River People centers around seventeen-year-old Effie and eleven-year-old Bridget in the late 1890's. They must struggle to survive religious patriarchy and abuse at a time when women have few rights and society looks upon domestic abuse as a private, family matter. River People is a story of hidden strength that rises to the surface in even the most unyielding of circumstances.
When we plant the tree of the self, we do not know how wide the canopy will stretch, how deep the roots will grow, or how strong the trunk will become. We do not know how far the wind will carry the seeds, the number of new trees that will take root from them, seed themselves and spread wider still. We simply tend the tree of our being. Busy there.
I’m celebrating having finished another draft of my next novel: The Broken Statue. I thought I’d share of bit of that beginning with a bit of River People’s beginning:... ¶“Bridget sucked in a deep breath at the sight of a stag climbing the river bank and into the yard. Then a second animal, a third, and even a fourth. A male deer in January with an unshed rack wasn’t horribly unusual, but seeing four, and so close to the farm buildings was extraordinary. Their eyes fixed on her at the window, and they started forward. ¶ High stepping through the snow, they came four abreast, keeping such a precise configuration they might have been harnessed to a sleigh. Shoulder to shoulder, they obeyed supernatural reins. ¶ She’d thought them fully formed, but as they neared, bodies thickened, copper coats deepened, and antlers swelled. ¶ Bridget’s knees trembled inside her worn dungarees. Breathing was hard, backing away from the window, impossible. The closer they came, the more quartered she felt. Each stag taking his acre. They stopped just outside her window, the pools of their eyes deeper than human eyes. What other-world prompting had sent them?
I have a friend, finishing up a beautiful novel. The theme is racism. The working title is: Every Gain Divine. She reminded me that her title comes from the 2nd verse of America the Beautiful: "Oh Beautiful, for heroes proved In liberating strife Who more than self Their country loved, And mercy more than life. America, America, may God thy gold refine, And all success be nobleness, And every gain divine." I don't know if we will ever be a country free of prejudices, but so long as we never give up trying, there's hope.
How could Bridget know that in six years she would find herself in Omaha, not just looking for her mother amongst ‘ladies of the night,’ but also living in a famous brothel? (The Broken Statue).Would she want to know that now? Do any of us have the courage to know what lies so far ahead? The last few evenings, I’ve been watching D A R K on Netflix. If you want a mind-bender on the nature of time and meeting your future self, this series will suit you. Personally, I’m happy to leave the future safely asleep, not having today torn open by it. I try to stay in the present, writing X-number of hours each day and finding things for which I’m thankful. Still, as I’m writing The Broken Statue, I keep thinking, “What if Bridget knew what I know about her future?”
Mark Twain is credited with saying history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. I'm reminded of that when I think of the issues women faced in 1898. River People is a testament to how far women have come, how far we have yet to go, and why the fight for equal rights must continue.
This is a very low moment for Effie. More so because she doesn’t yet realize it. When she first arrived at the cabin, she’d been insulted to hear she was thought of as one of the “river people.” The months of hardship, both physical and mental have damaged her. She’s normalized the idea of being lesser than and has come to accept for herself what she'd first found repulsive. She longs for company in her suffering. Suggesting Pete’s mother was no better, represents her willingness to bring down another female to ease her own loneliness--even a woman she secretly admires. Taking it a step further, Effie would destroy Pete as well. Joan Chittister uses a term, “nurtured for greatness.” Certainly women were not nurtured for greatness in 1898. Are we today? And how do each of us nurture our own greatness despite the world's ideas?
The novel is set in 1889, yet eerily, Rev. Jackdaw's brand of religion remains today.The news cycles are full of tyrants who still believe the judgment of others is their divine purpose. “History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes,” Mark Twain gets credited with saying.
I write about women, and I’m discovering that over time my characters--even in work already published--change for me. These women who come to me, wanting on my page, wanting to share their humanity, their losses, fears and missteps are not done. I think how strong women often live unglamorous lives and in the shadows. The wisest have risen up through paltry concerns for dress size, wrinkles, and sags. They no longer accept others’ judgments of them nor disrespect themselves with their own judgments. But when life turns them old and crusty, even confused like Granny, we discount them. We’re taught they no longer matter. So they sit obediently in their houses, or in their cells at the home—waiting, as we also wait for them to die. They know nothing of Crone-hood. They are there at the curb waiting for pick-up. The next time I see an old woman on the street, a “wet brown bag of a woman,” [Lucille Clifton] I’ll think of Granny and wonder. I’ll wonder at the incredible life this woman has lived and all the experiences that put her where she is now. I'll know her life story would very likely make my own tepid by comparison.
In honor of Earth Day, this week's bubble is meant to remind us of those with whom we share this wondrous place: Animals.
