Teaser Tuesday: Emma’s Story

Teaser Tuesday Emma's Story

Several weeks ago, I shared Will’s reaction to one of Emma’s stories in A Year with the Baptists.  This week for Teaser Tuesday, I’m back with the story itself.

I clasp my hands together and lean forward onto the counter.

“Once upon a time,” I begin, and Will groans, “there was a girl.”

“At least it’s not a pencil,” Will comments.

I glare at him.

“Continue,” he says hastily.

“There was a girl,” I repeat, “and things were always happening to her clothes. She would put on a clean new outfit every morning, but by the time she went to bed at night, her clothes had turned to rags. Sometimes her family would rip up her clothes before she could even leave the house. Sometimes she would trip and fall of her own accord and mess up her clothes and when she would return home, her family would finish the job. Soon, all she had left to wear were rags, and wear them she did.

“There were whispers among the townspeople as she ran her errands, and her family and friends even asked her: why didn’t she make herself decent? The girl was ashamed of her rags, and went home night after night to piece them together into something decent. She was not much of a seamstress, however, and soon they all fell apart, and she grew tired of trying to make rags into something wearable.

“One day, she decided not to leave her room at all. It seemed she made everyone uncomfortable when she was in rags anyhow. She didn’t want to wear rags anymore, but she couldn’t do anything about them either.   So she sat in her room, day after day.

“Then, quite suddenly, there was a knock at her door. She summoned enough strength to get up and answer it. There was a woman at the door, holding a beautiful white gown. The girl had never seen anything like it. The woman explained the gown was from a prince who had heard of her plight, and wanted to give her something nice to wear. The girl was touched, but didn’t think she should accept it because of what had happened to all of her other clothes. The woman assured her the prince wanted her to have them that he thought she should have better than rags. The girl eventually agreed.

“As she came out in her new white gown, her family and friends and fellow townspeople saw the change and threw a celebration. They were so happy to see the girl in something other than rags.

“The girl grew and moved away to a new town, with new people, all of whom also were delighted by her white gown. The girl was stunning, and they held her in awe. They insisted she attend all of their town functions, and they would parade her around like a trophy. Her dress dulled to an off-white color from its overuse, but she had no time to clean it. Several tears began to manifest themselves. She was lectured by older townswomen on keeping her clothes in good working order, and one of them even gave her a needle and some thread. But the girl had never been a seamstress, and that hadn’t really changed. Her beautiful white gown looked more and more like rags every day.

“Ashamed, the girl ran away, back to her hometown. While people noticed her gown wasn’t in good shape, they kindly avoided the issue, and let her go about her business. At least it wasn’t rags.”

“The end,” I conclude.

~excerpted from A Year with the Baptists

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The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

The other night an idea popped into my head for a short psychological thriller.  I wasn’t going to be posting this week, because I’m trying to make tracks in A Year with the Baptists (and I have been making said tracks), however, I thought it would make a fun post.

Disclaimer: this story was written completely spur-of-the-moment and has not been professionally edited (nor will it ever be).  Also, I’m not what anyone would call a master (or even apprentice) of the psychological thriller.  I only asked, “What if…?”

So now that your expectations are in the basement, I think we can begin.

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

by Lydia Thomas

(Copyright: 2014)

It was a crisp October Wednesday the day Bella Lagerford went missing.

Amanda first heard about it that night at dinner. It was a normal family dinner – her father sitting at one end of the table, her mother at the other, and her sister, Susannah, across from her, all eating quietly.

“Did you hear about the Lagerford girl?” her father inquired, cutting into his steak. “Isabella?”

Amanda perked up.

She knew a lot about the Lagerfords, having grown up with them, playing in the park after school. There were five of them: Bo, Brianna, Bella, Brighton, and Ben. In fact, she much preferred the company of the Lagerford siblings to that of her own sister, finding them far more interesting. As far as she could tell, they were always fighting about something amongst themselves, but they were united front against the rest of the world, and this intrigued her. Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford cursed and shouted at them, something Amanda’s parents would never dream of doing, but she felt anything would have been better than the stiff silence that pervaded her own home.

