Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Fun: Heavenly Surrender Author's Notes

Someone submitted a question about whether The Heavenly Surrender would ever get author's notes. The author's notes were added to the 2011 edition, but if you're like me you might have an earlier edition. Marcia was nice enough to send me the authors notes for Heavenly Surrender and said I could post them here. This is one of my favorites and also one of the first books I read of Marcia's. I thought it'd be fun to share the notes here for everyone to enjoy.

Author’s Note
I cannot believe that it has been ten years since The Heavenly Surrender was first published! Furthermore, I can’t believe it’s been even longer than that since I wrote it. And I certainly can’t believe that it continues to be a “reader favorite” after all this time—but it does. Thank you, thank you for allowing Brevan and Genieva to linger in your heart the way they have lingered in mine.

I thought it might be fun to include a few little morsels of insight and history where the story of Brevan and Genieva McLean is concerned—a privileged glimpse at the things and people that inspired me while I was writing it. So what do you say? Are you game for a little meandering through my mind?

I’ve come to enjoy writing my Author’s Notes. I find that I discover the most interesting things about myself and the venues of inspiration along which I travel during my writing processes. Sometimes I don’t even realize certain things were inspired by my personal experience until I sit down to reflect about a book. Yet The Heavenly Surrender has always cached sources of scenes, scenarios, and personal experience for me.

Let’s begin with this—The Heavenly Surrender was actually my first novel-length book. Before writing it, I found I usually grew impatient with a story—that I didn’t have the attention span to write more than 30,000 words or so. Books like The Unobtainable One, The General’s Ambition, Indebted Deliverance, The Foundling (you currently know that story as Desert Fire), To Echo the Past, Divine Deception, and Sudden Storms were all novella-length and represented my novice years of writing—the ones I used to cut my teeth on, so to speak. However, when I began to write The Heavenly Surrender, something changed: I wanted the story to linger—to last longer—and so it did!

Let’s begin our amble through The Heavenly Surrender with a little insight into Genieva. I think Genieva was the very first of my characters in whom I allowed a smidgen of myself to be manifest via her physical appearance. I mean, we all know that when we read a book, we tend to place ourselves in the main character’s shoes—to commiserate with her or him, right? But this is the first time I actually allowed the heroine to own a physical characteristic I own—freckles!

At the time I was writing The Heavenly Surrender, my youngest son was just a toddler—and wildly adorable! With black hair, light blue-green eyes, and a smattering of freckles that a body couldn’t help but smile over, he was just too cute for words! The little freckles on his nose and cheeks just made everyone want to smooch them! People were always complimenting his freckles—though he wasn’t sold on the fact that they were cute. Well, this is something I shared with him—and empathy for being noticed for one’s freckles as a child. It’s also something I share with Genieva.

As a little girl, I had freckles too. Though not nearly as adorable as my son’s, I was forever being told how cute they were. Of course, like almost every other child in the world with freckles, I didn’t think they were cute at all! Not one iota! Adults always told me how cute they were—but boys at school teased me incessantly. Add to that a little ditty my dad used to sing to me—a song about freckles, which included a comma that my dad would intentionally misplace in order to change the meaning of a certain lyric—and I was thoroughly a freckle hater. The song lyric went thus: “She’s got freckles on her, but she’s cute!” Dad was forever singing it this way: “She’s got freckles on her butt, she’s cute!” First, I most certainly did not have freckles on my you-know-what! Second, it just used to make me mad, and then Dad would laugh (actually, roar with laughter) at my irritated indignation! Needless to say, my freckles weren’t my favorite thing as a child.

However, as I grew up, I realized that freckles weren’t all that common. Furthermore, older boys began telling me my freckles were cute—though not in the same manner in which my dad used to sing about them. Therefore, I eventually came to terms with my freckles. I even grew up enough to think the “freckles on her butt” thing was clever. (I recently found the real song—it’s called “The Freckle Song”—and in the real song, the girl is “nice” instead of “cute.” Just a note of trivia for your own useless trivia archives.)

Anyway, Genieva has freckles—I mean, she really has them. You do understand that to an author, all her characters are real people, right? Thus, I can tell you with full assurance that Genieva has freckles. It’s something she and I share—perhaps via lineage and genetics—who knows! Regardless as to why we share this little pigment anomaly, Genieva and I both discovered that lethally handsome men like her Brevan (and my husband, Kevin) actually like freckles! (Hmm…Brevan? Kevin? Do you sense a little similarity there?)

