a desperate need to please his father. His story may have been fictional, but many of his surroundings and experiences were not. The names of his commanders are the names of actual German leaders in Kiev in those years.

I set out to write a historical fiction story that stuck as close to fact as possible. Though Frederick is fictional, his story is not so unlike many of the young men from those desperate days.

In the end, Frederick became as real to me as any of the other characters.

I know some of you have read the book – what did you think? What are your thoughts on Frederick (without giving spoilers, please!)?

Also – HOORAY! – Amazon has started shipping out books! Have you ordered your copy yet?*

Amazon has also opened up the reviews section of the book, so if you’ve read the book would you consider leaving a review?

Thanks, everyone!

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Behind the Scenes: The Story of Baba Mysa

We sat around a long table inside a very small room. It was hot and loud, all the sounds and smells mixing together in a cornucopia that threw my senses into overload.

They’d made pizza for me, because I’m American and they felt pizza would be a comforting reminder of home.

They weren’t wrong.

I’d been invited to this private meeting because I’d shown such an interest in Maria’s story. I’d peppered her granddaughter, Alyona, with so many questions that she finally offered to bring me to her grandmother so I could ask my questions in person.

As soon as I met Maria, I fell instantly in love, and it wasn’t hard to see why. She was a small woman, her bright silver hair pulled back into a loose bun. Her blue eyes sparkled when she spoke, and the lines that crinkled her face revealed years of tenderness and laughter.

Her family called her Baba Mysa, an affectionate term combining the tender form of “grandma” with a word that translates “little fly.” When Baba Mysa spoke, the room got quiet. We wanted to hear what she had to say, wanted to soak up her grace and wisdom.

As I wrote my story, I knew I wanted to tell Maria’s story, but I also wanted to honor the Maria that I knew – the grandmother who exuded warmth and strength. I wanted readers to know both versions of the same woman.

The character of Maria Ivanovna is loosely based on my Maria’s story of survival during those dark years in the war. But the character of Baba Mysa is based upon the older, wiser Maria who gifted her story to me.

And I fell madly in love with this character.

Baba Mysa’s background and story is entirely fictional, but her mannerisms, humor, and strength are not. Baba Mysa exudes dignity, hope and survival. I adored writing this character because through her I was able to honor the woman who endured indescribable hardships and refused to dwell on them.

Today, I’m sharing a brief excerpt from my upcoming novel, Like a River From Its Course. In this section, Baba Mysa is sharing her story with Luda, encouraging her not to get wrapped up in the pain of the past, but to dwell in the beauty of the present.

For more information on the book, visit the book page where you’ll find more links to some of the history that inspired these stories, as well as Pinterest-worthy images, and links where you can preorder your copy!

Be blessed, friends.

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Like a River From Its Course: An Excerpt – Baba Mysa

Baba rocks slowly and rhythmically back and forth in her rocking chair, her hands moving in perfect rhythm. The yarn begins to take shape, a perfect hat for Sasha’s tiny head.

“I want to tell you a story, Luda,” she says. Her voice is soft and warm. I sigh as I melt back into my chair nodding my head in concession.

“I was born a long time ago, deep in the heart of Ukraine. My father was a farmer, and my mother was his strong and doting wife. I grew up among the rows of wheat and vegetables that my father grew.”

Setting her work in her lap, Baba Mysa leans back and a serene look overcomes her face.

“I can still smell the scent of the cherry trees that surrounded our small country house. I feel the cool air of fall and remember every bit of peace as I walked along behind my father through the rows of potatoes. Everything about that time was simple and sweet.”

She pauses, and I look at her impatiently. I enjoy hearing a bit about her childhood, but I don’t understand what she’s trying to communicate.

“When I was ten years old, my father took me into the fields to harvest the potatoes. For hours, we pulled plants from the ground and filled baskets, which we lined up in a long row at the edge of our field. My parents would clean the potatoes later in the day and sell most of them in the local market. At least, that’s what they did every year before this one.”

Baba Mysa’s voice trails off, and I study her face. Her eyes are bright and clear as she stares hard at the wall, the memory playing out before her on an invisible stage.

“On this day, as father and I neared the last row, he told me a joke. I don’t remember what the joke was, but I wish I did, because those were the last words he ever spoke to me.”