Amanda was most drawn to Bella. She supposed this was because the quiet girl was closest to her in age of all the Lagerfords and they studied dance together every Tuesday and Thursday at Mrs. Cartwright’s studio. Amanda was the better dancer; but of course, she was a year older, so that could only be expected. Bella hadn’t seemed interested in a friendship outside of dance, being the most introverted of her siblings, but Amanda wanted to know the girl, and had persisted in learning little facts about her here and there. Honestly, most of what she knew about the Lagerfords had come through Bella.

Naturally, Amanda was very interested in her father’s news about Bella.

“No,” her mother replied, a forkful of salad delicately poised in the air. “What happened?”

Amanda’s father shrugged.

“She’s gone missing,” her father stated. “Police are trying to determine if foul play was involved.”

“Foul play?” Amanda’s mother clutched a hand to her chest. “Who in the world would want to harm Isabella Lagerford?”

“Hard to say,” her father answered.

Her mother turned to her.

“Was Bella at dance yesterday?” she inquired.

“No,” Amanda mumbled. “She never showed.”

Suddenly, Amanda felt nauseated.

 ***

 Thursday, they found the body.

Mrs. Cartwright had walked into a wall of putridity at the dance studio and nearly vomited before searching the premises for what she suspected was dead vermin. She had not expected to find the graying corpse of Bella Lagerford in the closet behind the mirrors, peering at her with wide open and glazed eyes.

Amanda had been on her way to her dance lesson when she heard Mrs. Cartwright’s screams, and she had run away, afraid of what might have been found.

When she came back later, the studio was sealed off with police tape and a sobbing Mrs. Cartwright was giving a statement. Amanda’s fears were confirmed as a lifeless Bella Lagerford was wheeled past her on a stretcher, and she was certain those glazed eyes were staring right at her.

Amanda vomited, whether from the stench or from seeing Bella in such a state, she couldn’t say.

“Go home,” an officer told her. “This is no place for a young woman.”

 ***

On Friday, the toxicology reports came back.

Needles.  A lethal combination of drugs. An apparent suicide, if only accidental.

“Why on earth?” Amanda’s mother gasped.

And again, Amanda’s father shrugged.

Her parents didn’t know about the cursing and the shouting. Nor did they know this wasn’t Bella’s first time with needles.

But Amanda knew. Amanda had heard it from Bella herself. Bella had used the needles to inject herself with things that would take her far away from the life she lived. But Bella had stopped. Bella had sworn she had stopped after a scary episode over a year ago. Amanda was certain.

***

The funeral was Saturday.

Amanda knew she needed to be present for the Lagerfords. After all, they had been her second family.

“Why are you going?” Susannah asked. “It’s not like you knew Bella beyond dance, or like you know the Lagerfords at all.”

Amanda didn’t bother answering. Her sister could not understand the bond she felt to the Lagerfords.

Brighton would be missing his sister the most. They were closest in age and shared all kinds of secrets, Amanda knew. Brianna and Bella were almost complete opposites and didn’t get along well at all, with Brianna always bossing Bella around and Bella always fighting back, but Amanda supposed Brianna would be grieving in her own way today. Bo gave Bella a hard time, but he was fiercely protective of her, especially when it came to the guys she dated, something Amanda envied. Bella had always babied little Ben – what was Amanda thinking? They all babied Ben. Surely, he would miss her quiet, but staunch presence.

Amanda needed to be there today to fill that void, for all of them.

When she arrived at the church, Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford didn’t seem to recognize her, but Bo remarked, “You were in dance with Bella, weren’t you?”

Amanda nodded and quickly found a seat.