Let us move on to Brevan for a moment. And what better place to begin than his name, right? So many friends and readers have written to me asking about the origin of Brevan’s name. However, I don’t think it was until a couple of years ago when someone asked me for the etymology of “Brevan” that I remembered where my brain had pulled it from.

I knew that I had named Brevan from a combination of my husband’s name, Kevin, and the name Bevan. As you know, my husband’s name fits him perfectly—Kevin: an Irish or Gaelic name meaning “beautiful at birth, handsome, beloved.” See what I mean? Perfect for my Kevin! I liked the name Bevan because it sounded like Kevin, but it just wasn’t, you know, cool enough for the character living in my mind. So, I started doodling on a piece of paper and eventually came up with Brevan! Interestingly enough, if you search on the internet for the meaning of the name Brevan—or look through any name books—you can’t find any etymology for it! I suppose I should go onto one of the name sites and plop in my own two cents of where it originated. If you search for the name Brevan, only one thing comes up—one man with the name. Thus, I didn’t really have an answer for the person who had asked me for the meaning of the name—and she was planning to name her new baby son Brevan! In the end, I simply told her my tale—the way I had contrived the name for the hero of The Heavenly Surrender—then added that she could always tell her son that he was just like Rake Locker, the hero in The Time of Aspen Falls—that he was named after a handsome, heroic character in a romance novel his mother had once read!

Speaking of Brevan—we cannot discuss Brevan McLean without making reference to his alluring Irish accent, now can we? Seriously, it’s delicious the way he talks—don’t you think? The fact of the matter is that I was a little nervous about it—about writing in dialect like that. But it’s how Brevan talks—so what’s a girl to do? In my mind, as the dialogue proceeded, Brevan’s thick, delicious Irish accent just could not be slighted—I had to include it! And I’m glad I did! It was the only way to be true to Brevan and his siblings—to their heritage and all they worked so hard to hang on to.

Writing dialogue in dialect? Most authors don’t do it—most editors would probably tell you it’s suicide for a book. But you know me—I always have to be true to myself, and Brevan’s accent is a very important part of who he is. And besides. authors and poets of long ago used to write in dialect, and their readers read it—so I figured we’re all as smart as anybody else, even if we do use one third of the vocabulary used two hundred years ago. James Whitcomb Riley wrote in dialect. He was famous for it! Joel Chandler Harris did as well—and who doesn’t love to read Uncle Remus? Elizabeth Gaskell also implemented dialect—as did many, many others! So, I tossed caution to the wind and went with my heart. I’m so glad I did!

As I said, I think Brevan’s Irish accent only lends to his charisma and magnetism. Proof of that: A few weeks after having first read The Heavenly Surrender, a dear friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons) called me up and said, “I had the most wonderful dream last night! I was on an airplane, sitting next to Brevan McLean! He was so gorgeous! And his accent…was too fabulous! And his kissing skills…whoa, baby!” Thus, I figured if my friends were dreaming about Brevan, writing in dialect must be okay (whew!).

Now, let’s take a moment and talk about Cruz—the icky, rotten villain in The Heavenly Surrender. He’s a creep! And I have to tell you—it took a lot of courage for me to write about his, shall we say, “immoral antics.” If you think about it, the context of what Cruz did to Amy Wilburn, and threatened to do to Genieva, was horrifying! But it’s what he did—and who he was. I actually struggled a little with revealing all this in the book. As you may recall, The Heavenly Surrender was first written when I was still only giving my stories to close friends and family. As it was my goal to write clean, uplifting romance stories, having to refer to Cruz’s past actions and intentions was difficult for me—not because I couldn’t write it but because I didn’t want to freak my friends out. Therefore, I let one other of my closest friends, Karen, read The Heavenly Surrender as I wrote it. My friend Sandy was already reading it and giving me the thumbs up—but I felt I needed another reaction to Cruz.

What’s funny about letting Karen read The Heavenly Surrender is that, having not grown up in New Mexico the way I did, she applied a little phonics as she read the book. It wasn’t until well into the book (when it’s finally revealed what really happened to Amy Wilburn) that Karen called me up one day and said, “I hate Cruz!” Of course, the funny part isn’t that she hated Cruz—the funny part is that instead of calling him Cruz—pronounced “Cruise”—she referred to him as Cruz—pronounced like crud, “Cruhz.” The moment she said it, I burst into laughter! It seemed so appropriate that she should rhyme his name with “crud.” I loved it! From then on, Karen and I always referred to him as Cruddy Cruhz.

