When I retired, I was scared. I had always been a teacher…40 years…and when I wasn’t a teacher anymore, what would I be? That was a senseless fear, I guess, because I will always be a teacher, one way or another. But when you jump to the bells every fifty minutes for 2/3 of your adult life, becoming an independent user of time instead of a squanderer of time is a daunting task.
I believe the Lord didn’t have that in mind for me. He gave me a story to tell, and I spent the next four years writing the story. Some days I would not be able to get the words on my lined notebook paper fast enough, the spirit would dole them out to me so fast. Some days no words came. But in April of this year, I penned the last word of my story. It is a very long story and will entail so much revision to get it into a format that I can get out for friends and family to read. A publisher told me at a writer’s conference in October I hadn’t written a book, I had written six books. I don’t know how many books it will eventually be, but it is basically only one story.
I had three goals in mind when I penned the first words. I wanted to write a story in which my native state, Arkansas, was what I believe it to be, A Land of Opportunity for all people who are willing to work hard and carve out homes in the wilderness. Life was difficult in early Arkansas, but many good, faithful, industrious people were able to build a wonderful place for families and communities to prosper. The work was hard and almost never ending for the homesteaders, but they worked to clear land, grow crops, build churches, and develop schools for their children. This is the picture of life for my protagonists. Patrick and Laurel MacLayne adopt Arkansas as their Shiloh.
The idea of Shiloh comes from the book of Genesis 49:10. That verse describes a time when all God’s people will be gathered into a place of peace and prosperity. Both Laurel and Mac seek above all things the hope of Shiloh, where they can be a family devoted to the Lord who has given them both a real life together.
Secondly, I wanted to be true to my faith and my church. As a Christian, we all have one mandate — share the gospel in a way that suits the talent we have been given. It is my sincere prayer that anything I write will honor my God and Lord Jesus Christ. I will try to show the value of lives lived in accordance with that faith. I hope also to show the struggle we have at times living out our faith. This goal will only be met through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I want to be true to the genre of historical fiction. The plot of this novel is fiction, and the characters are figments of my imagination, but I want to remain true to the times, conditions, events, and issues of this time in Arkansas. The research has been fascinating. When I read the 1857-58 Legislative Journal at the Arkansas Historical Commission, I found that our governing body spent just as much time as modern day politicians on petty, nonsensical things…. At a time when there were few discernible roads, poor communication through mail routes, and practically no schools in the state, our antebellum legislatures argued about purchasing stationary to be used in the State House and whether the opening prayers would be done by a paid chaplain or a faithful member of the body. I have tried to check historical accuracy of customs, rituals in the Methodist church, and historical events in Arkansas that are described in the story. I had to change Laurel’s pink booties to white because I learned the the pink/blue symbol for a baby’s gender didn’t come about until Mamie Eisenhower was in the White House.
That’s enough about Shiloh for tonight. I do want to close by saying that writing this too, too, too long book has been one of the most enjoyable activities in my life. We’ll chat more later.