Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life


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Deadwood to the Dominican Republic

Harvest moon hung over the prairie.

Harvest moon hung over the prairie.

Prairie to sea. Mountains to strings of palm trees. The West to the Caribbean.

You know those rare, rare moments in life when things actually unfold in ways that you hope, work hard for, and plan? Those moments when in the midst of all of this working and planning, you allow yourself a few glimmers to hope for, but the thought of allowing yourself to truly believe feels like you’re setting yourself up for failure, so you just get back to work.

Meadowlark shirt!

Meadowlark shirt!

This past week one of those rarest of rare confluences of life actually came together in ways the years of working, planning, hoping, dreaming, and working actually unfolded in ways I’d allowed myself to think about only in rare, private moments—before getting back to work.

First, I have to share this shirt with you. My dear friend and author, Pamela Keyes, sent this to me. I may never take it off. Decades from now, friends and family may be begging me to wear something other than this shirt. And, I’ll just nod, rub my hand along the fabric of my worn, tattered, an faded garment, and smile. 

As I write this flying at 30,000 over the Atlantic on my way back to the US, what lifts again and again to my mind is sheer wonder.

This week started at the Prairie Edge in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Prairie Edge, SD

Prairie Edge, SD

From the first time I stepped foot in Prairie Edge, nearly 20 years ago, this place has been a portal that took me into other worlds—worlds of art, beauty, textures—past and present. This is a space of presence. We visit Prairie Edge nearly every time we’re off the ranch and in town. As my daughter, Wynn, said to me this year, “Mom, we always come here and you always take pictures of the same things!” I realized that is true. Somehow everything feels newly beautiful each and every time. Their bead library inspired the descriptions of Daisy Standing Horse’s beading by candlelight in the novel. 

I have spent hours in their bookstore, searching the shelves for books about the turn of the century, the time period of Meadowlark, or any book about the prairie or West that caught my fancy.

Reading at Prairie Edge

Reading at Prairie Edge

Every once in a great while I’d allow myself to think for a moment about the worn manuscript of Meadowlark as a published novel,  and holding an event for in this place that was full of meaning. I’d allow myself an Imagine if

That Imagine if happened with a reading at Prairie Edge last week.  Along with dear friends and family, Grace’s descendants, we read. Mom brought Grace’s wedding dress and riding jacket in from the ranch.

Signing books, Noé, Prairie Edge, SD. Photo © Jodene Shaw

Signing books with Noé, Prairie Edge, SD. Photo © Jodene Shaw

Skull at Prairie Edge

Skull at Prairie Edge

Photo Jodene Shaw

Lunch after with Susanne Bendigo, Mary Kay Sandal, Mom, Wyatt, Noé, me, Missy Urbaniak, Denise Weyer, and Jodi Shaw Photo © Jodene Shaw

With author Kent Meyers

With author Kent Meyers

On to the South Dakota Festival of Books with Mom, Noé, and Wyatt. In attendance at the conference was one of my writing heroes who with such generosity of spirit wrote a blurb for Meadowlark. I was able to meet and thank Kent Meyers, author of one of my all-time favorite books The Work of Wolves (South Dakota One Book 2005), in person. What a gift! Meyers wrote about Meadowlark, “Dawn Wink writes in the tradition of O.E. Rolvaag, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, and Mary Clearman Blew, with a clear-eyed understanding of the connections between isolation and oppression, especially for women, on the Great Plains. Wink is not afraid to look at difficult and uncomfortable issues such as domestic violence, Indian boarding schools, or the law’s corruption. She also surprises us by writing about intimate and hidden issues like early 20th-century contraception. She has a fine sense for characters and a deep understanding of land. The scene where Grace Robertson, her protagonist, makes a punching bag out of a feed sack in order to work out her anger, and then returns to work and love, is worth the price of the novel by itself. This is a gritty novel but also a hopeful one, exploring the ugliness of power and the ways despair can drive good people to do awful things but also exploring compassion’s ability to bind, rejuvenate, and redeem.”

El Dominicano-Americano

El Dominicano-Americano

Then, from Deadwood to the Dominican Republic for the Annual Conference for Teachers of English 2013. 600 teachers from across the country gathered in Santo Domingo for a day of community, ideas, and inspiration. My first impression as I walked out of the airport and into the country was overwhelmingly about the air. The air, the air is so soft and warm. I felt as if I could palm this air in my hand and run the softness over my skin.

My hosts, Grisel Del Rosario and Rosa Rodríguez, treated me to a tour through the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, including the first cathedral of the United States, and such an array of beautiful windows and doors that me throwing my arm out to the side of our tour train to take photos at every opportunity. Join us: 

A path to wander in Santo Domingo...

A path to wander in Santo Domingo…

“You’ll here us say ‘First’ all the time.” And I learned this is with good reason. Columbus landed first in Santo Domingo. “We are the belly button of Europeans coming to the Americas,” the school director, Don Rafael.

The oldest cathedral in the Americas.

The oldest cathedral in the Americas.

Park in front of the cathedral.

Park in front of the cathedral.

