Jealousy, Tradition, and Loneliness {Book Club}

You know I’m a nut when it comes to Eden. I’ve written how “our cat Patches was one cool cat. Until . . . catnip entered the picture. If he caught even the faintest hint, he was absurd. Gone was his cool swag as he made the pathetic mewing sounds and gladly followed anyone with catnip to the nearest brown bag where he could roll in it like a fool. Eden is my catnip.”

As I interacted with Helena Sorensen when we read her book Shiloh, she casually mentioned that the next book in the series was about Eden. Little did she know that suddenly I could see nothing else she wrote. The only way to focus myself was to say, “Amy, you have got to pull it together. Do not act like a lovesick school girl at a concert and come off as a creepy fan girl.” The only way to stop my soul from catnip twitching was to assure her we would read Seeker.

And here we are. Happy dancing and ridiculous grinning by me. Helena is such a sport and I’ve emailed her a couple of questions. I’ve told myself I can’t read more until I write about the first third of the book without knowing what will happen. If you’ve read on, no worries! If you haven’t started, this book is worth the investment.

Since the story is still unfolding, I’ll share my first impression and themes I’ve noticed. Well, color me surprised. I thought this book would start off in “Eden” and then move to the Lost Clan. So, I have to admit, I was a bit disoriented at first. Was there going to be a flashback scene? Where is Eden? Why are we outside of “the garden” before being in the garden? And I remember names from Shiloh, but since it has been a few months I was still getting my sea legs the first few chapters.

Now that I am a third of the way in, I’m intrigued to see where this book is going. I’m thinking of Adam and Eve’s grandchildren. What was it like to grow up outside of Eden, yet so close to it? They had no personal experience of Eden and I would imagine that as the years went by, the reality of it began to fade. How is this book reminding me of the reality that was not intended to be my reality? The Shadowland I live in?

I see three themes emerging:

1. Jealousy—Cormac’s jealousy of Evander is agonizing to read. What has stood out to me is the difference in their focus. Cormac keeps his eyes on Evander, he is obsessed with what Evander is doing and how people are responding to Evander. Evander, however, isn’t focused on Cormac. Instead, he is focused on the community.

2. Tradition—Tradition in particular when it comes to fighting dragons. “We did as we have always done,” (986 in the Kindle version). When Evander suggested a defense strategy, a change in tradition, “having a defense strategy was a great comfort to them. It was so simple, so obvious, they marveled that they had not thought of it before,” (1018). I wonder where tradition in my own life and ministry is not serving, but blocking me.

3. Loneliness—Maybe it is because we have just studied 1 Kings 18 and 19 during the retreat; Evander reminds me of Elijah. Evander is faithful and loyal to the community and serves them well. Yet. Yet he seems so lonely.

What themes are you noticing?

Now to my favorite part of today!! Talking with Helena.

When you wrote The Shiloh Trilogy, did you know before you started what the basic premise of each book would be? Or did you know you wanted to write a trilogy and let each book unfold without knowing exactly where the series would land?

When I finished the book, I had no plans for where the story should go next. I was, however, thoroughly curious about Evander and the Lost Clan. I had constructed just enough of that story to want to fill in the holes and meet these people whose names echoed down through the centuries. From Shiloh, I had the names of Evander and Valour, I had the fate of the clan, and I had Hadrian’s lantern. The lantern led naturally to the making of colored glass, the colored glass to the Fayrewood, and so on. Gosh, I love my job.

Writing a prequel for the second book in a trilogy is a bit awkward, I know. But I think it was the right move. And when I finished Seeker, I had a far deeper love for the world of Shiloh and its people, and so much more to carry into Songbird. That book begins, as it must, at the moment after Shiloh ends.

I’ve only read the first third of Seeker, but I see themes of jealousy, tradition, and loneliness emerging. I’m curious how you see the intersection of storytelling with themes. One of my beefs with poor writing is that it either hammers a point so that any beauty is lost, or a theme is so blatant and cheesy I roll my eyes. Your writing is neither. As a writer, are you conscious of including themes?

