Inspiration from War and Resistance

Novelists are often told, “write what you know.” That’s not quite right. They should learn what they don’t know. Then when they write, they write from a place of knowing. I wanted to write about everyday people who decide to fight for their freedom. So I turned to history again. I needed inspiration for my then in-progress novel, My Soul to Keep. I looked for character inspiration from war and resistance. I found a lot more.

Google is my friend. I searched for resistance and freedom fighters. Scanning hundreds of articles about resistance groups or rebels or freedom fighters I looked for firsthand accounts. I read a lot of articles. Articles about the American Revolution, the Syrian Civil War, and the Polish, the Yugoslavian, the Dutch, and the French resistance fighters in WWII.

Syrian Civil War and Reality

There were two resources I returned to over and over again. I found a number of YouTube videos about the Syrian Civil War. These were videos not for the faint of heart. They showed the real brutality of war, the spirit of resistance, and the destruction of homes and lives. It also showed the resilience of the human spirit.

People lived in the ruins of cities under appalling conditions. Food and clothing were scarce. Once thriving shopping districts had been reduced to rubble. Rebels took refuge in tunnels under the cities. In the documentary I watched, there were times the rebels were under such heavy fire they could not leave those tunnels. Still, they found the spirit to sing songs and joke amongst themselves.

Seven years after the beginning of that war, it is ongoing today. I cannot find the video that seared itself into my brain today. But there are many enlightening documentaries still available.

Not for this book

The devastation of that war was not what the first book of My Soul to Keep needed. I filed away my notes and turned to another source.

Agnes Humbert

My next resource was an audiobook. Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France by Agnes Humbert narrated by Joyce Bean. Agnes was an art historian in Paris when Germans occupied the city. She tells of how she oversaw the packing of the art in the museum where she worked. Then there was little more to pack and her boss sent her home.

Inspiration from World War II Resistance. Lynette M Burrows tells of research she did into resistance fighters while writing My Soul to Keep.
Audiobook Résistance by Agnès Humbert available on


She went home, packed up, and left the city. But she couldn’t stand the idea of leaving her home to the Germans. She joined a resistance group. A bunch of regular people who couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to their city and nation. As regular folk, they weren’t warriors or strategists or terribly security-minded. They did what they could with what little they had.

They developed a network. Everyday folk milled around at train depots and shops listening to soldiers talking. They questioned people passing through town. Surreptitiously they printed a newsletter they called Resistancee.   They repored what news they had, movement of troops if they could.  They circulated it under the noses of German soldiers.


Eventually, they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Humbert was imprisoned. She faced days of uncertainty and interrogation. Eventually, she was transferred to the first of several labor camps. She relates, in detail, what life in labor camps was like. She talks about how meager food rations and clothing were. The prisoners were forced to work when ill or injured. Punishments for failing to work were severe. Agnes managed to steal and hide scraps of paper. She recorded her activities and thoughts. Had her notes been found she would have been killed. Seven of her friends were executed. She survived.

The audiobook is engrossing and horrifying. Yet, through it all, Humbert had a brave, witty, and compassionate attitude. I highly recommend listening to this one.

What I Learned

My research revealed that everyday people don’t make the best military-minded decisions. But their lack of military know-how is part of what helped them endure. This was my inspiration. From WWII  and the resistance in Syria, I recreated war and resistance in My Soul to Keep. Have you read about real resistance fighters? Which ones? What did you learn from your reading?

Inspired by a Maximum Security Prison

In My Soul to Keep, Miranda Clarke lands in Redemption, a prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. Redemption bears a striking resemblance to the real federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. That’s right, I was inspired by a maximum security prison.

I was inspired by a maximum security penitentiary. Read more about it.
Image courtesy of americasroof via Wikimedia Commons.

The Beginning

In 1871 the United States realized that the stockades and fort prisons were inadequate. Congress passed the “Three Prisons Act” in 1891. This law authorized the federal government’s first three penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island. It also led to the creation of the federal prison system and, in 1930, the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas is an imposing structure of white limestone. It sits twenty-five miles northwest of Kansas City, Kansas. Construction began in March 1897. The central dome of the facility led to its nicknames, the “Big Top” and the “Big House.” It was the first of the three penitentiaries to house prisoners.

Famous Inmates

The federal prison opened in 1903 to its first 418 prisoners. The first cell house wasn’t complete until 1904. Originally built to house 1,200 prisoners, the inmate population rose to 3,362. (Currently, the population is almost 1,800 inmates.) Initially a maximum security facility, it was downgraded to a medium security prison in 2005.