This is a country drenched in history, the past pulses barely under the surface of the people, the buildings, the cadence of the language. It is a land of deep contrasts, the beauty of the land and people, the wrenching history of slavery, the era of the dictatorship, extreme wealth alongside desperate poverty. The people reflect every epoch of the past and present. -Aquí nos mezclamos todo – Los Españoles, los Africanos, y hasta los indígenas. “Here we mix all – the Spaniards, the Africanos, and even the Taino, the indigenous people who the Spaniards wiped out. They say they’re all gone, but my father had their straight hair, dark skin, full lips, and green, green eyes.”

Streets of Santo Domingo

Streets of Santo Domingo

Streets of Santo Domingo

Streets of Santo Domingo

We ate dinner in a candlelit subterranean cave. Beyond lovely.

Dinner in a subterranean cave.

Dinner in a subterranean cave.

And the teachers , the teachers with a generosity of spirit, warmth, and smiles that elevated the day into something extraordinary.  I spoke on “Teaching Passionately” and “Freedom Within Structure: Composing an Engaged class (PowerPoints included below). I am forever enriched by these experiences.

Teachers at the conference.

Teachers at the conference.

Teaching Passionately plenary

Teaching Passionately keynote

With speakers and distinguished members of El Domínco-Americano

With speakers and distinguished members of El Domínico-Americano. New friends all.

I fell in love with the artwork of Jorge Severino, whose pieces hang in the hotel and I’d noticed when I arrived—bold, evocative pieces of the women of the Dominican Republic.

Jorge Severino

Jorge Severino

Imagine my delight when El Domínico-Americano gifted me a piece of his – a Dominican woman with the wings of a butterfly. How beautifully poignant and meaningful from the land of las mariposas Mirabal. 

Jorge Severino

Jorge Severino

On the ride to the airport, I hadn’t yet touched the sea. I said to the driver, Nicolás, Por favor, no me dejes ir de éste país sin tocar el agua de la mar Caribe. (“Please don’t let me leave this place without touching the waters of the Caribbean.”) Yo sé exactamente en dónde. La playa por mi barrio. (“I know just the place,” he said, “near my neighborhood.”) We stopped near a cove on the beach, so I could touch the Caribbean Sea. Look at this cove… Places like this actually exist in this world. Dressed in jeans and long sleeves for what are always cold plane rides, I waded in jeans and all. Yes, the water really is as warm and delicious as it looks in this photo. Around us, fishermen brought in their catch for the day, boys jumped off rocks into the water, and a couple floated, swam, and flirted. I stood and stared around me, hardly able to believe I was there. This was out of a dream.

The cove.

The cove.

The connecting threads of life that had brought me here began with the School for International Training (SIT) TESOL Certification course. The idea had been to create opportunities to supplement my income, in ways that fit with the college and in ways I loved, to support my family. The road to certification turned out to be intensely bumpy, with unexpected events that had me wondering if this was a path I wanted to take. I came close to stepping away from this path a number of times over the three years of the certification, not at all sure that the investment of time, emotions, and expense was going to lead in a positive direction. Thanks to the angel-like appearances of Mary Scholl, Beth Neher, and Noemí Villarreal along the way, I held on to complete what I’d started. 

Couple swims in the sea.

Couple swims in the sea.

Fishermen's boats.

Fishermen’s boats.

Jeans and all, I wade in. I am not missing this.

Jeans and all, I wade in. I am not missing this.

There were so many times, years, during the writing of Meadowlark and going for my SIT TESOL certification that the most logical thing in the world was to give up, the universe seemed to be sending clear messages that these were not meant to be. Life does this, in its ebbs and flows.

I watched the ebb and flow of the tide swirl around my feet, the sand flowing in its tow, and the bubbles brought back up again. Somewhere beneath it all sparkle shards of hope that maybe, just maybe, if we hangs in there and keep working, maybe, just maybe things might turn out as we dream. And at sometimes, for brief, treasured moments in life, maybe, just maybe….definitely, most definitely, they do.

The cove.

The cove.

PowerPoints from presentations:

Teaching Passionately

Freedom In Structure, An Engaged Clasroom

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You will find that it is necessary to let things go…

Pillow cases drying on the line.

Pillow cases drying on the line.

It only took eight years.

You know those things in life that we know we need to do something about, and because the painful emotional energy surrounding them, we find all kinds of ways to avoid them, an emotional putting-your-fingers-in-your-ears, closing your eyes, and saying, “La la la la la la la,” over and over again very loudly, as if somehow and some way whatever it is will magically go away? And yet it lurks there, seeping into our knowing, making us feel heavy, unable to move on, guilty.

