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Southern born, Southern reared. It's a quirky place and we are unique folk... These are my people and these are my stories.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Church

I stepped into the cool of the church's sanctuary, drawn by the stonework, the over-arching woodwork, the carved oak pews, the ornamental lectern and pulpit, and the stained glass windows, shaped like arched doorways.

If icons could speak, those in this room called me to sit quietly. To kneel in prayer. To become immersed in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

And so I did, right here in St. Francis Episcopal Church in downtown Rutherfordton, North Carolina.

Then, when the time came to write about Ashlynne Rothschild's first steps into the church she would visit while living in "Testament" (The Road to Testament Abingdon Press, 2013), I wrote:

The inside of the church was not what I’d expected. The stonework and arches gave the sanctuary a gothic appearance. Short pews—hard and shiny with age—formed rows of moderate length. The end of each pew had been cut high and carved like rolled scrolls. A center aisle, carpeted in red, led to a prayer altar of dark wood. Beyond it, an ornate lectern, and beyond that a floor-to-ceiling stained glass window. On both sides of the sanctuary, dimly lit by antique brass chandeliers, arched stained glass windows. Some depicted saints such as John, Peter, Paul, Francis. Others shared stories our faith is established upon—Moses and the Hebrew children crossing the Red Sea, Ruth gathering wheat, David slaying Goliath, Jesus raising a child from the dead. Jesus, Himself, ascending into heaven.   

I inhaled deeply. The scent of lit candles and polished wood rushed my senses. This was … lovely. Reverent and sacred. 


But this was only the inside of the church ... the outside of the fictitious church, her history and the cemetery beyond ... that came from another location in Rutherford County ...

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Real Road to Testament (Are there really unmarked graves?)

"How much of this book is based on truth?" is a question I get quite often, no matter the book.

In truth, we fiction writers nearly always base some part or parts of our books on truth. Sometimes that truth comes out of a person we meet or only see across the way in an airport. Sometimes life happens, strangely enough, and we think, "That would make a good plot for a book ..." We alter things somewhat, and we use what we can.

I was in Rutherfordton (part of the real Testament, NC) and I heard about these unmarked graves found out in the woods on Decker Ranch. Intrigued, I asked to see them. Sure enough, there they were--about sixty in all--sunken in some places by a foot or so, most of them marked by rough stones.

As soon as I returned to The Cottage, I got to work on how to incorporate the truth behind the graves with the fiction in The Road to Testament. And so, I got to work:

We neared where Garrison stood alongside a man I presumed to be Robert Matthews. He was tall, slender, deeply tanned, and sporting a five o’clock shadow before 10:00 in the morning. Dark hair tussled around his head as though he’d just gotten out of bed. In spite of the heat, he wore a long-sleeved white tee stained by red mud and dirt, jeans, and hiking boots. “Will,” he said. He approached us with his hand out.
Will shook his hand and released it before turning to me. “Rob, Ashlynne Rothschild. She’s from Florida, working here at the paper for a few months.”
Rob Matthews smiled, sending crinkles around almond-colored eyes. His hand shot out as naturally as if we were old friends seeing each other as we always did. Out in the woods. Surrounded by swaying trees. Overgrown shrub. And, somewhere close by—did I mention?—dead people.
I slipped my hand into his and felt the dryness, the calluses along the base of his fingers. A working man’s hands. “Nice to meet you,” I said, pulling back as quickly as I could without seeming rude. I waved away pesky creatures buzzing around my face.
Robert nodded once. His eyes sparkled and his mouth broke apart in a picture-perfect smile. “You, too.” He returned his attention to Will. “Man, you’ve got to see this,” he said, clapping his friend on the shoulder and turning him around. “I’ve been trying to get some of this thinned out back here. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it once I get it all cleared, but it needed to be done.”
Garrison and I followed behind. I flipped open my notebook, clicked my pen, and started taking notes, straining to hear as Rob continued.
“Right here,” he said, pointing to the ground, “is I noticed the first stone.”  
We stopped, gathering in a circle around a lump of granite in the ground.
“I didn’t think a whole lot of it,” Rob continued, “until I took a few more steps …” He pointed to our left. Sure enough, another stone marked the spot. “And then,” he said, drawing us along with his words, “I came up on this.”
A larger flat piece of granite rose out of the ground at the base of a thick pine. “That’s when I realized what all this was.” Rob squatted and we did too. He pointed and we followed the line of vision his finger provided.
“Oh, my goodness,” I said. “You can actually see the outlines of graves.”
“Some have sunk about four to six inches, I’m thinking. Other’s deeper than that.” He looked over at me. “Be careful where you step, now.”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The "real" Road to Testament (Day 3)

I went to the Mount Herman Christian Writers Conference years ago as a faculty member and, having a break in my schedule, decided to meander over to Karen Ball's class on fiction writing. I don't necessarily remember a lot that she taught, but I do remember her saying that all of her books have animals, such as a pet dog, cat, etc.

