Watching the Tree Limbs

I realized that I have been remiss in my book reviews because I feel so inept at them. However, an email from a friend this week let me know they come across better than I think. In fact, after reading one, she went out and bought the book! Therefore, I shall continue.

And I will begin with one very dear to my heart.

Mary DeMuth is my friend and critique partner. She is an encourager, a lover of Jesus, and a wonderful writer. After having a devotional (Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God) and a parenting book (Building the Christian Family You Never Had) published, the Lord blessed her early this year with the publication of her first love—fiction.

Watching the Tree Limbs is a haunting book about abandonment, abuse, and adoption in the family of God. In the early 1970s in rural East Texas, young Mara thinks her Aunt Elma is her aunt. After all, she lives with her, calls her “aunt,” and has the same last name. She knows her parents are dead, only one tiny memory of her mother remaining. Little does she realize the lies that have been woven together to create the fabric of her life.

When teenager General steals her innocence and requires her presence over and over again, Mara learns to keep secrets of her own. Aunt Elma’s death—which Mara views as General’s retribution over Mara forgetting their meeting time—signals the beginnings of unraveling the secrets of the past. Thrust into a strange home with a silent old man and a chatty housekeeper, Mara finds her place in the family of God and the freedom that comes from speaking the truth.

And, shhh—can you keep a secret? I’ve read the second book in this three book series and it’s even better than the first! So you’ll want to have read Watching the Tree Limbs before Wishing on Dandelions hits the shelves this fall!


FPK--The Rest of the Story

Frances Parkinson Keyes’ 655 page memoir began on the day of her marriage—near the turn of the century. As she described her life on a New England farm, I knew I’d hit a gold mine. What insight into real, everyday life nearly 100 years ago! Add to that the fact that her husband was elected governor of New Hampshire, then served as U.S. Senator from that state for many years and the record of her life read like a Who’s Who in my American History books! The historian in me loved her remembrances of famous people from her interaction with them.

From a writing standpoint, I discovered she started small, and out of financial necessity. Her articles ended up in Good Housekeeping, Delineator, and other magazines for years, writing about Washington life and politics, both national and international. She traveled around the world in a time when international travel was much more difficult. She wrote amidst problems with her health, raising three boys, traveling, and maintaining a grueling Washington social life. And like a gold thread glinting in the sunlight, her faith weaves through the pages of her life.

Frances died in 1970, before the pages recalling her life ended. She only managed to record her history through the early 1930s—just as her fiction began to be published and enjoyed.

Her son summed up the last 40 years of her life in three pages. I would have loved to read Frances’ own description of those years, but that would have made a hefty volume indeed!

I loved the insight into life in other eras. I loved the brushing up against historical figures and events. I loved the picture of her as a wife and mother as well as a writer. I loved the fact that she lived before she wrote those amazing novels, created those real characters. That is the key, I think. Characters should be crafted from real life—from what people really say and do, how they act and re-act. Then they ring true. Then they become our friends.

Frances Parkinson Keyes does that in her novels. But I’m so glad she put pen to paper late in her life to let us get to know her, as well.


FPK, Part Two

So I began to search for her name in my jaunts to used bookstores, seeking the elusive, out-of-print titles. I found some. Through the pages of these dusty novels I was transported to Ireland, Spain, France, New England, Washington D.C. But more importantly, I met people I will never forget.

That, for me, is the beauty to Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novels—her characters. They live and breathe. When they speak or act, it is exactly what you expect them to do, given how well you know them. They encounter difficulties. They struggle. They change. But it is their realness that strikes me. I would expect to meet them on the street someday.

Other writers create characters like this, too. But Frances’ span generations and nations and never falter in the beauty of their creation.

So I had accumulated and read several of her novels. Then we went on a weekend trip to Austin with some friends. A large used bookstore had moved to a new location. Its grand opening happened to be while we were there. We spent hours perusing the shelves for that great find. The store was as full of people as our arms were of books. We made our way toward the snaking checkout line, passing a non-fiction shelf on the way. I glanced over the titles as I passed. One spine caught my eye—navy blue with gold lettering. A very “libraryish” book. The title: All Flags Flying, Reminiscences by Frances Parkinson Keyes. In one swift motion it was off the shelf and in my hands—all 655 pages of it.

And in those pages I learned the rest of the story . . .


Frances Parkinson Keyes, part one

When I accompanied my husband on a business/pleasure weekend to New Orleans three years ago, I never imaged the buried treasure I would unearth. It came in the form of an author—one whose career spanned close to 70 years, but whose name was unfamiliar to me.

On a free afternoon, my husband and I wandered the French Quarter in search of interesting historical sites. We found a few—interesting, informative, but not soul-stirring. Then we ventured just past the main streets and came upon an antebellum-looking home with a pretty garden side yard. We walked to the front. A sign declared it the Beauregard-Keyes House and announced hourly tours. No one else was around. We ventured up the white steps to the front door.

The docent let us in and left us to wait the five minutes until the top of the hour in a front room. We saw pictures of General Beauregard from the Civil War and read the name Frances Parkinson Keyes. “Who’s that?” I whispered to my husband. He shrugged. No one else appeared and the gray-haired woman returned and introduced herself.

I remember little of the big house—the one that housed Confederate General Beauregard after the Civil War, the one with pictures and artifacts of his family of the time period surrounding the Civil War. What I remember most are the slave quarters behind the house—the ones that Frances Parkinson Keyes, a authoress from New England, claimed as her space during the winters of the 50s-70s. Artifacts from all over the world graced tables. The docent told us of Mrs. Keyes with glowing eyes, telling of her own adolescence in New Orleans, reading Mrs. Keyes’ novels set in that intriguing place. Entranced, a burning desire filled my heart to read something by this woman of such an interesting background, this author so obviously still adored by the elderly docent.

The tour ended in a gift shop, as many such tours do. But this was a gift shop with a twist—this was also a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. Here, many of Mrs. Keyes’ books had been gathered from dusty shelves and sweltering attics to be made available to a whole new generation of readers. My eyes sparkled as I read title after title from fading paper covers. I chose The Royal Box. We paid, thanked the woman and left.

Little did I know I was to discover between those pages an introduction to a woman I would have loved to call friend.