I believe I touched on this a little when I shared my writing process, so forgive me if I repeat myself. My first drafts are usually all over the place thematically. In that initial writing push, I’m hunting for what the story wants to be, so I tend to follow rabbit trails. Maybe the most crucial part of the editing process is when I read through the completed first draft and listen to it. At that point, one or two main themes tend to make themselves heard, and in my next draft I clear out everything that doesn’t illuminate those themes (or try to).

Seeker is about desire and loss, but I can certainly see where you get themes of jealousy, tradition, and loneliness, Amy. It’s funny–when you try to write a book about everything, it ends up being about nothing. When you try to write about one thing (or maybe two), all sorts of themes emerge, many that you didn’t know were there.

///

Helena, thanks for chatting. Your last comment was a lightning bolt of truth and I hope everyone reading this (and in cross-cultural ministry) will heed your wisdom. 

“When you try to write a book about everything, it ends up being about nothing. When you try to write about one thing (or maybe two), all sorts of themes emerge, many that you didn’t know were there.” Wow. I think many of us feel the pressure to do or be all the things. And in the doing and being, your ministries (and even your family and your very life) can end up being about nothing. But if you live about one or maybe two things, all sorts of meaning emerges.

I am going to be returning to this thought again and again in the weeks to come.

People, what say ye? What comment is waiting to burst forth having read about Evander, Grey (hello?! we didn’t even touch on her name), Chase, Mina, Valour, the dragon fire. Let’s talk in the comments!

Happy reading,

Amy

P.S. Here is the reading plan for the next few weeks:

  • May 9—first third of Seeker
  • May 16—second third of Seeker
  • May 23—final third of Seeker
  • May 30—we will start The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker ConwayI haven’t finalized the plan.
  • June 6—Kimberlee Conway Ireton will share!

18 Comments

  1. Ruth May 9, 2017

    I thought more about characters than themes. Mina, Valor, and Maeve were the most interesting to me. I think I identify with all of them in different ways. Mina has some of the same loneliness as Evander, and she has special gifts and knowledge but is terrified to share them. But there’s something about her that draws Valor to her. Maybe because Mina isn’t fawning over Valor. I hope they can overcome their differences and become friends! I admire Valor for her guts to want to learn something that wouldn’t be expected from her. And Maybe fascinates me, even though I don’t really understand her. She’s lonely, too, since everyone thinks she’s mad, when I suspect she actually sees the biggest and truest reality of any of them. I think that loneliness is perhaps one manifestation of Helena’s description of the themes of loss and desire. And, I really appreciate Helena’s willingness to add to our discussion!

    1. Helena May 9, 2017

      I believe you’re right about Maeve being the loneliest, Ruth. Prophets and visionaries usually are, because no one else can see what they see. That’s true at every level, though. You can have a vision for your house or your garden or your ministry that no one has yet caught onto, and that can feel terribly lonely and defeating. Try telling someone (with a baby on your hip) that you’re writing a book about dragons. 😉

      1. Amy Young May 9, 2017

        Oh the loneliness of being a prophet or having a vision. So true. (and I’m glad you made space for both a baby and dragons :))

    2. Amy Young May 9, 2017

      This is why I love book club! We all notice something different and by offering it to the community, the “stone soup” is all the richer. Ruth, now you’ve got me thinking about these three. Each is so richly written, we really get a sense of who they are — I too hope that Valour and Mina become friends!

  2. Raven May 9, 2017

    The last comment. I was talking with someone last week along very similar lines. Do we want to spread ourselves thin and only have the capacity to stay at a shallow level among each thing or do we want to hone things in a bit and likely have the capacity to dig a lot deeper and be more present?

    1. Amy Young May 9, 2017

      What a picture Raven! Spread too thin we are like a baby pool. But if we will do less, we may end up actually doing more of substance. Need to chew on this!

