You Were Meant to Be Right Here All Along

21 April 2014

You can see the roads that we all travel just to get here,
A million miniscule decisions in a line,
Why they brought us to this moment isn't clear, but that's all right,
We've got all night.

If you'd asked me last year what I would study in college, I would have answered "English." Always English. I've known I wanted to be an English major since I was a bright-eyed nine-year-old looking up to the college girls who would babysit us from time to time. They loved stories, particularly those contained between two worn covers. So did I. They loved writing about and talking about the books they read. So did I. They were English majors...

Little logic is required for the rest.

I'm not the most decisive person in the world: I'll say that upfront. I took dance as a seven-year-old, then gymnastics, and then dance again. I wanted to play piano like Beth March, draw like Amy March, and sew like my mother. There was even a period of time in my childhood when I was convinced I wanted to take up clog dancing. (That began and ended quickly when my interest turned to other fields.) But in the space of my brief life, the only years from which I can draw experience, I remained convinced (to varying degrees) that I wanted to write. Beth and Amy soon faded into the background, but Jo, my old favorite, remained.

How I love to watch you listen to the music
'Cause you sing to me a music of your own
As I cast out all these lines, so afraid that I will find
I am alone, all alone.

None of this should come as a surprise to you. I keep a writing blog, after all — it follows that I'd like to study English (or history, my second choice). The thought of pursuing this sort of Bachelor's degree  is a comfortable thing in rosy youth when reality has not yet landed a pile of essays on your lap. At age nine, English did not yet taste of tone, thesis, or MLA citation. It was Story. As I matured a bit more and learned about the reality of enrolling in a university in the twenty-first century, I began to pull away bit by bit. The concept of working from home, turning my writing hobby into a real occupation, and learning by experience rather than four more years of formal education sounded promising. No more exams. No more technicalities. Just the business, verve, and toil of capturing the Story I'd always loved.

But there are still good schools. There are still good professors. They're rare, and you have to look diligently in order to find them because they're not so verbal in singing their own praises, but they're out there. And if I could learn under them to reach for excellence, was that not a good thing? Would it not be a priviledge to continue learning about the great books even as I began to write a few of my own? To engage in deep, provoking discussions? To strengthen my mind and sharpen my wit?

And then there's a small love, a nurturing love that rankles underneath all the rest. Something God laid on my heart before any thought of an English major had entered my mind. Something that hasn't changed in these twelve long years since I first considered it.

Reader, I feel led to be a midwife.

My dreams come in different shapes after all. I want to write stories rich with splintered fragments of truth, but I also want to witness those stories in a mother's sweaty brow and a baby's first lusty cry. I don't want to confine everything to the page. I thrill at the creative process involved in writing a good book, and I want to work where I am awed daily at the miracle of God's creation. To nurture, guide, and love. To shine His light in a new way. To give my life over to the Lord as softened clay, saying, "Do with me as You see fit."

Writing. History. English education. And midwifery. These are my crumpled dreams, and Lord, they are Yours.

Well, could it be that the many roads you took to get here
Were just for me to tell this story and for you to hear this song?
And your many hopes, and your many fears
Were meant to bring you here all along.

I've toiled over these thoughts for a long time. Junior year of high school is when you're supposed to have it all together in the areas of standardized testing (my worst enemy) and college-searching. You're supposed to know what you want to do with your life and you base life-changing decisions on that knowledge. Just one more year until we stand on that platform, caps in hand, and though we toss them out of jubilation and cheer for the uncertainty of the future, each heart beats a little faster because the clock is ticking and we still don't have all the boxes filled.

But we're crumpled as our dreams, and like our dreams, we're His. We need not worry about where God will lead us, because we know He will in His time. I may never publish another book: I'll still write. I may never assist at a birth or even deliver a child of my own: I'll still rejoice when I see a little one's smile. I may read and read my whole life through, and it may be the closest glimpse I have of Heaven. Our ponderings, our aching hearts, the restlessness that hounds us — He put it in us for a purpose. Don't give your soul over to anxiety, but give thanks in the season of uncertainty. The world is bent on discovering itself: I want to know my Lord. There are precious things I love, special desires I hide away in my heart, but they will not satisfy me unless they come from God.

We were meant to be right here all along.

*all lyrics from "many roads" by andrew peterson.

