Category Archives: Old Time Religion

“Shackles: The Playlist” – Song No. 3

The synopsis for my unpublished, not-yet-in-editing historical fiction novel, “Shackles,” set during the years 34-50 AD.

“A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. Shackles tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.”

My selection of a playlist continues as I await feedback from a dozen and a half beta readers. Please send me your suggestions for the playlist.

“Oceans (Where feet may fail)” by Hillsong United might be the new anthem for today’s generation of Believers, the same way that “Amazing Grace,” “Rock of Ages” or “The Old Rugged Cross” was the standard for worship songs once upon a time.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters / Your sovereign hand / Will be my guide / Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me / You’ve never failed and You won’t start now …

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“Shackles: The Playlist” – Song No. 2 …

Shackles / Historical fiction / 82,487 words

A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. “Shackles” tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.

Let me know your suggestions for music to accompany “Shackles.” I’m especially partial to a capella arrangements, but anything with spot-on harmony will get front-of-the-line treatment. I’m a fan of Phillips, Craig and Dean, and “Crucified With Christ” was a regular anthem during the last few months of writing. The title comes directly from the mouth of Paul, the great persecutor turned preacher, from Galatians 2:19-20, and you’ll find it in “Shackles.”

Send me your own recommendations. I’m also looking for secular music that fits the story, and I already have two songs in mind: a love song from Perpetua to Faustus, and a love song from Faustus to Perpetua. (Think Faith Hill and Steven Tyler/Aerosmith).

Meanwhile, here’s “Crucified With Christ.”

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“Shackles: The Playlist” Send me your ideas

Shackles / Historical fiction / 82,487 words

A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. “Shackles” tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.

One verse in the Books of Acts gave birth to “Shackles” several years ago, although I didn’t realize it until 13 months ago.
“Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” (Acts 16:25)
Music brought “Shackles” to life, so it’s only fitting that music has played a key role in the writing process. The music that has accompanied this journey is rather eclectic, but also traditional. My tastes range from classic rock and Southern gospel to Indian flutes and contemporary Christian. As “Shackles” enters the test-reading and proofreading stage – with revising and editing to follow – let’s put our musical minds together for the “Shackles” soundtrack. Please send me your suggestions.
I’m getting “Shackles: The Playlist” started with a song – and music video – that tells the story of Acts 16:25. Ray Boltz’s “I Will Praise The Lord.”

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Shackles: First the cast, next the playlist

Shackles cast - #3

While a dozen and a half readers consume and ponder the first complete draft of “Shackles,” I’m presenting my personal fantasy cast for the movie version of the book. This creative meandering is entirely dependent on the book actually getting published, someone adapting it for film, and someone else having unlimited funds to afford this brilliant cast.

You’ll meet the rest of the cast of primary characters tomorrow – Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke. I’ve made my selections, but who would you pick to play those icons of the New Testament? After the cast is named, I’ll start announcing my playlist for the motion picture soundtrack. Go ahead and start giving me your suggestions. (Tip: secular music is okay).

Today’s excerpt of “Shackles.”

CHAPTER 8 / PERSECUTOR

“The tide has left our shores, Saul.” Gamaliel stepped to the side. “I’m hearing that many – dozens, perhaps hundreds – of those believers avoided capture and are scattered throughout Judea and even Samaria.”

Saul refused to debate his old teacher. Another member of the council also spoke out.

“That Jesus fellow chose a dozen disciples and then appointed 70 more,” the man said. “Do you know where they are?”

Saul quickly answered. “That 70 number was a myth. More like 10. Most of those derelicts gave up right away when they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to pay them wages, and they wised up after going out into the masses and trying to follow his radical teachings.”

“Are you so sure?” Gamaliel asked.

“What does my teacher know that can help us squelch this apostasy?” Saul replied.

“Have you found those original disciples? I believe they are all still in Jerusalem. All but one. Killed himself, I heard.” Gamaliel scanned the faces of other Pharisees. Many did not return his glance. “The others. In hiding, I’m sure, but still here. And I’ve heard that one of those extra 70, a man named Phillip, has already been to Ethiopia. Preaching about Jesus.”

The Sanhedrin collectively gasped. “That’s neither Judaea nor Samaria,” one man said. “The tide certainly has left our shores.”

