I wanted to share with everyone some exciting news. My book, Cha’risa’s Gift was a semi-finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition! There were hundreds of very talented authors competing in this competition, so making it into the semi-finals was very much a crucible moment for me. It is so hard, when you put your work out there, to know how it will be received. Once you take that plunge, you quickly learn that there are literally thousands and thousands of voices out there, all with stories to tell, all clamoring to be heard. In such a crowd it is very hard to get noticed, and even harder to get feedback. So this moment really was like a ray of light for me. I had been judged and found promising by a distinguished jury, in a festival that has become a mecca for writers here in the Southwest. With the arrival of that notification, I could say with much more confidence that I had written a story that truly resonated with people.
I think by now, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ve noticed that a lot of what I have written has focused on describing crucible moments in the lives of people. I can tell from the comments I’ve been getting, that sharing these stories often strikes a chord for many of you. We all have our crucible moments. They happen when the sum of our life experiences come together in just such a way that we are forced to make a choice. These are the choices we make that change everything. We aren’t often aware of how critical this moment is when we are in it, but what defines it as crucible is that the choice requires us to take a risk and open our hearts. It can be a decision to put pen to paper and tell your story; or it can be a decision to leave London to marry a girl in Alaska. It can be as simple as risking a single kiss, but once it’s made it fundamentally changes everything.
The story of Cha’risa’s Gift is told through a series of crucible moments that happen in her family over the course of four decades. I thought it would be fitting in this blog to celebrate this first accolade for the book by shining the light on Cha’risa’s big crucible moment. None of what follows could have happened without it. In essence, this is the crucible moment on which the entire book hinges.
Cha’risa turned from him, fighting off a smile. She decided she liked his persistence. After all these years of being doubted, it felt good to hear him take her side. Still, for his sake, the words needed to be spoken. She took a moment, and he waited for her, not uncomfortable with her silence.
She did not look at him when she spoke again. “You need to understand that the line between a medicine woman and a witch is a fine one. The knowledge I use to heal can also be used to harm. Truly, the only difference between the two is how one chooses to use that energy.”
“I’m listening,” he said, encouraging her to continue.
She took a deep breath and once again met his gaze. “My people are always aware of this. They notice when someone is no longer using this power for the betterment of others.” She paused a moment and then admitted. “Four years ago, I gave my village a reason to believe that I had crossed over to the dark side of this power.”
“Did you?” He sounded fascinated.
Obviously, Caleb McKenna was not a man who scared easily, but it only made it more imperative that he hear the full accounting. Cha’risa didn’t like to think of that night, let alone speak of it, but still, she forced herself to relive the events so he would fully comprehend the darkness inside her.
“Four years ago soldiers came to my village in the middle of the night. They came to abduct our children and take them to the Indian School.” She glanced at Caleb. She knew he’d been one of Ahote’s teachers. Perhaps he knew already how her son had come to that school, but certainly he didn’t know all of it.
She continued speaking. “They dragged Ahote out of his bed, all the while shooting their guns in warning. From all over the village, children were screaming as the soldiers grabbed them, threw them across their backs, and carried them over to their horses. I stood there screaming too. I was so afraid. I felt powerless with all their firearms pointed at us, but not my husband. He ran up to where a soldier sat upon his horse, holding our terrified boy in his firm grasp. Kwahu tried to grab the reins, to keep the soldier from riding off with our son. But the soldier raised his rifle and fired a shot. I ran to where Kwahu lay motionless on the ground. I could see the wound to his head. There was nothing for me to do; my husband was already dead. For a moment, the soldier sat there stunned, looking at Kwahu, looking at me.”
Cha’risa took in a deep breath to steady her trembling hands. After a moment, she squared her shoulders and looked back up, meeting Caleb’s steady gaze. She was ready to tell him the worst part of her story.
