Title: The Girl Who Slept in the Poet’s Ear
Genre: YA historical/magical realism
Word Count: 62,000
Eighteen-year-old ballerina Wera fears that World War I will steal the things that matter most: her chance to perform onstage and the promise of a future with her boyfriend, Wolfgang. She clings to normalcy as the war circles closer, but smoky-dark shadows follow. She’s powerless when the city of Munich shuts down the ballet at the Opera House, and can do nothing to help when her best friend’s brother goes missing at the front. When Wolfgang pushes her away in his angst over his looming draft date, she draws him back with their shared yearning for humanity in the midst of inhumanity through the words of family friend and celebrated poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.
Through Rilke’s poems, the two embrace the beauty in life in spite of the ugliness around them. Yet death’s smoky fingers are creeping closer. A mysterious illness soon threatens Wera’s own life, and this time, she’s the one to push Wolfgang away, unwilling to let him see her so broken. After she loses her grip on life, she responds to Rilke’s call for a muse reaching out beyond the grave. His poems remain the young couple’s tenuous tie to each other, and the only way Wera can find a way back to Wolfgang and at the same time, make her mark on humanity in a way she never expected.
First 250 words:
The hollow click-clack of my heels echoed on the cobblestones as I hurried down the narrow street toward the ballet studio. I stole a glance behind me. The sidewalk was deserted, of course. With half of Munich off fighting the war in the trenches and the other half too spooked to come out of their flats, it was no wonder I was the only person in the street.
I slowed my pace and turned completely around. Dark plumes of smoke—a result of the previous day’s bombing—rose from the rubble and spilled over the empty block like a charred early-morning fog. My body tensed rigid as a maypole as a single tendril of smoke extended over the sidewalk, reaching closer, closer.
At that moment, the Frauenkirche’s bells chimed the hour, breaking my trance. I whirled back around and headed for the corner. Only another block until I’d reach my escape: Frau Schneider’s makeshift studio.
“Hallo, Wera!” A flash of red burst from the colorless backdrop of black and gray and white across the street. Anna. She wore the scarf I’d given her two years ago for her sixteenth birthday, when we were still allowed to knit with colored yarn. When we were still allowed to knit for civilians.