My eyes focus in tight as I absorb the shock of her story. Her eyes remain still on the wall, wide and pained.

“As I laughed at his silly words, a man on a large horse rode quickly up to us. He shouted something about danger coming and told us to run. My father told him to take me, and the man scooped me up and fled with me. My last vision of my father is the sight of him standing in the fields, covered in dirt, his arm up in a solitary wave good-bye. I never saw him again.”

It’s quiet for some time as I process Baba Mysa’s story. She wipes her eyes several times, and I don’t speak in order to give her time and space. After a few moments, I finally work up the courage to say something.

“I’m so sorry, Baba,” I say quietly. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that terrible ordeal. But . . .” I pause, unsure of how to proceed without sounding harsh. “I’m just not sure I understand what that story has to do with me,” I say, and then I cringe. The words sound so selfish coming out of my mouth, and I immediately regret them.

Baba Mysa turns her head and studies me closely. She nods in approval at my acknowledgement of, and reaction to, the selfishness in my statement and she waits a beat before responding.

“It has nothing to do with you, child,” she says firmly. “But you can learn from it.” I nod and wait for her to continue, figuring it’s best to remain quiet at this point.

Baba Mysa sighs, and her fingers begin moving in and out of the yarn on her lap once again. “Life is full of heartache and hardship,” she says. “Very rarely will life make sense, and it will almost never seem fair. But if you remember that pain and heartache aren’t unique to only you, that you’re not the only one mired in circumstances that seem too great to bear, you’ll do much better in life.”

©Kelli Stuart

Behind the Scenes: The Story of Ivan Kyrilovich

When I first visited Kiev, Ukraine, I had no idea the magnitude of what they suffered during World War II. As a teenager, I knew very little of the impact of those dark years beyond my borders. Raised with the many stories of our own troops fight for freedom, it never really occurred to me that other countries were impacted far more greatly.

We ambled up a sidewalk one chilly afternoon in March, following our translator, a woman who would later take me into her home for a time and let me call her friend. We stepped up to the monument commemorating the fallen and waited, our breath making small puffs in the cold air.

“This is the site where everything changed for my great-grandfather,” Alyona told us. “In this place, he saw things that you and I cannot even imagine. He never really spoke of that day to us, but my grandmother told me that he was never the same when he returned home.”

Alyona’s grandmother, Maria Ivanovna, would later give me the gift of her story. She trusted me with a small piece of her history, and in so doing, she exploded the borders of the world for me.

Maria’s father, Ivan, was mistaken for a Jew on September 29, 1941, and herded into line with thousands of other men, women, and children, pushed to the outskirts of town, and forced to stand at the edge of the ravine at Babi Yar. By the end of the day on September 30, 33,771 Jews had been brutally slaughtered, bodies piled high inside the gulf the split the land.

Ivan survived.

Just before the gun fired, he collapsed into the ditch where he lay for hours as bodies buried him alive. Under the veil of night, he crawled out.

I will never understand the horror of those days, but I will forever admire the strength and dignity of the men and women who walked through them. In my upcoming novel, Like a River From Its Course, I base many of the characters off the stories of the men and women I met in my years of research.

I pray I’ve honored them well.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing a few excerpts from the book with you, along with some background on how these stories came to be. Today, I share an excerpt from the book in which the character, Ivan Kyrilovich, survives the killing ditch of Babi Yar.

For more information on the book, visit the book page where you’ll find more links to some of the history that inspired these stories, as well as Pinterest-worthy images, and links where you can preorder your copy!

Be blessed, friends.

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Like a River from Its Course: An excerpt

Ivan Kyrilovich

“Entering the killing zone is more horrifying than I imagined. Marching in a single-file line, our dignity stripped bare, we slowly wind our way up the small incline to the top of the death ditch.

I try not to look at them, the men and women below, their limbs all tangled in a mass of grief and horror. But the image is too great, so my eyes slowly lower, and when I finally see, my lungs constrict.

The bodies—all intertwined and twisted, thin arms and legs woven in and out in a pattern of heartache—they are the worms I see in my dream.

The sounds around me separate from one another. I hear every movement: the crunch of dying grass beneath trembling feet; the quiet sobs of those resigned to fate; my own hollow breathing as I fight suffocation; Klara whispering her daughter’s name over and over like a lifeline.