“When I looked into that soldier’s eyes, I was filled with such hatred. It burned inside me unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It exploded like wildfire, a crazy wind blowing in all directions, and I just opened my arms and let it go. Almost immediately, the soldier’s nose began to bleed. You could tell he didn’t think much about it. He wiped away the first trickles. With his rifle still trained on me, he rode away from our village and into the canyon. Soon our village was empty of soldiers, empty of children, and eighteen adults as well, who’d been arrested for resisting. They didn’t arrest me, because they never realized what it was I’d done.”
“It wasn’t long before stories started coming back about some kind of terrible disease striking down people in Keam’s Canyon. All of us were frantic with worry for our children. But when the men they’d taken from our village finally came home, they said the disease only ever affected those soldiers who’d raided Hoteville. They described the symptoms, saying every single soldier who’d participated in the raid began bleeding from the nose, the ears, and the eyes. Our returned men glanced at me as they finished their story. They said it was unlike anything they’d ever seen, and the agonized screams of those afflicted had been terrible to hear. Every last one of those men died.”
With the last of her story finally revealed, Cha’risa let out a shuddering sigh, and then fell silent. The shame of her confession weighed heavily on her, but she knew she’d done the right thing. Now Caleb would understand the darkness inside her, and why he needed to keep his distance. After only a few moments of this heavy quietude, Caleb reached out and took her hand. She looked up at him, surprised.
“They killed your husband and kidnapped your child.”
Was he defending her actions? Another tear escaped her, and she shook her head, not trusting herself to talk.
“I would have fought them too,” Caleb assured her. “I would have killed them if it meant I could save my child.”
“But don’t you see?!” she cried. “I didn’t save him. I didn’t save anyone!” She bowed her head. “That’s the worst part. I had the power to stop them, and I waited until it was too late. I killed those men when it served no purpose, except to vent my own rage.”
More tears fell now, a steady flow that she didn’t even bother to wipe away. Once again she lifted her face and met Caleb’s eyes. “I’ve never said this to another living soul, not even my father, but it is not the killing I regret, or the turn to the dark side of the power. What I regret is that I didn’t save my husband and I didn’t save my boy.”
Caleb leaned in closer, his eyes searching deep into hers. “Next time,” he said. “You won’t hesitate.”
That shocked her. “Are you suggesting I should freely use my dark power?”
“No. I’m saying I understand why you did, and if you ever do need to protect someone you love again, you will know what to do, and have the courage to do it.”
She dropped her gaze from his, shaking her head. “This is a dangerous power to let loose. I have the ability to cause great harm.”
“I’m thinking if you put a gun in my hand I can kill as well as you.”
“You don’t understand,” she persisted. “Every time I open to that power, the darkness will lay a stronger claim within me. How can I risk that? Even I’m not sure if I’m a witch or a medicine woman!”
He put his hand under her chin, lifting her face to meet his. “You’ve given me many reasons why I shouldn’t be interested in you, except for the one that actually matters to me.”
“And what’s that?” she asked.
“You haven’t told me you’re not interested.” Then he leaned in even closer, kissing her on the mouth.
Perhaps she should have stopped him, but it had been many long, lonely years since a man had touched her like this, and had kissed her so tenderly. Without thinking, she wrapped her arms around him, responding to his kiss with a hunger of her own. It was Caleb who at last rested his forehead against hers.
“Can I take that to mean you might also be interested?”
Cha’risa laughed. “You are a fool, Caleb McKenna.”
He cracked a smile. “You wouldn’t be the first to have said so.”
“No good can come of this.”
“Depends on what you mean by good, because I thought that kiss was a lot more than just good.”
She didn’t know what to say, because she had, too.
I hope you enjoyed this crucible moment in my blog. For those of you reading this living in the area, I will be appearing at the Author’s Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 11th, from 2:30-4:30. I hope you’ll stop by and say hi. In my booth, I will have signed copies of Cha’risa’s Gift for sale. I have a great giveaway as well, a booklet of recipes from the book, all of them custom created by master chef, Caroline Lewis specifically for Cha’risa’s Gift.
For more information on the Tucson Festival of Books, please visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org