Category Archives: fiction

Write What You Know About

SUBJECT AND SETTING

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The interior of Berryman United Methodist in Richmond inspired the fictional Methodist church in Faifax.

The easiest subject to write about is the one you know the most about.   I knew before I wrote the first sentence of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER that the book would feature a Methodist minister, his family, and his ward.  My dad was a Methodist minister, so I’m familiar with the underpinings of the United Methodist Church. As for wards, I had read about wards and guardians in novels, but never knew any in real life.  Like Augusta Evans Wilson wrote [in VASHTI]: “The only wards I ever knew happened to be fictitious characters.”

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Fairfax Court House built in 1800

The setting of a novel is like a frame around a portrait.  If the frame is too dark or too light and if it doesn’t complement the colors in the portrait, it will take away from the picture.

I wanted a nostalgic setting that enhanced the old-fashioned romance I had in mind.  I chose the City of Fairfax, not only because it is historic but because I lived nearby and spent many hours walking through the town and researching its role in the Civil War.  History is one of my favorite subjects and the City of Fairfax fit the bill.  I deliberately put the parsonage right in the middle of “Old Town” Fairfax City near the scene of “Mosby’s Midnight Raid.”

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The Moore House in Fairfax

The fictional parsonage was a conglomeration of houses I had written up when I had a real estate column in THE CONNECTION, a local paper in Northern Virginia.  Using the best features of some of the houses I reviewed, I created the interior; but the exterior of the parsonage was solely inspired by the antebellum Moore House, which is behind Truro Anglican Church and across the street from what used to be the Black-eyed Pea Restaurant.

copy-005956-r1-23-241-e1387249318579.jpgWhile writing the novel,  I got permission to tour the Moore House, which housed a business at the time.  I was delighted to see that the house has two staircases just like the fictional parsonage.  The Moore house has thirteen gables as well, so I created a parsonage with thirteen gables.

Thirteen gables added a nice touch to the modern gothic theme I was developing, not to mention the secret room on the third floor hidden behind on
e of the gables.

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INEZ: A Tale of the Alamo

Sometimes it’s hard to know how tfullsizerendero rate a book. For example, I’m not a great fan of the plot or the outcome of “Inez: A Tale of the Alamo,” written in 1855 by Augusta Jane Evans, but I was mesmerized by the author’s style of writing, especially considering her age. This was Evans first novel, and she was only 15 years old when she wrote it.  She was living in San Antonio, Texas, when she began penning the book.  She wrote during the wee hours of the night, keeping her project secretive, then presented the manuscript to her father when she finished.

INEZ was just the beginning of her life-long literary career.  The experience of writing INEZ prepared Evans for writing greater and greater novels. She was a literary genius who wrote eight hand-written novels and dictated a ninth in her latter years when her eyesight was failing.

MACARIA, her second novel, showcased her writing skills and her ability to create page-turners. Her third, ST. ELMO, is the jewel in the crown.

My late aunt was named “Inez” after the title of the book. Her mother, my paternal grandmother, was a mega fan of Augusta J. Evans’ books.  Inez was happy that her mother named her Inez, instead of “Vashti,” the name of Evans fourth book.

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Named after the book INEZ, my aunt Inez Wright, born in 1905, dressed for her part in a play called “The Awakening” about women’s suffrage.

 

“Oxalis” as a Literary Motif

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One of my favorite flowers is oxalis.  I never knew the flower existed until I read about it  in ST. ELMO by Augusta Jane Evans.  In the following paragraph, “Edna Earl” sees the flower and associates it with “St. Elmo Murray,” the man she is trying to resist.

Edna bent over her flowers, and recognizing many favorites that recalled the hothouse at Le Bocage, her eyes filled with tears, and she hastily put her lips to the snowy cups of an oxalis.  How often she had seen just such fragile petals nestling in the buttonhole of Mr. Murray’s coat.  (Page 290, ST. ELMO).

I was thinking about that and other passages in ST. ELMO  when i wrote the following scene between “Effie Beller” and “Gideon Baldwin” on page 69 and 70 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“When are you fixing to come home?”

“In a few days.”

“Oh.”  Effie tried to hide her disappointment.  “I hope you’ll have plenty of sunshine at the beach.”

“And delay my return?”

They were standing in the sun room, and he was preparing to leave through the back door.  Impulsively she snatched a spray of oxalis from a ceramic pot and held it up to his lapel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’d like to put some flowers in your buttonhole if you don’t mind.”

“Why?”

“Because you remind me of someone.”

“Who?”

“St. Elmo.”

“I’m not a saint.”

“Neither was he.”  With trembling fingers, she slipped the posy into his buttonhole and started to walk away, but he seized her arm and turned her around.

I brought oxalis into the story again when “Effie’s” antipathy for “Rev. Baldwin” was near its peak:

He crossed the room to his mother’s dresser and returned with a handful of tissues.

