In The Red Dress, twenty-eight-year-old Arabella Edwards is alone, on furlough, and having random panic attacks for the first time in her life during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. To keep herself busy and her mind off everything going on in the world, she decides to clean the attic of her 1845 home. In the attic, she discovers an old chest that she is drawn to for reasons she can’t understand. To her shock and surprise, she finds a beautiful, bloodstained dress from the 1800’s inside the timeworn chest. As the story unfolds, Arabella discovers many secrets about her home and the people who once lived there. With the help of her neighbors and her family, Arabella spends the next two months unraveling the mysterious and long-buried secrets of The Red Dress.
When we’re writing a novel, we’re leading our readers down a path. In the best case scenario, that path is one that leads to a satisfying conclusion. It can take years to develop the kind of storytelling that doesn’t get bogged down in unimportant details, but is holistic and tightly woven. As we write, we need to ask ourselves: Does this detail fit into the whole in a seamless, artful way, or is it just something I threw in because I like it? Does each paragraph add to, rather than detract from, the story I’m trying to tell? None of us who write do it perfectly, but our goal should always be to keep our readers off of rabbit trails and on “straight paths” that at the end of the book, leave them both fulfilled and longing for more.
Last year I wrote a paragraph for the beginning of a novel. Just a paragraph. I really felt there was “something there” but the story refused to show itself. It remained hidden. And it frustrated me. Then, this pandemic hit. And suddenly, the words that had been so elusive, revealed themselves. I’m currently working on the seventeenth chapter of The Red Dress, and the words are flowing easily. It’s as if the people in the yet-unfinished manuscript are aching for their stories to be told.
In the opening storyline, Arabella Edwards is living by herself during the current pandemic. She’s lonely, afraid and suffering from random panic attacks. Then, in an old chest in the attic of her century home, she finds a bloodstained red dress from the 1800’s. Uncovering the mystery of the red dress will unite Arabella to people in a way she never expected to be united in the midst of a global crisis. The parallel storyline set in 1852 finds a runaway slave hidden in Arabella’s home in a different era. When the two storylines converge, my hope is that both the tragedy and the redemption in The Red Dress will remind everyone who reads it that we are a people who will forever be in need of friendship, companionship, grace and love.
My husband took this photo a few days ago and I posted it on Facebook with the caption…In themidst of crisis…beauty. As you’re all aware, the crisis I was referring to is the Coronavirus pandemic that has literally shut down the entire world. As thousands of people have said by now, these are unprecedented times. We’re living through a moment in history that will be discussed as long as there is history. These days have made me realize that we’re all writers now. Every article written, every tweet, every text, every email, every Facebook and Instagram post, every letter about this virus and its effect on the world is living, breathing history that will tell the generations that come after us the story of what we lived through during this pandemic. These written words will give the people of the future an insight into the best and worst of human nature during this this time and how it all played out. Our words will be a testament to who we are in the midst of crisis and where our hope lies. Words matter. They always have. But they especially matter now. Because now we’re all writers – and we’re recording with our words a vision of our experience that will be consumed and pondered for generations to come. So, let our words be true – but let them be wise and noble and worthy for the eyes that will see them long after ours have closed.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know by now that I love everything about the olden days – the gowns, the manners, the carriages, the homes – it all fascinates me and fills me with a sense of wonder! I love that time when things seemed far simpler and more gentle than our modern era. That love for the olden days prompted the setting of my award-winning In Time series where twelve-year-old Emarie Gordon travels through time to the distant past. Back In Time is the third and final book of my time-travel adventure series for tween readers and adults alike. 🙂 In this final book, the adventures of Emarie and her friends wrap up with one last mission in 1879 – and a surprise ending that will reveal why Emarie’s adventure in time began in the first place!
If you long for a time so different than the one we live in, check out Back In Time and the rest of the In Time series on Amazon!
