Category Archives: THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER

Creating a Fictional Landmark

The church loomed before her like some aged monument preserving the memory of its founders.  Clutching vines of ivy encrusted the walls and  scaled the towering steeple, as if to hold the bricks in place and keep them from crumbling.  Like sentinels, a pair of massive, gnarled oaks guarded the entrance.

As Effie took the key out of her pocket, she recalled Mrs.  Baldwin saying, “I hope you’re not superstitious.  Providence is one of the oldest churches in Fairfax County.  It predates the Civil War.  Some say it’s haunted.  Can you imagine calling a church haunted?”

Timidly she unlocked the door and peered into the sanctuary, deluged with light from stained glass Palladian windows.  Each was part of a series depicting the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Resurrection.  She walked down the center aisle, carpeted in red, towards the cross that loomed over the choir loft and dropped to her knees at the altar.  Surrounded by all the trappings of spirituality, she prayed and pictured the throne of God, the “sea of glass,” the cherubim, and “the four and twenty elders” clothed in white.

But the vision was short-lived.  Like a clap of thunder, the specter of doubt jarred her with a question:  What if her circumstances were accidental, not providential?  What if coming to Fairfax was a mistake?  She waved the notion aside and seated herself at the organ. 

A careful examination of the instrument found it nearly identical to the one she’d practiced her lessons on in Columbus.  “What harm is there in playing the organ?” she asked aloud.  Her words hung in the air, unanswered, undisputed, and soon “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” resounded throughout the sanctuary. 

She poured herself into the composition, mindless of time and place, until a rapping sound arrested her attention.  Her eyes scanned the church before resting upon a stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion.  Like a metronome, a branch was tapping the pane. 

As she resumed playing, the melancholy fugue fired her imagination, bringing “The Phantom of the Opera” to mind.  A mental picture of Lon Chaney lurking behind one of the pews prompted the feeling that someone was watching her.  To counter the thought, she abandoned the organ for the piano and played a hardy rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”  But halfway through the song, a scraping sound sliced the air, immobilizing her fingers.

Excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER (pages 7 and 8).

*******

St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

When I started writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I wanted to give the story a familiar setting with historical landmarks.  I chose the City of Fairfax, one of my favorite stomping grounds.  Most of the landmarks mentioned in the novel are real, but Providence United Methodist Church is fictional.

The name “Providence” is not a coincidence.  Not only does it mean God’s will, but prior to 1859, the City of Fairfax was known as the village of Providence.

My description of Providence Methodist was partly inspired by the architecture of Berryman United  Methodist  in Richmond.  Truro Anglican Church in the heart of the City of Fairfax influenced me also.

Winter at Warwick House

macariaAJEThe second semester of Effie’s junior year at George Mason began with a mixture of snow and ice, and classes were cancelled.  Cooped up in the house with nothing to do, she moseyed into the library with Macaria in hand, found a seat by the window, and gazed at the wintry setting below, taking note of the massive oaks glazed in glittering ice, which reminded her of ice palaces.

Slipping into a nostalgic mood, she proceeded to read the book, published during the Civil War as a Southern  propaganda piece disguised as a romance.  But Effie was more interested in the protagonists’ relationship than in the subtleties bolstering the Rebel  cause.  If only real life could rival romantic fiction!  Was God fashioning a lifelong companion for her as dashing as Russell Aubrey?

She sighed blissfully as she read the following passage:

“Irene, oblige me in what may seem a trifle; unfasten your hair and let it fall around you, as I have seen it once or twice in your life.”  She took out her comb, untied the ribbons, and, passing her fingers through the bands, shook them down.  He passed his hands caressingly over the glossy waves.

Impulsively, Effie removed the combs binding her own hair, and vigorously shook her head, casting untamed curls in every direction.  Then, with an elbow propped on the windowsill and her chin resting in the palm of her hand, she gazed dreamily upon the day’s spectacular finale.  As the sun dipped low in the Western sky, its blazing splendor filled the room, painting the alabaster walls with shades of crimson, plum, and gilded pink.

Effie stood up and maneuvered the chair to make the most of the remaining daylight then sat down and resumed reading aloud, vaguely conscious of footsteps in the hallway.

