Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Leash of Greyhounds

"A Leash of Greyhounds" was written for the Valdemar anthology UNDER THE VALE, published on December 6, 2011. This means that I started writing it in December 2010. I was spending Advent (the liturgical season before Christmas—it starts around November 30) at a convent in upstate New York. I love spending Advent there; it allows me to concentrate on the religious meaning of Christmas rather than "shopping days until Christmas" and the holiday music piped everywhere. (I had a procedure at my dentist's last week. They usually inject anesthetic for it, but I don't like to have my face numbed up—not to mention the fact that the shots are frequently more painful than the work the dentist is doing—so I use self-hypnosis. I swear that the Christmas carols being played in the dental office were the most painful part of the entire experience.)

Anyway, last year while I was enjoying life at the convent, I was privileged to take the classes being given in the Novitiate. We were studying the formation of religious orders, and the Mother Superior assigned me a biography of Saint Jeanne, Baroness de Chantal (1573-1641), who founded the Congregation of the Visitation. The biography was written about two hundred years after her death, and I found the point of view rather strange. Perhaps in a Catholic country it is acceptable for a five-year-old to tell her father's Protestant guest that he's going to hell (the biographer seemed to think this behavior praiseworthy and evidence of her piety), but I can imagine what my father would have done to me if I'd ever been so rude to a guest! It may be different in a country where one is expected to be Catholic, but having been raised in the United States, where respect for other peoples' beliefs is an important part of our culture, I feel that telling someone he's going to hell is rude—not to mention arrogant. We're human; we don't know God's mind, and judgment is his prerogative, not ours.

But even her biographer criticized her reaction to her husband's death—or, more accurately, to his killer. The Baron de Chantal died in one of those stupid hunting accidents where an idiot with a gun can't tell the rest of his party from the animals they're hunting. He lived long enough to forgive the friend who had fatally wounded him and to ask his wife to do the same. The Baroness, however, was not in a forgiving mood. I really don't blame her; she loved her husband, she was only twenty-eight, and she had four children to raise without his support. Forgiveness took her many years and the repeated admonitions of St. Francis de Sales, who became her spiritual director three years after her husband's death.

So I had characters, conflict, and the beginning of a story. I added Lena, who had been a minor character in "A Charm of Finches," and some animals—the "leash of greyhounds" of the title—and I was off and writing.