Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

Category: The Dividing Season

The Power That Beckons

A few years ago, I realized with an excited flutter that I had two or three days of free time between writing projects. Without much planning I headed for the sea, the Gulf of Mexico – North Padre Island – to be exact. The lullaby of my childhood had been the caw and screech of sea gulls. I received my first kiss sitting on a pier that reached far out into Trinity Bay. And, every summer of my youth I fished and crabbed the bays and inlets with my cousins until our skin was the color of ketchup. Still, during the three hour drive to Padre Island, I struggled to understand the power that beckons me south at times like that. It’s as if I’m called to heed a different code for living, if only for a short while.

After checking into my room I changed into a swim suit and dashed out to walk in the warm sand along the water’s edge. It was late day, a time when sunlight strikes the waves at low, long angles and the water shimmers clear and green as Chinese jade. I could not help but worry about Louisiana, my “sister state,” and how awful it was to watch TV footage of crude oil spewing into precious waters that literally housed my growing-up history. I wondered if people born land-locked far from any shore could possibly understand how painful it was to watch the ruin, to know the future of the Gulf of Mexico was in horrible danger and maybe forever changed by the careless hand of man.

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Dinesen

The next day I waded out to a sand bar, floated on my back and hoped the rhythm of the sea would swallow me. The tide was low, what I think of as soft tide because the waves come in and go out like shallow breaths. I felt suspended on the edge of some dreamy “other” world where all movement, all life is determined by the Cosmos. Brown Pelicans, awkward creatures on land and yet elegant and graceful in the air, sailed above me on a gentle wind, mindlessly following a DNA pattern passed down over the millennia. It was easy to forget a world of email, cell phones, deadlines and oil spills.

During the drive home I felt healed. From what, I have no idea. I stopped to buy a few groceries and on impulse picked up a bouquet of roses. Since I’d never done such an extravagant thing, I could only blame the wind and the waves, the pull of the sea beckoning my particular DNA. I rationalized that the roses were for the sea, the power that had rescued me, made me worthy once again before depositing me back on life’s shore to return to my dreams and my stories.

It’s a blessing to know there is a place at the edge of land where I can let go of the ego-driven drama manufactured by every day life. A place where the Cosmos rules and eventually restores the mess of humans.  

MY WYOMING ADVENTURE

Andrea Downing, author of Loveland

Recently novelist Andrea Downing invited me to join her for a week long visit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since I’ve always had an itch to see Wyoming, I accepted her gracious invitation, then forced myself not to read anything about the areas I’d be visiting. My purpose was to form first impressions from my particular perspective without any prior influence. So I boarded a jet in sunny, hot San Antonio, Texas and blasted off to a place of mountain peaks and broad valleys with no preconceived notions.  

Our first full Wyoming day, Andrea drove north to Grand Teton National Park. I worried that I’d not seen a straight line of horizon anywhere during the drive. Distances were constantly interrupted by mountains – the Teton Range, Gros Ventre Range, and Snake River Range. Not a single view of the horizon as I was so familiar with after a lifetime on the Texas Gulf Coast. I wondered how I would manage if I lived in such a place. All my life I’d watched stars spiral up from the flat line of horizon in the east to circle around to the west where they sink into an equally flat expanse of Earth. Sky above, Earth below, and only one clean line divided the two.

Antelope Flats – No flat line horizon

But not so in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where wide valleys are framed by craggy, sharp peaks all around. I felt very much a foreigner in that strangely cool – almost cold – climate thousands of feet above sea level. Sounds seemed muffled. The quiet was like that of a sound proof room. I supposed the mountains themselves acted as a sound barrier of sorts. At one point I turned to Andrea and asked if she ever wondered what the first explorers thought when they came upon all that beauty. Were they as awed by the place as me? Or had they seen so much beauty by the time they traveled from wherever, that it was simply another place to record on their maps.

At Grand Teton National Park we climbed into a boat for a ride around Jenny Lake, hiked what we thought was to be a paved trail (Will not mention that my travel companion got the details wrong…) From there we drove to Jackson Lodge for the best view of Jackson Lake with the mountains in the distance. I’d developed a really nasty head cold and Andrea was still recovering from eye surgery. We couldn’t help but laugh at our misadventures at times – like hiking an unpaved paved trail. We were an odd pair – me blowing my nose like a tuba, Andrea blinking like a hoot owl in sunshine.

Adrea enjoying the quiet sunshine at Lewis Lake
Exploring the shoreline at Lewis Lake

One day we hiked around Lewis Lake. At the end of the hike Andrea sat quietly on a bench taking an occasional photograph while I walked the lake shoreline picking through colorful rocks. Time stretched to late day sunshine and I felt healed from the stress of deadlines and the constant and overwhelming weight of internet connection.

We ate huge sandwiches at a little convenience store at Dornan’s, delicious ice cream cones at Colter Bay. We visited with a storekeeper at the historic Menor’s Ferry Crossing of the Snake River and in the same area, entered the Chapel of the Transfiguration where I stood drop-jawed at the window behind the pulpit. The view of the mountains would inspire religion in anyone.

