Redeeming My Characters

BooksLike children, I’m not supposed to have a favorite character. But Frank Post (along with the Talbot sisters) stole my heart. Frank is a blend of so many men I knew growing up. Men who were tough, flawed, opinionated, and most of all tender-hearted beneath those gruff exteriors. There were a few times I even thought about stopping by for a visit on trips home. (Oh right, my characters aren’t REAL!)

This week, I’m sharing Frank’s thoughts about doubting faith.

FRANK POST — THE DOUBTING ONE
Miracle in a Dry Season & Until the Harvest

I think I would’ve liked going fishing with the disciples. Especially if that Thomas feller was along. I’m a lot like Thomas—don’t hardly believe a thing until I can get my fingers wrapped around it and see it with my own eyes.

And there’s been a time or two in my life when I felt left out—like Thomas must have when all the rest of his friends were talking about seeing Jesus back from the dead—alive and kicking. There it is, written in John, chapter twenty. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said unto them, ‘Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.’”

It’s hard, when everyone else sees a rainbow while you’ve got our head down, chopping firewood and digging ditches. For a lot of years, I just kept my head down. I figured if I wasn’t meant to see what other folks did, I’d just stop looking for it. Jesus probably didn’t want the likes of me anyway.

Thing is though, when enough people tell you how pretty the rainbow is, you get a hankering to see it for yourself. Except I didn’t want to admit the truth of that, so I put conditions on my belief. Like Thomas, who wouldn’t believe until he put his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side.

That’s when I heard about a woman in town—she had a child and no husband, so I knew she’d made mistakes, too. And even though the gossips talked about her behind her back, she stepped up and fed anyone who was hungry that summer the drought was so bad.

I ate her food—best I ever had. And for just a minute there, I caught a glimpse of that rainbow. Eating a plain bowl of beans, I could see how love was supposed to look. I could smell it and taste it and it hit me like it must have when Thomas finally saw Jesus and knew he really was God.

“After eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace be unto you.’ Then saith he to Thomas, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said unto him, ‘My Lord and my God.’”

I’m glad at least one of the disciples was as hard-headed as me. And although I might not have seen Jesus in the flesh, I surely have seen Him—still see Him—in the way poor, sinful folks reach out to give one another a hand. So if you’ve got your head down like I did for so long, you might try looking up and around. Jesus, he’ll sneak up on you, if you let him.

Appalachian Thursday – An Empty Larder

Snow DayIt’s January.

In case you hadn’t realized.

At the grocery store these days, I can buy strawberries and asparagus. This (along with an occasional warmish day) adds to my delusion that spring is just around the corner. The sun stays up just a little longer, rises just a little earlier. And yet . . . we still have February to get through. I’m just dreaming of sunshine and wildflowers.

My great-grandmother had no such luxury. The turn of the year was the lean time back in the early 1900s when she was growing up and raising her family. It was when last season’s put up food began to thin out. It would have been a long time since last fall’s hog killing, the shelves in the cellar would have more empty jars, and even the wild game would be getting thin (in quantity and quality).

Lean times.

Running to the store for fresh produce wasn’t an option. Chickens don’t lay as much in the winter and the cow’s milk has less cream. Christmas is past and Easter is months away.

This would have been the time when mountain folk began to dream of poke, creases, dandelion, dock, and other spring greens.

So in honor of these lean days, here are two recipes. The first is a “lean times” recipe using corn cobs to make jelly. The second, well, you judge what sort of recipe it is. These are both from my “Old Timey Recipes” cookbook.

CORNCOB JELLY

Boil 12 bright red corncobs in three pints of water for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Add enough water to make four cups liquid. Add on package fruit pectin and bring to a full boil. Add four cups sugar and boil two or three minutes until jelly stage. 

Allegedly, this tastes like apple jelly and the red corncobs give it a rosy hue. I suppose you could use any color corncobs if you weren’t particular about the shade of your jelly.

PORK CAKE

1 lb. mild sausage
1 pint black coffee
1 box raisins
1 cup walnuts
1 box dark brown sugar
1 T soda
1 tsp cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg
Enough flour to thicken

Put sausage in pan to simmer until grease seeps out. Drain and add all other ingredients. Bake 1.5 hours at 250 degrees.

Is it a dessert? A breakfast food? And is that a teaspoon EACH of those spices? I don’t know. That would have been expensive. And I haven’t had the courage to actually TRY this recipe. If you do, let me know.

Five Years an Author

the bookThis year will be the fifth anniversary of the release of my first novel–Miracle in a Dry Season. Which is kind of hard for me to believe! Half a decade as a published author. And while I fall in love with each and every character I write, Casewell and Perla will always hold a special place in my heart.

A few years ago I wrote a series of devotions from the points of view of some of the characters in that initial Appalachian Blessings series. So over the next few weeks I thought I’d share those with you. Starting with Casewell.