I don’t know anything about that…

Let things go

Let things go

Oh, yes I do, and I’ve had a huge one these past eight years. And in an emotional double-whammy, it involved my much-loved home, the Prairie Parlour, on the ranch. The Parlour was my place of refuge during a time of deep transition. As with with so many transitions, there was a lot of pain with this one. As the years progressed, much of that pain remained held within the walls of the Parlour – it was in the physical mementos of reminders of pain, crippling grief, and of lost dreams. This transition ushered in a time of my needing to work as much as possible, which meant I was unable to come to the ranch and the Parlour as often as I once had. The result of this combination was the contents of the interior of the Parlour stood still in time, locked in that period of transition. The years passed. I couldn’t come nearly as much as I wanted, the energy of the place became clogged, remnants of pain everywhere, a visual reminder of so many lost dreams. If anybody has ever lived in or been responsible for trailers, you know how labor and time intensive their upkeep, which fell to Mom and Dad. More years passed. The moments of light and depth of my writing Meadowlark at my writing desk there entangled with all else. And, I love the Parlour. You can see the problem.

Lavender candle

Lavender candle

And you know that moment when you decide, It Is Time. That moment hit on our last day on the ranch. It was preceded by Noé’s accidentally breaking the shelf in our closet in the bedroom and building another shelf. Something about this event shifted the plates and in that moment, getting into the Parlour and really moving that energy, doing what I needed to do, became possible. Out onto the lawn went anything that brought up unhappy memories or reminders of lost dreams. It was a memory and emotion avalanche. I lit a candle scented of lavender—and every time I walked by, I leaned down into it to breathe it’s scent. The blister on my nose will heal and my eyelashes will eventually grow back… It worked! Dad and Noé carried back and forth, the bags of things to donate and the bags on their way to the trash. 

Going to new homes.

Off to new homes.

Out onto the lawn went many of the kids’ toys of childhood, which felt as if they had stopped the hands of time within our space. Not the treasures, of course! Those multiple piles of plastic toys, books already read and needing to be read by other children, art supplies, long-ago dried in their tubes, a travel crib, for heaven’s sakes! On to new homes, new children who will play and enjoy these, new places to be used and create new good memories. 

We rearranged the furniture in the living room, hung a few new treasures and photos. We needed to move the old to create room for the new. And did we ever move the old! In my zeal, I accidentally threw away a bag full of clean and folded clothes and my cowboy boots. I was on a roll! I discovered this at 4:00 am the next morning as we prepared to leave the ranch, and Mom came out to find me digging through the trash barrels in front of the ranch house with my flashlight. So many moments in life to keep us humble, aren’t there?

At the end of the day, I stood in the Parlour and felt the shifted energy, the clean lines, the potential and opening for created a fresh palette for new memories, new experiences, and new life, including these: 

Wyatt jumps on the trampoline in the wind as a storm approaches. 

Wyatt

Wyatt

 I drink in the morning air with my journal and rich coffee in a cup Mom brought home from Mallorca.

Prairie, Journal, Mallorqúin mug

Prairie, Journal, Mallorqúin mug

Dad’s worn belt and buckle hanging in the entryway.

Dad's belt

Dad’s belt

Jerry, Linda, Dawn, Noé

Jerry, Linda, Dawn, Noé

We left the next morning (after I’d dug my clothes and boots out of the trash barrel) and headed back to Santa Fe. On our way to the ranch the week before, we had stopped by Linda Hasselstrom’s ranch and writing retreat, Windbreak House. As you know, Linda’s work has had a profound influence on my own work, as well as my spirit. This was a dream come true for me. Linda and her husband, Jerry, welcomed us to an hour of iced tea and lemonade, wonderful conversation, and friendship. A time to be treasured. In what can only have been a synchronistic gift of the universe, one of my flip flops fell out of our car and Linda found it the next morning. After Luke’s initial introduction by tossing his own flip flops out of the car door when we arrived at Linda and Jerry’s (so much easier to put on that way, apparently), I told Linda that we may now forever be known as the Flip Flop Family. 

Linda wrote me that she would tie the flip flop to the fence post at the top of the lane leading to their ranch and we could pick it up, as we drove back to Santa Fe. I discovered not only the flip flop, but a CD of her poetry, as well as her poem, “When a Poet Dies.” 

Fence post at entrance of their lane.

Fence post at entrance of their lane.

We left a bouquet of prairie wildflowers as a thank you.

Prairie bouquet

Prairie bouquet

The essence of prairie mail.

I know it is not a coincidence that these gifts of friendship, of spirit, come after creating space for them. Now room and space and energy for new memories, new love, new life. This strengthened me to then dive into updating another clogged area of energy, my website, and update at last: http://www.dawnwink.com

And back to the color palettes of our home in New Mexico.

Color palette of NM

Flowers of garden

Ravens along the trail of my running path.

Ravens along the trail of my running path.

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To subscribe and receive Dewdrops in your email, please enter your email address in the box under “Follow this blog via email” or click on the ‘Follow’ icon in lower right-hand corner of the blog’s screen and ‘Confirm Follow’ in the email you receive. To return to website: www.dawnwink.com


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Pre-order MEADOWLARK and Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

MeadowlarkAd.qxpI can at last announce that if you would like to pre-order a signed copy Meadowlark, we can now do this. According to my publisher (Pronghorn Press), the books should be available for shipping on August 1, 2013. From the back cover: 

“MEADOWLARK

Based on a true story, the author provides a captivating and crystal clear window into the lives of some of                        the early settlers on the plains of South Dakota.