As she dried her eyes, she heard him say in a voice unaccountably sweet, “I often forget  how sensitive you are.  You remind me of that dainty flower you gave me when I was leaving for Conference.  What was it?”

“Oxalis.”

“So incredibly small, so easily crushed.  Sometimes you wilt before my eyes and make me wonder what I have said or done to cause it.”  He paused for a moment, waiting for her to compose herself, and added, “Effie Belle.  Despite your belief to the contrary, I am not entirely the ogre conceived in your imagination, and If I can help you in any way–“

Every flower has a special meaning–or so I thought.  I based this belief on a book called “The Poetry of Flowers.” i was sure I could look up oxalis and find a romantic meaning.   However, the flower is not even mentioned in the book.

Some refer to oxalis simply as “clover” or “a creeping weed,” hardly a romantic description of my hallowed plant. Finally, I learned that oxalis is a member of the wood sorrel family.  Wood Sorrel means “Joy” and “maternal tenderness,” and that is an accurate description of the role that oxalis plays in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER..

Often referred to as “shamrock,” oxalis is easy to find this time of year.  I found two different types of oxalis in a St. Patrick’s Day display at the grocery store.  My favorite is “snowy” oxalis, but you can also find oxalis with purple leaves and lavender flowers or with green leaves and pink flowers.

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Finding Inspiration in “The Merry Widow Waltz”

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THE MERRY WIDOW (MGM, 1925), starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray, inspired the following scene between “Effie Butler” and her guardian, “Reverend Gideon Baldwin,” in Chapter 17 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“So tell me about the Confederate ball.”

“Well . . . from what I understand, most of the men are re-enactors, so they’ll be wearing Confederate uniforms, and most of the ladies will be dressed like me.  A band will play period pieces that we can dance to.”

“Can you waltz?”

“No, but I wish I could.”

“What time is your date?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“Good.  I’ll teach you.”

He directed her to the center of the room and rearranged the furniture, clearing space beneath the chandelier.  Then he turned the CD player on and as “The Merry Widow Waltz” began to play, bowed before her.  “May I have this waltz?”

His kingly manner surprised her as she drifted into his arms and waited for him to begin.  Effie tried to concentrate on the steps he was teaching her, but the scent of his aftershave and the touch of his hands were distracting.  In attempting to follow his lead, she tripped over his foot. He laughed, so did she, and they resumed waltzing.

“Where did you learn to waltz, Mr. Baldwin?”

“In high school and my name is Gideon.”  He smiled, revealing a perfect set of teeth, and Effie felt the full force of his magnetism.

Sunsets and Literature

photoMA31367462-0002How can anyone describe something as spectacular as a sunset?   Nothing can take the place of a photograph, can it?  Augusta J. Evans (1835-1909) creates a credible word picture of a sunset on page 116 of ST. ELMO, and the twilight that follows sets the eerie stage for the entrance of the Byronic protagonist “St. Elmo Murray.”.

The sun went down in a wintry sky; the solemn red light burning on the funeral pyre of the day streamed through the undraped windows, flushed the fretted facade of the Taj Mahal, glowed on the marble floor, and warmed and brightened the serene, lovely face of the earnest young student.  As the flame faded in the West, where two stars leaped from the pearly ashes, the fine print of Edna’s book grew dim, and she turned the page to catch the mellow, silvery radiance of the full moon, which shinning low in the east, thew a ghastly lustre on the awful form and floating white hair of the Cimbrian woman on the wall.  But between the orphan and the light, close beside her chair, stood a tall, dark figure, with uncovered head and outstretched hands.

She sprang to her feet, uttering a cry of mingled alarm and delight, for she knew that erect, stately form and regal head could only belong to one person.

“Oh, Mr. Murray!  Can it be possible that you have indeed come home to your sad desolate mother?  Oh!  For her sake, I am so glad!”

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It’s no secret that Augusta J. Evans is my favorite novelist and that ST. ELMO inspired me to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Every Writer Needs an Editor

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Every writer needs an editor, but not every writer can afford one.  Abigail fancies herself as my editor.  Here is a sample of one of her markups:

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Even with Abby’s help, I don’t think I’m going to win the Pulitzer Prize any time soon.   Both of us are suffering from writer’s block.

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Every Writer Needs Inspiration

 CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE CONDUCIVE TO WRITING

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Writing fiction begins with setting the stage.  The props are photographs, scented candles, and whatever-it-takes to minimize daily distractions and whisk you away to never-never land.

When I was writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I lit a rose-scented candle and kept a photo of my favorite actor in front of me, but I needed more.  So I added a sound track.  A novel, like a movie, needs a sound track, although no one will hear it but the writer. 

Steven Curtis Chapman, 4 Him, Jars of Clay, Burt Bacharach, Sting, and many other composers contributed to the soundtrack of my imaginary “film.”  Songs like “Call Me Irresponsible,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “The Look of Love,” “Prologue,” “Blind,” and “Head Over Heels” inspired many scenes.

Props and music help, but nothing inspires me like visiting the places I want to write about.

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