Stunning view behind the pulpit at the Chapel of Transfiguration

Historic Flying U Ranch established by J. Pierce Cunningham between 1888 and 1890 (facts are not clear to the exact year) was one of my favorite sites to visit. A brochure provided just enough history about Cunningham, his wife Margaret and their attempts at cattle ranching that I’m inspired to follow up with more in depth research from home. Another of my favorites was Antelope Flats, where buffalo and antelope roam freely on a pristine expanse of natural grasses between mountain ranges.

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

We followed the Lewis River north and crossed over into Yellowstone National Park where we watched Old Faithful do its thing and then doubled back to Geyer Basin, a place of unearthly beauty, mystic and Mars-like.

Saturday night we rodeo-ed and then Sunday we danced our hearts out at the famous Stagecoach Bar and Grill where the same band has played every Sunday afternoon for 40 years. I’ve never heard such yodeling … two perfect harmonizing yodelers.

The yodeling duo

So, what is my unbiased impression of Wyoming?

It is a place of incredible beauty, rich in history, at times mysterious and as unspoiled by man as is possible given the fact that our world’s wild places are shrinking at an alarming pace. The one drawback? No horizon. But I’d go back in a heartbeat for more of its healing power and adventure.

I have searched for words of gratitude to adequately convey to Andrea Downing how much I enjoyed our week in Jackson Hole.

Thanks, Pal. I’ll carry the memories in my heart forever.

Andrea Downing will post her account of our week together today, too. Click here and see how her thoughts compare to mine. Both of us posted at Women Writing the West Blogspot a few days ago. Click on over if you are inclined. And, as always – leave comments. Writers cherish feedback.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Trails.

The Next Big Thing Blogarama

Today I’m taking a trek down a Back Road that leads to the Next Big Thing Blogarama. Helen Ginger, author of Angel Sometimes and the soon to be published, Dismembering the Past invited me to participate by answering ten questions about my Next Big Thing novel.

Question 1: What is the working title of your book?
The title of my work in progress is Forgiving Effie Beck. I’ve always known that would be the title which is unusual for me. My last book didn’t have a title, other than a way for me to identify it in my computer files, until the day I hit the launch button.

Question 2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A woman was reported missing from her ranch in a very small central Texas town many years ago. I had just moved to the area and felt like a fly on the wall as I watched the town’s reaction to her disappearance. I have several file folders of newspaper clippings of actual events like that. Some day I’d like to turn each into a work of fiction, let my imagination run away with “what ifs.”

Question 3: What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiving Effie Beck is definitely historical fiction because the story takes place during the mid 1930s. However, there are elements of suspense and mystery but without a murder or gore. There are love interests too, but again, that is not the driving force of the story.

Question 4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. That’s a hard one. The main character, Mike, is a down and out fellow who finally lands a job as an FWP interviewer assigned to a small town in the southwest. He is thin as a rail, has hitch-hiked across the country to report in to his job. Leonardo DeCaprio would be a good “Mike.” Anne Hathaway or Amanda Seyfried would be great as Jodean, the central female character. And, without a doubt, Kathy Bates as Cora Mae Travis, Jodean’s mother.

Question 5: What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Effie Beck, who has moved through the lives of a small town’s populace “like brown smoke,” walks out of her house and disappears with dark secrets that elude town officials.

Question 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
WKMA Publishing will launch Forgiving Effie Beck in mid to late March 2013.

Question 7: How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
One year. However, I work and re-work a novel until I think it is right then set it aside for about 6 months and read it through for clarity again. I change and edit myself right up to the last possible minute. I drive myself nuts that way!

Question 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a harder question to answer than the movie characters. My story is more a compilation of themes similar to many other books. For example: Cider House Rules, Some Days There’s Pie, A River Runs Through It. But that sounds so lofty. I’m not at all sure how to answer that question.

Question 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think the answer to the second question pretty much covers this one. Shortly after I moved to a small community in Central Texas an elderly woman was reported missing. I was fortunate to actually be a “fly on the wall” and could observe the town’s response to her disappearance. While everything about the story (except the reported disappearance) is fiction, the reactions, emotions, intentions of the those involved are what I saw, heard, read and deduced from my vantage point.

Question 10: What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
The over all themes in Forgiving Effie Beck are universal. All of us tend to misjudge others at one time or another to fit our own misguided needs. We deal with feelings of guilt, dread, and hopelessness everyday like the characters in the book. Effie Beck’s story shows how some people – fictitious though they may be – gained valuable insight from the string of events in the story.

And that’s it. My answers to the Next Big Thing Blogarama’s ten questions. I send out a special thanks to Helen Ginger for inviting me to participate and to Morgan Mandel – the brain behind  Blogarama. Be sure to skip over to these ladies’ links to see what they’re up to.