In 1911, sixteen year old Grace has the same hopes and dreams as any other bride for a future built on love, commitment and family. But she also knows that a life of ranching on the magnificent prairie she loves so deeply will require years of perseverance, hard work and suffering. What she doesn’t expect is how quickly she will be required to confront these threats to her heart and her soul.

Despite challenges that often seem insurmountable, Grace builds two abiding friendships in a land where other women are very few and rarely seen. Daisy, a half Lakota widow befriends her and Grace also recognizes a kindred spirit in her nearest neighbor, Mae Thingvold, a young doctor on her own. It is these women and their connections to each other that will sustain all three through unimaginable pain and loss and bring them joy in the sharing of small victories and celebrations of milestones along the paths of their lives. 

Dawn Wink introduces you to Grace and allows you to share her journey as you walk the rolling hills of her beloved prairie at her side. You will laugh and cry with her and share her deep connection the land that is the anchor to the ship of her life on which she sails the endless sea of grass.”

There is a deep part of me that will only believe this book has come to life only when I hold it in my own hands. Whoops, got teary just thinking about it there. Okay, onward. There are multiple ways to purchase Meadowlark, depending on what you’d like and where you live. 

1) If you would like to purchase a signed copy from me, please write me at dawn@dawnwink.com, and include your name and/or the name of the person for whom you would like me to personalize the book. If there is anything that you’d like me to write, please include that, along with your address. Please send a check for $24.00 to:  Dawn Wink, 3 Featherbush Ct., Santa Fe, NM 87508.

If you live in another country, please write me and I’ll find out how much it will cost to ship the book to you.

I will pre-order these books from the publisher myself, have them sent to me, and then I send to you. 

2) If you live in Santa Fe, we will hold a reading at Collected Works. We’re still working on the date. I will let you know, as soon as I know. If you are able to come to the reading (and I hope you do!), then I would love to support our local independent bookstore with your purchasing the book there. 

3) I am checking Amazon daily for Meadowlark to appear for pre-order. My publisher says, “There is no rushing Amazon.” I’ll pop you a note through Dewdrops when it appears. 

4) I would love to support independent bookstores in all places and in all ways. I encourage you to buy Meadowlark through yours. 

I loved what Kate Meadows wrote about writing and Meadowlark in her piece, How to Eat an Elephant: A Rare Glimpse of an Artist’s Success. Meadows writes, “Times change, and circumstances change. We are tested by many hardships in this thing called life, moments of intense heat in which we, like hot iron, are bended and shaped. We won’t be in the furnace forever. But those trying times are the nuggets that test our true character. Writers count these times as gold for their craft – moments and emotions that provide foundations for creating riveting stories.” This is going above my writing desk. Thank you for these words of wisdom, Kate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

After a week in Santa Fe, we are back at the ranch. Along the way, we pass many abandoned homesteads. There is something so poignant and evocative about these, each with their own stories. When I was writing Meadowlark, I spent a lot of time walking within these sacred places, listening for their stories.

Abandoned homestead, Wyoming

Abandoned homestead, Wyoming

This is one of my favorite places along the drive, a valley north of Lusk, Wyoming.

Valley north of Lusk, Wyoming

Valley north of Lusk, Wyoming

Madonna of the Prairie north of Hermosa, SD:

Madonna of the Prairies

Madonna of the Prairies

Outside of Rapid City, SD, as we headed out onto the prairie and had less than two hours to the ranch, we watched this rain cloud move across the plains.

Rain cloud moves over the plains.

Rain cloud moves over the plains.

We woke to a foggy morning on the prairie.

Foggy morning

Cottonwood in the fog.

Cottonwood in the fog.

This week Luke is off to Placerville Camp in the Black Hills. Luke wouldn’t let us take his picture, so instead we took pictures of one another. 

Noé Villarreal in the Black HIlls

Noé Villarreal in the Black Hills

Dawn Black Hills

Dawn, Black Hills

Noé and I soaked in the beauty of the Black Hills and stopped by Prairie Edge again. I could spend days in that place—the art, the books, the beads, the textures. I included the beads in the photo journal of the ranch. Some beauty and art to share with you. This piece is made of paper:

Allen and Patty Eckman

Allen and Patty Eckman

Ledger drawings. These fascinate and humble me…

Ledger drawings

Ledger drawings

Horse Gatherer, Don Montileaux

Horse Gatherer, Don Montileaux

Wyatt chose to stay and work on the ranch. Mom is teaching a class in Mallorca. Dad is gone for the next week, and Wyatt is responsible for checking the water, cattle, and pastures. We spent the morning before Dad left driving around, with Dad showing Wyatt what he needed to do. 

Dad and Wyatt

Dad and Wyatt

Dad left a list for Wyatt:

photo

Dad’s list for Wyatt

So often, our children believe of themselves, what we believe of them. Wyatt has embraced this responsibility. How much do I love this guy?

With Wyatt

With Wyatt

Pinterest – which I had no idea how to pronounce when I first read last year. Since then, I’ve discovered a world of visuals, bold images, and community. I created boards on Writing, Beauty:Colors, Textures, Places, and Meadowlark – and discovered that I love this creative expression. Here is the board on Meadowlark, with insights into the characters, time, and place of the novel: http://pinterest.com/dawnwink11/meadowlark/

Mae Thingvold, doctor and girl homesteader, was one of Grace’s best friends. She lived in a shanty and made her rounds with her horse and buggy.

