Archive for the ‘World On The Edge’ Category

A Good Woman???

Posted: February 19, 2018 in World On The Edge

She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.–from the mouth of the character, The Misfit, in a short story collection by Flannery O’Connor, entitled “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

I have had the above framed words for many years, long before I launched my 2014 short story collection, Birds of a Feather, at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s Milledgeville Georgia home. I believe the drawing was done by one of Flannery’s relatives. Take a moment to consider the words and how much they encapsulate! What was it about the woman in the story that causes The Misfit to say such about her?

Yet, these words are remarkably true for everyone–man or woman–at a point of real crisis, especially if possible death is staring us in the face. This is a mental moment when we understand that everything is going to be different, or that maybe even our life will be been taken from us.  Moments like that mean something BIG. They show exactly who we are–our true identity– as well as what we strive for, which is usually the world we live in.

As a Southern writer, I take Flannery’s words to heart. My identity is wrapped in the wonderfully changeable, material world around me—the world I live in. But as a Catholic writer, as Flannery was, my identity is also wrapped in the mystery of mercy and grace in the immaterial world that lies deeply behind this one—because that is the world that is unchangeable and enduring.

Flannery’s words reveal that mystery of grace and mercy–what we pray for in any dire life-situation when, sometimes in complete despair, we face our inevitable ‘brick walls.’  But how can this be ‘good’ for us? How could a loving God intend this for us?

Oddly, O’Connor uses an unlikeable, bad-tempered old woman; a self-absorbed, manipulative grandmother to depict the truth of what God’s love is for each of us: that when we are ‘less than good,’ less than we were created to be,  we still have the capability (the sanctifying grace) within us to see and act more clearly. And even to BECOME GOOD people. It is in such a shattering moment that we are at the same time most human, and yet, most participatory in the divine–the closest we have been in this life to God.

WANT TO SEE BEYOND???

Posted: February 14, 2018 in World On The Edge

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Would YOU like to see beyond???

This novel, published on February 11, is about the gift of sight–the benefits and hindrances for a young woman who is a seer.

To a certain extent, we all possess the gift of seeing beyond–it’s what makes us human. If you could see beyond, you might realize how much more you can be as a human being. You might see purpose in your life. You might understand others more, or be more compassionate. You might love more, incited to do so by the gifted wisdom of your sight.

Or you might try to get away from such a gift and its grave responsibilities. For it is a gift that will require your response, just as it is requires a response from the young woman–the seer–in this novel.

SHE WHO SEES BEYOND,  begins during a New Orleans hurricane that takes the life of artist Audrey Bliss’s husband, swallows any trace of their four year-old son, and dramatically changes Audrey when she suffers a head wound. As a sensitive child she’d been gifted with a keen perception, but now, she sees and hears the voices of missing people calling to be found. Soon, asked by local law enforcement to solve crimes in The Big Easy, she finds many missing people, including a girl from Birmingham, Alabama found murdered in New Orleans. Yet, she never finds her own son, and accepts he died in the hurricane.

After inheriting a tiny island in the Tennessee River near Red Clay Springs, Alabama, Audrey attempts to discard her trying life as a seer and takes up residence in the old house on the island, meaning to concentrate on her art. But when an unidentified boy is found dead on a pyre, her gift of seeing will not let go.

Main Characters:
Audrey Bliss, an artist, and seer who wants to be rid of her gift.
Joe Hightower, FBI Special Agent and single father, out to take down traffickers,
Hamilton Blanchette, a County Sheriff with secrets.
The Dead Boy on the Pyre, attempting to make his presence known to Audrey. But will he succeed?

SHE WHO SEES BEYOND is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores. Click on the Book Cover above. If you’re interested in reading and reviewing it, please let me know.

Does Anybody Need Me???

Posted: February 13, 2018 in World On The Edge

We often use this phrase today: “She (or he) is needy,” meaning insecure enough to ‘need’ an overabundance of attention from another human being.

It’s difficult to interact with people who have learned from negative experience not to trust. If you ignore or avoid them, they will be hurt by your rejection, and may get frantic, desperate or spiteful.

Clingy behavior puts a strain on any relationship. We don’t want to suffocate another with our insecurities, but the fact is each of us needs to be needed. Can you imagine what it would be like if nobody needed you?

Most of us wake up each morning thinking about our family, our job–the people who need us. But what if you woke up each day feeling totally alone, with no one to talk to or turn to? What if you were separated from your family? What if you thought that no one cared whether you lived or died?

