“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”
I’ve just released THE ONE MY HEART LOVES, the fifth book in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES so I thought it would be fun to walk down memory lane.
To write deep characters with real flaws who, despite it all, find love and redemption. I didn’t know what grace was until I gave it to John Weldon in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD.
THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD: Looking back it would have been impossible to write compassionately about morphine-addicted Civil War veteran John Weldon if I hadn’t fallen in love with a handsome boy in high school who was addicted to drugs. We dated on and off through college. He even looked me up after I was unhappily married with children and he was sober. I hope he still is — though the last time I looked he’d disappeared.
WEARY OF RUNNING: An addict’s road to redemption takes its toll on others. I was curious how John Weldon’s son William would handle adulthood with the hurts he carries. The saddest scene is when William takes his first drink. All of his secret yearnings for Thankful Crenshaw slip into far off second place. Thankful’s brother, Buck Crenshaw carries secret hurts of his own — how else could he be so easily tempted to take out revenge on one of the first black cadets attending West Point?
THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a reference to fleeting love. Buck takes center stage as he wrestles with disillusionment as a new Christian and runs off to a utopian society that promises a fast track to God (and worldly delights). He hardly has time to notice his sister Thankful, still reeling from the loss of her unfaithful fiance, and rushing headlong into another mistake. William’s cousin Lucy takes him to task over his drunken lifestyle but will he change? (You’ll have to read the book to find out :))
FORGET ME NOT is SAD. It just is. I do love how it ends and that’s all I’ll say.
THE ONE MY HEART LOVES: All of my favorite characters are paired off and making a hash of things. Buck is a wreck over his engagement. Thankful is a wreck because she’s jealous. Seeing how Lucy McCullough and William Weldon navigate the Crenshaw minefield satisfies something deep within me and sets us up for the final installment.
THE GRAND UNION starts off in Saratoga Springs, New York at The Grand Union Hotel. Will Buck’s marriage be a grand union? Will he screw up even this? What happens when his wife really gets to know him? I love this couple and want only happiness for them but new troubles await (with Thankful leading the charge) when they arrive back in Englewood to start a family. (Preorder TODAY!)
Just a simple question for today. For a long time I only read non-fiction to “better” myself and to build up knowledge about specific subjects. I enjoyed novels but saw them as a frivolous thing. Secretly I envied the authors and sometimes even the characters so I avoided them (I was the same with romantic comedy movies).
Do you have mixed feelings about fiction? Now that I’ve realized that my life mission is actually writing fiction I’m more curious than ever about what fiction does for readers.
I’d love to know what you all think.
For further reading:
Yes, the agony of not writing! I’ve tried it. I played that game for thirty years. Don’t do it unless you enjoy feeling like a worthless and envious slug. Pick up your pen. Tap away on the computer. Do something with those half-baked stories in your head. It won’t hurt anybody.
Done. There is nothing like a life transformed by allowing the voice God gave you to speak out on paper. No need to look left or right to see how others are doing it. Your voice is just fine, in fact your voice is exactly what YOU need.
Once an agent dismissively told me U.S. historical fiction was dead. Well, I’m not dead, I still wrote the stories I wanted to read, and, as a bonus, a bunch of other people continue to read and enjoy them. Did I mention THE LATEST ONE is out today and you might enjoy it??
Stop listening to decrees for the moment. Stop searching for how-to rules online. After you have a first draft you can go back and beat yourself up for not following some semi-famous author’s guidebook – but you probably won’t want to beat yourself up by then because you will have finally realized that this is YOUR UNIQUE LIFE and IT HAS UNIQUE VALUE. You will be so in love with the discoveries you’ve made, the new people you’ve created, the very pens you’ve used that there will be no turning back.
When you finally seek advice it will be from a place of self-love and not self-protective fear.
Even if it’s awful. Even if it’s insane. Even if you find that you have creepier thoughts than you like to admit to the ever-present failure police in your head. One of my characters develops an obsession with eating pie – I thought it a bit gross for her because she’s usually so prim and proper, but realized finally that we all deal with grief and despair differently.
In first grade I wrote about a kitten who liked to drink tea and take showers. Since I was six I hadn’t lived much. Don’t take Thoreau too seriously here. Don’t wait for permission like I did. Don’t listen to parents or teachers or agents who say you’re vain to think your story about kittens needs to be written.
Writing what you know is bullshit advice. Write what you want to discover:
Don’t wait! Jump. Right now! Your first hundred pages will feel like weights keeping you from flying but it’s an illusion.
