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what the forest holds, and a gift from Charles Dickens

Once upon a time the renowned British author Charles Dickens visited the United States. While his visit ultimately did not leave him with positive thoughts for our country, he did perform one act that to this day remains a mystery.

During his journey across the United States he made his way to Virginia around February or March in 1842. It is documented well that Dickens left with a distaste of Virginia because of its dependency on slavery. However, when a request is made of him, something that ultimately will align Virginia with the only evidence of his visit to the United States, he complies.

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Charles Dickens

Deep in the thickets of Cumberland State Forest remains the unique literary gift that Charles Dickens bestowed upon a grieving family. On March 12, 1842, thirteen month old Charles Irving Thornton died and upon the request of a family friend, (thought to be American writer, Washington Irving) Dickens inscribed the epitaph that now rests quietly on the aging tombstone that remains hidden from the world.

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the conditions of the area where the tombstone rests

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To find it is no easy task as the forest likes to keep its treasures however with careful steps and patience, I was able to find the Thornton Family Cemetery where it remains and is quite literally deep in the shadows of the woods. Without the help of technology by way of my smart compass, I doubt I would have been able to uncover its hiding place.

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As you can see from the images I was able to capture, it shows its age, the writing barely legible in some places and the tombstone itself suffering a full horizontal crack along its base. The following is the epitaph that Dickens inscribed upon it:

“THIS IS THE GRAVE

of a Little Child whom God in his goodness Called to a Bright Eternity when he was very young. Hard as it is for Human Affection to reconcile itself to Death In any shape (and most of all, perhaps First In This)

HIS PARENTS can even now believe That it will be a Consolation to them Throughout their lives and when they shall have grown old and grey always to think of him as a Child IN HEAVEN and Jesus Called a little Child unto him, and set him in the midst of them. He was the son of ANTHONY and M.I. THORNTON Called CHARLES IRVING. He was born on the 20 th day of January 1841, and he died on the 12 th day of March 1842. Having lived only 13 months and 19 days.”

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in the foreground the home thought to be that of the Thornton’s. In the backdrop the woods where remnants of the family cemetery remains
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plaque that hides off to the right of the tombstone honoring its commemoration into National Historic Places

While it was commemorated in the Virginia Landmarks Register and in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, its remembrance thrives only with the trees within the forest. The family cemetery as a whole which seemed to be about five visible headstones, in its nearly two hundred year old existence has been taken over by nature. It’s significance, however is still very much prominent. This literary gift remains the only one of its kind in the United States and one of only two of existence in the world, the other belonging to that of Dickens’ sister-in-law.

It was a rewarding experience to actually find it albeit sad to see the lack of its upkeep. Its literary significance shall remain and the gift it became to a grieving family shall never die.

 

 

 

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haunted

 

there is this haunting in me

chasing the grain of rhapsody

in midnight swells of ardor

beseeching to the stars to lay hold of my shadow

longing for a taste of your burn again

 

there is this haunting in me

waning with the young moon

beneath a wild vermouth,

spilt from uninspired lips

in crescent fall

longing to breathe you in again

 

there is this haunting in me

floating in the velvet dust of night

my spirit aloft far longer than odysseus

with wings a flutter, unrelenting

wistful for the fertile kiss of earth

longing to be whole in you again

 

there is this haunting in me

among days of translucent gravity

weighted to this diaphanous storm

thundering in a ghostly compass

yet a voice remains

echoing there

high above the ancients dressed in their robes of green

saturating the roof of a tin heart

just wanting to find my love again

 

 

Lullaby-Enzalla

 

just breathe

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to write or not to write, that should never be a question…

Because I find comfort in reading others writing journeys with all their trials and tribulations, I decided to share a monster moment of my own. I can laugh about it now, but seven years ago when I started this journey, not so much.

Always with me it seems I go big or go home. This memory is no exception to that. Seven years ago after having the courage to break open a notebook again and listen to those voices in my head, something I hadn’t done since high school, I wrote out my first rough draft of what would later become my first novel, Shifting Gears.

Mind you working full time, a Mom to two kids and a wife, I had my hands full. I would spend my lunch hours huddled in the corner of our lunch room at work with my ear buds in scribbling away like a mad woman to the story that unfolded between my main characters Holt and Niki. I would stay up after everyone else had gone to bed in those coffee induced “magic” midnight hours nightly.

