Hope Rebounds with “Little Women”

Little Women coverOn Valentine’s Day, I treated myself to the movie, “Little Women.” It was a fabulous version of the classic story, told with back story and references to the Civil War time period. The movie was true to form, credible in its costuming, setting and historical accuracy.

The theater was filled with mostly women, probably like me — those of us who grew up reading all of Louisa Mae Alcott’s books and loving the March family.

Halfway through the opening credits, I found myself smiling with anticipation, remembering my younger self climbing my tree with a book tucked in my sweatshirt. Then reading in my branchy nook as Jo and Meg, Amy and Beth galloped through my imagination.

Leaving my own words behind in my office, I reveled in the words of this talented author whose journey came alive on the big screen.

But what struck me the most was my own history and how it ended up intertwining with the life of Jo March.

Louisa Mae Alcott and her writings inspired me to become a writer, around the same age as Jo March discovered her passion for words.

I understood how as a tomboy, she liked to climb trees. My private space was nearly twenty feet up, within yelling distance of the house in case Mom called.

Several years ago, an Oklahoma spring storm destroyed my tree. I still grieve when I visit the farm and see its empty space, remember the naïve girl who disappeared in its limbs.

Jo March wore her “one beauty” with pride. Her long hair became a key scene when her mother needed money to tend her father’s wounds. Jo and I liked to braid our hair or wear it in a long ponytail, playing with it as we tried to find that perfect word for the next sentence.

How crushed Jo was when her words were rejected by editors. As my files of rejections grew, I empathized with her yet never lost my hope that someday, I would see my books in print. Both of us accomplished that dream.

When little sister Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, I also swore with my heroine that I would “Never ever forgive her.”

The ultimate insult is not the rejection of our words, but the destruction of them.

Jo and Louisa cared more for their principles and their freedom than they did for romance. Unlike her fictional character, Louisa never married either Teddy or Fritz. But to sell her manuscript, Louisa had to either marry off her main character or sentence her to the grave.

Even today, publishers still insist that characters act a certain way, find a certain pathway to their dreams. This is one reason why I primarily write independently. I like the freedom of letting my characters be who they are without preconceived ideas that might sell more books but will damage my creative soul.

The Alcotts were progressive thinkers. They believed women’s rights should be fought for, championed in spite of society’s morays. If Louisa had lived longer, she would have been a central figure in the battle for women’s voting rights. And I would have joined her in the protest line.

How difficult it was to be poor! It still is. Louisa and her family struggled financially, and it was always her intention to help support the family with her words. Wisely, she fought to keep her copyright and the highest royalties possible on her Little Women contract. Ultimately, her writings did help keep food on the table.

Louisa and Jo loved the family and hated the idea of growing up. So totally my story. Wearing a bra seemed like torture and becoming a “woman” with the curse of Eve wrecked my chances of being drafted into professional sports. My teenage years occurred before Title IX, but fortunately, I attended a high school that included girls’ competitive athletics.

Hormones still destroyed many of my athletic dreams until I learned to accept who I was. I learned how to exercise for my health rather than competition. Even today, the channel I watch the most does not include soap operas or Hallmark movies. My remote most often clicks on ESPN.

In spite of perilous times, poverty, tragedy and the uncertainty of her future, Louisa and her Jo continued to write. The passion for words was her driving force, her reason for existence and her burning desire.

In spite of my travels, life changes and various ministry assignments, I have always returned to writing. Journals, articles, stories, blog posts and books make up my resumé, and I don’t regret a moment of the time used to create sentences and paragraphs, to shape characters and envision plots.

Louisa was lucky enough to discover a story that resonated with a publisher and continues to delight to this day. Her words are evergreen, precious to those of us who grew up with them.

Some of my older books continue to sell, surprising me at the end of the month when I check my reports. Even after I step into eternity, I hope they will continue to provide an income supplement for my beloved son.

I understand Jo March and her creator, Louisa Mae Alcott. As one of my life-long she-roes, Louisa still inspires me to use a pen and write my first drafts long hand. Pentel pens don’t stain my fingers like ink and quill, but I love the scritch of the nib across paper, the allowance of time and thoughts to discover how deeply the words are buried — how they erupt once found.

God has allowed me these years to follow the same passion, to be a writer, to hold my published books, and I am grateful. From my current office, far from the nook of my tree, I whisper, “Thank you, Louisa. You and your Jo were my favorites of the little women.”

©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my books on this Amazon Author Page. Louisa would have never imagined the internet.

 

 

Why is Reverend G Special?

“The Unraveling of Reverend G” is not the first book I have published. Back in 1993, my first book came out in print: “The Plain Path,” my adventures as a missionary in Honduras. Throughout the next several years, I published three curricula for teaching English to international students. Then my work appeared in eleven anthologies including five Chicken Soup books and the best-selling Cup of Comfort books. It was an honor to be included with other writers I admired.

My dream shelf, which I started in 1983, is now filled with books I wrote and also books I edited for other writers. Sometimes I sit in my office and thank God that the words which spew out of me have found a venue in print.

But when I picked up my box of Reverend G books from UPS, something triggered a memory. I wanted to stop a moment, to savor the smell of cardboard and fresh ink. I longed to wrap the UPS man in a hug and ask him, “Do you have any idea what you just plopped into my car’s trunk?” But I did not bother him with my history. He hurried back inside the building, his dark brown shirt a depository for the Kansas heat.

From the age of eight, when we moved to the farm, I nested in the top branches of my favorite elm. The Oklahoma sunset spread out to the west in a mixture of salmon and turquoise as I dreamed about becoming a writer. Louisa Mae Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder were two of my heroines; their words about family and love nestled deep within my soul.

I practiced in that treetop – licked the end of my pencil and scribbled in my Red Chief tablet, knowing that someday – somehow I would follow in their steps. I would write something important that included family, love and God.

Although my life took a different tack than I imagined, and I traveled far from that comfortable tree – I kept writing, trying different genres and settling on nonfiction where I seemed to have the most success. But somewhere deep inside, the more creative genes stirred and longed to escape from soul whispers to fingertips to computer screen.

Then finally, in 2010, smack in the middle of long-term unemployment – I woke up with a story about a petite woman in her sixties who faced the battle of her life. Reverend G, a radical female who wore camel-colored leather pants and dared to become a minister in a male-dominated field. She successfully completed her MDIV and served as associate pastor for thirty some years, then one day heard the unjust diagnosis of “dementia with early-onset Alzheimer’s.”

This incredible woman dominated my days until her story took shape and eventually found its way into print form, lying in neat stacks in the UPS box. “The Unraveling of Reverend G” will soon enter the world of bookstores, internet sales and e-readers. Hopefully, some of you will turn the pages of this book and wonder what happens next.

But for me, this petite and brave woman who captured my heart, represents the dream of a lifetime – fulfilled at last during this particular decade and gloriously, miraculously including family, love and God.