“How many?” Saul shouted. “With the high priest’s permission, I will personally hunt them down and bring them back here for justice.”

“Your anger is fueling their cause,” Gamaliel said. “This persecution you have unleashed is actually fulfilling their twisted prophecies about the message of Christ spreading well beyond our borders. Without your persistence and persecution, they would have stayed right here in this city until they had either converted everyone or their little fad had run its course. Or until the Romans tired of the drama and dispatched them on crosses.”

Gamaliel walked away. “You should visit with some of your prisoners who have relatives in Syria.”

“A hundred miles from here?” Paul asked.

Gamaliel turned toward him. “Just a little further than that.” He pointed to the northwest. “Damascus.”

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Get to know “Shackles” – a fantasy motion picture cast

I’m a Fantasy Baseball nerd to the nth degree, although I cut back considerably in 2014. I only had 22 teams. With zero champions. Sigh.

I’m applying some of the same strategy to selecting my fantasy cast for “Shackles: The Movie.” (Production note: “Shackles,” an 84,000 word historical fiction novel, is now in the hands of about 18 test readers). My fantasy cast is based on two very fortunate – but also fantasy – facts: I have an unlimited budget (just wait until you see who’s directing and who makes a special guest appearance as Claudius) and no one else is picking a cast, so I have the world of actors and actresses at my disposal.

Shackles cast - #1

“Shackles” is two stories told simultaneously before the paths of Paul the apostle and Faustus the jailer meet. From the story of Faustus the jailer I present the main characters Faustus and his wife, Perpetua, and their best friends (doesn’t go over so well with the townsfolk in Philippi) Lutalo and Nadra, a couple about the same age and the manservant and maidservant (they don’t like the term “slaves”) of Faustus and Perpetua.

Now, a snippet from “Shackles.”

From Chapter 25, subtitled “Shattered Dreams” …

The true story of how they came to own the prized horses was known only to Faustus and Perpetua. His father, Veritas, was dead by the time the wedding came and the arrangement for the marriage had not been completed, nor had the dowry been negotiated. Faustus already had received his inheritance of the family home, household gods, and another property, a vast meadow area just west of Philippi on the River Gangites. He’d been deeded his father’s insulae, the street-front woodworking and chair-weaving workshop in the middle of Philippi.

“What I don’t have is the young goddess Perpetua who is going to share my life and bare my children,” he told Perpetua when the two stole away together to the riverside meadow. She insisted then that Faustus kiss her and complete the marriage contract before the gods, but he made it clear that he would wait until marriage to taste her lips and take her to his bed. Perpetua worried then that another suitor – perhaps even the horrible Lucianus – might make a play for her, and Lucianus’s family had so much property, art and livestock that her father needed provide only a meager dowry. Faustus no longer had standing to ask for a dowry because he was not yet technically the head of the household, which he would be upon the completion of a marriage contract.

Perpetua’s father, Hortensus, was a selfish, rough man who rarely kept his hands to himself and often belittled and demeaned her mother, Quintina. Faustus was the last in his line, with no surviving brother and only two sisters, both of whom were sickly and unmarried.

It was true that Faustus had no standing in the matter. While he could just ask Hortensus for his daughter’s hand, that simply wasn’t the custom. It also was not customary for a man to wed so young. Perpetua at 15 could become part of a large family that might not demand much in the way of a dowry yet would be in position to enrich the lives of her parents as well. Faustus was 17 and had known Perpetua from their earliest days. He was preparing to become a soldier, and soldiers were not supposed to marry, although many did before their 16-year military service was finished. He’d been working for several local farmers and was adept at breaking and training horses. He’d even received payment – little as it was – for services rendered to Hortensus.

Faustus knew that Hortensus despised the horses and did not appreciate their strength, agility and intelligence.

“Bland-brained” was the way Hortensus described the horses. Faustus went along with the description and told other workers that the slowest horses of the bunch – in foot speed and brain power – were Valens and Mirandus. Hortensus had given the horses other names that Faustus was not comfortable repeating in company or in mixed company. Faustus spoke one afternoon with Dimaldi after a day of tending the horses. They leaned against a stall door discussing their futures. Faustus knew that Hortensus was around the corner, listening.