Anyway, back to Cruz, the villainous violator of a woman’s virtue (I can never say the “R” word for that). It was a little nerve-wracking for me—having a villain who had actually violated a woman’s virtue, as opposed to just threatening to do it. But that’s what he did—he was that evil. (We can talk about him in the past context because Joaquin killed him, of course. By the way, I knew a boy in high school named Joaquin. He was such a nice boy.) Therefore, I had to tell the truth. And so I took a chance and wrote the book the way I wanted to write it—even where Cruddy Cruz was concerned. You may think I’m an idiot for this, but it was a big leap for me—entirely liberating, of course—but a big leap. I finally felt like I was telling the whole story for once—the good, the bad, and the very ugly.

You know how random my thoughts can be—how they can stray to another path very quickly. Well, it just happened! Thus, I’m going to jump over to something else I wanted to tell you that you might not already know: I almost deleted the famous “cake batter” scene from The Heavenly Surrender! I know! Can you even believe it? What was I thinking? I must’ve lost my ever-loving mind for a minute! After I’d finished writing the “cake batter, pond, kissing” scene, I thought, “Oh everyone is going to think that’s soooo corny!” Therefore, for a few brief moments, I considered deleting it and starting over where Brevan and Genieva’s first kiss was concerned. But (and I mean a super-big BUT), again that’s what actually happened in their story! So, I left it—worried about it a ton—but left it in, again trying to stay true to myself and my characters. In the end, I’m certainly glad I didn’t delete it! The “Brevan and Genieva cake batter, pond, kissing” scene still ranks at the top of the list when friends and readers tell me what their favorite moments in my books are (another big “whew!”).

Which then leads me to this: sometimes Brevan gets a bad rap at first—that he’s mean and uncaring and stuff. However, those of us who truly know him—see deep into his soul—understand him (that would be you and I, of course)—know that his gruffness, his standoffish harsh manner, is simply his defense mechanism. Naturally, that all comes out later—but it always bothers me when someone misjudges my Brevan. I feel that, in truth, there are a lot of people who are misjudged because of their outward appearances. I think a lot of people don’t wear their heart on their sleeve so that others won’t know their true pain. I think the same is true with people who often put on a gruff, unapproachable vibe—it’s their way of protecting themselves from pain. In other words, if no one gets close to them, they can’t be hurt. That’s Brevan. Sure, he was worried about losing his farm and stuff—but at his core, it was his fear of not just being distracted by Genieva but of loving her and knowing pain because of it. I’m glad you understand him.

(Oops! My brain just took another detour!) “But what about the plowing accident?” you may be asking yourself. “Was it based on a real event? Or is it purely fictionalized?” The answer is this: it has been changed, but the accident that inspired it was real!

Wayne States is my maternal grandfather and one of my very favorite people in life! He also quite often serves as profound inspiration for some of the characteristics and life experiences of the cowboy/rancher/horse breeder heroes in my books. I remember so many heroic things about him—the way his big ol’ leathery hands would hold the steering wheel as he drove his pickup—the way he’d go out into the garage, find a black widow spider, and just smash it—“pop!”—between his thumb forefinger. He did the same thing with a bumble bee once! I remember riding with him in his pickup when all of a sudden I started to panic because there was a bumble bee buzzing around on the front windshield. My grandpa simply reached up and smashed it with his big ol’ leathery thumb! It awesome!

Grandpa intrigued me in so many ways! He had a sort of Sam Elliott-type voice. In fact, every time I hear Sam Elliott, I think of my grandpa! As a small child, I was utterly mesmerized by the way he would alternately flex his biceps. I have a perfect vision in my mind of my grandma sitting in the big leather rocking chair we owned (which had once been his), wearing his signature white sleeveless undershirt, with a regular undershirt over it—his hands tuck up behind his head—alternately flexing his biceps. I had never seen such skills! It was wonderful!

I remember my grandpa dancing a jig sort of dance in the kitchen of his house when I was older. I used to sleep in the bedroom just below the kitchen when I was visiting—and by about six a.m., he would begin to grow impatient with waiting for me to get up. Thus, he would start stomping around doing a jig on the kitchen floor and singing “Cigareets and Whusky and Wild, Wild Women” to wake me up. It was wonderful!

I remember his laughter—it’s so clear in my mind! I especially remember the way he’d go, “Oh ho ho ho!” with a simultaneous smile and frown on his face whenever I hurt myself. It was a sort of amused hysteria he owned. He was concerned for me, of course—but it made him chuckle too. How do I know it was an amused hysteria? Because my mother and I both have it too! I don’t know if it’s a learned response or a genetic one, but my mom and I will both do that same thing if a child has just softly fallen down or bumped its head. It’s weird, but it reminds me of my grandpa, so it’s okay!

