"LIVING WITHIN HISTORY: INTRODUCTION OF AN AUTHOR"
By Shayna Matthews
By Shayna Matthews
The center within oneself does not begin with birth, but rather with the histories of those who have trod before us. To fully understand—to appreciate—who we are, we must examine their stories. Reflect on them, for they are the breath of past lives. Of our lives, yours and mine.
This is my first blog for you, Western Fictioneers reader, and I thought to introduce myself. A feat easier said than done, for to understand who I am, one must be willing to glimpse within the memories of childhood. I was three years old in 1983 – the year I started living within history.
My parents, with attire and camp accurate for the 18th Century, began taking me to reenactments throughout the east coast. We would camp, up to ten days at a time, in fields sometimes over a mile long. Imagine, as a child, a mile’s worth of valley nestled between mountain ranges, littered with white canvas tents. Our meals were cooked (and smoked) over a campfire, and we dressed in clothing accurate for the era. No modern conveniences, no matter what the weather. Those were the days of perfection. I recall the days at Schroon Lake, with sandy beaches and broad lake, running and canoeing with my small band of Patriots, chasing Lobsterbacks through the fields and woods. Our play was imaginary, recreating forts from firewood, aided by sticks serving as muskets. A few of the lucky ones had replica wooden rifles with which to keep the enemy at bay. I wrote specifically about these memories, life-changing adventures, and impenetrable bonds in a story entitled “A Spot in the Woods” from the Memories From Maple Street: Leaving Childhood Behind” anthology.
When we weren’t playing Patriots and Lobsterbacks, (the period edition of Cowboys and Indians), my dearest friend and I would catch grasshoppers in tin lanterns, or weave daisy chains for my hair. By day it was play, but when night fell across the campsite, and the soft glow of a thousand candle-lanterns and campfires illuminated the tee-pees and lodges scattered throughout the valley, magic happened. Friends gathered around the fireside, passing jugs, playing music, and telling stories. History came to life…I could hear the whispers of our ancestors on the wind, and in the crackling of another log fed into the fire. This feeling that settles over a camp after nightfall is the embodiment of everything I am made of. The adults would tell stories, and I would huddle in a wool blanket, nearly burning the soles of my moccasins in effort to keep warm, and sustain a comfortable silence…listening. The quieter I was, the better chance I had at staying up late. When my mother remembered to put me in bed, I would lie against the wall of the tent, ears trained to the stories told by adults when children were “asleep”. This is, coincidentally, where I gained the most valuable education of my life. Ahh, blessed be for the grown-ups forgot how thin the walls of a canvas tent truly are!
In the modern world, I went to public school and suffered in silence. It was not so much an education for me as it was day to day survival. I was quiet, far-removed from aspects of childish peers and their relenting bullying. I survived, day to day, at best. Only at the reenactments did I dare to breathe...save for one thing. My grandfather, an avid western reader, began sharing his full collection of hardbound Zane Grey novels with me. Zane reeled me in from page one of Riders of the Purple Sage. The die was cast--my grandfather and I forged a tighter bond through the love of the Western. Zane was my daily escape; together we rode horseback through the desert sage. I latched onto the western classic films, novels and lifestyles.
Over the years people commented about my quiet manner, little did they know I was building entire worlds within my mind, fed a little at a time, by their stories. Our tight knit group of friends raised me, educated me, made me who I am today. Who I am, is a writer. A storyteller, an author, photographer, weaver of period straps and sashes, a mother, an explorer, and a historian…of sorts. I weave history into fictional tales of the past. Westerns are my passion, and I strive to build characters who jump off the page, unconsciously teaching the reader a thing or two as they story progresses. Historical accuracy paired with a well-told story is a must, and the constant research to undertake such a strict point of view—what a ride! You never know what you will uncover beyond the veils of the past, what nugget of history will inspire you to write with the whisperings of your ancestors over your shoulder.
I am driven by the sounds of spring peepers at dusk, and of wooden tent stakes being hammered into the ground. The scent of leather, horse sweat and campfire smoke sends me into a tailspin of memories, both sweet and bitter. The sight of a thousand lanterns, glowing faces in the firelight, it all reminds me that we are but one grand chapter woven into the coverlet of life. May we live with the grit, love and endurance of those who came before us, and keep the sparks of their stories alive. May we be known for the tracks we leave behind.
This is who I am. Who are you?
Written by Shayna Matthews, author of “The Legend of Venture Canyon” and “A Spot in the Woods”.