Ah yes, winter continues into the new year, nearly blowing Salem off the map with high winds yesterday, and holding us captive in today’s dreary, cold, gray stillness. But it’s January 4 once again, and that always brightens my thoughts.
Because what would the world be for me or any other blind reader over the past 210 years if Louis Braille had not been born? Even if humankind had somehow managed to jump past these many decades and managed to find its way from the cumbersome use of tactile alphabet letters to computer speech software, blind folks would still be in a place of darkest night. It’s not just having the words of literature, law and everyday communication in our ears that is so important. It is “owning” the words, you know, being able to use them independently, to know their form and essence, and to manipulate them, arrange them upon the page according to one’s creative whim that makes Braille so critically vital.
And what better way to celebrate literacy and creative writing than to welcome today’s *Kindling Friendship* guest, author Meredith Burton.
Me: Meredith, welcome, how nice of you to drop by!
Meredith: Thank you so much. It’s such an honor to visit your home.
Me: Oh, it’s so chilly out there, may I get you something warm to drink, a cup of tea, or perhaps you’d rather have coffee?
Meredith: That’s so kind of you. Do you have peppermint tea, perhaps, or sweet iced tea would be wonderful.
Me: Peppermint? You bet, it’s one of my favorites. And I have a few tidbits to nibble. How about a cookie or maybe a piece of fruit?
Meredith: Oh my! I have quite the sweet tooth, so a cookie would be most welcome. I am a chocoholic, I must admit.
Me: Well, you’re not the only one. Shall we stay here at the kitchen table? Or would you like a comfy chair in the livingroom?
Meredith: Here at your kitchen table would work beautifully *laughs a bit self-consciously*. I tend to be most comfortable eating at a table. Thank you.
Me: No problem. Okay, I have my own cup of peppermint tea, and the cookies are here, now that we’re settled please tell me a little about yourself. What part of the country do you live in?
Meredith: I live in Lynchburg, Tennessee, a rural community in middle Tennessee not far from the Alabama border. I have lived there all my life. When I was six, my parents sent me to the Tennessee School for the Blind, a residential school in Nashville. It was a difficult decision for them but one that was truly a blessing in disguise.
Me: What do you like best about living there?
Meredith: I love the closeness of the community in Lynchburg. If there is ever a need, people will respond in many ways to make certain that need is met. Everyone gets to know each other, and thus there are many friendships that form.
Me: Are there negative aspects to living there?
Meredith: Sometimes. What I like least is the absence of public transportation. It can cause an inconvenience when I have to depend on family or friends to get me to places I want or need to go, but, thankfully, people are accommodating.
Also, Lynchburg is known as the home of Jack Daniel’s, which makes us fairly well-known. This is a good thing but can be a bit frustrating at times as there are more important aspects of our community that I think should be recognized, like our sense of family and the ways we try to help each other. And, of course, tourism provides good revenue, but the streets are often very crowded, particularly on Saturdays! That can make navigation a bit tricky at times.
Me: That’s very interesting. Is your writing influenced in any way by where you live?
Meredith: Oh, yes! Lynchburg influences my writing, particularly in the scenes where I depict family life. I try to create a sense of community that mirrors the people I have known throughout my life. My novella, Hart Spring, is a story in which I particularly try to capture this spirit. I have no doubt that if someone were threatened by a person with evil intentions, (as a group of people are in that story), the people in Lynchburg would take action just as those in Hart Spring do, *Grinns* although perhaps not as extremely! Ha!
Me: Can you describe your writing process for me? For example, do you have a certain time of day you find most productive? Or a special place where you find inspiration?
Meredith: I would be thrilled to discuss a writing day! I enjoy writing in the evening, probably about 6:00 to 8:00. It depends on how well the writing is going on a particular day. Some days, I get caught up in a piece, and it is hard to stop. Other days, I cannot concentrate.
I draw inspiration from music, particularly classical pieces. My favorite instruments are the violin and cello, although I cannot play them. Violin and cello music makes me relax and helps my mind to focus. I also love certain poetry and passages from the Bible. (Zephaniah 3:17 is my favorite Scripture verse). It thrills my heart to know that the infinite, all-powerful God who spoke the universe into existence loves me enough that he takes the time to sing over me.
Me: Oh, that’s lovely.
Meredith: I also love the Psalms as they are so candid and beautiful. Some of my favorite poets are John Donne, Christina Rossetti and Robert Frost. Frost, in particular, brings the natural world to life for me through his poetry, and this helps me to write more
Me: And what got you started writing, Meredith?
Meredith: I began writing when I was very young, probably seven or eight years old. I had Braille notebooks crammed with short stories, (most of them unfinished), and diary entries as well. But, I never seriously thought of writing as something to pursue as a career until after I graduated college. I began college with a major in music education but was not accepted into their school of music. I changed my major to English as I am passionate about teaching children to love reading as much as I do. Also, I want to teach students
self-expression, and writing is a superb art form to express your thoughts, confusions and curiosities about the world.
Me: Yes, I feel the same way. So what happened?