Inmates included cowboys and Indians, spies and gangsters, and assassins and sports personalities. Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Nitty, and George “Bugs” Moran were among the famous inmates. Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” had his aviary at Leavenworth (not at Alcatraz.) The violent sociopath who killed without remorse also famously nurtured two fledglings he found in the yard. That roused his passion for birds. He studied them and wrote two books about them. And he sold birds, healing potions for birds, and seed while in prison.

The number of famous prisoners is too long to list here. You can see a partial list on Wikipedia. The complete list is at the National Archives in Kansas City along with prisoner records and personal letters.

A History of Escapes

Leavenworth has a history of interesting escapes. The first mass escape occurred in1898. Only the leader of that group avoided capture—for five years. One escape included a hijacked train. The train brought construction materials in. They forced the engineer to drive through the gate. A group of escapees held the warden hostage and were allowed to walk out the front gate. That led to a new law. From then on the gate could not be opened regardless of who was a hostage. One prisoner dressed as a safety inspector and walked out the front door. Leavenworth is also known for another first, the first fatality of a federal prison officer in 1901.


I’ve known about Leavenworth ever since I moved into the Kansas City area. I learned its fascinating history after I began scouting for inspiration on location. With such a rich history a mere forty-five-minute drive from home, how could I resist?

For obvious reasons, the prison does not allow public tours. For more information, watch the documentary, The United States Penitentiary: Leavenworth.  Or visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons website

Of course, researching Leavenworth inspired the Redemption. But the details sprang completely from my imagination. I hope you’ve enjoyed inspired by a maximum security prison, part of my Inspiration on Location series of blog posts. If you missed my previous post on Lynchburg, Virginia you can read about it here. In less than four weeks you’ll be able to read about Miranda and Beryl’s adventures. I hope you’ll enjoy reading how they landed in and escaped from a Leavenworth-inspired prison.

Declarations of Truth, Honor, and Independence

No discussion of Independence Day in the United States of America would be complete without talking about the document. The Declaration of Independence is more than a historical document. It is not a law or set of laws. It’s a statement of ideology. An ideology of truth, honor, and independence. An ideology that is controversial at times. And one of the documents that all Americans should know and study. Yet few of us know more than the famous lines and many argue over the meaning of specific words and phrases.

If your memory is spotty, or you don’t know if you’ve read the document, take a moment to listen or read the Declaration of Independence.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Congression Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Yet, most of the delegates had not signed it until later. Did you know that eight of the fifty-six delegates who signed the declaration were born in Great Britain?

There are four major points covered by the Declaration.

  1. That All men have equal and God-given rights,
  2. When a government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up,
  3. When another revolution may be justified,” 
  4. And the declaration that we are free and a pledge to each other and their idea.

Let’s discuss that first point. 

All Men Are Created Equal

The All men have equal rights is the most discussed sentence in the Declaration. Arguments abound about what Jefferson meant by “all men.”

According to some, one should take that statement in its historical context. They think that “men” means only white males. These, usually white males, point out blacks were slaves, women had societal and political constraints, and native Indians were considered savages. They aren’t wrong about the societal and legal assigns given to blacks, women, and native Indians. And yet, further down in the document is this sentence:

“He (King George) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

“All ages, sexes, and conditions.” The implication is that all people have a right to live. Perhaps the signers of the Declaration considered other ages, sexes, and conditions were their property. Or could they have meant the right to live applied to all ages, sexes, and conditions?

The signers of the Declaration left an ambiguous legacy about slavery. In his initial draft, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade. The Southern delegates would not agree to that paragraph. It was taken out in favor of unity over the Declaration.

All Are Not Equal

Jefferson blamed the presence of enslaved Africans in North America on avaricious British colonial policies. Unfortunately, he also believed that blacks were inferior and should be removed from the colonies. A total of forty-nine of the signers owned slaves at some point in their lives. One signer made a fortune off of selling slaves. Yet, by 1870, the Northern States had abolished slavery. George Washington was the only Southerner signer who freed his slaves (upon his death). 

Unfortunately, equality for all men (women, races, ethnicities, etc.) has not been achieved in the USA. Yet. It is something to strive for, to fight for, as we go forward.

When Government Fails in its Duty

If the government fails in its duty the government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up by the people who have a right to revolt.

If the government fails in its duty is another phrase that requires some thought. What duty? The paragraph that follows explains. Governments secure the rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They get the right and power to govern from the consent of the governed. And when any form of government becomes destructive of those rights, it is the right, and the duty, of the people to alter or abolish that government.

Another Revolution May Be Justified

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Note, they say a long train of abuses and usurpations. They go further to say that “light and transient (or temporary) abuses are not a reason to overthrow an established government.” What follows is a list of the abuses and illegal seizures of rights and property that the colonies have endured at the hands of the King of Great Britain. All people would do well to study this list. There are lessons and parallels to be had if you look.