Today, too many Americans feel this way. They don’t see themselves as unique, or important, or loved. Once, during a very difficult time in my life, I came close to feeling that way, too, until I realized I still had my faith, and that God loved me. The impact of God’s love struck me not only through prayer, but through His loving bombardment of seemingly unrelated incidents. Those incidents yanked me away from my self, and shoved me back into life. I even heard songs on the radio in a different way. Often, I heard a challenge. Sometimes the lyrics soothed my wounded feelings like a salve.

The measure of what we do in our lives depends on whether it threatens or enhances our life and dignity as well as the life and dignity of other human beings. Do we see ourselves and others as precious? Do we really understand that people are more important than things?

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. 1John 3:1

If we carry God’s love within us–and we do–then don’t we have an obligation to show others, especially the lonely, that they are also children of a merciful God?

Is there an action we could perform as a group or individually that would say to them, “We need you!”? What do you think their reaction might be?

HOW Are You Strong???

Posted: February 12, 2018 in World On The Edge

The question is not “Are you strong?” It is–“HOW are you strong?”

Human beings have various strengths: Physical strength. Intellectual strength. And strength of character. Do you have one, two, or are you fortunate enough to have been given all three?

Physical strength builds a country, a city, a home. Physical strength protects that country, guards that city, maintains that home. Physical strength is beautiful, empowering, and necessary. So people with the gift of physical strength are admired.

Intellectual strength conceptualizes the country, the city, the home. Intellectual strength is responsible for the ongoing progress of a country, its industries, and the well-being of its people. Intellectual strength is also beautiful, empowering and necessary.

But a person can possess physical strength, or mental strength, and not have strength of character.

Strength of character is found in someone who is resilient to hardships, and has the resolve to stand firm in their beliefs. Strength of character is found in someone who is virtuous. It can be found in the physically and intellectually strong. But often it is found in the weak, the humble, the unattractive, the elderly, and surprisingly, in children. Because we are all born with an instinct to love through the grace of God.

Virtuous actions are indicative of Strength of character.

These virtues do not require physical strength or intellectual strength. But all of them require strength of character—the underpinning of what it means to be a human being.

In Catholicism, the seven Christian virtues refer to the union of two sets of virtues: The cardinal virtues–from ancient Greek philosophy–are prudence, justice, temperance or restraint, and courage; and the theological virtues–from the letters of St. Paul of Tarsus–faith, hope, and charity, or love.

Animals have physical strength. Today’s machines and electronics have intellectual strength. But only a human being can have strength of character. Persons of character are noted for their honesty, ethics, and charity. We think of them as “men of principle” or “women of integrity.”

The lack of character is moral deficiency, and persons lacking character tend to behave dishonestly, unethically, and uncharitably. An individual, a country, or a world that disregards this fact is doomed.

How are we doing today–individually and as a nation–regarding Strength of Character?

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There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three form a rising scale of compliment:

1. To tell him you have read one of his books;

2. To tell him you have read all of his books;

3. To ask him to let you read the manuscripts of his forthcoming book.

No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart.– Mark Twain

I’ve been writing this blog since 2013, just before the publication of my first novel, A Hunger in the Heart. Many of you have read it, along with my short story collection, Birds of a Feather, published in 2014, and my novelette, Mary’s Mountain, 2015. Last week, my new novel was published, The Wind that Shakes the Corn: Memoirs of a Scots Irish Woman.

I’m asking a favor of those who have read any of my books: Please write a review for me on Amazon?

If you are a follower of this blog, you know I’m a native Southerner who loves the South and writes stories about her people. You know, too, that I’m a cradle Catholic who loves the Faith and aspires to be worthy of it. But you may not know the thought process of behind my work…..and perhaps you are interested?

My stories usually center around a person who is, in one way or another wounded by life. Sometimes this is of his/her own accord, other times he is the victim of someone else’s cruelty. Real life has its ways of doing that to us all, doesn’t it?

So, my characters need to be healed in sometimes deeply personal ways. They come to a crossroad, and a choice, then find that healing in a grace-filled moment—a moment that, on first look, may not seem filled with grace because it is an unsavory, or violent, moment. And not every one my characters will find it—-because not all of them allow it–just as in our own lives, when we’re not open to the grace of God.

My characters choose between love and hatred, disruptiveness or peace, vindictiveness or compassion. And some choose either to stay with, or part from, the most evil circumstances of our society. It’s their choice. Free will. But whatever they choose, their choice will cost them something.

Like you, I’m an earthly traveler through a world that seems more and more on edge, yet aren’t we striving to find and increase within ourselves, Faith, Hope, and especially Love–even when Love Hurts?