CASEWELL PHILLIPS – THE CARPENTER

Isaiah 44:13 – The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.

I remember the first time those words in Isaiah caught my attention. I guess I’d had a way with shaping wood all my life. Even when I was a boy, Dad would show me how to knock a few boards together to make a sled or a crate for potatoes. I even carved a few things that might’ve looked like what I wanted—a dog, a bird, a person.

So when I saw God was talking about a carpenter, I sat up and listened. I was a little bit proud of what I could do with a few pieces of wood in those days. I might’ve misread that verse the first few times. It sounded like a good thing, using my God-given talent to make something that looked like a man.

But there’s the danger of reading just a verse or two. Turns out, God was after Isaiah about the futility of making idols whether cast in metal or carved in wood. That’s when I read more than just the few lines that first caught my eye.

A little further on, verse 18 says, “They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”

That was me for the longest time—blind and hard-hearted. Then I met Perla. I judged her pretty hard there at first. Everyone knew she had a child and no husband, but God opened my eyes. And then he opened my heart and I realized I’d been putting my faith in what I could do on my own. Looks like I was my own man-shaped idol.

So I read that chapter in Isaiah a few more times and turns out there’s a part on down there that says, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.”

Turns out an idol can be made out of anything—money, things, people . . . pride. I guess a lot of folks thought Perla was the one in need of redemption. Me, I think we all are. And the best thing any of us can do—carpenter, teacher, doctor, or farmer—is figure out what our idols are and hand them over to God for blotting out. I thank him every day for making me a carpenter, a husband, and a father who finally had the good sense to let God be my redeemer.

Appalachian Thursday – John Henry’s Big Bend Tunnel

dave

The Big Bend Tunnel is that way just the other side of Hinton . . .

I love researching my stories. Especially when I turn up something fun that I just flat out didn’t know. Like that John Henry, the mythical “steel driving man” of folk ballads, took on a steam drill in southern West Virginia.

My next novel, When Silence Sings, is set primarily in Thurmond, WV, which was a booming rail town in 1930. My editors suggested that my characters were having to travel too far by train to get to other towns and wondered if I could tighten up the geography. Ah, the challenges of writing about REAL places!

Well, I needed a train tunnel. And quickly discovered that the Big Bend Tunnel is conveniently located for my story. Yay! So I read up on the tunnel to make sure it fit the timeline. Absolutely! It’s over a mile long and was completed in 1872. It shortens rail trips by about seven miles by boring straight under Big Bend Mountain.

AND . . . it’s where John Henry beat a steam drill during construction! When blasting rock to build a tunnel men drive steel bits into the rock then insert explosives in the holes. John Henry was the striker who swung the hammer to hit the bit. His shaker would have turned the bit between strikes (now that’s a brave man!).

The story is that the contractor for the tunnel planned to bring in a faster steam drill to replace men. Well, John Henry couldn’t let that pass so he took on the machine and according to the song won but exerted himself to the point that it killed him. Today, there’s a statue of John Henry at the Big Bend Tunnel. I still haven’t figured out how to work a John Henry mention into the story so I thought I’d share the details with you.

There are lots of versions of the lyrics but Pete Seeger’s may be the best known.

John Henry was about three days old
Sittin’ on his papa’s knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel;
Said, ‘Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me.’

The captain said to John Henry
‘Gonna bring that steam drill ’round
Gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
Gonna whop that steel on down. Down, Down
Whop that steel on down.’

John Henry told his captain
‘A man ain’t nothin’ but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me Down
I’d die with a hammer in my hand. Lord, Lord
I’d die with a hammer in my hand.’

John Henry said to his shaker
‘Shaker, why don’t you sing?
I’m throwin’ thirty pounds from my hips on Down
Just listen to that cold steel ring. Lord, Lord
Listen to that cold steel ring.’

The man that invented the stream drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet;
The steam drill only made nine. Lord, Lord
The steam drill only made nine

John Henry hammered in the mountain
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor Heart
He laid down his hammer and he died. Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died.

 

Live Like You’re Dying

crocusYou’ve probably heard the advice to live like you’re dying . . . because you are. And it’s true, so far as it goes. We’re all going to die one day.

One day. You know it, I know it, we all know it.

Or do we?

I have a friend who has a fatal illness. She’s already lived longer than the doctors thought she would. She IS living like she’s dying. And it isn’t necessarily what I imagine when I think about living as though my time here were short.

I visited her recently and she made an observation that really stuck with me. It  was about how we say we’ll do things, “for the rest of our lives.”

As in, “You’ll need to take this medicine for the rest of your life.” Or, “I’m going to wear this ring for the rest of my life.” Or, “I’m going to live here for the rest of my life.”