Six weeks later I had the roughest rough draft ever but I was proud. Oh so proud. I was certain I’d just written a best selling novel and as soon as any publishing house got their hands on it I’d be offered a deal of a lifetime, being able to quit my job and go on a world book tour.

Oh Jenny

Well I think you might have already surmised that this didn’t happen based on the fact that I’ve already led you to believe that this is a funny story. Sigh. In my pursuits of getting my work seen but not having a clue as to how and where and when and who even to send my manuscript to, I began searching online.

Ultimately I was geared off in another direction (this always seems to happen when I’m researching while I’m writing too…eeek). I discovered a writing group that was only a couple hours driving distance from my home that happened to be hosting a guest editor. You could not only pitch your story but they would also proof your manuscript if you were brave enough to send it in before the group session. Of COURSE I jumped on the opportunity because I just knew I was sitting on a diamond mine just waiting to explode.

Oh Jenny

Fast forward to the day of the session which I’ll add now this writing group was a chapter of Romance Writers Of America which I later became a member of. Walking in that day however I was clueless. I’d never heard of the organization before, nor had I ever heard of the guest editor.

Oh Jenny…you skimmer you….

So because I was so excited at the opportunity to let my diamond in the rough out of its bag, I stopped reading after “send your manuscript” “established editor will proof.” I missed the most valuable piece of information that this particular editor was not only from an extremely successful publishing house but also was well known for her hard core no filter give it to them straight mentality.

Gulp.

When she was introduced that day I can remember feeling my heart not only stop but that it quite literally jumped out of my body and went to hide in the janitor’s closet. Here I sat having NEVER let anyone read my stories, outside of family over the years and obviously teachers. I found myself now surrounded by other hopeful writers, none seemingly having that same just kill me now look on their faces as they gawked at Ms. Cutthroat.

It was totally too late to back out and mind you I seriously was contemplating that day just casually going to the bathroom and not returning. Like ever.

While I’ll not reveal her name, I will reveal the publishing house. Harlequin.

Gasp. Gasp. Gasp.

For those of you that write in the romance genre you know this house is the mansion lined in gold with timed doves flying in the courtyard daily. So much has changed with genres and what is acceptable and quite frankly what’s sought after, but they remain, at least in my opinion, the foundation and backbone to the romance genre.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I literally wanted to die. Yet still I somehow held on with a sliver of hope that I was right, that my story line would blow even her away. Yeah, well, it didn’t. Oh boy did it not.

This is where I will add that I was thankful that she had no clue whose words she was slaying when she stabbed manuscript after manuscript. Only the writer knew. Sigh. I wish I had a poker face. At least I didn’t cry.

I learned two very valuable lessons that day and they might not be what you expect. Firstly, don’t ever be afraid to share your work. It was scary and truly I was mortified walking away that day and drove the whole way home saying to myself you suck. Did you really think you could write?  It was bad. Two months would pass before I would even consider opening up my laptop to look at my now dusty diamond. But you know what? I did.

Her words to me that day were extremely blunt but after pushing aside my hurt, my complete feeling of failure and that very brief moment of wanting to find out where she lived (lets just leave that at that), I realized her words were critical but precisely what I needed to hear as a writer.

The second lesson I learned is do your research! Did you think my horror from that day was over? Oh no. So after being told your manuscript basically could kick rocks, what would be the odds of someone in the room being in the same profession as your main character? Me. Hello. Me. Go big or go home Jenny over here.

So Niki, my main character is a veterinarian. It would seem I did not do my research effectively enough in determining the required time of education in order to get your license to practice. What are the odds of a vet being in the room?

Oh Jenny

Just another blow to my world tour that had already taken off in a hot air balloon before it checked to make sure it had enough gas.

I am so guilty even now with being such a pantster but I still stand firmly behind that it’s not a bad thing. To a degree. To get your reader into your world, it can’t just be about the descriptive words you use, your story has to actually be fairly believable too. I say fairly because obviously if you are writing fantasy it’s a free for all as long as you remember all the facts of your fictitious world.