Girl homesteader

Girl homesteader

When Grace moved to the homestead at 16, she spent the first years of her marriage there in a soddy.

Soddy

Soddy

This piece was composed here, in the eating/writing nook of the ranch house, morning sun streaming in through the windows. What a beautiful place to write.

Eating/writing space in the ranch house.

Eating/writing space in the ranch house.

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To subscribe and receive Dewdrops in your email, please enter your email address in the box under “Follow this blog via email” or click on the ‘Follow’ icon in lower right-hand corner of the blog’s screen and ‘Confirm Follow’ in the email you receive. To return to website: www.dawnwink.com


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Meadowlark Cover

untitled

It’s HERE! It’s here. It’s here. It’s here!

I just received the cover for Meadowlark from the publisher. And I LOVE it! I approached the cover with much trepeditation. I had some ideas. The publisher had some ideas. All I really knew was, “I’ll know it when I see it.” I worried that my expectations were too high, that whatever the image, it wouldn’t quite be it. I needn’t have spent energy on that. I am beyond thrilled. This image was taken on the ranch of the land Grace that walked and lived. I could go on and on about what I love about this cover—and all center on how this image conveys Grace’s story.

I am deeply grateful for what authors have written about Meadowlark:  

“Dawn Wink writes in the tradition of O.E. Rolvaag, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, and Mary Clearman Blew, with a clear-eyed understanding of the connections between isolation and oppression, especially for women, on the Great Plains. Wink is not afraid to look at difficult and uncomfortable issues such as domestic violence, Indian boarding schools, or the law’s corruption. She also surprises us by writing about intimate and hidden issues like early 20th-century contraception. She has a fine sense for characters and a deep understanding of land. The scene where Grace Robertson, her protagonist, makes a punching bag out of a feed sack in order to work out her anger, and then returns to work and love, is worth the price of the novel by itself. This is a gritty novel but also a hopeful one, exploring the ugliness of power and the ways despair can drive good people to do awful things but also exploring compassion’s ability to bind, rejuvenate, and redeem.”     — Kent Meyers, The Work of Wolves (South Dakota One Book 2005), Twisted Tree, The Witness of Combines

“The lives of those who homesteaded in Dakota Territory were difficult; the men and women tough enough to survive were not always kind and well-behaved. Dawn Wink’s Meadowlark thunders with harsh truths learned from her own ranching family history, including her knowledge of Lakota ways. And in these pages the prairie sings its truths.”     — Linda Hasselstrom, South Dakota Author of the Year, No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life,         Between Grass and Sky, Feels Like Far, Land Circle, Going Over East, Windbreak

Meadowlark is in the tradition of the American Western Novel, but with a twist. The heroes of this heart-felt book are the women who populated the mythic west and the reader gets a credible glimpse of what life might have been like for them. Many of the scenes ring true due to the author’s obvious familiarity with the inner workings of a ranch, her interest in the plight of her characters, and her love of the land.”     — Dan O’Brien, Two time winner of the Western Heritage Award, Buffalo for the Broken Heart (South Dakota One Book 2009)The Contract Surgeon, Stolen Horses, The Indian Agent

Prairie, June 2013

Prairie, June 2013

Meadowlark is a love story of the best kind: achingly real. At its center is Grace, a turn-of-the-previous-century teenaged bride battered by her husband and left alone for days on the isolated South Dakota prairie with her young son and a ranch to care for. Grace learns to love the tough and surprisingly beautiful prairie, the horse on whose back she finds freedom, her son, the women friends who become her family, and finally, her own scarred self. This haunting story soars like the song of the meadowlark it is named for, determined to be heard.”     — Susan J. Tweit, Colorado Book Award Winner. Walking Nature Home, Season’s in the Desert, Barren, Wild, and Worthless

“This heroine’s quest for meaning in the shadow of an abusive marriage is every bit as lonely and piercing as a meadowlark’s song heard over miles of empty prairie.”     — Jamie Lisa ForbesUnbroken, 2011 WILLA winner for Outstanding Literary Fiction.

With unprecedented lyric beauty, Dawn Wink brings the myriad chambers of Grace’s inquisitive mind and indelible spirit alive to the point where no reader will ever forget her story.     — Laurie Wagner Buyer, author of the award-winning memoirs When I Came West and Spring’s Edge: A  Ranch Wife’s Chronicles 

Meadowlark will be released by Pronghorn Press the end of July, 2013.  


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Meadowlark – Publication Announcement

I Am Who They Were by Ashley Gilreath

I Am Who They Were by Ashley Gilreath

You know how writers are…they create themselves as they create their work. Or perhaps they create their work in order to create themselves. ~ Orson Scott Card

Grace and baby, circa 1911

Grace and baby, circa 1913

Ten years ago I had an idea to write a book. The stories that swirled through my childhood about my great-grandmother, Grace, lifted into a single question, “Mom, what about Grandma Grace and Paul?”