  3. Michele May 9, 2017

    It’s kind of cool that you picked up on those three themes, because it makes sense, doesn’t it, that the themes of desire and loss would birth themes of jealousy, tradition and loneliness? It seems to me those three things often come out of desire and loss. Loneliness resonated most with me. It’s interesting how many of the characters feel it. Some friends from church, most in the same small group, had a chat a few weeks ago in which most of us admitted to feeling lonely or a sense of not belonging. This story brings out that very common reality really well, I think!

    1. Amy Young May 9, 2017

      Michele, I love how you took these themes and showed how they relate to each other. It DOES make sense. I think loneliness is far more common than I have realized. Again, something for me to reflect on as I read and live.Thank you.

  4. Helena May 9, 2017

    Not long ago, our church read through Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. It’s a short memoir, but Buechner spends a good deal of time talking about the secrets we (as humans) keep from each other. I believe our dissatisfaction with the world is one of the biggest of those secrets. Things are not as they should be, and we ache for so much more than we seem to have, and we’re ashamed of that. We’re ashamed to say, “I thought my marriage would feel more romantic than it does,” or “I believed the Lord would have healed me by now,” or “I thought I’d sell more copies.” We think that our unsatisfied desires equate with ingratitude, so we keep them to ourselves, and all our collective desires and disappointments become little isolated prisons of loneliness.

    But I think desire, increasing desire, desire for what isn’t yet, even desire for what we can’t have, is the place where God meets us most profoundly. Holt IS Eden the way I see it, Amy, though explaining that will take much more discussion later on. And even there, we look around and say, “Isn’t there any more than this?”

  5. Shelly May 9, 2017

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop reading so I have finished the book and started Songbird. (Maybe my own need to have hope stirred propels me onward in the story.) I will do my best to not spoil anything for readers keeping to the schedule.

    I am so taken in by the story of longing for what is better, the HOPE that doesn’t seem to die in some of the people. It makes me look around and ask: Where is the Shadow in my “village”? In what ways am I not seeing what is truly real because I am so accustomed to what is in front of me and what has been told to me.

    Like you, Amy, I was struck by Evander’s loneliness even among “his men” and Cormac’s jealousy. At this point I wondered just how destructive he would be…so we will have to wait and see. Watching him was painful and sad because he seems to be feeding his own discontentment.

  6. sarah May 9, 2017

    The Fayrewood seems so true to life. How life-giving it is. How it brings out something more noble and peaceful in us. How it pushes back the Shadow. And, how rarely we venture to see it when it’s right there. I live on an island, and yet when I ask locals what their favorite beach is, most of them tell me that they haven’t been to the beach in 10, 20 or 30 years. And, the expats, when they first arrive, will go to the beach fairly regularly, but after a time they slowly stop going to look at the ocean. I still go out to look at the ocean probably once every two weeks. Still, the part where Evander walks into the Fayrewood and thinks, “Why don’t I come here more often? I should come here every day,” was like hearing the voice in my own head. The ocean definitely pushes back the Shadow for me every time I see it up close.
    I like all the different ways Helena portrays loss through her different characters’ experiences and the ways they cope with it. Loss is something we experience continually on the field. And, I can see how at different stages in life and maturity, I’ve dealt with different losses as many of the characters are dealing with it in the story.

    1. Shelly May 9, 2017

      Sarah, thank you for reminding me of that point. The loveliness of the Fayrewood, as Mina experienced it (and later others, like Evander) had me wondering why more people from Holt didn’t go there to be renewed, refreshed. Did any of them even imagine that if the wood could look like that, full of light, couldn’t there be more? Could it be possible that there is life beyond the Shadow? But we forget too easily, and we leave off doing the very things that we know bring us life – going to the ocean or a lake, a park, even a walk around a school campus where the green spaces are. There are things to do, battles to fight, survival to ensure. We start thinking it is a luxury for certain people.

      This has me thinking of Sabbath. Mina wouldn’t have called it that, but that’s what going to the Fayrewood sounds like. A place to rest in beauty, to be reminded of a time when things just might be better than it seems they have always been, to be strengthened for the work of things to do, battles to fight and survival to ensure.

