Blog Hop


Photo courtesy of

I was recently approached by Head Muse and dear friend Kelly Belmonte about doing a “Blog Hop” which provides insight into my writing process. Her Blog Hop is located at the wonderful site All Nine Muses.  Kelly invited several others, including fellow Muse Holly Ordway, to contribute. Her excellent post is located at Hieropraxis.

By the way, both of these fantastic ladies have upcoming releases: Kelly’s new chapbook,  Spare Buttons, is available for pre-order through Finishing Line Press. Holly’s memoir of her spiritual conversion, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, is an expanded edition available October 7th. It is a fascinating narrative of her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Pre-order it here.


1. What am I working on?

Right now, I am juggling a few different projects. One is the C.S. Lewis and Leadership book which is derived from dissertation research. I struggled with various structural issues and then my friend and fellow Lewis scholar Charlie Starr suggested a good way to work everything in as I wanted. It is far from complete, but with some extra research and additional “seat time” in front of my computer, it will hopefully come along at a sufficient pace. I am also contributing a chapter to a book examining a new, emerging angle on C.S. Lewis. I cannot reveal too much about that yet, but it will be a great collaborative examination. Very excited for its release.

I’m also slowly nibbling on a collection of poetry. Poetry is very different than prose for me. I type academic prose, but I scribble poetry into journals. I can’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a poem”. I have to wait around until something shows up. I know that is counterintuitive to everything you have read about writing through blocks, but I have to be patient with the Muse!  Sometimes, if I can listen to music and quiet my mind, lines begin to come.  But the most significant aspect is finding that center, the opportunity to unplug, to exhaustively exit the hamster wheel, and just breathe. It’s a beautiful thing.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I am the first person to apply leadership theory to an individual predominantly known as an author. Beforehand, dissertations dealing with the same topic discussed Abraham Lincoln, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr. (all worthy recipients!). I prefer to set my own path. It creates more work for me, but it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to carve new philosophical pathways in leadership studies and Lewis studies. When I first began researching, I received some discouraging comments, such as, “But didn’t he write children’s books?” 

That type of criticism and discouragement serves to fuel my efforts. Just like a great story, everybody needs a little adversity to motivate them sometimes. I began a blog right after I graduated and just wrote what I felt. Honestly, I was a little shocked that people were reading what I wrote, because there are so many blogs, and frankly, lots of noise on the internet. You have to set yourself apart without sacrificing the essence of who you are. I like to be different (okay, weird) and explore uncharted territory in what I write. Most of the time, I am naturally drawn to that anyway because I have always been insatiably curious, but the work is intrinsically rewarding when you discover something new.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I think one of the most important things in art is to be honest with yourself. Write what you feel, not what may be popular or lucrative. As an instructor, my favorite class is Creative Writing. It is encouraging and nourishing to read and shape stories with my students. I urge them all of the time to write from the heart. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t take their advice and do the same. I write it because it makes me happy. I write it because it is what my soul desires to share.  

4. How does my writing process work?

Funny you ask that. I wish I could tell you that I sit down for 30 minutes a day or an hour a day and work. Depending on my schedule (and my motivation *cough*), I may sit down for some time, but it seems to come in waves. There are some times where work responsibilities are heavier than others and I cannot devote the time. I struggle with balance. I incessantly edit while being consistently impatient – not a good combination. I struggle to edit but I enjoy editing. It’s a strange sensation. I used to type up a piece and post it immediately. However, now I tend to wait at least a day and revisit it with a very critical eye. When I sit on a piece and edit, I am always satisfied with the results, but it is the waiting that I truly struggle with in most cases. George Orwell recommended that writers compose a piece, then place it in a drawer for a year.  After a year, he/she can unearth it and begin alterations. After a year, I would probably forget and have a bunch of “in utero” projects that remain incomplete (similar to Tolkien).

My Muse is a rowdy, unpredictable gal. She tends to wake me up around 3-4 A.M. and attempt to persuade me to write down “a few verses”.

This is a typical exchange:

Muse: Hey! Hey! Hey! I have this awesome verse for that poem about the old Celtic cross you saw. It’s vivid, it’s alliterative…

Me: [rolls over]

Muse: Ahem, are you listening? It’s fantastic and THEN I had this great idea for the poem about Shakespeare and the one about emotional bankruptcy. Aw, classic.

Me: Can you come back in like three hours?

Muse: No, you know how I keep my hours. This is prime time. Get up. I mean it. Go get your stinkin’ notebook and write this down. DO IT!

Me: Okay, hang on. *Snoring*

Muse: HEY! I said, Get up now!!

Because of her (sometimes intolerable) insistence, I wrote a poem for her once:  

“On Writing”

Oh gentle tyrant,

How you beckon during inconvenient moments

Diverting these hands from banal obligations

Or sweet repose.

True Muse or nocturnal nemesis?


And so I rise

Grasp the weathered notebook

And stare at the blank page.

Sigh, sighs,

Then syllables

Flow forth unfiltered.

A joyous slave to the verse

I obey

And in my toil I rejoice

To find myself again.


Be satisfied, and

Smile muse, as your coaxing is rewarded.

For you remain with this scribbling

Ever victorious.