She was endeavoring to memorize a paragraph when, all at once, the door swung open hitting the wall with a loud band.  Effie leapt from the chair, sending the book to the floor, and stooping to retrieve it, found herself bowed low before Rev. Baldwin.

“Give me your hand!”

005956-R1-23-24He pulled her up until her eyes were on a level with his tie, and she could tell by the rigidity of his posture that he was fuming.  And yet, braving a look at his face, she gulped to discover a pair of dark dejected eyes shyly entreating her own.  They peered beneath a veil of ebony lashes, gently disclaiming the hard mouth and adamant chin.  Stifling a sigh, Effie dropped her eyes and wondered how anyone could appear so cruel, vulnerable, and incredibly handsome all at the same time.  She ventured another glance, but this time his languishing look shifted into something more ominous.

He reached into his pocket, withdrew an envelope, and bitingly announced:  “This letter pertains to you.”

She stretched out her hand to receive it, but he held it out of her reach.

*The above is an excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pages 158-159.

PapasLetterToEffieB.W. Wright wrote this letter–dated November 8, 1924–to the real Effie Belle Butler, my grandmother.  I named the fictional “Effie” after her.

Directional Dreams

Dreams are awesome!  I never paid much attention to them until I had a life-changing dream–or night vision?–several years ago.  I saw the phrase “Kindle & Kindness” lit up against a dark background.  The letters were large and outlined in tiny white lights like the  title of a film on the marquee of a theater.  But the letters were not typed.  They were written in cursive.

Wondering what the phrase meant, I “googled” it.   Nothing definitive came up.  A few weeks later, I tried a different search engine and found a Website with the phrase “Kindle & Kindness.”  Up to that point, I don’t think I knew what a Kindle device was.  I had seen the  icon on Amazon off to the side while looking for other items.

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, ...

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My unpublished novel was gathering dust.  So I took the dream to mean that I should publish it on Kindle.  I bought a Kindle and consulted Joshua Tallent of e Book Architects.  His group formatted the book for me so that I could upload it on Kindle and Nook.

For a while, I was more focused on the book than the dream or where it came from,  That was a mistake.  The real story is about a closer relationship with God.  My interest in dreams led me to John Paul Jackson’s Website.  John Paul Jackson is a Christian dream interpreter.  His insights have given me a deeper, Biblical-based understanding of dreams and visions.

I knew that dreams and visions are in the Bible, but I never thought of them as having significance today.  John Paul Jackson points to Job 33: 14-16.  “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it.  In a dream, a vision of the night when sound sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instructions” (NASB).

Not every dream comes from God.  That’s for sure.  Dreams fall into different categories and come from different sources: the flesh, the mind, God, and the demonic realm.  While dreams are one of the ways that God speaks to us, He speaks primarily through His Word.  If you think God has spoken to you in a dream, make sure that the dream doesn’t conflict with the Bible.  God will never direct you to something that contradicts His Word.

A relationship with God through Jesus Christ is more important than anything in the world.  Books, inventions, and projects will come and go, but a personal relationship with the God of the universe lasts forever.

McClellan Letterhead

McClellanLetterhead

This letter from my husband’s ancestor inspired the following passage in “The Prince in the Tower”  (pg. 19).

Before moving to Fairfax, Effie had revered ministers as God’s mouthpiece, but her view had changed overnight, making all of them suspect.  She winced at the thought of Rev. Baldwin parading around in clerical garb conning his congregation.

A three-way fireplace, jutting out from the wall, separated his sitting room from the bedroom.  Should she cross the “line of demarcation” and enter his bedroom?  A series of framed black and white prints decided the issue, and Effie ambled ahead to examine them on the wall.

The Currier and Ives prints depicted the killing fields of Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.  Centered beneath them was a display case of Civil War artifacts that included cone-shaped bullets, a canteen, a bayonet, and a letter with faded writing. 

She read the letter through the glass.  The McClellan letterhead identified the writer as a Union soldier, and she squinted to make out the signature of Elijah Douglass.  Next to the letter was a drawing of the family tree, which confirmed that Rev. Baldwin was the soldier’s direct descendant. 

English: "Battle of Antietam. Army of the...