I thank you for following my blog. Please do me the favor of writing a review for me on any, or all books, if you’ve read them. Here are the books and links:
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Amazon cover

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most Southern Independent Booksellers

 

Throughout the ages, human history has been dominated by the desire to control, punish and subjugate one’s neighbors. Whatever the reason for the conflict–territorial, economic, political, or religious—nations, races, and individuals, have resorted to violence and warfare to resolve disputes, rather than compromise. Whether the reasons are just or unjust, the conflict drastically diminishes, and even snuffs out, the lives of both guilty and innocent human beings.

Most nations and individuals espouse convictions that call for charity toward neighbor, but avarice and malice can overwhelm those convictions and lead to violence. When violence is perpetrated, it regularly breeds vengeance. Vengeance leads to more conflict and the whole circumstance becomes an endlessly spinning wheel. Numerous powerful nations have activated such a wheel. In the eighteenth century, England was one of its greatest executors, and the people of Ireland, its casualty.

England feared the old faith, Catholicism, which the nation as a whole had cherished for over a thousand years, and sought to annihilate it. The Crown enacted the Penal Code, the price an Irish Catholic had to pay for refusal to conform to the new religion of the Church of England. From 1558 until 1769, the English Protestant government imposed the Penal Code on a country that was 97 percent Catholic. Naturally, feelings of vengeance abounded in those Catholics. And later, when the Penal Code was extended to Presbyterians, vengeance and hatred for the Crown intensified.

The Wind That Shakes the Corn is a story of those long-held hatreds. It is also a love story, about one woman’s difficult journey toward letting go of past grievances–the only way to allow for genuine love.

The Wind That Shakes the Corn, a memoir of fact and fiction, is based on the life of Eleanor Dugan Parke, my eighth great-grandmother who for ninety-nine years lived through it all. Nell Dugan has a history that has given her a fanatic heart–capable of great love, but also great hatred. Her story has been passed down in my Scots Irish family. Of course, much of this novel is imagined, though England’s cruel control of Ireland’s people, the American Revolution, and some of the real players are factually told.

The Story

In 1723 Ireland, Nell, an unruly Catholic girl, falls in love with the grandson of a Protestant Scottish lord. On their wedding night she is snatched from his arms. As he lies bloodied on the ground, she is thrown on a British ship headed for a sugar plantation in the West Indies, where she is sold into slavery. But Nell is a person of learned strategies, never to be underestimated. Beautiful and cunning, she seduces the plantation owner’s infatuated son who sneaks her away to pre-revolutionary Philadelphia. There she agrees to marry him, eventually falling in love with him, but keeping her first marriage secret as she becomes a loyal wife and mother–and a tireless rebel against the English rule.

Tensions rise between the Patriots and Loyalists. Nell sees opportunities to pay back the English–blood for blood with no remorse–not only for her own kidnapping but also for her Irish mother’s hanging two decades earlier. When her first husband shows up in Philadelphia, very much alive and married, too, emotions between them run high, but Nell’s Scot remains stoic and the two families actually bond in their desire to leave the turmoil around them and take advantage of land offers in the Carolinas. Except the American Revolution follows in full flow to Carolinas. Nell experiences a tragic crescendo for her family after the Battle of Kings Mountain that only increases her desire for vengeance.

And then, a child is born. The dangerous circumstances of his birth cause a final migration into the wilderness of the Mississippi Territory to a cave of miracles, where Nell’s eyes are opened at last to what it will take to truly love.

The Wind That Shakes the Corn is not only Nell’s story, it is the saga of the feisty Scots Irish immigrants in a burgeoning America, and their heart-held faith and courage that led the struggle toward freedom. The novel spotlights both Catholic and Protestants immigrants to America who brought with them age-old grudges against the English Crown.

Love and hate, life and death, trust, betrayal, and the ‘always hovering’ choice to forgive, are prominent themes in this novel. In fact, they are themes that every person on earth struggles with, aren’t they?

And yet, in the end Nell confesses: “I am struck by the craving common in every man–white, red, or black–for more than he has, for more than his share; that prideful warring to complete himself, and only himself, despite consequences to another. I have come to this conclusion: genuine completion is not meant to be found on this earth, at all.” — Eleanor Dugan Parke, c.1799

The Wind That Shakes The Corn was Runner-up for the Josiah Bancroft Award for Novel sponsored by Florida First Coast Writers, and a Finalist in the New Orleans Pirate’s Alley Society William Faulkner/William Wisdom Writing Competition, and a Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction Finalist.

In this present climate of hatred toward our fellow human beings,

there is no better time for this novel.

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores


Love and hate, life and death, trust, betrayal, and the ‘always hovering’ choice to forgive, are prominent themes in this novel–themes that every person on earth struggles with.