Brianna gave a speech commemorating her sister, and Amanda thought that was wrong, all wrong. The anecdotes of growing up and statements about sisterhood sounded phony and made Amanda’s blood boil. It should have been Brighton, or even Amanda herself. They were the ones who knew Bella best, not Brianna.

Little Ben’s body quaked with sobs in the front pew, and Amanda longed to go to him and wrap her arms around him. That was what Bella would do, she was certain. Amanda stayed seated where she was, fearing the rest of the Lagerfords might not deem it appropriate, especially as the preacher had already begun the eulogy.

Brighton seemed strong, but Amanda was willing to bet he understood about the needles and Bella’s obsession with them, just as she did. They were each other’s shelter from the cursing and the shouting, and no doubt Brighton was glad his sister would never return to that hell. Amanda was glad, too.

Bo sat with arms crossed, radiating sullenness. Amanda imagined he was angry that the one person he could not protect Bella from was herself.

The funeral passed quickly as Amanda observed the Lagerfords. Even after it was over, she stood in the foyer listening to the rest of the mourners offer lame condolences to the family. None of them understood who Bella Lagerford really was and what she meant to her family, at least, not the way Amanda did.

“She’ll always be in your hearts,” one elderly woman remarked.

It wouldn’t be the same, Amanda knew, and she was outraged at the woman’s insensitivity.

“She was writing this story for years,” Mrs. Lagerford replied, “in this leather journal. We can’t find it anywhere, but I wish – I wish we still had it.”

Amanda frowned. It couldn’t be the same as –

“To preserve her thoughts and words,” the woman said sagely. “Tell me, how is Staci holding up?”

Who was Staci?

Mrs. Lagerford choked on a sob.

“As well as can be expected,” she said. “They were as close as two sisters can be.”

Bella had another sister? She’d never mentioned –

Unless –

Amanda’s pulse quickened.

This couldn’t be right.

Bella must have lied.

Amanda dashed out of the church, throwing the doors open with a clatter. She had to get home, she had to see it to be sure.

***

“Isabella, put that away,” Mrs. Cartwright commanded sternly.

As far as Amanda knew, Isabella wasn’t even Bella’s full name; in fact, she was positive it wasn’t because all of the girl’s siblings called her Bella on the playground growing up. Still, the girl shut her blue ink pen in her leather journal obediently and rose to the bar.

Bella danced almost robotically, tirelessly watching her own reflection in the mirror.

“It helps if you stop watching yourself,” Amanda suggested. “Just let go and dance.”

Bella frowned, but said nothing. Bella never said anything.

Amanda sighed. She only wanted to be Bella’s friend, and to be friends with Bella’s family. They seemed so interesting, but she knew so little about them.

Near the end of the lesson, Bella’s oldest brother came in. He clapped, almost sarcastically, as she tumbled out of a pirouette.

Amanda frowned in his direction. So she needed a little bit of work.

“Ready to head home?” he asked Bella.

“Sure,” she said, following him out.

It wasn’t until Amanda finished her cool down stretches that she spied Bella’s journal sitting in the corner of the studio. It was too late to follow after Bella to return it. She would just have to wait until their next dance session.

Besides, she really wanted to get to know Bella better.

***

“No, no, no,” Amanda sobbed as she bounded up the stairs to her bedroom.

Bella had betrayed her, filling that journal with – stories? Some of it had to have been true, though. The needles had to have been real. Why else would she have taken her own life, even if it was only an accident?

Amanda rushed into her room and froze.

Susannah sat cross-legged on her bed, holding Bella’s journal.

“What is this?” Susannah asked coolly.

Amanda shook her head frantically.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said, a tremor in her voice.

“It looks like you’re trying to get in with the Lagerford family by taking Bella’s place,” Susannah declared.

“No,” Amanda said desperately, “I just wanted to know her, to know them.”

“You went a little far, don’t you think?” Susannah inquired.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“You made it look like an overdose,” Susannah said.

“You think I”- Amanda broke off.