Bridget is a child in peril. She has two choices, return to the threat of imprisonment or place her faith in the hands of an unloving stranger. Thinking about Bridget’s character, I wanted the decision to be hers. Characters need to take wrong turns, or what they believe are wrong turns. Those fateful actions humanize them and add dimension to their struggles. To survive an event thrust upon you requires courage, determination, and trust in yourself. But to survive that event realizing you, at least in part are responsible, compounds the level of grit needed.
I live in Nebraska where fields are flooded, cattle drowned, bridges washed out, homes gone, and people have died. Heroes in all areas are working to help others. It may take a few seasons for a full recovery, but there isn't a hardier stock of good folks. I wish everyone the very, very, best.
“Sealskin, to her selkie,” is a wonderful poem by KT Herr. It’s about shutting ourselves away, regretting choices we’ve made, and losing the memory of “how to wake a body/to its home’s emphatic music.” Reading the poem, I was reminded of Bridget, lonely, afraid, and walking in the moonlight along a river. Despite what she’s suffering, at eleven years old, she’s still brave enough to keep her faith in selkies. She believes that all water is connected, and since Mum must be a selkie, she’ll come. Won’t she?
I find wonderful synchronicity in the release of River People in 2019, one hundred years after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. This was achieved only after more than half a century of women fighting, marching, facing massive criticism and even imprisonment. When Alice Paul organized the largest suffrage rally yet in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913, it’s estimated eight thousand women marched from the Capitol to the White House. But 500,000 spectators watched. Some harassed and threw slurs, some attacked the women and over 100 women needed hospitalized for injuries. River People takes place in 1898 when women’s equality was still a distant dream. Still, women did dream. We honor them by not forgetting what they endured.
My passion is writing, the delicious work of creating characters, scenes, worlds. See it symbolically as a circle where for long hours, I happily lose myself. A second circle is my outside life: job, finances, family. When the two orbs slide partway, one over the top of the other, like a half eclipse, a third sphere forms in the center. I overhear a conversation while having dinner out with my husband, and a question about one of my characters is answered. Or a book I didn’t know I needed falls off a library shelf just ahead of me. Caught up in the juggling, there’s a fourth ball I’ve not yet worked into the mix. The time consuming business of marketing and social media. If you enjoyed this bubble, please drop by my BookBub page and give me a follow. I’ll meet you there.
The purpose of myths is to project us out, to transport us from our present conditions into new worlds of magic and possibility. Like parables, myths aren't meant to tell us about lost cultures but about ourselves. In that way, they continue to live and grow. For Bridget, selkies promised that those she loved--though they appeared gone--were always close.
If River People is about anything, it’s about getting free. Everyone is caught to some degree by the tethers of society’s expectations, but our strongest chains are the bindings we hold fast within. Effie, in this scene fragment, is beginning to admit her role in the oppressive marriage that will nearly kill her. Though she’s a long way from finding her freedom, she is at least, beginning to tell her truth.
When Willow is born and her mother dies moments later, only the narrator of this spellbinding debut novel knows the death isn't from complications of childbirth. Amelie-Anais, buried on the Nebraska hilltop where the family home resides, tells the story of deceit, survival, and love from beyond the grave. Following Willow's life and Willow's incredible passion to paint despite loneliness, a physical handicap, and being raised by a father plagued with secrets, Amelie-Anais weaves together the lives of four enigmatic generations.
Today, I’m again savoring The country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden. I can imagine Amelie and Edith sitting over afternoon tea. At the end of June in 1906, Holden records a few remarks about the month’s heat and paints a rich, Scarlet Poppy. Holden was a British artist and didn’t become famous until long after her death. Her work seems more that of a hobbyist than a professional, which I love. I admire her for going on long walks and painting the beauty she found. We are all busy—as she must have been in a time of few household conveniences. Her work was soul nourishment; she likely never imagined her diary would be published. Now, at the end of June, 113 years later, someone on the other side of the world, a woman in Nebraska, has the good fortune to admire her pictures and feel inspired. I encourage everyone to take a long walk, pick up a paintbrush, and feed your soul. You never know how far your reach will extend.
2019 marks 100 years since Red Summer and the lynching and killing of hundreds of blacks across the country. Willie Brown was lynched in my hometown, Omaha, on Sept 28th. A mob of 10,000, a horde of angry, racist men stormed the courthouse, breaking windows and lighting fires, to drag Mr. Brown from his cell. Seeing pictures of the grinning white faces over the burning body (lynching wasn’t enough, nor dragging the body through the streets) makes one’s blood run cold. That so many could be driven into such, mindless fury against a fellow human being is terrifying to consider. Imagine being a small black boy, hiding in the dark, afraid for his life, listening to the din, and witnessing this through the cracks of a flimsy cellar door.