She stopped and looked at me, the threads of time that bind past, present, and future tightened. “I don’t know,” she said, and smiled. “But, I’ve always wondered.”

I wrote a book to find out.

What I could not have known at the time was the journey that writing Meadowlark would take me on, how those threads of time would draw so close that the supposed distinctions between past, present, and future smudged together like pastels on a porous page, creating new colors with equal elements of each, until I’d lived in these blended spaces for so long they became my reality. I could not have known in that moment, that Grace’s life would ultimately save my own.

Meadowlark was the book that should never have been written. Too much happened in my life as I wrote. Too much upheaval, too much transition, too much pain. And yet, I couldn’t stop writing. Like Gretel following the bread crumbs, I stumbled through the forest of my life, focusing on that next bread crumb that Grace left for me so many years before.

Not long after I started writing Meadowlark, for the first time in any of their lives, Wyatt, Luke, Wynn, and I were apart every other week through shared custody. One friend describes the time separate from her kids, “like walking around missing a limb.” My own experience echoes the thoughts of Elizabeth Stone, when she wrote that to have a child was to “…forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.” It feels wholly unnatural to be apart from your children. Crippling, really. How does one function when your heart is beating elsewhere?

Well, initially one doesn’t, come to find out. I failed miserably at even minimal functioning when my kids and I were apart. The separation and thought of a future living like this felt unbearable.  One night I called a wise, wise friend, Lynn, who’d lived this already, and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. There is no way in hell I can do this.”

“Yes, you can,” my wise, wise friend. “Use the time that you’re apart to create the best life possible for you all.”

In the terrifying and gut-lonely space created every other week when Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn left, I turned to Grace. When my mind and heart constricted into dark hardened kernels, Grace held each until they loosened through her story and expanded to allow air and light. I believed in Grace and her story, when I had lost all faith in my own. “Use the time that you’re apart to create the best life possible for you all,” sifted through the darkness. The night the kids left I crumbled, and the next morning I’d get up, hear Lynn’s words again, take Grace’s hand, and write—a concrete way to create a better life for us all.

Prairie

Prairie

Ten years of writing, editing, rejection after rejection from various publishing houses followed. I kept a now coffee-spattered, water-stained card with Winston Churchill’s quote above my desk, “Never, never, never give up.”

My literary agent and dear friend, Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, believed in Grace. “Dawn, the rejection letters all follow the same vein—’The writing is beautiful, the story is incredible, it is just not the market of our publishing house.’ It’s the prairie. They don’t seem to get the prairie.”

The prairie herself is a primary character of Meadowlark. Anyone who has lived within this landscape knows that it can be no other way. The prairie is a visceral experience who demands primacy through sheer force of personality. We continued to look for a publisher who understood her.

Writing with ear plugs and scarf.

Writing with ear plugs and scarf.

During this time, I wrote to my dear friend and award-winning author, Laurie Jameson, and asked if she might give the manuscript a glance and write a blurb that I could share with future publishers. Busy with her own writing, she graciously agreed. I bundled up the hard-copy manuscript and sent it off to Texas. That quick glance turned into Laurie dedicated herself to months of editing suggestions to lift Grace’s story. Laurie’s wise suggestions honed and shaped the story to its essence. It involved months of editing for me, usually sitting at the kitchen table with ear plugs and a scarf wrapped around my head, as now teenage Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn, my new husband, Noé, and our highly-exuberant German Shepherd, Clyde, moved around me. Editing again at this stage was as much fun as rolling naked through broken glass. I knew it my heart that it had to be done. I trusted Laurie and I trusted myself. And there were the glimpses of beauty in the process, when I found myself so caught up in the prairie that I would lift my eyes and be disoriented to find myself in the high-desert of Santa Fe.

I made Noé promise that if anything happened to me, if I was randomly hit by a bus, that he would somehow make sure this book one day saw the light of day. “What?!” he said. “Don’t even say that.” I meant it, and he promised.

I continued to look for publishers who might understand the prairie. I looked through the list of novels that had won the WILLA Award in my writing community Women Writing the West. Through this process, I found Pronghorn Press and submitted a query. Editor Annette Chaudet understands the prairie. Her own exquisite editing eye demanded two more rounds of intense editing and writing. These editing suggestions created scenes that I now cannot imagine the book without.

A toast!

A toast!

Yesterday I received a signed contract from Pronghorn Press and can now announce that Meadowlark will be published in June/July 2013. I sat holding the contract in my hand, staring at it, not saying anything. I didn’t trust myself. The book that should never have been written, rejected time and again by NYC publishing houses, will soon see the light of day. Noé and I raised our glasses to toast Meadowlark, Pronghorn Press, and life.

I love to read about writers’ histories with writing. I especially love those writers whose publishing career began in their 40’s, Madeleine L’Engle and Isabel Allende top the list. These stories gave me hope through the round after round of rejections. Madeleine L’Engle wrote of receiving a rejection on her 40th birthday, putting a towel over her typewriter, sure she should just give up, putting her head on the table to weep, only to realize that in her head she was writing a scene of a writer receiving a rejection. She threw the towel off and wrote, and didn’t stop writing for the next 50 years. Isabel Allende’s first novel The House of Spirits was published in her early 40s. It started as a letter to her grandfather who was dying and whom she could not visit, because she was living in exile outside of Chile. She wrote it in her closet, after her family went to sleep at night. I just celebrated my 45th birthday. In the fable of the tortoise and the hare of my writing life, I am in all ways the tortoise.