About The Tenafly Road Series:
Buck coughed. “Father, I don’t think—well—I believe Lucy wants no part of me any longer, and really … it’s so soon after Meg to be parading a girl on my arm.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s for the best. Everyone says so. Lucy wouldn’t fit in.” Buck cast his eyes down.
“Fit in?” Graham asked, incredulously. “With whom? Lucy fits in with me just fine.”
“Do you think so?” Buck asked, eager for approval. “I thought so too. I thought it might be nice to have someone to take care of and fuss over.”
Graham laughed. “Lucy’s not a doll, son.”
“Of course, Father. Why is it that everyone believes I’ve no sense about girls?”
Graham smiled but said nothing. The doctor sifted through gone-off oranges left in a bowl by the new housekeeper but grabbed a few Christmas cookies instead and sat at the cook’s tall stool.
Buck leaned with elbows on the counter. “Here’s what concerns me: What if Lucy doesn’t like my friends? I’m a good banker, but there’s a social element and …”
Graham stopped mid-cookie. “Are you saying you want to see other young ladies?”
“My friends have been trying to force a certain girl upon me.”
Graham shook his head.
“Father, I haven’t done a thing. I would never hurt Lucy that way, but this girl is much sought after and her father has friends in banking and government, and for some reason she has taken to me—though I haven’t given her any reason to assume I might care for her in any way other than as a friend.”
Graham shook his head with more emphasis now, dropping the cookie to his plate. “No. You’re going off on the wrong road—again. It’s impossible to have female friends. And I strongly advise you not to marry for banking. Don’t sell your soul for appearances.”
Buck adjusted his prosthetic as he spoke. “The thing is, I don’t really care for this girl in the city.”
“I don’t understand you, son.”
Buck rolled an orange under his hand on the counter. “I wondered if it might be easier.”
“For me, of course,” Buck said. “I don’t have a good track record—at anything. If things go sour for Lucy and me … the idea of it seems very hard.”
Graham laughed again. “Dear boy, you give me hope yet that one of my sons has a heart. That’s exactly the feeling you should have about Lucy. What would be the point if you didn’t fear losing her?”
The Weldon and Crenshaw families are back and in rare form!
Buck Crenshaw falls in love, but will he have the courage to marry when everyone is opposed to the match? Buck must choose between happiness and security while navigating the ever-shifting alliances of his siblings and co-workers. His sister Thankful’s jealousy and his brother Fred’s scheming make for a wedding full of secret maneuvering and betrayal, but will love conquer all?
“I did a few foolish things this fall,” Buck said. “I see the way Thankful leads Willy by the nose, and I’ve been worried lately about the impulsive Crenshaw habit of control. I shouldn’t have picked the fabrics for your dress even though Mama insisted. I can’t stand living in that house much longer. Will you come for a walk with me?”
“It’s cold out and dark.”
“I’ll guide you, Luce. I want you to see something.”
“If you’ve been drinking this fall or anything …”
Buck laughed. “What?”
“Your mother said …”
His eyes clouded with resentment. “I do hope you don’t trust my mother.”
“I’m not sure who to trust right now.”
Buck’s hand sweated through his glove as he took Lucy’s hand. “I want to confess to you the thing I did that shows that I don’t have the faintest idea about girls. Fred has always warned me that I’m too fast about things or at least foolish …”
“Do you have a child somewhere?”
“No. Please just come with me.”
Lucy hesitated but Buck’s expression intrigued her. Besides, she must get all of this childish romance over with before going back to New London. By now William and Thankful had settled their differences and were dancing only two days into mourning Meg. Buck left a note with the young lady managing coats near the door for William before taking Lucy into the frosty air. Walking in the dark always troubled Lucy, who secretly dreaded when all days would be just this way. Tonight she held tightly to Buck’s warm arm bracing herself for terrible news. His breathing always sounded so forced in the chill air, but they said nothing for a long while as he led her along Hillside Avenue.
“Lucy. I was given a generous bonus this holiday.”
“That’s nice, but Buck, my toes are frozen, and I don’t like how dark this road is. Couldn’t you tell me your secret right here?”
“Just wait a minute, Luce. Here. Follow me close,” Buck said, guiding her off the road and up a lane.
They came against a short stone fence with an iron gate that creaked as Buck pushed it open against the snow. He led her beneath arches glistening in the moonlight to the door of a small cottage. Buck fumbled for keys with an expression of seriousness. He opened the door and lit a candle, pulling a wary Lucy within the dark house.