“It says here she hadn’t had done drugs in a year,” Susannah said triumphantly.

“Susannah, it’s not real,” Amanda said, accepting Bella’s duplicity. “It’s a story.”

Susannah’s eyes narrowed.

“I have to return it to them,” Amanda insisted. “They need it to remember her by.”

“You can’t return it to them,” Susannah spat. “If you return it to them, it will only be a matter of time before they put the pieces together and realize it was you. You think they’ll accept you as their own when they know what you did?”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Amanda protested.

Susannah tossed the journal aside on the bedspread.

“Lucky for you, the police have ruled it as a suicide,” she stated, “or you’d be the one going down for this.”

She uncrossed her legs and hopped off of the bed.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“Don’t worry, Amanda,” Susannah said, “I’ve got you covered.”

Amanda trembled as her sister threw a firm arm around her and hissed in her ear.

“What are sisters for?”

What Haunts Me

This week I am writing about what haunts me in A Year with the Baptists.  It’s probably going to be a bloodbath, but I’ve got to be honest: true to the characters, true to the story.  I’m afraid of the emotion and discomfort I’m going to have to wade through to get it all down, and yet I know it will make the story that much better.

Here’s the teensiest glimpse into what I’ll be working on this week:

Teaser Quote 3

 

These were Emma’s last moments in the house where she had not only grown up, but also conquered demons. Demons that probably still lurked in dark corners waiting for a weak moment to attack, she considered as she stood in the stair landing, looking into the school room. She shivered at this thought, suddenly filled with fear and an impulse to run downstairs, yet something made her stay planted where she was.

For the Love of the Church

“What I’m hearing you say is you can’t love these people.”

This came on a hot July Sunday morning after many explosive words on both sides.

My anger had never been loud before that day; it was a quiet anger that manifested itself in a hardness in my eyes and an igneous rock casing around my heart.  In the face of volcanic anger that day, though, something gave way inside of me, and I found the courage to express myself in a small way.

And I’m going to tell you what I told my parents that day: I don’t want to be part of a local body whose primary method of dealing with sin, or challenging people or situations, or difference of opinion is to hold itself apart from the offender, the difficulty, or difference.

My dad heard me correctly.  I could not, or far more likely, would not love these believers.  In fact, my lack of love made me not want to fellowship with them at all.

My dad (being who he is) swiftly turned this around on me and asked me how my behavior was any different from how I was accusing the Church of behaving.  (Touché).

I’ve shared different parts of this story before: how my dad accused me of taking the easy way out (many times before that), how I finally asked him how that could possibly be, and how I have long since learned that he meant that I didn’t fight for anything.  I’ve even talked about my lack of love, and how God began growing me in that almost immediately after that blustering anger-turned-argument-turned-discussion.

Honestly, three years ago, I would have told you I had the whole loving-the-Church thing down pat. (I think because I was a part of a local body that did a great job of loving me unconditionally).

But I bring it up now, because over the course of the past three years, God has shown me that I still don’t love the Church well.   I still don’t want to be part of local bodies or be friends with Christians who shy away from people in sinful or challenging situations, or oversimplify the problem and the solution.   And in these three years, I’ve uncovered some new things that give me pause about the Church: the pedestal it has set itself on and its love and affirmation of the people it can use.

Now, before you run and get your “not going to church because of hypocrites is like not going to the gym because of fat people” meme, or your illustration comparing your one bad experience at Chick-fil-a to a bad church experience, or the popular Rick Warren illustration about having to have a good relationship with the Church (the Bride of Christ) in order to have a good relationship with Christ, please understand: I love the Church and I identify with her – I belong to Christ, too.  I strive to be a part of a local body.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be any better than the parts of the Church that I’m less-than-thrilled with.

I’m just saying, loving the Church is hard.  And it clearly doesn’t happen overnight where there is history like mine.  It’s not impossible, either: I believe that with Christ alive in me, I do have the power to love the Church, no matter how sticky and challenging it gets.  I have a complicated relationship with the Church.

