Standing Through History: Building From Ashes

I saw Brave last week. Did I love it? YES. In fact, I think I’ll be posting a full review over on my blog, on Wednesday, if you want to check it out.

In Brave, a circle of standing stones is an important setting. The most widely known standing stones are, of course, Stonehenge on the Salisbury plain in England, but other ancient stones of various sizes dot the British Isles, often tucked into corners of villages or quiet farms.

When I was traveling in Ireland, where most of Carwyn’s book is set, I worked on a farm in Co. Galway for a few weeks clearing brambles and helping with the sheep. It was a great old farm and I had a wonderful time, even though it was very hard work. In the back of one pasture on the farm was a small dolmen. The sheep wandered around it, and the cows munched on the grass nearby when they used the pasture.

Now, a dolmen is a label attached to a broad range of Neolithic tomb structures scattered across Western Europe and other parts of the world. This dolmen was very small, nothing like the Kilclooney dolmen pictures here. It had probably never been dated or studied. It was just there, sitting silently among the trees on a small hill in rural Galway.

And I love that. I love that whatever bones may be buried under those stones have been accompanied by sheep and rabbits instead of scientists and academics. Not that I don’t appreciate the study of history (far from it), but I like that quite corners of it remain undisturbed, existing quietly with the modern world, overlooked by the rush of technology that surrounds us.

Quiet pockets of history surround me even here in Central California. A worker will be disking a field and turn up an old Native American grinding bowl. Flood waters will come in a wet year and the tule grass which used to cover the valley will spring up from pods that have lain dormant for years. History lays quiet in old barns, ranches, and adobes that drivers pass on the highway without looking twice. My own history surrounds me in family and friends.

I’ve had a fantastic time revisiting Ireland and Wales while I’ve been writing Building for Ashes. I’ve delved into a lot of personal history with this book, which has made it both difficult and satisfying to write. I’m almost finished with the first draft of the novel, then it goes to my beta readers, then back to me before it goes off to the editor. It’s a book that peeked into my own pockets in surprising ways. But then, Carwyn has always been a special character to me. And I’m very excited for you to meet Brigid, who’s complicated and funny and makes her own kind of epic journey in this book. It’s not an epic geographic journey, but as Merida learned in Brave, internal journeys can be just as challenging.

Here’s another quick look at the book from Brigid’s perspective:

The dark night was wrapped around her like a blanket, and the sea air carried the scent of salt and seaweed from the South shore of Galway Bay. Brigid stood at the open window and resisted the urge to flee down the small road that led to town. Even if Anne didn’t stop her, where would she go?

“The road or the bay?”

Brigid turned. The silent water vampire had entered the glass-enclosed room behind her and was already sitting in an overstuffed chair.

She couldn’t help but smile. “The road. I’m not a very good swimmer.”

Anne smiled. “Well, definitely don’t take the watery escape route then.”

Brigid shook her head and moved to the other chair. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The two women, one mortal and one vampire, both stared out the windows that surrounded them. The study was a small room that faced the water. In the morning, the light would stream in, and it was a pleasant place to drink a cup of tea or read a book. At night, the glass-enclosed room was surrounded by stars and the scattered lights that lined the western Irish shore. It was full of bookcases and stacked tables. Deep comfortable chairs and warm, woolen blankets. It didn’t look at all like a doctor’s office, but that’s what it was.

Anne said, “So, a man goes to see a psychologist. ‘Doctor,’ he says, ‘you have to help me. My wife says I’m obsessed with sex.’ The doctor sits down and gets out some ink blots and shows them to the man. ‘What do you see here?’ the doctor asks. ‘A couple on a bed, having sex.’ The doctor nods and shows him another one. ‘And this one?’ ‘A man and a woman on a couch, having sex.’ ‘Interesting,’ the doctor says. ‘And how about this one?’ The man squints and says, ‘That’s a picture of a man and a woman having sex on a boat.’ The doctor finally nods and says, ‘Well, you do have a problem. It appears you’re definitely obsessed with sex.’ The man stands up, outraged. ‘What do you mean, I’m obsessed with sex? You’re the one showing me all the dirty pictures!’”

Despite herself, Brigid snorted.

Anne spoke again. “How are a hooker and a psychiatrist the same?”

Brigid remained silent for a moment, then decided to play along. “How?”

“They both turn to each other after a night together and say, ‘That’ll be two hundred, please.’”

Brigid fought back another snort. “So, are psychiatrists like lawyers? Lots of jokes about their noble profession?”

“I don’t know. I think my secretary finds them on the internet. I get a new one every night on my desk.”

“And I’m supposed to take this process seriously? Now I’m just going to be imagining you in fishnet stockings, saying, ‘Looking for a good time, big boy?’”

Anne threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, Brigid, it’s nice that you have a sense of humor. Humor is important.”


“Yes.” The counselor turned to her with a wide smile. “It’s very important. Truth is important, but so is laughter. Never be afraid to laugh, even when you’re crying. Sometimes the two just go together.”

Thanks for reading,


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