“Have you given up on your girl, Perpetua?” Dimaldi asked.

“I suppose I have,” Faustus said. “And I believe I was the girl’s only hope for a husband, considering her deficits. There’s not a dowry large enough to convince anyone else to take the poor girl off her father’s hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi continued the exchange without spelling the nature or specifics of the “deficits” that they talked about.

“She won’t bear a child, that’s for sure,” Faustus said. “And I need a wife to keep my line alive. But I’d probably still take the girl off her father’s hands for as little as the gift of those two sluggard horses.”

“That’s too bad,” Dimaldi said. “But the girl will be pretty at least for a while longer. You know, before that illness cripples her feet and clinches her hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi left and went their separate ways. The next morning, Hortensus arrived at Faustus’s home with slaves walking the horses.

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Five days and counting, we’re full blown ‘Wedding Central’

night-lake-dark-scenery

Wedding countdown

Five days away from Natasha and Kory’s “I do.” We’re now counting down by blocks of time and tasks that are getting checked off Kelly’s master list(s). (Re: see yesterday’s post).

Once upon a time, we could drive to Wal-Mart, I’d drop Kelly off at the front of the store, and she’d begin shopping and after I’d found a parking space, I’d go in and find her. It worked pretty well for a couple of decades. Nowadays I enter the store as I tap Kelly’s number on my cell phone to ask, “Where are you?”

It’s getting more difficult to recall life PD – pre-digital. Technology makes my head spin.

I’m also have trouble remembering when Kelly wasn’t part of my life. We began “going together” – that was the vernacular of the day – on Nov. 22, 1976. That was 37 years ago. We’ve been married 31. The truth is, every pre-Kelly memory seems to be attached to the question, “Where was Kelly?” We’re that connected; seems like we’ve always been.

Life without Kelly? I don’t want to remember that. The night before our wedding, I drove to the Belle City Park, where I’d caught hundreds of fish from the lake and clubbed hundreds of hits (and a few over the fence) on the baseball field. Some of my finest moments of almost 19 years of life had deep connections to the park and lake in my hometown.

But that night, I sat in the car, alone, fairly sure I knew we were way too young to get hitched, yet too much in love to give any credibility to conventional wisdom. As I stared out over the pitch blackness of the small lake, I asked God for a sign, some indication of whether I should be getting married in less than 24 hours. The thought that hit me was to imagine life without Kelly, and as I continued the ponder the profound question, the answer was right there in my gaze.

Nothing. Empty. Alone.

Meaningless and stagnant, much like that lake.

I married my best friend, and Kelly will say the same. We’re a couple of lucky, blessed married folks.

How to Wreck Your Marriage

Wrecking ball No. 12 – Major on minors. When you disagree or reach an impasse, be sure to pick your battle based on your spouse’s perceived weakness or that hot-button criticism that you know will throw off your spouse emotionally and mentally. Even better, stake your claim to your right to be an incredible gift to humanity by making a big deal out of … Nothing.

It’s not just about arguing over which shade of green is best – olive or evergreen – or what to name the dog. It’s about using that wrecking ball over and over by pounding your spouse with your “victories” in such disagreements. It’s amazing how something so trivial can be used to find and then wear away the chink in his/her armor, eventually exposing his/her heart so you can move in with even more force to prove your superiority.
If you’re puzzled about what qualifies as a major or minor point, just adopt the conclusion that everything is a big deal.

Playlist

Going to my deep well of sacred hymn favorites. These old songs play on a fairly continuous loop in my noggin. Here’s a super not-so-old arrangement of At The Cross, performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

Two observations: Yes, it is sometimes tortuous to watch Bill Gaither sing. And at around the 1:27 mark it looks like Mark Lowry has fiery horns. Cool. And, oh yeah, Guy Penrod and David Phelps have crazy awesome voices.

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The Wedding Countdown: 12, 11, 10 days …

kneeling-in-prayer-at-sunrise

The Wedding Countdown is getting serious now. We’re at 10 days, counting down to Saturday, Sept. 7. Our second daughter, Natasha, is giving us a second son-in-law, Kory. I look forward to sharing with you the details (and photos?) of next week’s rehearsal dinner preparation, which will star my smoked pork butts and pulled pork. I’m a charcoal-grill-only guy, and I get a special thrill out of the hours-long process of turning a hunk of pork into savory shredded goodness. And, oh, the burnt ends! Don’t get me started this early …

I’m also trying something completely new. Think “non-meat” item. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, we’re running down “How to wreck your marriage,” so let’s continue.