Well, when my grandpa was twelve, his father sent him out to a field with a team of horses and a disk harrow. It’s kind of hard to describe what a disk harrow is. The best I can do is to say it was a now-antique piece of farming equipment. The driver sat on a metal seat above a line of disks that basically broke up the ground (plowed it) when the team pulled it. From his seat on the harrow, the driver would control the team with the lines the same way a wagon was driven (sort of). Grandpa was disking when the disks hit a bump in the field (probably a big clod of dirt or roots). The bump caused the harrow to pitch him forward instead of backward, and he fell in front of the disks. The team pulled the disk harrow over my grandpa’s shoulder and back. Many farmers were killed or terribly mangled by similar accidents. Whether because the dirt was extremely soft or simply because he fell to the outer edge of the disk harrow, my grandpa was badly wounded but survived.

My mother described the scar left on her father’s (my grandpa’s) back: “Dad had a long scar on his back from his right shoulder blade, downward at sort of a slant, to the center of his back. The scar was half an inch or more wide and very, very long.” I remember seeing the scar when I was a kid—and believe me, it was mighty impressive! My grandpa was funny about the scar too. Having a great sense of humor as he did, my grandpa always told people that a drunk had stabbed him with a broken beer bottle and that was how he received the scar. In fact, my mom was a teenager or older before she finally heard the truth. I think the real story is more impressive myself.

The song “Will There be Sagebrush in Heaven?” by the Sons of the Pioneers always reminds me of my grandpa. I think he would’ve asked the question and hoped there would be. (Personally, I can’t imagine heaven without it!) Wayne States rode rodeo into his sixties, always loved horses and livestock, ate green onions right out of the ground without even washing them off, and when it was time for him to ride through that beautiful sagebrush in heaven, he went as he should have—literally dropped in the saddle.

When Grandpa was sixty-nine, he was helping to move some cattle on another ranch. The other rider with him rode ahead of the herd to open a fence, leaving Grandpa to close the fence at the rear of the herd. When the herd passed but Grandpa wasn’t with them, the other rider rode back and found my grandpa lying on the ground next to his horse. The left ventricle of his heart had “burst,” and he was dead. As devastated as I was by the unexpected and heartbreaking loss of my beloved grandpa, it always comforted me to know that he dropped in the saddle. It was exactly as he would have wanted to leave this earth—riding a horse and driving cattle (heavy sigh…). I miss my grandpa every day of my life.

So, there you have the story behind the inspiration for Brevan’s plowing accident. As I’m writing this, I remembered that Brevan’s dancing the jig in the rain was also inspired by my grandpa and his “wake up” jigs. I’m sure there are many other moments inspired by my grandpa—too many to list, I’m certain.

Speaking of scars—Brevan really gets banged up in this book, doesn’t he? I’ve been asked why on several occasions. And the best answer I can give is this: because chicks dig scars! Furthermore, we girls love a man who can take a brutal punch, then lay a villain out with one punch in return, right? Additionally, heroes (true heroes) always, always defend a woman’s virtue against villains, protect and care for her, would take a bullet and die for the woman they love. Thus, how can a man like that not have scars? To me, scars are evidence of life lived—strength and endurance—experience. And in the end, I’ll just say it again: we chicks dig scars! Simply question—simple answer.

You know, there is another little incident in The Heavenly Surrender inspired by something someone once related to me: the story Brenna tells Genieva of Brevan as a child, standing in the fresh manure pile in order to try and make himself grow tall. My friend Nan has a son (Terry) who, as a little boy, admired one of his cousins—everything about his cousin—especially his height. One day, Terry asked his cousin how he’d managed to get so tall. That’s the moment the tall cousin told Terry that all he had to do was go out in the pasture one morning, find a fresh, steaming cow pie, stand in the middle of it, and chant, “Grow! Grow! Grow!”

Well, one morning when Nan couldn’t find Terry and was beginning to worry, everyone went looking for the little tawny-haired boy. Where did they find him? Way out in the pasture—standing in the middle of a pile of cow manure, chanting, “Grow! Grow! Grow!” to himself! And you wanna know something? I think it worked! Terry’s very, very tall! I thought the story was hilarious, of course, and asked Nan and Terry if I could use it in a book. They laughed and laughed and gladly gave me permission. Thus, Brevan had a similar experience to Terry’s as a child. I love it!