The unseen presences in Meme's room, waiting on her death, remind me of this passage from the brilliant Mary Oliver: "Discovering a "different" world assumes experiencing manifestations of that different world. To begin, then, it is necessary to dissociate from the world as it is ordinarily experienced. And not casually. [A person] must unstring the universe to its farthest planet and star, and restring it in another way." That's what great stories do: unstring us and restring us in a new way.
*White Mask is Willow’s first successful painting. It’s not successful for its execution—talent never reaches an end—but successful for its ability to move her. That’s what good art does. The painting symbolizes her fears, and it won’t let her shut down in them. She is afraid of her authentic self, afraid of being so vulnerable. What she learns is that not being authentic IS shutting down. It’s self-attack. White Mask is a mirror. A promise too, of her ability to step out of the dark place of fear. She’s the only one who can take off the mask. In this scene she’s still scared, but understanding the mirror is a huge step.
This passage reminds me of a passage in Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante: "It's a shortcut to set aside what is formidable about women, to imagine us merely as organisms with good feelings, skilled masters of gentility. Maybe that's useful for encouraging us, for political growth, but those who create literature have to make hostility, aversion, and fury visible, along with generous sentiments. It's their task, they have to dig inside, describe women from close up..."
It's a tough political world at the moment. I want to take a break from the news, settle in with an old journal of my great aunt's, and reflect on how she flourished despite the burdens in her life. She did it through her art. Of course, life through art. Today I will paint more, write more.
Le Guin has been my role model for years, and in our current political climate, it's more vital than ever to listen to her words. "I want to hear your judgments. I am sick of the silence of women. I want to hear you speaking all the languages, offering your experience as your truth, as human truth, talking about working, about making, about unmaking, [...} about taking in seed and giving out life, about thinking, about what women do; about who presses the buttons and what buttons get pressed."
So often we fail to see the heaviness we carry is a choice. We believe it benefits us, even while it does the opposite.
The conversation must be kept alive. The stories told. They give courage and voice to previously silent victims and save an untold number of innocent sisters.
"When I speak of Goddess I am in no way referring to an entity 'out there,' who appears miraculously as a fairy godmother and turns the pumpkin into a carriage. I am in no way referring to a Goddess 'back there' as if I participate in resurrecting an ancient religion. In the sense that I am woman I see Goddess in myself." Nelle Morton
The temperature is below zero here in Omaha and the ground is covered with snow. In honor of the season, here is a cold scene to chill you just a bit more. I hope everyone continues to have a Happy Holiday Season. Happy Reading.
Not so long ago in history, women who healed the sick, demonstrated intuitive powers, or knew the properties of plants were considered evil.Church leaders needed a label to disparage and suppress such women. They chose "witches." Matilda Joslyn Gage writes: "The witch was in reality the profoundest thinker, the most advanced scientist of those ages." Of course, I had to add one such special woman to my novel.
Select verses, carefully lifted from scriptures, are constantly used to advance those already in power and to justify their being there. Why are the priests and religious leaders not howling? Why are they not screaming black lives matter? Why are they not screaming women’s lives matter? I think it’s because they can still get away with not doing so. They can hide behind church elders and tradition. And so it’s up to us, who can no longer endure the lies, to demand honesty from them. Silence is still heard. Silence says agreement. Silence wounds. Remember, you can read 25% of Farthest House for free on Bookgrabbr
I’m reading a wonderful book: American Madonna by John Gatta. It’s a study of “images of divine women in literary culture.” This morning I came across a passage in it from Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was surprised. Here’s Hawthorne’s Cloverdale in The Blithedale Romance. Remember, this was written in 1852. “Oh, in the better order of things, Heaven grant that the ministry of souls may be left in charge of women! The gates of the Blessed City will be thronged with the multitude that enter in, when that day comes! The task belongs to woman. God meant it for her. He has endowed her with the religious sentiment in its utmost depth and purity, refined from that gross, intellectual alloy, with which every masculine theologist…” and it goes on. I thought of this passage in Farthest House.
It’s hard to look at the images of what happened in Virginia and see the angry crowds of supremacists. It’s hard to believe fellow human beings can be so brainwashed, so afraid of magnificent creation, they'd view the color of a person’s skin as a reason to hate. Jonah wrestled with the same prejudice in the 1960s, afraid to marry the love of his life because she was white. Afraid of how prejudiced against him might make her suffer rejection even bodily harm. Now over fifty years later, if he were alive to see the national news, he might wonder if anything has changed at all.