“Remember I told you about this place? My father’s old cottage—the one my mother hated and made him give up? It was reckless of me, but I imagined us here—just the two of us. I’ve been pressuring the old man for months. Finally he relented, but I see by your face you don’t like it.”
“I don’t understand …”
“I know how to buy and sell things. I don’t know what makes a girl like you happy.”
Lucy stood speechless in the little circle of light made by the candle.
“I told Mr. Fischer that we’d keep the wild roses along the fence because his wife had loved them. I hope you like roses. I also said we’d visit him and your grandmother at the old folks’ home on Sundays since he has no family to speak of—if you don’t mind. You should see the place in daylight—it’s homey, but possibly not as big and new as you might like. We can change it all if you want to.”
“Buck, I’m astonished. I hadn’t really considered anything past an engagement and walks in town and things like that.”
“I did do one thing more that might anger you. There was an outing with the cousins from the bank, and I drank too much and was sick afterwards. I’m ashamed of myself for that.”
“When was that?”
“The third Saturday of October.”
Lucy laughed that it stood out so clearly in Buck’s memory and was relieved that it had happened only once months ago. “The only disappointment I feel right now is that you imagine me such a harsh critic. I love dear old Englewood so much and this charming house but you especially.”
“For tribes subject to Sioux pressure for decades, the combination of revenge and self-defense would constitute a powerful motivation, even without the other possible motives of individual warriors. The suggestion that they were betraying ‘the Indians’ would have been meaningless to them. They knew too well who their enemy was.” (Dunlay)
And here we have an uncomfortable truth: history is not as simple as we would hope. As convenient as it may be to imagine, not all the members of certain gene pools are evil and others good. Life isn’t set up that way. So often in our need for certainty we invent fairy tales and one-dimensional villains.
Just as it was a disaster for Hitler (and many others in the eugenics movement) to declare some people pure and others not, it is foolish (and demeaning) to classify the Native Americans who fought the age-old fight for land and power (like the rest of humanity) into noble or savage stereotypes.
Whether it is to admire or exterminate, defining people solely by their group affiliation is dangerous and, if nothing else, gives us a very distorted version of history. Not all Indians were peaceful shamans. Not all white people were slaveholders (or even supported slavery). Not all Germans hated the Jews (see DIETRICH BONHOEFFER). And certainly not all generations are responsible for the sins of their great-great grandfathers and mothers. Not all humans are Mother Theresa either. Not all Trump supporters are racist. Not all liberals are Antifa. The list goes on.
But so often this is how we act. Some Irish still talk about the BATTLE OF THE BOYNE (1690) as if it were yesterday. I understand the temptation. Hate is so easy to rationalize. Hate is lazy. It’s why Christ’s command to love one’s enemies is so revolutionary — and such an impossible standard of behavior to achieve without supernatural help.
Native Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War (and some owned slaves). When I wrote about a Civil War veteran and his struggles with addiction in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I decided it would be interesting to make him part Delaware. It’s only a tiny part of the story but I wanted to play with the fluid nature of identity in nineteenth century America. This does not mean there weren’t prejudices and hatreds among all people — including Native Americans.
As a warrior, John Weldon sees himself as his father’s son — his father having been an English-blooded dragoon with an illustrious past. He carries the wounds he received as a child from his Delaware mother close to his vest and with shame. Even more so after his son is born with his mother’s features.
Yet when Weldon fights with General Crook against the Apache Indians in Arizona he looks upon the Apache scouts with disdain for turning against their own.
It makes me think of friends who despise their whiteness (or more accurately other people’s whiteness). It makes me think of other friends who still despise their Indian mothers. It makes me think of friends who despise all of humanity for the wanton destruction of animal habitats — the ones who suggest that some people should commit suicide to save the environment but don’t offer their own body as first sacrifice.