Certainly, the most difficult part of The Heavenly Surrender for me to write was the (nervously, clearing my throat here)…the, um…(as I refer to it) the “consummation scene.” It’s not that I thought I couldn’t write it; it was, again, my fear of writing about it delicately. You know? I almost chickened out at one point. Buy my friend assured me that I couldn’t skew the story line. That was what happened, and it needed to be affirmed to the reader. Thus, I hitched up my petticoats and sat down in my computer chair (which at the time was a large white storage bucket) and began to write the “consummation scene” of The Heavenly Surrender.

To this day, it remains one of the hardest things for me to have written. Not because it’s so detailed but because I wanted it to be just right. After having spent literally three hours on the same paragraph, I took a break and called another friend—you know her—Barbara. She’s my “says it like it is” friend. Yet she knew I was delicate as far as the stress of writing my first “consummation scene” was concerned. So she proceeded with caution. Her first suggestion was this: “Why don’t you just put a lot of blank lines with a caption that says, ‘fill in per individual preference or experience’?” Of course that immediately cracked me up to gut-busting laughter—sort of de-stressed me—and I was able to finish up the “consummation scene” between Brevan and Genieva.

In the end, it turned out quite harmless and vague. In fact, another friend wasn’t even sure the marriage had been “consummated” after she’d read the paragraph! It’s funny now because I wouldn’t blink about the same situation these days. But it sure was stressful for me way back then. How funny—I’m such a goofball sometimes.

Well, I’m sure that by now you’re worn out from my babbling, right? Still, I enjoyed reminiscing about a few things that inspired me while I was writing The Heavenly Surrender. I really hope you did too and that you’ll savor the story of Brevan and Genieva all the more now. It’s a story that lingers in my heart as well as my mind because of my family history stories and heartfelt moments sifted through it. So here’s wishing you lavender and pink sunsets, sweet fragrant sagebrush, romantic kisses in the rain, the comforting smell of horsehair and saddle leather, and everything else that makes life a heavenly surrender!

~Marcia Lynn McClure

The Heavenly Surrender Trivia Snippets
Snippet #1—I love squeaky screen doors! My grandparents (on both sides of my family) always had squeaky screen doors, and I guess that’s what makes the sound so beautiful to me. The houses I grew up in had them too, and I miss them so much. It’s rare to hear one anymore—another simple pleasure lost to the past. When everything is really quiet—if I close my eyes and listen really hard—I can almost hear those old screen doors squeaking open as my grandma (or mom) steps out onto the old porch—smiling and holding a mixing bowl in one hand (the inside all drizzled with cake batter), holding a spatula in the other, and asking me if I want to “lick the bowl.”

Snippet #2—At one point in The Heavenly Surrender, Brevan grumbles, “Ya’re starin’ at me like I’ve some creepin’ crud about me,” to Genieva. It’s a very trivial little snippet indeed, but “creeping crud” is a phrase my mom used to always use. Let’s say she had a little chapped spot on her arm or something—you know, a little dry skin that often appears in the winter. She’d say something like, “Oh, I wish this would clear up. I look like I’ve got the creeping crud!” I always loved that! Oft she would switch it for “ghastly disease” (for example, “I look like I’ve got some ghastly disease!”). Both of those terms are forever imbedded in my vocabulary, and I found “creepin’ crud” worked very well for Brevan’s dialect.

Snippet #3—Brevan is one of my heroes who takes off his shirt one of the same ways that my husband, Kevin, does—in one swift, muscle-displaying motion! Kevin has two ways of doing this. One is just like Brevan—by reaching back and taking hold of the back of his shirt and pulling it off over his head in one swift (again), muscle-displaying motion. The other way is by reaching over with his right hand, taking hold of the bottom of his left sleeve, and then stripping his shirt off (left to right) over his head. A couple of years after I had written The Heavenly Surrender, I was approached by this huge, hulking, muscle-bound ex-Marine whose wife had been reading my books. He was quite an intimidating presence. He looks at me and says, “I told my wife she can’t read your books anymore.” With chattering teeth, I squeaked, “Why is that?” He looked at me a moment, frowning, then said, “Last night she told me I take my shirt off wrong!” The response that silently echoed through my mind was, “Well then, you’d better work on it.” However, I simply squeaked, “Sorry,” and hurried off. The wife of the huge, hulking, muscle-bound ex-Marine later assured me that her husband was only teasing me (even though she really had told him he took his shirt off the wrong way the night before). Still, I wasn’t so convinced and simply avoided him as often as possible after that.

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