Wrecking ball No. 6: Don’t pray for your wife. I could have said “spouse” instead of “wife,” and that would be good, too, but the onus has been on the dude since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn that I embrace, being the creation account of Genesis.

(Program note: Stay with me here. You can embrace evolution, intelligent design, or any other possibility that you’re comfortable with. This bit of advice is sage for spiritual folks and deity-deniers alike).

Genesis. Follow Adam’s lead. When that crafty ol’ serpent tempted Eve, where was Adam? Off naming the animals? Figuring out that round rocks rolled better than square rocks? Hitting sticks and stones together, making sparks ignite? (Clever reference there to that 1976 mega hit “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band).

Oh, yeah. Adam. The truth is, he was standing right there next to his wife. Watching. Right there but absent.

Silent.

If you know the story, you know it got kind of rough after that – for all of us. For us guys, we’ve been trying to redeem manhood ever since. We work 80 hour weeks, start wars, compete on the athletic field, amass collections of cars and other toys in search of masculinity. And rather than get on our knees and connect with the Creator – Who, by the way, is waiting to shower grace on us, not toss lightning bolts at us – on behalf of our family and our wife, we’re prone to keep searching for what it means to be a man.

And that search often leads to the greatest crime of marriage: the accepting eye of another woman or the “harmless” pursuit of virtual partners in cyberspace.

The silence of Adam. Didn’t work so well for him. Not so good for us – and our wives – either. A lot of marriage wrecking balls inflict little dings and dents over time, eventually destroying the fickle bonds of “I do.” This wrecking ball – not praying for your wife – is insidious, too, and capable of inflicting damage little-by-little, but it’s also capable of toppling the marriage with one strong hit. When hubby shrinks away from the responsibility of speaking into the darkness and speaking light into the life of his wife, he embraces darkness. It might lead to a stubbed toe. Or instant destruction.

How can I wreck this marriage? Ignore my wife’s spiritual needs.

Done.

Playlist

Cool video here of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” with scenes from “Armageddon” (Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis). Tyler’s movie dad, Willis, is on the screen she’s looking at during the tragic ending. But there’s another face on the screen in this video. See if you can figure out what I’m talking about.

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A lifetime of New Year’s Eve deja vu

Half-way through December, when it came time for me to resume my NaNoWriMo novel, to catch up on roughly 873 unread emails and blogs that I follow, and to breathe new, consistent life into Jackson’s Journal, I had a high-level meeting with myself and decided to extend my “down” time another 16 days.

Enough. I’m breaking the huddle, getting back in the game, shaking the dust off any other cliches that refer to getting the rust out of my routine. I’m pumped. In fact, I’m going to blog every single day of 2013. Or not.

First, I’m taking stock of the greatest blessing of my life. My bride (Kelly) and I did some calculating tonight and determined that since 1974, we’ve been together every single New Year’s Eve except one. Folks, that’s 38 NY Eves.

kelly-jodie

I love the story of Dec. 31, 1974. Kelly and her family and 36 other people — 41 in all — were at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd.

It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember, the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watch-Night Service. Or maybe the evening didn’t start at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store in Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle.

My Little Black Book of Great Adventures — aka, my childhood diary — recounts the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; the Little Black Book of Great Adventures doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle pointed to me and my sister, Kathy).

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to the Little Black Book of Great Adventures:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially wan to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collec the “stuff.” (Ed. note: we had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had lost her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly Drewel, who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Finally, follow me back to (or is it “forward to?”) NY Eve 2012, where I’m making the resolution to finish the novels “Dixieland” and “Chasing the Devil” in 2013, with at least one of them published by year’s end.

And then I laugh as I glance again at the Little Black Book of Great Adventures and find this:

“Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit. In the past I’ve started a few books that I never have finished, and I’ve got several ideas for books, stories and songs. I have written about 25 stories, 15 songs and started about 5 books. It takes time to write, so I think I’ll put aside more time to write.”