April Chatterbox: Where the Wild Wind Blows

16 April 2014

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
john keats

For April's Chatterbox I'm trying a new venture. The topic — resurrection — did not fit well where I am in Rifles, so I took my writing time to scribble up a key interchange from a book two novels down the line. I've long wanted to write a novel based in Scotland, and this particular story finds its setting on the wild and beautiful Isle of Skye. I'm also experimenting once more with first person, which I haven't used since Violets Are Blue. Enjoy this excerpt!

where the wild wind blows
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“Let’s go down to the loch this morn.” Blair’s voice blended comfortably with the lowing of the cattle and the swish of the wind through the long grass.
“Finish the milking first,” I replied without looking up, “or else Da will be after ye.”
“Aww, do ye have to put a damper on everything?” I knew he was looking at me now because the sound of milk streaming into his bucket had slowed to a soft drip.
“Damper or no, ye’re not going anywhere until ye finish yer chores and finish them well.” I emphasized the last word for good measure; Blair was always looking for loopholes.
“Ye’re as poky as a lass!”
“Ye’re as flighty as a child!”
The shaggy cows lowed as if to compete with our hurled insults, a deep, mournful sound like the dirge of a funeral. I raised my hand before Blair could speak again and glanced toward the western sky.
“Clouds building up. Thick ones. Going to be a heavy storm hereabouts.”
“That’s why I say we make haste for the loch straightaway.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time we were caught in a storm,” I chuckled ruefully.
“A Scotsman’s got to know how to bear the rain and the English,” he remarked as he squeezed the last drops from the old bovine. “Else how would we live?”
“If ye’re finished, we can make it before the rain sets in.”
“Aye, let’s.”
The wind was picking up as we trudged briskly down the slope, filling our nostrils and lungs with the late summer scents of heather and pearlwort. I felt the whirl of it through every long green blade on the hill I knew better than my own hand. Wild geese flapped anxiously overhead, eager to find a safe spot to land and tuck away before the weather turned foul. If I were still a bairn, I would have thought the whispering grasses were filled with all manner of fae folk slipping away to their own small homes. Even as a grown man, I could almost catch miniature voices echoing beneath the building breeze.
I could hear the lapping loch-waves before I saw the foam. The sound of moving water was familiar, ritualistic, the comforting pulse behind every day and a soft echo of the crashing waves we heard at nearly every other hilltop. Island life was never certain, but there was one thing we understood and that was the sea and its many children.
Just now, something had happened to break that current and churn it, something stronger and more frantic than the storm clouds brewing overhead. Something—someone—was struggling for his life.
“Blair—”
I said no more; my brother followed my gaze and his feet quickened. From this distance, we could see only frothing water and the occasional flash of a head or hand. My heart pulsed heavily in my chest as I ran through the damp grass. No one ought to be on the water at a time like this. Some accident must have happened.
When we reached the shore, Blair plunged in ahead of me. By now we could clearly see the person floundering helplessly in the surf, but he grew weaker, and his head did not lift regularly. I caught my breath and had to remind myself to keep moving.
“Foolishness,” my brother was hissing under his breath. “Only a simpleton would venture into unfamiliar water, especially if he can’t—” He choked before ending his sentence.
“Blair?”
He looked over his shoulder and shouted the words. “Giles, it’s a lass.”
“What difference does it make?” Of all hours for him to be making transparent statements! “Lift her head and give her a chance to breathe.”
He grasped the strange girl’s throat awkwardly and a little roughly, but no deep, shuddering breath came. By now I was at his side and together we hoisted her sodden body between us. Waves snatched and dragged at us, and it was all we could do to keep our heads and hers above the water.
“Shore,” I shouted, though it came out more like a gasp. “Move to shore.”
“Her garments. Full of water. Pulled her down.” Blair’s sentences were short under the weight of his exertion and all but swallowed in the roar of loch-water in my ears.
Despite the tugging waters that tried to hold us back like so many clawing fingers, we made it back to the shore. I leaped out first and together Blair and I got the lass onto dry land. She sputtered and a stream of water poured from her mouth onto the dirt. Then she lay still, as if it required all her energy just to breathe. Rain began to fall slowly from the burgeoning clouds above us.
I hadn't had the chance to look closely at this young woman until now. Her face was deathly pale, and whether or not that was brought on by fear, I could not say. The hair that fanned in a sodden mass around her was too wet for its color to be identified. She had a tartan wrapped around her waist like a sash, and I noticed the strong red threads that dominated every other shade in its weave.
“What are we to do with her?” Blair wondered. Now that the girl was breathing, she’d become a nuisance to him.
“Mither’ll know.”
“And what’ll we call her?”
“She has a name, I expect. Water doesn’t strip one of memory.”
“It’s taken this one’s voice.” He indicated the unknown lass, whose eyes were closed as if she did not hear our discourse. “We should think of something—”
“Rowan.” It was the first time we’d heard her speak, seated between us though she was, and her voice came surprisingly low and husky. “I am called Rowan.”