The first half of my life has been one of searching and surviving. As I enter the second half of my life, I fill with a sense of deep gratitude for the place where I now find myself, the elusive place I had given up hope to ever find. A place of family, stability, and home. A place of peace. A place where I can at last settle in deeply to love, live, and write. I feel at last there is traction under me, where for so long my wheels spun in the air.

A surprise celebration.

A surprise celebration.

One never knows what the future will bring. This is perhaps the one truth that life has taught me. So for now, I’ll just enjoy the moment. Yesterday evening after receiving the contract, Noé and I were each at work on our own projects. I had started this piece to share the news with you, and Noé was outside putting together some shelves for our garden tools. He said it was like someone tapped him gently on the shoulder, “Hey, what are you doing? This is a moment to celebrate!” The threads of time binding past, present, and future tightened again. I know that shoulder tap was Grace or Paul. Minutes later, Noé and I were dressed, and out the door. I dressed so quickly that after running gel through my hair, I realized it didn’t smell like it usually did. I looked at whatever tube I’d grabbed, and realized that I had just styled my hair with shaving gel.

The waiter at the restaurant asked what we were celebrating, and later surprised me with a gorgeous ice-cream dessert, complete with whipped cream, strawberries, and a candle to honor my book. We never know what life will bring. This moment that for so many years I thought might never come still feels somewhat unreal.

The sixteen-year-old bride who lived a century ago continues to take me by the hand. I’ll follow.

Thank you, Grace. For everything.

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Meadowlark – The Veil Thins

Grace and baby, circa 1911

Grace and baby, circa 1911

And so continued the journey.

I wrote earlier how my novel Meadowlark began with a question that has lingered in our family for decades, a question that I wrote a book to answer. In the midst of writing Meadowlark, the story of my own life interrupted and, “The books about the prairie and notebooks remained shoved onto shelves and closed for the next number of years. Until one day, Grace whispered from the past to begin to write her story again. I had no idea that writing her story would save me.”

I dusted off the notebooks on the shelves and lifted the story threads once again.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how integral Grace would be in my navigation of the splintered constellation of my life . My new world completely foreign, I opened the notebooks and loosened the stiff pages pressed tightly together. The soft crackle of the pages releasing each other loosened something deep within me. Grace’s story became the bedrock island of my quicksand world. The more I delved into her life and experiences, the more the veil between our worlds thinned, until I learned to trust the unknown.

Ranch, Winter 2013

Ranch, Winter 2012

Wynn wearing the wedding dress of her great-great grandmother Grace.

Wynn wearing the wedding dress of her great-great grandmother Grace.

The thinning of this supposed separation continues. My family and I spent this Christmas with my parents on the ranch in South Dakota where Grace lived. One week before we arrived, a mysterious package arrived from our cousin, and Grace’s grandson, Kurt. Mom opened the package to find Grace’s wedding dress and riding jacket, in perfect condition. I describe Grace’s wedding dress in the novel as moss green. Our 13-year-old daughter, Wynn, tried on the dress and jacket. When she walked out, the air stilled.

We spent the next week in the house where Grace lived, on the land she walked and rode. Noé and I walked to the corrals and he stopped and looked around. “I feel Grace here,” he said.

I felt her everywhere—standing on the steps of the root cellar, looking out the window above the kitchen sink, and walking with long strides out to the corrals. I felt her most keenly in the moments I was deep in thought about something else and her presence appeared. Her bedroom is now our dining room. As we sat to eat Christmas dinner, I glanced at her shallow closet, now holding stacks of ceramic dishes and linens, I thought I saw the feint outline of dresses hanging from the pegs.

After we’d returned to Santa Fe, Mom called me, “Honey, there was a journal of Grandma Grace’s with the dress and jacket.”  A journal neither one of us had known existed. The first page of the journal reads, “Rapid City, January 2, 1907  My dear daughter, May your life be like footprints in the sand, Leave a mark, but not a stain. Your Mother.”

Grace's journal, pg 1

Grace’s journal, pg 1

Here are two pieces, written years ago, lifted directly from the Meadowlark manuscript:

“Tucked in the trunk, under her clothes and along with her books, was the journal bound in chocolate-brown leather that her mother had given her shortly before her death. Inside on the first page, in her exquisitely neat handwriting, her mother had written, “To Grace, A place to wrest to paper the many exciting and happy times you’re sure to have. I wish you a lifetime of love and joy. Your loving mother. July 30, 1910.”

“Grace looked at the floor. It was fitting. Wherever Mae went, she left her mark. No doubt about it. People know she’s been there. Me? I feel more like dust on the wind. I want to leave a mark that I have walked this earth, breathed this air, loved and cried here. I want to leave footprints.”