And then I listed some belated resolutions for getting that done: limit television; get my homework done at school; stick with something.

The date: Feb. 8, 1978.

The more things change …

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NaNoWriMo Day #12: Sounds like the Deep South

Word count for work-in-progress, “Dixieland,” en route to 50,000 word goal: 32,327.

My mom never cussed. At least not with curse-words that I knew were curse-words.

You know how we say, “Shoot,” or “Shucks?” (Wasn’t ‘shucks’ frowned upon in The Music Man?)

But I knew that Mom was exasperated, at her wits end or simply befuddled to the point of possibly saying something un-ladylike. Instead, she said, “Fiddlesticks.” Sounds funny to you, perhaps, but that word got my attention. It wasn’t used very often, which in my mind was further proof that it was a substitute for other words that we don’t say very often.

I love remembering that. It makes me smile. (Thanks for the smile, Mom).

Both of my parents were born and raised in southern Mississippi. Dad in Natchez; Mom in Florence, just south of Jackson. I suppose they lost their southern “accents” years ago, and I can’t recall detecting that in their voices very often. But I’m thinking now about my mother, a true southern belle, saying, “Fiddlesticks” in a down-south twang. (I’m smiling again.)

In my NaNoWriMo novel, Dixieland, I’m trying to employ as many southern idioms and other figures of speech that I can think of. I expect you’ll hear my main character, Edna Mae, utter “fiddlesticks” a time or two.

I’m not sure of the origin or frequency of use, but I remember Dad saying, “Well I swannie,” or “I’ll swannie,” used and said in the same manner as “Mercy sakes!” I only heard it as an exclamation; used once in anger and frustration.

My Aunt Sue will say, “Well good night nurse!” as an exclamation, along the line of “You don’t say?” or “Well, I’ll be dog-gone.” At least that’ the way I understand it.

I believe it was Mississippi comedic genius Jerry Clower who used the phrase, “Well switch my backside.” (As in, “Well, I shouldn’t have done/said that,” or “Give me a swift kick in the pants” to get my attention).

One of my all-time favorite expressions, which is the trademark expression of Dixieland’s Owen Nickerson, is “Heavenly days!” Back in my teen years I was occasionally part of a hay-hauling crew for Ernie Robertson and Vic Young. (Help me out here, readers. Was Ernie Vic’s son-in-law or brother-in-law?) Ernie was a wiry fellow but could out-work and out-muscle any of us young bucks, and Vic more than held his own. One time Ernie and Vic unloaded the hay bales from the wagon onto the conveyor that delivered the bales to the barn loft where Eric Palmer and I stacked the bales while we dodged yellow-jacket wasps and 120-degree heat. (If I was exaggerating, I’d say 140 degree heat).

Previously, I’d heard Ernie say, “Heavenly days, it’s hot.” Not exclamation point, because it wasn’t a forceful statement, just matter-of-fact. When we finished the hay-hauling day, we gathered around the Robertson dining room table where heaping piles of mashed potatoes, fried chicken and other mouth-watering delicacies awaited. In that moment, “Heavenly days” was almost a whisper with an exclamation mark – an intense, humble expression of gratitude and awe.

So there’s me and Eric in the stifling hot, alfalfa dust-choked barn loft, grabbing the bales as they came up the conveyor. One bale slipped off the conveyor and at the exact moment Ernie stepped toward the barn to retrieve the errant bale, the twine snapped on the very next bale that I grabbed from the top of the conveyor, sending a shower of fresh alfalfa hay onto Ernie.

Vic kept feeding the conveyor and Ernie brushed himself off. He never looked toward the loft – just looked toward Vic and said, “Well, Heavenly days.” There wasn’t an ounce of anger or frustration. Just “Heavenly days.”

I suppose that’s what everyone’s supposed to say when they get showered with hay on the most blistering hot day of the summer.

SEND ME YOUR Southern vernacular, idioms, figures of speech, etc. I’ll use them in my story.

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Filed under "Dixieland", Family, Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Old Time Religion, WIPs

NaNoWriMo Day #5: Taking in strays …

Here’s another excerpt from “Dixieland,” my National Novel Writing Month project that has reached 14,676 words. Tonight I wrote a scene that is, so far, the most difficult scene I’ve ever written. Unfortunately, that’s both a confession and a tease, because I can’t reveal that scene until the novel is finished.