Snippets of March

12 April 2014

This past month has seen more Rifles in the South Field progress than several previous months combined, and reader, it feels good. It's hard to break down those layers of dust and churn them into words, but to see this story finally taking shape overwhelms me. Perhaps that's one of the curses and mercies about loving a book long before it finally blooms properly on the page: it becomes so vivid and real in your head that it's difficult to translate into syllables. But God is gracious and bit by bit, it's happening. A month ago I shared that I began re-writing Rifles from square one. Here are some of the most recent fruits of my labor.

mad march snippets
click here to link up at Katie's blog!

Don’t let the copper in your hair loose the leash on your tongue.”

You can’t honestly be saying you would allow hundreds of your countrymen to die for His Majesty before you’d spill one drop of your own precious blood?”
That was exactly what Kenneth was saying, but of course Alec mustn’t think it.

Susannah pressed a hand to her temple where a group of tiny soldier-steps seemed to congregate. She needed to leave the dining room, to escape the stale scent of whispered secrets and gauzy masks. Glancing back at the table, she noticed her glass of topaz Madeira, the light from the setting sun flitting through its untapped depths. It would be just the thing to calm her fluttering worries. In no time she had snatched the goblet up and tipped it to her lips. The liquor slid down sharp and sweet.

It’s no use trying to be good at something that’s too far from your grasp, my girl.”

And you are suggesting that I retire as well?”
“Aye. Or else you will fall asleep facedown in the middle of your book with all your candles burning, and I’ll wake to an empty shell of a home.”
“You paint a dire picture, daughter. Ought I to have more credit than that?”
“Perhaps,” she allowed, straightening the rug on his study floor with her foot even as she spoke. “It all depends.”
“On?”
“What you were doing this evening.”

Even the books lining his shelves seemed to turn their spines in disgust.

I hunger for more than bread and water, my lord.” Her tone was a low purr.
“I am no lord.” Still, he rather liked the appellation.
“You are Master Hughes, the son of the late general, are you not?”
There it was again; the unconscious connection with his father. Was he no man in his own right save for the status gained through his lineage?
“Tonight I am just Kenneth.”

There was something horribly familiar about this pasture, and even strewn as it was with horse carcass and slaughtered soldiers, she recognized it easily. Had she not ridden through it every morning? These were her fields; this was her land.
I’m home, she thought, and the words had never sounded more awful.

Hughes!” he heard a man’s voice calling him over the racket of a horse’s hooves. Kenneth turned around quickly, reluctantly, and glimpsed the speaker approaching him on a mount the color of burnt sienna. The acid visor fell once more over his face.

The door that closed in her wake extinguished a lone candle’s flame, but Mr. Dixon did not notice.

The bleak sun shone down from a sky as flat and colorless as steel. Dank heat wrapped clammy fingers around each throat and crumpled stalk. A fitful breeze stirred through dry trees, tossing up the heady scents of blood and gunpowder that cloyed the air. The atmosphere waited, every nerve tensed for action.
And then the inevitable shot came that cracked and split the stillness.

Guest Post: Mrs. Meade's Colorado by Elisabeth Grace Foley

08 April 2014

Please join me in welcoming Elisabeth Grace Foley to Literary Lane to celebrate the publication of The Mrs. Meade Mysteries: Volume One! Up to this point, she has released these  novelette-length mysteries in e-book format, but now you have the opportunity to purchase a paperback copy featuring the first three stories. With each mystery averaging around 15,000 words, they are the perfect length for a warm afternoon and a cup of tea. Pick up a copy today and dive into Mrs. Meade's world of Sour Springs, Colorado. Elisabeth introduces us to the inspiration behind that world in the following guest post.

mrs. meade's colorado
by elisabeth grace foley

When you’re writing historical fiction, your setting becomes an intrinsic part of your story. I’ve found this to be very true with the Mrs. Meade Mysteries. The funny thing is, I didn’t start out by deliberately choosing a time and year for the series. The setting—Colorado around the turn of the 20th century—seemed to blossom of itself from a notion that popped into my head while I was putting together the pieces of the first story. In retrospect, I think it came about mainly because of two books I had read, and a random sentence in a third. The first was Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden, the true story of two Edwardian-era girls from wealthy families who went west to become schoolteachers in rural Colorado. The second was Clover by Susan Coolidge (the fourth book in the What Katy Did series). One was nonfiction, the other fiction; but both were set in Colorado at reasonably close time periods, and the descriptions of the setting in both books fascinated me. 