This bubble is dedicated to my father.I’d pay anything for another afternoon with him, watching a Cub’s game on television.I modeled Papa in Farthest House after him. When I say so, I hear how the fictional Papa — though he has all the myriad aspects of a great character — was not always a good man. He drank too much and lost his temper too often. He was misunderstood and didn’t care what others thought. Being misunderstood and reticent with family secrets, people drew erroneous conclusions. My father wasn’t troubled by secrets in his past (though who really knows another’s thoughts) but he was strained with feeding and clothing fifteen children.On a small farm where failed crops, failed prices, and broken machinery were a constant worry. After he died, an ex-neighbor said to me he’d been a bad father anyway. I was stunned by her comment and the grin on her righteous face. I wondered where she got her information. Like Willow in Farthest House, I never doubted, not for one minute, that my father loved me. Just as Willow sees here Papa loves her. Isn’t that the best father in the world-the father who makes his child feel loved? To all papas out there, Happy Father’s Day. Don’t forget, read 25% of Farthest House free on BookGrabbr.com
"The magical realist vision exists at the intersection of two worlds, at an imaginary point inside a double-sided mirror that reflects in both directions." Wendy B. Faris
This weekend I spoke at a local library. In a room full of people, I covered many aspects of writing and publishing. But the questions that brought out the most discussion were these: Which of your deceased relatives do you feel is most interested in your life? Why? Do you feel their presence at joyful times or stressful times?
Morgan Freeman would make a wonderful Jonah. Don't you think? He even keeps bees.
"The moon, as daughter of the Great Mother, is known as the Triple Goddess. (....)She is, as the New or Waxing Moon, the White Goddess of birth and growth. She is, as the Full Moon, the red Goddess of love and battle. She is, as the Old or Waning Moon, the Black Goddess of death and divination." The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor I love this description and capture the spirit of the old woman in Luessy and this excerpt.
There is a new order falling into place. People are looking for their personal truths, finding their pathways and answers. Decades ago, Lewis Strang, one of the first new-age thinkers wrote, “…receptivity is accomplished when one is convinced [her] views and visions are sound. [S]he must do more than listen, more than read, more than say, “I accept.” [S]he must go through an individual, intelligent thought-process that is distinctly [her] own—original and creative….” Are people realizing, albeit often subconsciously, that they not only need their own revelations—these revelations can be trusted? Each must find the courage to ride off into the darkest part of their forest in search of their Holy Grail.
In honor of Juneteenth, the horrible killings in South Carolina, and the black churches being burned, I share a bit of Jonah's life.
“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what.” ― Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. When I read this quote, I knew he was speaking of Amelie, kept earth-bound by the weight of her unfinished business.
In honor of all the mothers and grandmothers who nurture not just their own children, but the world.
Religion versus living a spiritual life.
I offer this bubble in honor of Women's Day, and all the women, who even 150 years ago were quietly fighting back.
I'm not surprised by the current block buster movie and the success of the books. I had a lot of fun writing the love story between Willow and Clay. Their lives are not easy--especially living with someone who wishes them dead--but their intimate moments allow them to put that all side. At least temporarily. Enjoy the excerpt.
We have all had moments of inspiration that change us in an instant. Often these moments come on the heels of grief, as though the grief itself was necessary to break down our walls. Oprah often jokes about this sort of learning, saying, “God, don’t teach me nothing today.” We don’t know why misfortunes fall on us, but then somewhere in our darkest time, the clouds part—if only for a second—and our lives take a new turn. It’s not exactly a near-death experience, but we are shown something lasting from beyond the veil of our current lives. In this excerpt from Farthest House, Willow, on the heels of tragedy, is hit with a realization of that magnitude. She was raised Catholic, and though she no longer holds any affiliation to organized religion, she remembers walking into churches and seeing the statues and stained glass honoring saints. Individuals she’d been taught to hold in awe. Suppose, just suppose, she could give to others the gift of seeing themselves as Divine. As their highest spiritual selves: the pinnacle she believes all souls eventually reach. She also believes everyone who’s seen such an image of himself must be changed. When a person’s divinity is understood and experienced, how can they act otherwise?
"White Mask" is Willow’s first successful painting. It’s successful not for its masterful execution—she’s still learning how to paint—but it’s successful because it moves her. I really believe that’s the purpose and value of all art. The painting is a symbol of her fears; she sees that. It represents her inability to be her authentic self. She is afraid of being vulnerable and attacked again. What she must learn is that not being authentic, hiding one’s self, is a form of self-attack. I have incredible belief in a person’s ability to change. I’ve seen it in my own life. So I don’t want "White Mask" to serve as a reminder of how poorly she’s doing. I want the painting to be a mirror, but filled with hope and a promise of what waits for her when she steps out of the dark place in her psyche. In the scene, Willow realizes these things. She still lacks the courage to make the leap, but she’s looking in that mirror, which is a huge first step.
Readers often ask me if I really think those words are true. Then before I can speak, they go on, "I know they're true." Everyone has a fantastic experience to share when they are open to this sort of thing. The trick is staying open.
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