Gold fish? I don't remember ...

Since that time, I've noticed when I read books with "pets" that I get a little warm fuzzy, so--whenever I can--I incorporate the pup or kitty or ... gold fish.

After all, didn't Rocky become more lovable after we met Cuff and Link?

How delightful that, years ago during my first trip to Decker Ranch, I met "Buddy" and "Sis" as Sharon calls them (because this is not their real names). During my trip to the ranch and to that little paradise area of God's country called Rutherford County, North Carolina, Buddy and Sis came to see me every morning while I took a walk or when I sat in the Adirondack chairs reading my devotions.

One afternoon, Sharon called me. "I can't find Buddy," she said. I smiled and said, "Hold on." I took the photo you see here and sent it to her. Buddy had taken over "guarding" the writer within.

Here's what happened, exactly as it happened, one morning during devotional time ... and then I wrote it into The Road to Testament as happening to Ashlynne (with some obvious modification).

I sat in what had become my favorite place to sit and read. Behind me, the sun made its slow ascent, casting shades of gold and ash across the lawn and the river rocks. A sliver of glitter in my flip flops caught one of the rays and shot back a brilliant reflection. Overhead, birds had already begun their morning song. The notion that we were becoming friends fluttered across my mind, and I smiled.
            As I crossed my legs and took a leisurely sip of tea, I caught a glimpse of my two furry friends from between the red-tipped bushes. They sauntered up the path. Over the past few days we’d formed a morning ritual whereby I drank tea and read; they sat and watched. Our actions, when done together, worked out beautifully.
            I’d also learned their names.
            “Good morning Buddy,” I said as the black dog reached me. I placed the mug between my thighs, extended my hand; he eased his head under it. His tail swished back and forth before looking back to see how close his constant companion had come to stealing my attention. “Come on, Sis,” I said, using the nickname Bobbie gave Kelsey. “Come on, old girl.”
            Kelsey easily pushed Buddy out of the way for her love pat. Buddy’s dark eyes stared at me for a moment. Unfazed by my shift in attention, he walked over to sniff a decorative garden stone with “DREAM” carved into it.
            I continued to rub Kelsey’s head, scratching behind her ears. I laid my head back against the glossy slats of the chair and closed my eyes. “Ah, Sis,” I said. “Do you know what I’d be doing right now if I were back in Winter Park?” I opened my eyes. Sis now sat, her long tail wrapped around one hip and leg. Her pink tongue dropped between sharp teeth, and her mouth formed a smile. “I’d be rushing off to work, that’s what.” Buddy rejoined us and I shifted my hand to his head. “You see,” I continued, “back home, when I get up—I get up very early—and I do my reading inside my apartment. I have a settee that once belonged to my grandmother—ah, you probably don’t want to hear about that. But I don’t get to go outside and sit under the trees and feel the breeze on my skin when I do my reading.”
            Both dogs stared at me, looking at me as intently as Gram and Mom when I bare my soul to them. “What I’m trying to say,” I continued, “is how special this is becoming and how much I will miss it when I leave.”
The dogs blinked in unison.
“Well, then.” I raised the book with my free hand. “I guess I’d better get to reading so I can shower and go get my nails done.” Kelsey panted deeply as though, being a girl, she understood.
            I propped my mug on the armrest farthest from the dogs and opened the book to: SING AND DANCE. The artwork on the corresponding mirror tile was of a woman with her mouth open and of a ballet shoe with wide pink ribbons.
            “Sing to him,” I read to Buddy and Kelsey. “Sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful acts.” I looked at the dogs, both curled near my feet. “That’s from First Chronicles, chapter sixteen, verse nine.”
            Buddy groaned as he rested his head on his front paws.
            “I take it you’ve heard me sing,” I said.

            Kelsey followed her companion’s motions. Her eyes rose to meet mine as though to say, “Uh … yeah.”

Don't just read bits and pieces of The Road to Testament! For heaven's sake, call your favorite bookstore and go to your favorite online bookstore right now and purchase it so you can read the whole thing and ... my dog can get a new collar. (insert big cheesy grin here)