      1. sarah May 10, 2017

        Yeah, it has a feeling of holiness in it, while also being restful and uplifting. Different from just having fun.

    2. Elizabeth May 10, 2017

      “The ocean definitely pushes back the Shadow for me.” AMEN.

      1. Michele May 10, 2017

        For real. Two weeks on the beach in Thailand the end of last year, and I am still feeling the effects of the light and clarity that came during that time! The ocean is my Fayrewood too! 🙂

        1. sarah May 10, 2017

          Haha yeah, now the question is: if the place I’m living is so much like the beach in Thailand, where do I vacation?!
          But, it’s a truly wonderful problem to have after long years spent in the concrete jungle and the dustbowl. 🙂

  7. Helena May 11, 2017

    Amy, I cannot shake this question of Eden. I’ve been completely incapable of thinking on any other topic for the last several days. I blame you.

    It might be easier and more accurate to say that the Fayrewood is Eden, (I didn’t write this story with Eden in mind), but regardless, the essence of Paradise Lost is there. It’s the word “paradise” that’s bothering me. People often use it as a word for heaven. But Eden wasn’t heaven.

    –Evil was already present in the world when “the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden.”
    You could argue that Eve knew no fear, so she wouldn’t have been frightened by a talking serpent even on their first encounter. But you could just as easily argue that she’d spoken with the serpent before, that she was familiar with him.
    –There was work in the garden. Adam and Eve had jobs to do and challenges to overcome. Maybe there weren’t thorns and thistles yet, but managing creation (in a garden that didn’t know death) must have been an enormous task. (Obviously, work is not part of the curse. Work is good and necessary. I’m only pointing out that Adam and Eve’s work was not likely to be swinging-in-a-hammock easy.)
    –There was loneliness in the Garden of Eden. God looked at Adam and saw that he needed a companion, so he made Eve. Interesting. It’s also noteworthy that the phrase used to describe God’s relationship with Adam is “the Lord God walked with Adam in the cool of the day.” That sounds like external relationship. God was a friend Adam could chat with, or hide from. Which is nothing to what we NOW have because of the finished work of Christ. We have consummation. We have union. I’m not sure if Adam could have even imagined that.

    My church tradition says, “We had it perfect, and we screwed everything up.” We romanticize the Garden and make of the Fall the hugest, most catastrophic failure. We despise Adam and Eve for wanting more than they had. But did God despise them for it? Didn’t HE want more as well? If He is the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world,” mustn’t He have known that this was just the beginning, just the first stage of relationship with mankind? He didn’t balk at sin. He didn’t blink. He didn’t reject them for their desire, even when that desire took them in the wrong direction. He just said, “Alright, here’s what I’m gonna do next.”

    Adam and Eve were innocent, yes. There’s a certain beauty in that. It’s also flat, one-dimensional. Babies are innocent, and relationship with them is wholly one-sided. God wanted more. Man wanted more. And because of Jesus, we have it.

    1. Amy Young May 12, 2017

      Hey Helena! I keep thinking about Eden and your comment too! I’m sorry that I have been silent. I’ve been scrambling with the final proofs of my next book and several year-end activities that has my schedule a bit fuller than normal :).When I first read your comment that Holt could arguably be Eden, I needed to chew on it because sit seems so Eden Lost. But clearly from scripture—following, Babel, Babylon, and then Babylon Redeemed in Revelation—my internal resistance wasn’t to Holt being a city and the Fayrewood being nature. I agree that too often our impressions and the stories we tell about Adam and Even are too one dimensional. Too simple. Too boring. Given time, I do believe that Adam, Eve, and their children would have built cities. Industry and work were before Eden Lost. It is just so hard for me to picture a city that isn’t tainted by The Shadow. This week we had a horrible hail storm and the damage to plants, buildings, and cars was extensive. Eden would have had weather fluctuations — but what do weather fluctuations look like when damage isn’t a part of their story? This is hard for me to picture :). So, I’m still thinking too!

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