What will my destination look like after I’ve written the final sentence of a new book? Will the ending be anything like I envisioned when I began the book? Have the characters revolted against the carefully formed storyline I created and gone their own way instead of the way I wanted them to go? Will I have to rethink and rewrite because I’ve exceeded the word count for a certain market? I’ve learned the hard way that the answers to those questions should never take preeminence when a story is emerging. I’ve discovered that the joy in writing lies in letting the process lead me to its destination. I don’t need to adhere to a carefully crafted outline. I don’t need to stifle what my characters want to say because I fear exceeding a certain word count. I don’t need to wrestle them into conformity. If we constrain creativity, we lose the wonder of watching in awe as something new comes to life under our very fingertips. I’m thankful to have learned the invaluable lesson that we don’t need to know the destination when we begin writing – we simply need to let the words pour out and follow them there.
During a recent snow hike, I noticed this small tree bent over by the weight of snow. Without really thinking about it, the thought came to me that this tree resembled a woman bent down with sorrow, grieving an enormous loss. Her pain was unbearable. It was palpable. In that moment, I realized how transformative imagination is. In my mind, it transformed a small, snow-covered tree into a woman utterly broken by unrelenting pain. Without the eye of imagination, I would simply have seen a snow-covered tree and nothing else. Without the eye of imagination, our writing would be barren and uninspired – dry and devoid of life. The eye of imagination is a gift that gives us the best possible vision we could ever hope to have!
When you look at this picture, you may think you’re looking at a piece of fabric. In reality, your’e looking at an aerial view of a wheat field after it had been harvested. Pretty amazing, huh? Looking at this picture always makes me think about how wrong our conclusions can be if we’re not looking at things from the right perspective. When we write something – and especially something that is deeply meaningful – our hope is to give the reader a new perspective so that they can see things in a way they may never have seen them before. To consider issues in a way they may never have considered them before. To see things as they truly are and not simply what they wish them to be. Charles Dickens did this in Oliver Twist when he ripped the veneer off of well-to-do English society and exposed the obliviousness of wealth to the suffering of poverty. Victor Hugo did this as well when he unmasked mercilessness posing as justice in Les Miserables. It’s all about perspective. It’s a daunting thing to write with the hope of shifting a person’s perspective. And possibly arrogant. But when the intentions are sincere, writing to offer a perspective that will bring clarity and effect good is among one of the most noble aspects of writing.
It snowed overnight where we live. I went out before sunrise to clean the snow off the cars and while I was alone in the darkness, I took this picture of the enormous pine tree on the side of our house. Yes, I still have the Christmas lights on the tree, and yes, I’ll probably leave them on the rest of the winter. 🙂 As I stood outside in the utter stillness and silence, I felt a sense of complete contentment. I reflected on how rarely there is absolute stillness and silence in my life and how beautiful the stillness is. I also reflected on the quality that stillness can bring to our writing. When there is stillness, there is a refreshing of the soul, and there are words that flow from that beautiful emptiness that flow from no other place within us. Silence is so often portrayed as a lonely and desolate place – but maybe we can shift our perspective – to instead, view stillness as a hallowed sanctuary from which beauty emerges.
My husband and I went hiking a while back and came upon this moss-covered log on a pine forest trail. For some unknown reason, it caught my eye, and I spent at least five full minutes gazing at it. Not that I believe in talking trees, but it seemed to have a story to tell and I wanted to take the time to listen. By absorbing that moment instead of rushing away, a poem resulted. The story the moss-covered log had to tell was told. It was a valuable lesson I hope I won’t soon forget – that it’s always a good thing to stop and sit awhile.
The Moss to the TreeOld friend, You’ve fallen But I will cover you with lifeThere on the forest floorYou lost your life and more Now,I make my vow to restoreThey saw you dyingWalked by, disregardingNow,They see me clingingAnd they stop and wonder Stop and ponder Now, Beautiful together I knew you could be freeClothed in my fragilityNow, We blend in harmonyI saw what they didn’t see Your surrender and nobility Now,They see union in all its purity Once, they looked at you Only when you grewNow, They look at you anewOld friend, You’ve fallen But I will cover you with life