In 1723, Ireland is still subjugated by the English Crown. Nell, an unruly Irish, peasant girl, and Arthur, the cautious grandson of a Scottish lord, find an unlikely love. On their wedding night Nell is snatched from her new husband’s arms by British soldiers. As Arthur lies bloodied on the ground, Nell is thrown on a ship headed for a sugar plantation in the West Indies, where she is sold into slavery. All seems lost, except Nell’s understandable vow for revenge. Beautiful and cunning, Nell seduces the plantation owner’s infatuated son who sneaks her away to pre-revolutionary Philadelphia. There she agrees to marry him, keeping her first marriage secret. She becomes a loyal wife and mother–and also, a patriot, never forgetting what England has done to her Irish family.

Tensions rise between the Patriots and Loyalists. Nell finds opportunities to pay back the English–blood for blood with no remorse–not only for her own kidnapping but also for her Irish mother’s hanging two decades earlier. When her first husband shows up in Philadelphia, very much alive and married, too, emotions between them run high, but Nell’s Scotsman remains stoic and the two families actually bond in their desire to leave the turmoil around them and take advantage of land offers in the Carolinas. Except the American Revolution follows them in full flow. Nell experiences more tragedy, and a crescendo of hatred after the Battle of Kings Mountain that increases her desire for vengeance.

And then, a child is born. The circumstance of his birth cause a final migration into the wilderness of the Mississippi Territory to a cave of miracles, where Nell’s eyes are opened at last to what it will take to truly love.

The Wind That Shakes the Corn is not only Nell’s story, it is the saga of the feisty Scots Irish immigrants in a burgeoning America, and their heart-held faith and courage that led the struggle toward freedom for the colonies. The novel spotlights both Catholic and Protestants immigrants to America who brought with them age-old grudges against the English Crown.

The Wind That Shakes The Corn was Runner-up for the Josiah Bancroft Award for Novel sponsored by Florida First Coast Writers,  a Finalist in the New Orleans Pirate’s Alley Society William Faulkner/William Wisdom Writing Competition, and Finalist for the Tuscany Prize for Fiction.

Are you a person who believes in God?

Are you a Conservative who holds to the United States Constitution?

Are you concerned about the vitriol expressed today by some, against your deepest-held beliefs–your freedoms?

Do you believe that it is difficult to forgive–but that people can change, that they can move from hatred to love?

Are you a man or a woman devoted to your family, and a person who is challenged to make our world better in even the smallest of ways?

Are you a man or a woman who would like to leave a genuine legacy for those you love?

These same questions have been asked of themselves by real people throughout history, certainly in the eighteenth century during the birth of America.

If you answered yes to any one of them, then I offer you my new novel, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE CORN: Memoirs of a Scots Irish Woman. Available this week in paperback and Kindle.

The book is the epic saga of a woman of strength and conviction, yet time and time again, she is in battle with her inner demons–revenge and hatred. This is not your run-of-the-mill historical romance, it is much deeper; about a lifetime search for love. For some of us, it takes that long! But even through those searching times, a man desires to love a woman, a parent wants to love his child, and a friend can exhibit the highest forms of loyalty.

Set in the eighteenth century, during the dawning of the new America fighting to rule itself rather than to continue as a colony of the English Crown, the novel begins with an Irish peasant girl, Nell, as she watches her mother being hung by English soldiers.

Yet we soon see that Nell is a definite type ‘A’ personality. We see her competiveness and confidence as she develops from girl to woman, to lover, to wife, to a slave in the West Indies, and to a loyal friend, while always in battle with the very human characteristics that destroy love—consistent hatred, revenge, and refusal to forgive. These are Nell’s inner demons. Demons we recognize in ourselves.

Will she choose to let them go?

If you had lived her life, would you?

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What comes out of your mouth when you open it to speak?

“Not that bird!” you say. “That’s disgusting.”

But isn’t meanly-thrown speech disgusting, as well?

Vitriolic words about other human beings abound today, especially in social media, as if it is acceptable behavior. It is not.

Social media can be a wonderful platform for many beneficial things, including the politics of an election. But here’s a warning: it can also be powerful-release platform for people who are unhappy, negative, or just plain spoiling for a fight. Maybe it makes these types of people feel better about themselves, but does it not make others better by listening to them when their comments brim with venom and hatred.

Demeaning comments about others, demeans the person who’s delivering it. And often, the comments come from the deliverer’s good old-fashioned guilt over his or her own behavior–or the behavior of his/her political party. So….the thing to always remember is: Consider the source.