I look back and cringe at some of the dialogue I’ve written of an alpha male character that totally doesn’t sell with his demeanor as I’ve written him. We must as writers do our research when building a world. Those tiny little details trust me, readers hone in on. I learned my lesson the hard way but learned it I did.

Being a writer is hard work. It’s filled with hours and hours of writing and rewriting followed by the fear of letting someone actually read your words followed by potentially someone slicing and dicing all your hard work, all your “little darlings” leaving you with a sense of failure.

It didn’t take me long to realize I knew I was destined to self publish and if I had it to do over again, I would not change my decision. The purpose of this write however is not to promote self publishing because I recognize some writers feel a traditional publishing house is the right fit for them and I support that wholeheartedly.

I simply wanted to share this memory with you to make you laugh and to remind you that you aren’t alone in this journey wherever it takes you and that we all get our dreams pooped on. It’s making that decision to wipe the poop off after examining it of course and to keep going. If that keep going is a year later, fine. If that keep going has you writing simply for medicinal purposes and in private, fine.

Everyone has an opinion, an agenda and most importantly a voice. When you find yours if you haven’t already, hold on to it. I’m always struggling with my own because doubt is a huge monster. But if you can, embrace it. Ask yourself why you write and say to yourself if you write it, they’ll come. (Yeah that was cheesy..but it’s true)

Thanks for reading AND if you are a romance reader I’m offering my first novel Shifting Gears for .99 on Amazon right now. Click on the book cover below to get your copy.

Thanks for visiting and may we all continue to find joy in writing and reading and to remember the importance of uplifting those other writers among us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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with pen and paper

Once upon a time I had aspirations to become a photo journalist. I began taking journalism classes and found my instructor to be one of the most non-filtered, open minded and courageous people I’ve ever met. My love of photography was shortly thereafter born through the art of sharing facts and telling a story through the lens. The ability to capture emotion and tell a story through a single image was incredibly impressive to me. Writing and photography I thought then and still think now, can be such a powerhouse to bring the truth with no filter, no judgement, no opinion, just hard straight in your face facts.

I started then from scratch. The basics. With a notebook and pencil I took to being a sleuth Nancy Drew writing for my school newspaper.  I took a class in shorthand so I could make notes quicker. No computer. No smart phone. I took photography classes and fell in love with clicking away and then mixing chemicals and preparing the lab to develop what became the rawest of images free of any possible digital technology to alter or manipulate them to what I wanted.  They were what they were.

My first real “adulting” job was for the government, filming, developing and preparing 16mm and 35mm microfilm reels full of legal documents for the public. I often think back about that job now and giggle thinking how tedious it was, most days my eyes crossing from filming document after document and the daily smell of filming chemicals on my hands that I could never get rid of. But, I had my own dark room and it was cool.

The coolness of my microfilming tech job is not the purpose of this write however but instead the reminder of the times, the hard copy of documents in my hands and the simplicity of the time of investigative journalism back then in comparison to what it is today.

I have been on a investigative journalism film kick recently in attempts to escape the chaos of today’s world maybe only to trade it for yesterday’s chaos some may say but truly to regain faith that not everything, not everyone is corrupt and has the ability to think for themselves and not follow the herd. That writers and journalists still exist that refuse to accept what everyone else is reporting and writing simply because someone of authority told them so.

Journalism used to be raw. It was facts. It was countless hours of research and interviewing to gain the guts of a story, not the opinion of one, followed by the courage to share it with what sometimes could be an opposite collective belief.

I just recently watched a few films, all based on true stories, that I found insightful and took me back to that twenty year old with a camera and steno notebook hungry for the truth. I’m including them below if you’d like to watch. While I’ve never desired to be a movie critic, I will say that these films were particularly profound in that they brought the reminder of the courage to think and live outside the box. The journalists featured in these films paved themselves a hard road simply for seeking and writing the truth.

There are countless more films if you simply do a Google search and undoubtedly journalists still paving that difficult road for themselves today for even more journalists to walk tomorrow.

When it comes to my own writing today I fill my steno notebook and busy my pen by writing fiction and poetry. I write with no outline and no regard of any particular style unless I feel like the words I’m writing require it. I write what I see, what I feel, what comes to me with the freedom of an imagination. It is here where such a thing should and can thrive. Unlike in journalism where channeling bits and pieces of opinions and perspectives does not belong.