Well sure. But that assumes the medicine will be helpful right up until the moment you take your last breath. Unfortunately, medicines stop working. It assumes that the ring will always fit and you’ll always want to wear it. Grandma gave me her engagement ring when she could no longer slide it over her arthritic knuckle. It assumes you’ll be able to live in the same place until the end. Which would put a lot of assisted living and nursing homes out of business.

It would seem there’s nothing like nearing the actual end of your life to make you realize how tenuous and fragile any future plan is. It also makes me realize how foolish worry is. I take a medication to regulate my heart rate and the consensus is I will need it “for the rest of my life.” Except the first medication quit working back in September. And while the new medication is working just fine . . . who knows? Will I take it for the rest of my life? Probably not. And that’s a bridge I’ll cross when the time comes.

When I say, “for the rest of my life,” I suspect I’m exercising a measure of denial. I know nothing is forever and change is inevitable, but imagining that this one thing will remain true and steady no matter what . . . that’s consoling.

Which brings me to the only thing . . . the only ONE . . . that really is forever. And the thought of spending eternity with Him is consoling, indeed.

So how DO you live like you’re dying? I don’t think there’s a formula. My friend seems to just do it one day, one moment at a time. Taking life as it comes with thought and prayer doing the best she can. I’m pretty sure that you can’t plan for dying. You just see what each day brings, living, loving, and hoping as best you can . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Pocketknives

pocketknivesI had no idea something as common and everyday as a pocketknife could stir such passion. Last week I posted a link to an essay in Appalachian Magazine titled “The Kind of Men Who Carry Pocketknives.” Man–the clicks that link got!

Since I don’t see men whipping out their knives so much these days, I guessed maybe carrying them had fallen by the wayside. Not so if the comments on that post can be trusted.

When I was a kid, most men I knew had a pocketknife on them. Dad carried a Case knife if I remember correctly. My brothers carried them. I even had a small Swiss knife I kept in my purse. (Those tiny scissors were next to useless.)

Knives had a bazillion uses. The one that came to mind when I posted the link was the way Dad would pull out his knife to open Christmas presents. He’d carefully slice the tape so as not to damage the paper. A holdover from days when they saved the paper from year to year. It was sheer torture for us kids, wanting to rip open our own packages while being expected to politely wait for Dad to surgically open his.

Now I miss it. Durn gift bags.

Here’s a handful of things I saw my dad do with his pocketknife over and over again:

  • Slice an apple.
  • Cut baling twine.
  • Kill tics (yuck, I know).
  • Cut a switch for a naughty child.
  • Skin squirrels or rabbits (deer required a larger, skinning knife).
  • Clean fingernails.
  • Sharpen sticks for roasting wieners or marshmallows over a fire.
  • Sharpen the knife itself on a whetstone. I can still hear that gritty whisking sound if I close my eyes . . .

Of course, the knife was cleaned after the ickier uses, but it does bring to mind a story Dad loves to tell about the local fur trader in our neighborhood. Dad stopped by Colman’s house one day when he was skinning a groundhog (a pungent job, trust me). As they chatted, Colman wiped his knife on his pant leg, reached into a box of windfall apples, sliced one, and offered dad a bite.

I know you aren’t supposed to carry a knife in your pocket a lot of places these days. Then again, there are still places where it’s expected. So, I fished one of the several pocketknives floating around in our kitchen drawer out and dropped it in my purse. I know it’s going to come in handy.

 

New Year’s Evolutions – Hope for 2019

PlanningWhat is it about the turning of the year that makes us want to reassess our lives? To pledge to do better or to, at least, not make the same mistakes we did last year?

I’ve never been a fan of new year’s resolutions, but I do like the idea of making plans. This year I invested in Susie May Warren’s Brilliant Writing Planner and I’ve spent part of my holiday time off watching the accompanying videos and . . . well . . . making plans.

A big part of that is simply the stuff I know I need to do:

  • Finish this round of edits for When Silence Sings,
  • Tighten the synopsis for the book after that one,
  • Write my blog posts each week,
  • Teach at/attend a conference or two,
  • Do some marketing around my next release in November . . .

But the planner is challenging me to think bigger than all the “usual” stuff. I’m also pondering:

  • What are my writing-related dreams?
  • What goals do I want to focus on?
  • How does writing fit into the rest of my life?
  • What’s my daily inspiration?
  • What habits would I like to make more ingrained?

I love how the planner isn’t just about writing. It focuses on my goals, dreams, and ambitions across the board. I can include my day job, growing my faith, health-related habits, and so on.

Having spent just a little time hashing out where I want to go in 2019, I think I understand why this resolution/turning-over-a-new-leaf/taking stock thing is so appealing. It focuses on hope. This process assumes I can do better, accomplish more, grow and evolve.

And hope is the very best fuel for the spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What are you hoping for in 2019?