“Historical emphasis on Indian-white conflict tends to obscure the fact that Indians interacted long before white contact became significant. Intertribal conflicts and alliances had an importance often more immediate than any problems or pressures created by whites. For many Indians an alliance with the army (U.S.) offered hope of turning the tables on a powerful enemy who represented an immediate and obvious menace. In some cases the army represented survival itself.” (Dunlay)
The word tribe should be held loosely here. While it is true that the Apache as a people were of the Athapaskan language family they were hardly a monolithic group. Within this loose “family” were many subgroups. For an example of the disdain some groups had for each other we only have to look to the most northwesterly branch of the Western Apaches called by the others “the brainless people” or as the Spanish translated the term “Tontos.” (Dunlay)
This was a language family who disagreed often and sometimes quite violently. For a young man to go out against a feuding subgroup is not that difficult to understand. An Apache who refused to join the army as scout, James Kaywaykla, still acknowledged a simple fact of young manhood that crosses ethnic boundaries and keeps the human tradition of warfare alive:
“Ours was a race of fighting men — war was our occupation. A rifle was our most cherished possession … there was not a man who did not envy the scout his rifle.” (Dunlay)
As much as I enjoyed Gone With the Wind for its insight into Southern society before and after the war, I had so little love for Scarlett by the end that the last hundred pages felt a bit of a chore. Despite this there are scenes in the book so full of pathos:
As the casualty lists from Gettysburg come in, the residents of Atlanta crowd the streets for word of their loved ones. So many of the lovely boys interested in Scarlett before the war are dead. The most moving parts of Gone with the Wind deal with the loss of Southern boys and men.
In A Strange and Blighted Land by Gregory A Coco countless eyewitnesses tell us of the unthinkable suffering after the battle at Gettysburg:
“Oh how they must have struggled along that wall, where coats, hats, canteens and guns are so thickly strewn; beyond it two immense trenches filled with rebel dead, and surrounded with gray caps, attest the cost to them. The earth is scarcely thrown over them, and the skulls with ghastly grinning teeth appear, now that the few spadefuls of earth are washed away. In these trenches one may plainly see the rise and swell of human bodies; and oh how awful to feel that these are brethren – deluded and erring, yet brethren. Surely no punishment can be too great for those, whose mad ambition has filled these graves!”
Close to 4000 Confederate boys and men were killed at Gettysburg. Close to 19,000 men were wounded (some mortally) and nearly 6000 were reported missing ( all in a town with a population of about 2000). We all know that even now most young men who go off to war do so for many different reasons. All of my family fought for the Union but at least one fought for the small pay that he sent home in hopes of helping his impoverished parents buy a house. Oh! How naïve to die for such a thing, but he did. [see WALDO POTTER]
Since we also know that only a tiny percentage of Southerners had slaves we must give these young dead space enough to say they probably had many mixed motives. Even still their cause, so aligned with an institution the civilized world was trying to rid itself of (however slow and stumbling), makes it hard for some people to feel in the least sorry for the men buried in shallow graves.
I suggest we fly above our national history which is no more savage than any other and at least momentarily feel sorry for the families left behind. Imagine not knowing – never knowing — where your 18-year-old, farmer-boy son with freckles over the bridge of his nose and a lovely sense of humor lies buried! Imagine not knowing if he had been left out in the rain and sun for days until his sun-bleached hair slipped from his skull and the buttons from his jacket you had sewn were clipped off as souvenirs by tourist “ghouls.”
Imagine the weeks after when bodies still awaited burial in some spots and the stench of rotting horses forced people to carry peppermint oil on their persons and keep their windows shut on hot summer nights. And there your son waits and never stops waiting to be discovered. Imagine hoping that your boy was only missing, only recovering, only something other than what Matthew Brady’s pictures showed.
Imagine seeing your son decomposed in a photograph.
Melanie’s long wait for the return of Ashley is so poignant. She insists on nursing straggling men as they travel by foot for miles through the burnt out South on their way home. She hopes that there are other women nursing her husband and the men of the county elsewhere. The reader knows that despite good intentions thousands of men suffer and die utterly alone. After Gettysburg men and their body parts are thrown into wells. Bones are collected for the new medical museum being organized in Washington, D.C. Photographers and curiosity seekers are dragging and poking and posing corpses for better shots.
I’ve seen people online worry about enjoying Gone with the Wind because of its depiction of slaves. It is a self-imposed book banning of the mind when one feels frightened to speak about books with uncomfortable subjects. I find this terribly sad because it suggests that it is impossible to imagine a different world from our own. It suggests that a certain segment of modern society presently holds the moral high ground in all things and the rest of us are too weak-minded to be exposed to ideas that are not our own. It’s why I strongly oppose banning people with “outrageous” views from social media.
I will confess that I found Margaret Mitchell’s slave voices written in dialect difficult to follow as I read and sometimes just passed them right over. But I do think that it would be far worse if she had made all the slaves (who were purposely left under-educated back in the day) speak as if they’d attended Harvard. In no way does this mean that I endorse keeping people uneducated slaves and feel a bit depressed that I have to make that clear.