Meredith: After college, I applied to many schools and went on several interviews. I was never hired as a full-time teacher, although I was blessed to work with a wonderful middle school English teacher on a volunteer basis. I began writing in order to combat feelings of depression and inadequacy I was experiencing. Also, I became aware of the lack of books featuring disabled protagonists in the fantasy genre and wanted to combat this issue. In a Bible study, we were reading from the book of John, and the verse in chapter 6:35 sparked a picture in my head of a fantasy world in which two disabled teenagers must fight against an evil queen. They receive assistance from a magical baker whose food has healing properties. So, I had to write the story down. I have loved writing ever since.
Me:And what keeps you writing?
Meredith: What keeps me writing? Symphony. The symphony of ideas that won’t leave me alone. Realistically, I know that the book industry is a tough, competitive one, and that I will likely never be a bestselling writer. However, in the grand scheme of things, I just hope that one person finds hope in something I have been inspired to write. Idealistic and naive? Probably. But, that is just the way I feel.
Moreover, I want to let people with disabilities know that they have a purpose to fulfill while on this earth. That those of us that the world tends to overlook have a God-given duty to make our voices heard. We were created for a reason, and we must not forget that.
Me: That’s a mighty powerful message you’re conveying, my dear, and I love the creative way you’re doing it. Now a few more “creative” questions, if you don’t mind, so I can get a better glimpse of you as a person. What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say best expresses your personality? Why?
Meredith: Interesting question! I would say a mango best describes my personality. Mangoes have a sweet, rich taste that lingers after you eat them. But, most importantly, mango trees have a solid, long root system. The roots dig into the ground, and the mango trees stand firm. My faith in God keeps me grounded and helps me to face trials I might encounter. Without His help, I would topple.
Me: And would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains?
Meredith: I prefer to vacation in the mountains. I love the smell and feel of the brisk mountain air. In the mountains, you feel like you’ve risen above the mundane happenings of the world for a while. And, I love the sounds of mountain streams. They are not as majestic as the ocean’s conversation, but they sound like a kind and cheerful friend.
Me: Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?
Meredith: Ha! Another interesting question. My favorite punctuation mark is the comma. In fact, it is the main area of grammar I had difficulty mastering. But, a comma stands for a brief pause in a sentence. It reminds me to take a quick breath and contemplate the first part of the sentence before moving on. In life, we need to take brief pauses, too and not overlook the gifts around us.
Me: Wonderful, haha, you’re the first person I’ve interviewed to talk so philosophically about punctuation marks. Have children played a role in your life, or in your writing?
Meredith: My, yes! I have two precious nieces, Aliya Davine and Tristyn Layla Burton. I learn so much from them; the importance of curiosity, the need to find joy in every moment, and the blessings of watching them grow and change everyday. Tristyn is ten, and Aliya is seven. I love to include children in my stories. In Hart Spring, the novella I mentioned before, one of my favorite characters is a little girl named Annika. She’s a bit nosy at times and outspoken, but she’s a hero in the story and was a true pleasure to write about. My nieces inspired her character.
Me: What is your favorite fairy tale or children’s story? Why?
Meredith: My favorite fairy tale is “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” (the Grimms Brothers version, not Disney’s). As I had to leave home at an early age like Snow White, I was always drawn to this particular fairy tale. I empathized with Snow White’s loneliness and her innocent spirit. Her innocence is taken away, but she still emerges as a strong character. I love how she is welcomed by the dwarfs and how they become surrogate fathers for her. I also love how the story focuses on finding a place to belong in the world.
Me: Oh, I know you need to get back to your busy life, but before you leave, tell me a little more about your writing, won’t you? And where I might read your work?
Meredith: Certainly! I write fantasy novels and fairy tale retellings. While my fairy tale retellings have sprinklings of familiarity, I try to twist the stories around and make you contemplate them from different angles. In my anthology, Blind Beauty and Other Tales of Redemption, for instance, the novella entitled Blind Beauty is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” but it features a blind Beauty character. I tried to make people realize that you don’t need to physically see to be able to determine the worth of a person. Hart Spring is a retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” set during the time of slavery in a world similar to the American South in the 1850’s. It’s about finding courage and a place to belong even when innocence is lost. This anthology is available in audiobook form as well as Braille and print editions. I am particularly thrilled with this anthology as it was my first attempt at self-publishing, and the stories speak so strongly to my heart. Moreover, the audio edition is brought superbly to life by Becky Doughty, a phenomenal narrator. You can find out more about my writing by visiting my Goodreads page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4798776
Also, my new novella, The Princess and the Invisible Apple
Tree is out, and, Lord willing, I plan to submit a story entitled Rebekah’s Refuge to a publisher later this year.
Me: Well, Meredith, I have truly enjoyed our time together. I hope you’ll come visit me again very soon.
Meredith: Thank you so much, Joan, I had a wonderful time! It was a pleasure chatting with you. God bless you in all your endeavors, and I hope we chat again soon.
Night seems suddenly very close as I shut the door and reach for my trusty candlelighter. The flame sparks and I bring it carefully to the wick. One deep breath, another, and I begin to feel the day’s dreariness drop, the week’s worries and stresses evaporate. Shabbot is in the light, in the air.
I sigh: Blessed are you, Beloved One, who enables me to kindle the Shabbot lights, the light of friendship and creativity, harmony and peace.
And let us say: Amen.