Author Julia Alvarez describes discovering historical facts she writes about in detail In the Time of the Butterflies, a novel based on the real lives of three sisters, Las Mariposas, who lived and died under dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Alvarez discovers these facts, which she writes about in minute detail, after the book had been published.

Paul Overacker

Paul Overacker

Meadowlark is work of fiction, founded on that lingering question I asked Mom as we folded laundry and Mom smiled, “I don’t know, but I’ve always wondered.”

Grace, Tom, and Paul, are main characters of the novel and based on my great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and the ranch foreman, became as much a part of my life as the living, breathing people surrounding me. They’ve never left the ranch. There are countless stories of their presence in the house and around the ranch headquarters. “I heard Paul walking in the bedroom above me again last night,” my dad called to tell me. “He had his boots on this time.” Isabel Allende writes of her relief after moving to a new house, to hear the spirit of her daughter, Paula, arranging the furniture above.

Grace and friends

Grace and friends

People joined Grace as I wrote. One day I lifted my head to see Mae Thingvold, doctor and girl homesteader from the East Coast, driving her buggy up over the horizon and chiming, “Grace! Grace, dear, fret not! I’m on my way!” Ike was not far behind and he never failed to make me laugh.  Then, Daisy Standing Horse slipped in silent as a shadow, and soon she and Grace were intent on their beading and sewing in front of the fire. As I came to know these women, their strength, resiliency, humor, and friendship guided me through the new terrain of my life.

When life felt too painful in my own turn of the century, I slid gratefully into Grace’s world. I raced bareback across the prairie, the wind on my face, the surge of the horses’s muscles beneath me, and  hooves pounding against the earth. I laughed with Mae and savored the way beads twinkled in the candlelight with Daisy. When the time came, I returned to my own world strengthened.

And, always the land. As I walked the prairie through the seasons, the rhythms of the plants, animals, wind, and weather seeped into me. The sun broke through the lead gray sky of winter and set the crystal beads of hoarfrost on the tree limbs sparkling in a million prisms. I marveled at this land’s ability to shift between darkness and light in a moment’s notice.

In writing Grace’s story, I gained faith in my own.

(Thank you to cousin Kurtis Gentry, for your generous spirit—for the treasures of Grace’s dress, jacket, journal, and photos of Grace & child and Paul. For thinning the veil.)

Open prairie, winter 2012.

Open prairie, winter 2012.

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Writing Meadowlark

The manuscript for “Meadowlark: A Novel.”

It all started with a question.

In 1911, my great-grandmother Grace came as an 16-year-old orphan bride to a sod hut on the prairie of western South Dakota where my family still ranches. My mom spent summers on the ranch as a child and I’d grown up hearing stories about Great-Grandma Grace, of her life, and of Paul. My own memories of Grandma Grace are of the feel of the paper-thin skin on her hands.

Grace, circa 1911 and the time of her marriage.

In Mom’s stories, her grandmother, Grace, came alive as a young woman – one who worked hard every day of her life, made sure my mom got the first weekly bath in the tin tub with one inch of water on Saturday nights, so all would be clean for church on Sunday. The line-up for water began with my mom, then Grandma Grace, then my Uncle Jim, and finally, once the water was cold and had seen three bodies already, Paul bathed.

There are not many stories of kindnesses that happened on the ranch in my mother’s childhood. Almost all center around Paul, the ranch foreman. In the summers of my mother’s youth on the ranch, it was the four of them: Mom, Jim, Grace, and Paul.

Again and again I heard the stories – of what happened on Grace’s wedding day after she climbed into the buckboard with her new husband, and of Paul galloping his horse over the rise and toward the ranch house shouting something nobody could hear and all ran outside as he raced toward the ranch to finally make out the words, “Skunks! Skunks!” and see his smile. Paul made Grandma Grace and my mom and uncle smile and laugh in a world that held precious little of either.

Abandoned shanty near the ranch.

One day years after first hearing these stories, Mom and I stood above the bed folding the mountain of clothes that came with my three young children, in the same ranch house where Grace and Paul had lived all those years. I had a sudden thought. “Mom, what about Grace and Paul?”

“I don’t know.” A slow smile spread across her face,”But, I’ve always wondered.”

I wrote a book to find out.

* * *

The stories I knew formed the cradle into which I started to place research and information gathered about the time and place of Grace’s life. I drove to every historical museum and bookstore I knew of and the piles of original journals, books written by pioneer women, stories and experiences of Lakota women, and cowboy journals grew on the shelves of my house, each filled with sticky notes and my own markings. Slowly, the stories I’d heard began to gain the context of history and place. I scribbled notes, stories, and observations about the landscape in notebooks. Through the seasons, the heat and storms of summer, cool bite of fall, the hoarfrost of winter, and capriciousness of spring on the plains, I walked the land and listened.

And then Grace’s story was interrupted by my own. My marriage ended and the intensity of the chapter of my own life took over. The books about the prairie and notebooks remained shoved onto shelves and closed for the next number of years. Until one day, Grace whispered from the past to begin to write her story again.

I had no idea that writing her story would save me.

Sunset light

Summer clouds.

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