What a Picture’s Worth: A Beloved Photo Returns to France after 70 Years


Just last week, on a drizzly Sunday morning, I stepped foot on Omaha Beach. Sand crunched beneath my sneakers as I surveyed the deceptively tranquil shoreline. As gulls circled politely overhead and low tide massaged the beach’s edge, I took inventory of the sad, tragic events that occurred seventy years prior. It was a sobering vision juxtaposed against our contemporary luxuries. How soon we forget and forsake those who dodge enemy bullets to defend our freedom.  The vestiges of German bunkers, now eroded stone, peered down from the incline’s precipice.


I couldn’t erase the images of D-Day from my mind, pictures of young Americans wading confidently with weapons and sacks to confront a ruthless enemy. Wounded and deceased bodies stretched across the sands as the ricochet of gunfire and screams reached a long, painful crescendo. Still they fought. They encroached enemy territory certain of victory and on the now becalmed shoreline, they would accept no less.

That quiet Sunday, there were no enemies, no artillery, no conflict. It’s just me and the picture I clasped in my hand.

____________________________________Paul 18_____________________________

                 Paul upon entering the service

In 1944, my grandfather Paul Ashley was drafted into the army and immediately reported for duty. He trained for several weeks, making new friends and learning survival skills as well as techniques of warfare. Before leaving out for training, he stopped by a local restaurant with another brother-in-arms. Both were in uniform. He spied, across the little shop, a lovely brunette chatting and laughing with her cousin. Paul didn’t know the name of this mysterious and beautiful woman, but a man who goes to war knows that time is of the essence. He couldn’t work up enough courage to approach her that day (a man can bravely face enemy fire, but not timid, pretty girls!). Instead he chose to admire her from afar, casually observing her as she was consumed in conversation. Later, he would write to the cousin (an acquaintance) and ask permission to send letters to her enchanting relative, a West Virginia native named Irene. “Which one?” Irene curiously asked. When she discovered that it was Paul, she was delighted and enthusiastically agreed. Thus began the correspondence that would lend encouragement through the dark trenches and unforgiving forests of WWII and eventually lead, happily, to a marriage and seven children.

 Mammaw and Pappaw

Engagement pictures, spring 1945

Several months after D-Day, Paul landed at Omaha Beach, the infamous site of Allied capture. The waters, he recalled, were still tinged pink, an ominous reminder of the events that preceded his arrival. His predominantly peaceful introduction to Europe was short-lived. He travelled to Belgium and Luxembourg to begin an arduous, bloody winter in the Ardennes Forest, participating in the Battle of the Bulge. His valor earned him several medals, along with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He was wounded by shrapnel, which he removed himself with tweezers.On another occasion, he carried his superior officer to safety through relentless gunfire (the officer unfortunately succumbed to his injuries). On Christmas Day, as he was eating rations, Paul was surprised by a bomb landing nearby, a bomb that never detonated. He called it a “dud” (but I call it Providence). All this time, during the fearful uncertainties of battle, Paul would pull out a lone picture of his girl, that same beauty from the restaurant. He cherished her letters, her sweet notes of optimism. After his return, he always kept that photo in his wallet. That was where it was on the day he died in March 2004.


Take it easy dear. Yours with love, Irene

And that is where I come in. In college, I interviewed my grandfather about his war experiences for a paper. He talked of his rations, of the French villages and German countryside, of the blending of armies united to fight an evil regime. After the interview, he showed me that photo, still in his wallet as the girl was still in his heart. After his death, I ran across the photo in an album. Remembering his deep attachment, I asked my grandmother if I could have it; she agreed. I was delighted to possess something that meant so much to him.

Now, here I am, seventy years after his arrival standing on the very beach upon which he first stepped into enemy territory, a sacred place where his brothers fought and died. I pull out that photo, the same smiling face now surrounded by worn edges, creases, and a small tear, and lift it to the breeze. This is where it started for my grandfather, but it is not, thankfully, where it ended. I envision the futures which vanished in the gun smoke, surrounded by the ghosts of progeny who never were, as so many young men took their last breath here. The pregnant silence, the soft wash of the shore is all I hear now. As I look across the sandy expanse, I am overwhelmed by their sacrifice and humbled by the opportunity to visit the very places he travelled throughout the war. How many nights did he recall the charm of those little French villages? Of brotherhood? Of undiminished hope, even as the cold German winter stung his face and numbed his limbs?


Window in Bayeux (Normandy)

I wish, as a child, I had paid more attention. I sincerely wish I had, before atrophy began stealing his memories, written down with more detail the places and events of his time at war. As the Greatest Generation shrinks, we must realize how impoverished we are in its absence. It is their strength, resilience, and resolve that we must carry with us. It is their legacy and as children and grandchildren, our inherited responsibility.

After a few moments, I place her back in my pocket. That beloved image – her ebony hair, warm smile, the handmade dress. She returned to France once again after seven long decades. As my grandfather did under very different circumstances, I pull it out to admire her, to think of all of the places she has travelled. I reflect on the sacrifices which purchased my freedom, which grant all of us new opportunities. That is why I carried her with me. I brought her back to remind myself of the miracle of life, which can be abbreviated with a single bomb or bullet. I brought her back to find a piece of myself in those tiny village corridors and in the echo of the ocean.

But most importantly, I brought her back to remind myself that freedom is never free.


GoFundMe Campaign for John Ashley

Hello readers!

If you read my post, “Why Hope is a Choice”, you are aware that my uncle was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. Currently, he is undergoing treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Due to surgery which removed his infected mole and now his chemotherapy, he is not allowed to return to work. Please, PLEASE consider giving what you can to his GoFundMe program to help deter the costs of doctor visits and treatment while he is absent from work. Any amount you give with be GREATLY appreciated!