“Polina. Polina. Polina.”

I hear the click of German guns as many of them reload, the clanking sound of metal entering chambers. The easygoing banter of the soldiers across the ditch, as if today were just another day at a menial job. All of the sounds reverberate through my mind.

It isn’t just the sounds that magnify. I’m keenly aware of everything. The way the sunlight dapples through the trees, casting brilliant shapes and shadows across the open fields. The warmth of this Baba Leta day on my exposed flesh, fighting against the inner chill that leaves me raw.

I watch a black bird drift through the sky, his wings spread in freedom, gliding through the air without fear. He doesn’t flap his wings, nor does he fight the current of the breeze. He catches it and rises suddenly, sus- pended for a brief moment before leaning to the side and riding the wind to a nearby branch.

All of these things pass through me in an instant, and then it’s over. A German command brings the soldiers forward, their dusty caps set high on their foreheads. It is then that I see him.

He walks briskly down the line to the man stationed across from me. It’s the steely-eyed killer who pushed me into line, the same boy who killed the woman in the fur coat. Leaning forward, he whispers in his comrade’s ear. The soldier glances in my direction, shrugs his shoulders, and steps back, letting the boy with fire in his eyes take his place. I feel the heat, and in my final moments grow emblazoned.

Looking back at him from across the killing ditch, I stare straight into his eyes, feeling a surge of hatred that surprises me.

Ready!

The first command rings out, bursting through the air with a measure of indifference.

Set!

“Get ready, Polina,” I whisper as the Germans raise their guns. Though we’re separated by a ditch, I look directly into the barrel before me. It’s black and cavernous and threatens to swallow me whole. I taste metal, and my ears ring as I await the final command.

Aim!

I wait a beat, then yelp, “Now!” I grab Polina’s hand and crumple just as the shots burst through the air.”

©Kelli Stuart, 2016

How a Girl Tricked the Nazis and Redefined Bravery

She sat across from me, her mouth turned up into a soft smile. With eyes crinkled at the edges, and a gentle lilt to her words, she took me back into the recesses of her memory.

It was 2003, and I was in Vinnitsya, Ukraine. Elizabeta Yepifanova agreed to meet with me on a brisk, March morning, and over a spread of tea and chocolates, she invited me into her story.

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Elizabeta was sixteen when the Nazis invaded Vinnitsya. Unable to enlist in the Red Army, she found herself stuck, forced to live under the invader’s imposed law, and unwilling to stand idly by while young boys with cropped hair took over her home. She wasn’t, of course, the only one left heated with indignant pride.

A group of young men and women like herself formed a quiet group. Meeting weekly in the hushed corners of the local library, this pack of partisans made it their mission to fight a different kind of battle with the Nazis.

“We fought a psychological battle,” she told me. The interpreter sat quietly by my side, whispering Elizabeta’s every word like it was a sacred secret, and perhaps it was.

“We wanted those boys to know that though they had physical might, they did not have the power to break our spirit.” She tossed me a mischievous glance. “And we won that psychological battle.”

Not content to subject themselves to the Nazi’s rules, Elizabeta and her comrades devised secret plans to keep the German soldiers ever aware of their own infallibility. “The Germans were afraid of us,” she laughed. “We were unpredictable and shrewd. They never knew where we would strike next.”

“I got very close to a Nazi once,” she continued. “It was the most dangerous mission I participated in. But I was successful. Of course I was successful,” she chuckled. “I’m here talking with you now!”

Late one evening in 1943, Elizabeta and her friend, Sophia, walked to a nearby market where German soldiers were known to congregate, and they openly flirted with two of the Nazis.

“We got those boys to come with us easily,” she said, eyes twinkling. “We didn’t speak German, of course, and they knew very little Russian, so most of the communicating took place with gestures. But if you can believe it, I was quite beautiful then, so it didn’t take much to convince them to follow us.” I smiled, because I could believe it. Behind the wrinkles and the grey hair, Elizabeta Yepifanova had striking features.

“We lured them to our safe house and had them take off their coats in the front hall. When we saw their guns, we pretended shock and fear, and those boys were quick to remove the weapons and lay them down. They thought they’d get something from us that night, but we were the ones who got lucky.” With a slap of the knee, Elizabeta let out a hearty laugh.

Read the rest of this story at The Huffington Post.

 

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