English: “Battle of Antietam. Army of the Potomac: Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, comm., Sept. 17′ 1862. – 1′ 2′ 4′ 6′ 9′ 12′ Corps & Pleasanton’s cav. div. engaged.” Color lithograph. Français : « La Bataille d’Antietam (17 septembre 1862). Armée du Potomac: Le général B. McClellan, commandant les 1 er , 2 e , 4 e , 6 e , 9 e et 12 e divisions de cavalerie de Corps & Pleasanton. » Lithographie en couleurs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oxford, England

Magdalen College

From her vantage point in the tower of Magdalen College, Effie had a birds-eye view of the City of Oxford, which reminded her of a medieval town cast in gold.  Against the backdrop of an ancient city wall, colleges crowned with spires and domes dominated the landscape.  Some dated to the thirteenth century.  Constructed of honey-colored stone, the buildings glowed like amber in the noonday sun. 

BridgeOfSighsonNewCollegeSt

Unobserved, she gazed down upon the students, tourists, and natives who strolled along the narrow streets, crossed campuses, and passed under the Bridge of Sighs.  Oxford was a blend of old and new–a place where past and present met and found each other compatible. 

THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pg. 197

ST. ELMO and THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA

If you’ve been following my blog, you may already know that I am a huge fan of  Augusta Evans Wilson and her book ST. ELMO.  Both inspired my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Filmmaker Robert Clem pays tribute to Augusta Evans Wilson and ST. ELMO in his film THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA.  The film premiered September 12, 2013, in Mobile, Alabama.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m looking forward to viewing the DVD.  (I’m listed as one of the co-producers in the credits.)

“The Passion of Miss Augusta” is part drama, part documentary.  The film begins as a silent film version of ST. ELMO then fast-forwards to the 1950s with the main characters in modern dress.  As you watch the trailer (above) notice the differences between the silent and modern-day versions.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), America...

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), American novelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Who is Effie Belle Butler?

The first time I read ST ELMO, I wasn’t very impressed. I was a flighty 16-year-old, and my knowledge of literature was limited to the required reading list in my English class.  I was familiar with ST. ELMO only because it was my grandmother’s favorite novel. She kept it in her bookcase near the front door. One day I decided to borrow it.  My grandmother did not tell me when to bring it back but made it clear that I should not keep it too long.  I recall that she was relieved when I returned it.

Fast forward 29 years. My daughter was 16 and looking for something to read during the summer and asked for ideas.  I saw this as an opportunity to introduce her to literature.  She read everything I suggested:  JANE EYRE, RAMONA, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES and similar novels.  When I could think of nothing else, I recommended my grandmother’s copy of ST. ELMO, which was handed down to me years after Grandmother’s death.

Much to my surprise, my daughter gushed that ST ELMO was the best book she had ever read.  Her enthusiasm prompted me to read it again.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. Without a doubt, it was the best novel I had ever read too.  I liked it so much that I read it repeatedly–nine times, in fact.  (My grandmother read it fifteen times.)

Written by Augusta Evans Wilson in 1866, ST. ELMO was almost as popular as BEN HUR and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.  Towns, dogs, and cigars were named after the book and its Byronic protagonist.  Margaret Mitchell used “St. Elmo” as the model for “Rhett Butler” in GONE WITH THE WIND.

ST. ELMO was Augusta Evans Wilson‘s third novel.  She wrote nine and I read them all.  I also read her biography by William Fidler and learned that ST ELMO was made into a silent film in 1923, starring John Gilbert. Thus, the main character in my first novel, THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, is a John Gilbert look-alike.  I named the female protagonist after my paternal grandmother, Effie Belle Butler (1885-1965).  After all, my grandmother ignited my interest in ST. ELMO, which inspired me to become a writer, and I wanted to immortalize her.

The real Effie Belle Butler was just as obsessed with ST ELMO as my fictional “Effie Belle Butler,” but the comparison doesn’t end there.  The real Effie Belle had chestnut hair and sapphire eyes.  So does the fictional one.  The real-life Effie Belle had a best friend named Clara Banton.  So does the fictional one.

Actually, the best friend angle was a coincidence.  I borrowed the name “Clara” from a character in AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS (another book by Augusta Evans Wilson) and chose the surname “Banton” because it was in my genealogy.   But I had no idea that my grandmother’s best-friend and first cousin was Clara Banton until I saw the photo below with their names written on the back.

EffieandClaraEffie Belle Butler (left) and Clara Banton (right):  friends in real life as well as in fiction