This is important with what’s coming tomorrow in the Big Reveal Extravaganza and in six months when the book is released. (Ergo, if you’ve been following, you were just got a little reveal a day early.  You’re welcome).

I say all of this because for a large part of the novel I’m writing, the protagonist and her story center around the Church, but by the end her priorities have shifted and realigned to something better. There’s a whole lot of flat out not-lovin’ and imperfect-lovin’ of the Church that goes on, and I can’t promise that she completely nails it at the end.

So, don’t get offended, at least not until you’ve read the whole thing.  (Or do get offended, if that’s your thing.  Just know I’m not taking any complaints from people who haven’t read the book).

I <3 Allegory

Believe it or not, The Field is not the only allegory I’ve ever written.  I love allegory.  Sometimes when I’m having difficulty expressing something, I take it back to an allegory or metaphor to better illustrate my point.  It helps me clarify my own thoughts about things.  (Sarcasm also does this for me, but I’ve come to find that allegory is just more pleasant for everyone involved).

Without further ado, my three most recent allegories (besides The Field).

Feast, Perfectly Adequate Meal, Snack Crackers: (More) Thoughts On Waiting:

Let’s say you’re about to make yourself a sandwich with a side of apple slices and a tall glass of water.

“Wait,” says your mom, “I’m making your very favorite meal in just a little bit.”

So you put all of the stuff for your sandwich away, because it’s your mom and you believe her, and you’d rather wait for your favorite meal anyway.

Several hours pass, and you’re getting hungry again.  Well, to be honest, you never stopped being hungry to begin with, you were just distracted by the prospect of something better.  Your mom is nowhere to be found, even though she said she was going to make your favorite meal in the world.  You’re starting to doubt whether she’ll make a meal at all, let alone your favorite.

Finally, you get tired of waiting, and you decide to make that sandwich anyway, except you open the refrigerator and discover that your little sister has used up all of the sandwich fixings on her own sandwich.  You’re a little bit angry at her, even though you reason with yourself that you shouldn’t be: after all, you’re the one who didn’t capitalize on that sandwich opportunity.  After all, what’s wrong with a sandwich? Your little sister certainly couldn’t tell you…(Read More)

What’s Inside Comes Out:

I once heard an illustration from the great Hudson Taylor.  Well, not from him, exactly, but from a preacher who attributed it to him.  Regardless, this illustration is now stuck in my mind.

Let’s say we have a glass of water, and it gets knocked over.  What happens?

“Well,” you might say, “you have a big mess to clean up.”

You’re missing my point, I think, so I try to rephrase my question.  What if it’s a glass of orange juice?

“Duh,” you say, “the orange juice goes everywhere.”

You are correct, of course, but still not understanding my point.

Whether we have a glass of water, or orange juice, or pop, or milk, or nothing at all, one thing is sure:  when that glass is knocked over, what is inside comes out(Read More)

The Master’s House:

Dear Cook,

How long has it been since you and the gardener and I came to work in the master’s house?  You have been given specific instructions regarding food and meals, he has been given specific instructions regarding horticulture, and I have been given specific instructions regarding the children. In spite of our different functions, we work in the same house, for the same family and there is a certain code of conduct required of us all: how we treat the family we work for, how we treat each other, and how we present the family when we leave the house. We each do our own parts and adhere to what is expected of us: you cook, he gardens, and I care for the children.

Of course there is the small problem of the butler.  He oversees the smooth running of the household, and while that may occasionally mean getting onto one of the staff if we are lagging behind, he has taken it upon himself more and more to micromanage us.  He insists on us doing every thing his way, even though many of the things he insists on us doing have not been specified by the master.  It seems our butler has forgotten that this is not his house, and he is not the master… (Read More)

Honestly, I believe allegory is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.  Some people think allegory deadens a point, but to a mind like mine, it really brings it alive.

