“Because of our adversities, we learn how to overcome. . .and keep going on.” (M.J. Brett)
Margaret Brettschneider, who holds a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature/Journalism from the University of California, is one of the most prolific writers in the Pikes Peak Branch of the NLAPW. She has known many hardships, but never lets them get her down for long. When her first husband died unexpectedly, the DOD school system sent her to Bamberg, Germany, in 1974, where she experienced first hand the secret clashing between the U.S. and the Soviet Union along the Iron Curtain. Seven years later, she moved to Stuttgart, where she met her present husband. In all, she spent 21 years overseas. Her varied experiences in Germany inspired many of her ten books, such as Mutti’s War, Shadows on an Iron Curtain, and Mama Told Me Not to Come. Click to see more of Margaret’s books here.
In the School of Adversity. . .
When Margaret was almost three, her mother abandoned her on a Midwest farm. For years, she wondered what was so bad about herself that her mother didn’t want her. To this day, she remembers her guilt and shame, feeling unworthy of friendships. It wasn’t until she had children of her own that she realized the problem was her mother’s, not hers.
The farmer and his wife were kind and allowed her to live with them over two years. “It’s the smells–cow manure and Burma Shave–that stay in my memory about the farm,” Margaret says. In the evenings, men gathered in the farm kitchen, getting their hair trimmed, since the farmer was also a barber. The men discussed a multitude of topics: the price of corn, farm equipment, politics, and President Roosevelt. Margaret would sit in a corner, listening, learning, developing her lifelong curiosity about the world.
The farmer’s wife taught her to read, using the Bible, and ingrained in the three-year-old her own pearls of wisdom. A lady never parts her knees. A lady never sits on the floor. A lady keeps her body covered. These maxims, along with the men’s discussions, helped to shape Margaret’s life.
I learned how to Overcome . . .
The Great Depression was going on during her formative years, and food was often scarce, even on a farm. Margaret never felt hungry, but poor nutrition caused her to develop rickets, crippling her, and leaving her in constant pain. It was dance that saved her life, she says. At five and a half, her farm family located her father, sending her off to California to live with him. To treat her rickets, the doctor wanted to put her in braces and clunky shoes. Or, he suggested, let her try ballet. Even though her dance teacher was strict and demanding, Margaret refused to give up, and within two years, her crooked body strengthened. During World War II, her troupe danced for the USO at their rec centers, on bond drives, and on hospital ships.
Margaret describes these experiences in her autobiographical book, I Think I Can, I Think I Can.
More questions and answers:
“The Voices Know My Name”, a book about PTSD, was your last novel. Do you have another project in mind?
Her next novel will deal with the changes in the American educational system: changes for the worst, in her opinion. But, for now, Margaret is recuperating after recent health problems–but, she always has something on her mind that needs to be written.
What has life taught you?
Margaret tells of challenging her senior English students to each choose a novel and then explain how its theme would guide them in their lives. Their profound insights surprised her. But, they giggled, they already knew what her philosophy of life was. They chose for her “I think I can, I think I can.” It was probably the right choice, she says. Life had taught her to never give up.
“You can do anything in life you want to do,” she’d tell her students. “You can overcome anything, if you want it badly enough–enough to work for it.”
Margaret, do you see a common thread or theme running through your books?
Yes, she says, but she didn’t realize it until she’d written five books or so. “My books all have real people who struggle, yet manage to overcome their obstacles. They all must grow in order to move on. It’s not so much what happens to my characters, as how they handle it.”
Would you say that same theme describes your life?
“Life influences art,” she laughs. “Authors always draw on their own experiences. You write what you know, using your own vision of what something looks like, what it sounds like. Your own emotions go into your characters. Your own life creeps into anything you write. Because of our adversities,” she concludes, “we learn how to overcome them and keep going on.”
Thank you, Margaret for allowing us to take a glimpse into your writing journey, and for sharing some of the lessons you learned along the way.
Thank you, readers, for stopping by our blog today.
We hope you were inspired to read about M.J.Brett and her wonderful stories. Read more here.
NOTE: This interview was conducted and written by Cindi Carroll. Cindi has been a Letters Pen Woman since August 2010. She is also a wife, mother, and grandmother, a retired teacher, a docent for twenty-seven years for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. If that’s not enough, she’s also a seamstress, a children’s storybook Writer and a novelist. Cindi has served Pikes Peak Branch of NLAPW in several capacities—the longest one being the Flash Fiction Contest Chair, and judge.