Knowing that even the slaves had a strict sense of hierarchy within the black community is sort of comforting in the sense that humans, no matter the color, tend to pride themselves in being better than others. I’m comforted every time I see that the human heart so full of pride and arrogance is just that — a human problem.
Whether Margaret Mitchell was racist or not I do not know but some of characters certainly are. Yet, often the black characters have more compassion and decency than Scarlett and if I were back in my Irish militancy days I suppose I would make a strong case for an anti-Irish sentiment in the book but I won’t because I’m so past race politics and the baiting that goes with it.
How you answer this question says a lot about the way you see the world.
This is a basic list of values dear to the planter class of the South in the 1860’s.
Early in Gone with the Wind, Scarlett’s father Gerald O’Hara warns her that Ashley Wilkes (who embodies the list) comes from a “queer breed” and won’t make her happy.
If your image of Ashley comes from Leslie Howard’s weak portrayal, please read the book. Ashley is an Adonis, an ideal. He is the South’s dream of perfection and Scarlett’s too (though she utterly fails to know him for who he really is – an imperfect man struggling to live under the burden of a strenuous moral code). Ashley is the Christian ideal. Yet he is also the Christian walk in all of its unfaithfulness, stumbling, and hypocrisy. He is the man people point to derisively and say, “Ha! But look he keeps slaves! — and lusts after Scarlett!”
Yes, I know this already but am able to transport myself in time and understand that his world is not my own. His loyalty to family overrides his desire for Scarlett’s body, but it’s not an easy struggle. If I say that Ashley is a “good” slave owner who plans to free his slaves when he can figure out how to without leaving his family and the slaves penniless – some will accuse me of defending slavery.
I need to keep in mind that slavery has always existed and still exists and is an evil that each one of us must wrestle with as we silently allow slaves the world over to clothe and entertain us with cheap goods. Yet I also know that if we were to suddenly stop buying cheap goods we would (at least temporarily make life much harder for some slaves).
Very early on we see that Ashley realizes his way of life has been a dream – one where books and good horses are enjoyed and valued. Where slaves are treated well and love their masters (and I don’t doubt that some slaves did love their masters). The institution of slavery has left scars all over the world throughout history. Yet sadly it’s also been commonplace – as are all forms of tyranny and misuse of power. (I think back to the cruelty considered fairly normal within my own family tree)
The demon of war takes the decisions out of Ashley’s hands anyway. He goes with Georgia not as an evil slave owner but as a man who believes there is no greater sacrifice than to die for a friend.
After the war when Scarlett hires prison laborers who are beaten and starved Ashley is appalled and refuses to use them despite losing money at the mill he (unsuccessfully) manages to please his wife. Some here shout: “Stop being such a wimp!” Yet Ashley sees that without Scarlett’s help during the war his wife and child would not have survived and feels indebted to her. It’s not glamorous to humble oneself. It’s not dashing or exciting. Only Melanie sees the value in it. Certainly Scarlett does not.
When a swarthy but handsome new man arrives, old society whispers of his dark past and contempt for Southern manners. He’s really the new America birthed during the war. A new America full of self-centered, irreligious striving for personal gain played out in so many success stories of the coming Gilded Age. Rhett is “honest” in his appraisal of himself and Scarlett. He delights in Scarlett’s selfishness and survival instinct for a good while. Yet even Rhett has a heart beneath his bluster that leads to a bloated and bitter end.
I read somewhere that Margaret Mitchell was interested in what made people survivors. Friends of mind delight in Scarlett’s pluck and innate savvy, but for me she is all ruin. In every sense she is a man killer and worthy of the contempt Rhett finally throws at her. Survival at any cost comes at a human cost. Scarlett just doesn’t give a damn.
“Melly” has more power than any other character in the story but the power is spiritual. She is more formidable in her weakness than everyone else combined. Rhett senses it immediately. She is the epitome of that famous passage from Saint Paul:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, exercise yourselves in these things. Philippians 4:8
Her sacrificial nature and her ability to see the best in people dog Scarlett’s conscience throughout but not enough to really bring about self-knowledge.
Scarlett reminds me of the many eyewitnesses who are shocked and disgusted by the fields so thick with human death and misery that finding footing becomes difficult. Scarlett walks over the dead but only cares because her slippers get stained in blood.
“Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.”
— Thomas Jefferson, May 31, 1791