I followed that challenging effort with something more light-hearted, and I have to admit that I’m having a blast making light of Sondra Ramsey’s pretentiousness. Sondra is Edna Mae Ferguson’s mother, and after Edna Mae’s hubby, Alvie, goes off to war, Edna Mae begins taking in strays. Her mother is present when the menagerie of cats and children begins.

In this excerpt, three of the children living in sharecropper shacks on the Ferguson Homestead have shown up at Edna Mae’s front door with a momma cat and two kittens. I realize I’ve referred to her mother as Sondra Ramsey AND Mrs. Ramsey. These inconsistencies will live at least until Dec. 1. (Inner editor, bound and gagged with duct tape, is going mad). Keep in mind: it’s an unedited work-in-progress. Comments, critiques, questions are not only welcomed but encouraged.

Dixieland, from Chapter 3 …

The raggedy little children kept their heads down but their eyes raised toward Mrs. Ramsey, who had called on her daughter in a in a tightly-wrapped, floor-length white dress. She wore a cream-colored hat – sort of resembled a nurse’s cap – on her head and two-inch high heels on her feet.

“I’m sure you were expecting guests, Edna Mae, because, I declare, it would be positively rude –indeed – to just show up uninvited.” She crossed her arms and looked down at the children. The momma cat was trying to get free. “Positively rude.” Mrs. Ramsey raised her eyebrows with the last “rude.”

Gertie Leeper, the middle child, finally spoke, never taking her eyes off Mrs. Ramsey.

“Miss Ellie, who is this lady?”

Edna Mae grinned to herself.

“I’m going to look at these poor felines,” she injected, completely dismissing her mother’s lesson in Southern etiquette and disarming her unapproving gaze.

“But, dear, you must give a reply to the invitation.” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped the Leeper children and handed Edna Mae a press-printed, personally signed invitation to the Natchez Garden Club’s spring pilgrimage tour planning social. In addition to the where, when and what time neatly arranged on a pink-tinted card, it also bore the signature: “Dear Edna Mae, please come. Respectfully, Sondra (Mrs. G.E.) Ferguson.”

The momma cat jumped from the oldest child’s arms and dashed up the stairs.

“What impudence, Edna Mae. Really!”

Edna Mae just shook her head. “Really, mother? You couldn’t have just signed it, ‘Mom?’”

“Well it’s quite the social event, and requires …” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped again to avoid stepping on a kitten. “It requires a formal request and a formal response.”

Edna Mae patted the youngest child’s head and thumbed the invitation. She gently directed the oldest child to go retrieve the momma cat.

“Well, they’ll just meddle in your bedroom, I just know it …” Mrs. Ramsey’s indignation grew. Edna Mae whispered to Gertie, “Go and help your sister find the momma cat,” again dismissing her mother’s haughty words.

“Mother, could you be a dear and help me make some lemonade for these children?” Edna Mae reached down and scooped up one of the scrawny kittens. She held its nose to her nose then handed it to the youngest Leeper lad.

Sondra Ramsey stomped her foot, barely making a “clink” with a high heel on the hardwood floor.

“Do you not detect the slightest bit of boorish, disrespectful incivility?” She stomped the other foot. “All this carrying on.” Edna Mae headed toward the kitchen.

“Come on, mother, let’s squeeze some lemons.”

“Well, I declare!” Mrs. Ramsey was shouting. “I don’t know how to tell your father how you’ve let this get so out of hand. Wild animals in the house – IN the house! – and colored children coming and going …”

In a flash, Edna Mae turned and was nose to nose with her mother.

“They are children, mother. Children.” She wanted so badly to put a finger in her mother’s face, in the same way she’d been raised. Edna Mae stepped back and Sondra Ramsey began to speak.

“Ah!” Edna Mae raised one hand, just above waist-level. “You, mother, are the only one who has crossed a line here today.”

Incidentally, I realize I’ve now made reference to “sidestepping” at least a half-dozen times. I take that as a sign that I’m not subconsciously making sure that my theme of racial tension is included in the fabric of the story. (The white folks in “Dixieland” sure do a lot of sidestepping.)

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