The Characters Among Us — Georgia Ruth Wilson
Today I’m happy to welcome author Georgia Ruth Wilson as she shares insights into her writing inspiration.
At a December wedding in Ft. Lauderdale last month, a stranger came up to me and said, “I hear you’re a writer. Have you ever written something that took you totally out of your comfort zone?” I proceeded to give him a synopsis of an unpublished short story about a granny witch in the Appalachians. His mouth dropped open. He said, “That’s not the answer I expected,” and beat a hasty retreat.
What did he expect? I am a writer.
In retrospect, I think he was fishing for a repeat of my experience in writing Lost Legend of Vahilele, a vision I had shared with a new relative at this wedding. And she passed it on! What did I expect? It’s a great story! But Vahilele was not out of my comfort zone. On the contrary, I feel very connected to this island. Vahilele is the ancient name for the Fijian island of Vatulele, my favorite place I have never visited but know instinctively. I’ll let my website page tell you about my journey in writing this book, about my vision of a Polynesian native who consumed my imagination.
I have been writing fiction for more than ten years and several of my stories have been published since moving to the foothills of the North Carolina mountains. In fact, I find my new neighbors inspirational. They have a deep connection with basic values, not with political correctness. They will “tell me true.” I was asked by one friend to record the stories of her brother who was at home in hospice care, and I posted them on my blog. I wrote about another neighbor’s long lineage back to Wales where an ancestral castle still stands. I am blessed to be invited to their family reunion every year.
Last year I was asked to write the biography of a local man who had spent his 88 years on the same intersection of two main roads. Highway 70 used to be a bustling east-west corridor past his house, and his father built a restaurant and the area’s first motel, stone cottages that now are sadly deteriorated. The interstate in the 60s changed the commerce of the entire county. He shared his history, including the frequent restaurant patronage of Billy Graham and his family. I felt honored to tell the Pete Gibbs story in The Bear Hunter’s Son.
Also last year, I collected four of my short stories in It Could Have Happened Like This, historical fiction highlighting major events in McDowell County. Two of them were based on local legends, and two highlighted catastrophic influences on past generations. The devastating flood of 1916 is the background story for a previously published murder mystery, “Dead Man Hanging.” I took the liberty of using an historical character as a fictional detective. Sergeant Daniel Kanipe was one of two survivors of the Little Big Horn. He lived in my little bitty town, Marion, NC. For real. Another event that received national attention was the deadly textile strike of 1929, a labor dispute that echoes in today’s violence of conflicting opinions. I told this sad story through the eyes of a young adult in “Summer of Dynamite.”
This year I am continuing work on a ten-year project that will now be a trilogy, if not a series, because the characters are all clamoring for a spotlight. My first setting is a fictional jewelry store in Knoxville, TN, and my first main character is a widow with a biracial four-year-old son. I was in the jewelry industry for fifteen years, at four different companies. Before that, I managed my family’s restaurant. Like my vision of the Polynesian native, many complex characters and intriguing experiences have crossed my path.
Nothing gives me more pleasure than sitting in my recliner with computer, in total silence, looking out the loft windows at Grandfather Mountain, remaking old stories and creating new ones. Stop by www.georgiaruthwrites.us and say hello. I’ll post a photo of a Fiji scene if you have one to share from your visit there.
Lost Legend of Vahilele
By G.R. Wilson
1950: The Storyteller
As evening shadows gather on the island of Vahilele, so do barefoot children eager to listen to this aged wise woman with piercing gaze and unruly silver-spun hair. My bronze arm stretches forward to stir the embers in the center of our circle. My tales stretch backward, the oral history of my tribe. Our future depends upon the lessons of the past.
“Deep within the long ago passage of man’s turbulent Dark Ages, the gods conspired to bring two worlds together. One world would end. We must never forget this story. It is our past and our present. Listen carefully, my little ones.”
They quiet in my presence, watching a tiny flame erupt as I ignite a beacon to guide them back to a crossroads in our history. “While war was waged in faraway lands, Muslims against Persians, Greeks against Romans, Saxons against Welsh, our little Fiji yanuyanu was isolated and unconcerned with worldly events.
“Our ancestors from Vanuatu in the west had braved unknown seas and settled on Vahilele with a desire to live in harmony, but they could not escape the tentacles of other societies that threatened to suffocate our independent culture. Royalty was held in high esteem because these leaders were thought to have direct contact with the tribal gods that brought the forces of nature together for good.
“Hundreds of years ago in Na Koro, the central village on our island back then, many huts of palm branches and bamboo clustered around a grassy clearing worn down to sand and clay by generations of brown feet imprinting a legacy.
“One day, a trading canoe returned from a neighboring Fiji island. The crew was very weak, and reported that many on nearby Viti Levu were sick and dying. They were thankful to get home. But they had brought smallpox back with them, and within a few weeks, hundreds of their tribe perished, including the king and queen of Vahilele.
“Their daughter Lapita was known for her beauty and gentle spirit. Her marriage to the High Priest had been broadly celebrated, and the birth of their son was a beacon of nui taka, the future. But the people were resentful that the power of royalty could not convince the gods to spare them in this attack by an unseen foe. They lost faith and hope. Many directed their anger and frustration at their remaining leaders, Lapita and her brother Tavale.”
Carefully considering my words, I sip my yaqona, our Fijian coffee, nectar of the gods. I wait for a latecomer to get settled, and then I continue. “One day a worse peril came to our shore. There was a conflict of wisdom. Our island vosa flowed naturally like air and water because we were a peaceable people. Other languages had many words for trouble.”
Through dusk and into darkness the youngsters absorb The Story. I weave a tapestry of oral tradition with my words and gestures, striving to vividly portray the personalities of the makawa, the ancient ones. As their mothers and fathers did before them, every child internalizes his own vision. Each one hears the same words but imagines different faces performing in their own minds, as I change my voice for each character. The story never ceases to mesmerize and inspire its listeners. The Story is borne on the wind. Forever.
Back to 650 A.D.
A deathly stillness surrounded young Siga as she walked the path to the Bure Kalou, the island’s temple. No island breeze stirred the fragrant hibiscus nor the elegant palm branches. She could not even smell the smoke from the great funeral pyre on the beach. It was as though the gods ceased to breathe upon Vahilele.
The royal family had not the power to save themselves. They had been afflicted with the pox one by one, as had hundreds of others. If the gods showed them no mercy, what chance did her mother have? Yet she had whispered that Siga must take water and comfort to Princess Lapita.
“Her son is the last of the royal family. She must be strong to care for him.” Nana struggled with her words, and Siga did not want to cause her mother more anguish. Although she did not understand why a small prince deserved her care when she could be helping her mother whose blood also ran from ancient veins, Siga obeyed.