Literary Influences

A few weeks ago, a writing friend asked who my author influences are, and more specifically which authors most influenced writing The Field.  It made me realize I have been influenced by a lot of authors in my lifetime, not just as a reader, but as a writer as well.

My dad introduced me to authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, George McDonald, Brian Jacques, and David and Karen Mains.  My mom introduced me to authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Charles Dickens.  My oldest sister introduced me to John Bunyan, Michael Bond (Paddington Bear), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona).  Somewhere in there J. K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman were also introduced, and I independently discovered Margaret and H. A. Rey, Peggy Parish, Sarah Dessen, Stephen King, (and I’m going to make a BIG jump here) Ayn Rand, Mary Shelley, Rainer Maria Rilke, Joyce Carol Oates and Doris Lessing.

Not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty well-read and broadly-influenced.  Whether I like it or not, who I read influences what and how I write.

I have always aspired to be like the authors my mom introduced me to.  In the tradition of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen, I’ve been writing stories about sisters from the get-go.  I love exploring the dynamic of sisterhood, and it’s something the aforementioned authors do really well.  I also love (love, love, love) Charles Dickens’ take on humanity and his stellar character development, and I’ve always desired to emulate that in my own work.

Much as I enjoy the authors my dad brought into my life, it has never been my goal to create new worlds in my writing.  And I certainly never intended to be a writer who used another world for the purpose of allegory or parallels to our own world.  And yet, The Field is an allegory that takes place in a different world.  Being honest, my writing going forward will be taking a similar vein.

Now, I still don’t have the subtlety of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or the comprehensive nature of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and I wouldn’t want you to think that I do.  That’s the beauty of where I am as a writer, though, right?  I’m just starting out; I have a lifetime (however long that may be) to develop my craft through many different stories and books.

If I had to choose an author that most closely and clearly influenced The Field, it would be David and Karen Mains in their Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I hadn’t read these books in years until this week, hadn’t even thought of them until this question came up, but I correctly remembered them being deeply allegorical.  They are more marketed to children, where The Field is intended for a more mature audience, and the two have different characters and storylines, but I think the overall purpose and message are very similar.

Thing is, allegory is not everyone’s cup of tea, just as not everyone likes Dickens or poetry or science fiction.  I think that’s okay, but that’s also why I don’t intend to market The Field too terribly specifically, but rather to minds that can see parallels in the characters and conversations to real-life philosophies and occurrences.  For that reason, The Field will never be wildly popular, like Harry Potter, Narnia, or The Lord of the Rings.  Even if only a handful of people like it, it will have been well worth my while to write it.

I look at Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I’m betting most people who regularly read my blog have never even heard of them or if they have, they might only vaguely remember them.  Me, I remember them vividly from having read them many years ago.  They got under my skin and impacted me.  Along with a colorful edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, these stories are what got me interested in allegory.  Ultimately, that interest is what prompted me to write The Field.  And this is about what I expect for The Field – niche interest.

Now don’t get me wrong, someday I hope to be an author who writes an allegory so compelling even people who hate allegory won’t be able to put it down, but as Aragorn says (in the movie), “This is not that day.”  I’m just starting to flex my fiction writing muscle: I expect it to strengthen, book by book.  I know that a few years down the road I’m going to have written bigger and better things than The Field, but I will always be glad I wrote it and had the courage to put it “out there” at all.

That’s how the authors I’ve read have influenced me!

My Favorite Writing Advice

The best writing advice I’ve ever received is from a dead man.  Mainly, it comes from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  I thought I’d share some of my favorite inspirational quotes from him today, as they were the most influential in my finishing and publishing The Field.  Enjoy!

“Avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious traditions exist in abundance.”

“Irony: Don’t let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments.”

“Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come.  It does come.  But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.”

“Have patience with everything unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

“Don’t observe yourself too closely.  Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen.”