To begin with, I've always adored mountains. If I had the choice of anywhere in the world to go on a vacation, it would be somewhere with mountains, whether it was the Adirondacks or the Rockies or the Alps. The idea of writing in a setting that I loved was very appealing. In addition, the juxtaposition of early 20th-century modernity with the remnants of the frontier West, as portrayed in Nothing Daunted, presented all sorts of fascinating possibilities for stories. Edwardian-era Colorado had both thriving cities and remote settlements. Ranching, mining and railroads were industries that held plenty of interest. Also, the plot of Clover was driven by the heroine's accompanying her younger brother to Colorado for his health—which opened up even further possibilities. In the late 19th century Colorado was an extremely popular health resort, its dry, sunny climate being considered especially good for the treatment of tuberculosis. (In 1900 a historian claimed that one-third of the state’s population had come there for health reasons). The state’s beauties also attracted tourists. As a well-known destination for invalids and travelers of all sorts and social classes, where could I find a better place for bringing in whatever characters I needed to fill the cast of a mystery?

The clincher might have been a sentence in Initials Only, a 1911 mystery by Anna Katharine Green, which I read just a short time after reading Nothing Daunted. A family of travelers staying at a New York hotel, filling a small but important role as witnesses to a murder, was referred to as being "well known in Denver." Green's work in general had a significant influence on the development of Mrs. Meade—not only did she create one of the first lady detectives in her Miss Amelia Butterworth, but the milieu of Victorian and Edwardian life portrayed in her books was one of the things that I enjoyed most about them, and which I wanted to reflect in my own historical mysteries. The reference to Denver seemed to link this in neatly with the Colorado setting that already attracted me.

Doing additional research for the Mrs. Meade Mysteries has deepened my interest in the Edwardian era as a whole. I’d had a cursory admiration for the lovely fashions and hairstyles of the time, gained from watching Anne of Green Gables and the like. Now I’ve found what I previously regarded as a rather uneventful section in the history books to be an intriguing transitional period in American history, apart from the appeal of its fashions and culture. Over the last few years I’ve read a lot of early Western fiction, and was frequently surprised to discover much of it written and set around the turn of the century—some of the Old West that I’d imagined ending much earlier still lived, through those first pre-WWI decades, alongside the automobile and telephone and other aspects of modern civilization gradually spreading through the country. Since I was already accustomed to writing Westerns, Mrs. Meade’s small town felt like home ground, and the prospect of learning more about Edwardian culture was a pleasant one.

I feel I've yet to fully explore the possibilities of this setting. Hopefully that will develop further in future stories. But it has provided me with a distinct backdrop to work against, and has even sparked the beginnings of some plots by itself. One thing is certain: I know I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of its potential!

. . .

all about mrs. meade

Meet Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady with keen insight into human nature and a knack for solving mysteries. Problems both quaint and dramatic find her in Sour Springs, a small town in Colorado at the turn of the twentieth century. Here in Volume One are her first three adventures, novelette-length mysteries previously published individually. In The Silver Shawl, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives—was she kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? In The Parting Glass, Mrs. Meade puzzles over the case of a respectable young man accused of drunkenly assaulting a woman. And in The Oldest Flame, Mrs. Meade’s visit with old friends turns to disaster with a house fire that may have been deliberately set. Quick and entertaining forays into mystery and times past, each story is just the perfect length to accompany a cup of tea or coffee for a cozy afternoon.

all about elisabeth grace foley

Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff. Her first published story, “Disturbing the Peace,” was an honorable mention in the first annual Rope and Wire Western short story competition, and is now collected with six others in her debut short story collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. Her other works include short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. A homeschool graduate, she chose not to attend college in order to pursue self-education and her writing career. Visit her online at www.thesecondsentence.blogspot.com.

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