And be assured, there are many ‘pots calling the kettle black’ attempting to spoon-feed garbage–on Facebook, twitter, television, etc.

Unless we want to be spoon-fed, rather than think for ourselves, we should always take a good look at reasons why a person might be spouting vitriol before we accept his or her words.

Then–before we form any opinion, we should always take an HONEST look at the person being demeaned by these bitter people who may be using lies to suit their personal agendas.

Intelligent people do not let others make decisions for them about the worth of another person–in politics or otherwise. An intelligent person will do the work it takes to discover truth in real facts, and only then decide.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.–Psalm 19:14

Southern writers have often been insecure with their history which has been balled into one word: racism. And many have overcompensated and run away from their heritage. But you can’t run away from history, or the evil in it, anymore than you can run away from your sins.

A few decades ago, when a native southerner looked at the whole of America, it was often from a fixed point of distance, as an outsider. Because Southerners are the only part of the nation who ever knew defeat. Even though today’s south is more like the rest of the country, native southerners are still oriented toward their history; a history that encompasses their family lines, losses, and loves.

As a writer of southern fiction and a Catholic with deep roots in the Bible Belt South, I come from a line of courageous women who passed down their faith–women who married Protestant husbands they loved. In fact, these three generations of women literally loved their men into the Catholic Church.

Like the Catholic Church, a southern writer recognizes evil. And we may experience a sense of hypocrisy in other regions of our nation who point fingers. We may feel that some from those other regions are so concerned with the morals of southerners that they ignore the evil occurring where they live. Other countries have oppressed a people, and even now, are oppressing entire populations. Oppression is a human problem–on a large basis and on a small basis, one individual to another. And you will find it everywhere, especially in the stories of southern authors.

Some say southern writers have lost their identity, that they are no different from other writers. But we are different. Today, we don’t have to defend ourselves, we only have to forgive ourselves. And because we can forgive ourselves, southern writers and southern people have a distinctiveness, perhaps enough distinctiveness to enlighten and even humanize today’s American culture. A huge plus in that humanization might be that southerners are talkers, and listeners, which is always better than political polarization or hiding from the problem.

So what happens when a southern writer is also a Catholic writer? Great things, according to a great southern Catholic writer and subjective thinker, Walker Percy who said, “Science cannot make a single statement about the individual man, but a novel can. What it is to be a man struggling in a particular time, with a particular problem, in a particular place.”

The subjective thinker is not a scientist-scholar; he is an artist. To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is esthetic enough for his life to have esthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, dialectical enough in thinking to master it. The subjective thinker’s task is to understand himself in existence.– Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

A subjective thinker understands that we exist only because God exists.

Catholic fiction shines out the existence of God when our human deficiency keeps us from recognizing it. A Catholic writer seeks a truth that is higher than anything material. And he must have passion enough to do it because everything worldly will speak against him. So he goes about trying to understand himself as a person. He/she must think and write subjectively as a human being related to God. He must see himself as a child with a Father who loves him. A child who is often disobedient, and yet, at times completely in line. And he must see that his Father’s love does not disappear in either situation. When a Catholic writer sees himself as both ugly and beautiful, but nevertheless loved, he or she will write about that. But the subjective thinking comes first.

And this takes me back to the subjective Southern writer in general, mastering his past in the section of the country that shouldered the evil of slavery like the Jews shouldered the Crucifixion of Jesus. Forced to stand on a scaffold with a scarlet letter, exposed to public humiliation like Hester Prynne. The historical Southerner was a wayward child, like the prodigal son–except that the Southern child was not forgiven as was the Prodigal Son in the Bible. He was punished—and became defensive. A guilty child standing in the middle of his condemning brothers and sisters with stones in their hands.

The South is used to vindictiveness and human violence. The South is used to crucifixions, but at the same time we’re used to familiarity with others, and a set of manners that we still hold to, based in the Christian faith about the way things ought to be. On the worst of days, we become defensive if attacked. But on the best of days, we accept our history, and we accept our people—all of them.

And then, we do what we do best–we talk and we listen. We talk about the lives of people in our towns from generations back. We know what happened to them and why it happened. We listen to the ways good and evil singularly affected them, and to how it affects us today. Native southerners think as subjectively as Catholics do.

Some stories may be embellished—southerners are great at that. Some stories may be so entirely malevolent, or heartbreaking, that they’re hard to hear, but like the Catholic Church, a writer of southern fiction expects her characters to sin. And also like the Church, the writer creates an open door to forgiveness and offers a welcoming home.

The writer, like any artist, is called to bring people closer to God through beauty expressed, truth told, and virtue taught. Simple as that. — Father George Rutler