Absolving and Pledging

“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved”

They follow this statement of intention with a pledge.

“We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

What’s significant here is the abolishment of allegiance to the British crown. The pledge tugs at my heartstrings. These were men aged 26 to 70 years. They were landholders, doctors, lawyers, farmers, merchants—men who had things to lose. One-third of them served in the militia. Seven of them suffered losses (from war wounds to imprisonment and torture to loss of lands and fortune). None of them died as a direct result of the war.

What I Believe

I am not a historian nor a student of politics. But I am hugely interested in my country, in the ideal of equal rights for all people, and I believe in truth, honor, and independence. I hope this brief examination of the Declaration of Independence has inspired you to think about the document. If you found it interesting, please leave a comment below.

The Declaration of Independence is imperfect, as were the founders of this country. Yet, this document inspires with great heart, and spirit, and hope. We can, and should, keep working to improve ourselves and our country. We should all aspire to believe in truth, honor, and independence–

for ALL.

Inspiration Never Gets Old

For this week’s post, I want to introduce you to a website full of inspiration. I’m talking about by Debra Eve. Its tagline is “Creativity never gets old.” That’s true, but it’s also a site where Inspiration never gets old.

Debra calls herself a proud later bloomer and possessor of many passions. On her website, she profiles a later bloomer once a month.

According to Debra, “Being a Later Bloomer has nothing to do with being late. Like the pomegranate tree that fruits in fall, we all bloom in our own time.” The folks she profiles are sometimes famous, sometimes not. All her profiles are about people who find their creative path after 35 years of age, many were older than 50 when they found their life’s work. Her profiles include artists, athletes, explorers, and writers. And while the stories of artists and writers are among my favorites, the category near and dear to my heart is titled, “Women.”


I love her profile on Olga Kotelko, an athletic prodigy who at age 77 hired a coach then went on to set records and win medals. Olga was one determined lady!

Debra’s blog posts cover her own journey and the journeys of male later bloomers, like Robert Marchand. Marchand set the world’s first record in cycling’s over-100 category, doing 24.25 kilometers in 60 minutes.


She profiled one of my favorite authors, Madeline L’Engle among many others.

People Who Made History

Benjamin Franklin (did you know he was a later bloomer?) and the namesake of the Americas, Amerigo Vespucci are two of the historical figures she profiles.

Debra has an anthology called Later Bloomers, 35 people over the age of 35 who found their passion and purpose. It’s the first volume in the series and is available on Amazon at an affordable $2.99. Inspiration never gets old on Debra Eve's website. Here I highlight a few of the inspiring people she's profiled.

Regardless of your age, you’ll find a bit of history, a fascinating life, and a lot of inspiration at The inspiration never gets old and will keep you working for your dreams. Need more inspiration? Check out these posts: Inspiration behind the Scenes with a Female Sniper and Inspiration from War and Resistance.

Remembering American Women in Military Service

It’s Memorial Day. It’s a day set aside to remember those who died in active military service to our country. Today we remember and honor the men who served and died. Those men deserve remembrances, but some of us forget that there were many women who served and died. This Memorial Day is also a time to be remembering American women in military service who died for our country.

Women in military service is not a new concept. Some women hid their gender to fight alongside their brothers. Other women chose to serve as nurses or support personnel. Today, women can choose to serve in combat situations and in all branches of U.S. Military Service.

So let’s remember the women who died for our country in addition to the men. And let’s not honor only those who died in recent service, but remember from the first war in our fledgling nation to the most recent war. Lest you forget one of them, 


        The Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

        War of 1812 (1812-1815)

        Mexican – American War (1846-1848)

        American Civil War (1861–1865)

        Spanish-American War (1898)

        World War I (1914-1918)

        World War II (1939-1945)

        Korean War (1950-1953)

        VIETNAM WAR (1959-1975)   

        GULF WAR (1990-1991)


Sadly this list does not include military actions that were not formally declared a war.

        a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia beginning in 1992.

        In Haiti September 1994 – March 1995)

        In Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 90’s

       And in the War on Terrorism (2001–present)–Afghanistan, The Philippines, Iraq, Syria, and Libya

This is not a complete list of the military actions where men and women have died in service to our country. The length and breadth of the list are sobering.

Remembering American Women in Military Service
WASP pilot Betty Wall survived WWII, public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Remembering American Women in Military Service

Some have made it their mission to honor American women in military service. The Women In Military Service for America Memorial has been open since 1995. Another sobering list is the list of women who lost their lives in active service here

So on this Memorial Day reflect on those this nation has lost while they served our country. And remember that women in military service died too. Don’t allow yourselves to forget that, even today, American men and women fight in armed conflicts across the world. Remember even when it’s not Memorial Day.