The Paths through the Forest

A storm is brewing out my windows, clouds dense with rain hang heavy over the hills. You can feel the damp in your bones, in the air you breathe, and the chill that falls at your feet. Depending on your perspective, the promise of a deep drenching rain either fills you with trepidation or joy. Joy for me…always.

Weather has been part of my being since I was a child, thanks to my father, who flew through it all. And though I spent my time in the Navy in weather, I never once dreamed of taking that path in my life. But my broad brush with it has enriched me and my writing. I look at the sky, read the signs, and assess how what I see will affect my world, real or imaginary. In my stories, rocks, dirt, and slush roil down hillsides, a dry roadway on a frosty night hides a bridge slick with black ice, and the ocean sucks life from the beaches depositing its victims with the tide.

I have an affinity for the muddy side!

Like all of us, I’ve stared down many forks in the road and chosen a path through the forest of opportunity, fear, and hope lying undefined before me. I reinvented myself time and again to succeed in male-dominated businesses. I bucked trends, bosses, been on bucking horses, driven sixty-thousand miles a year back and forth over two states in a station wagon filled with educational assessments, flown hundreds of thousands of miles in the same quest, set up on demand scoring facilities nationwide, and my husband wants me to add, ridden an elephant.

My point is this . . . one of the great joys of writing is the ability it presents to follow anew the paths not taken. Each plot is an opportunity to ask what if I had become an anthropologist, a minister, a professor of English literature, a Naval aviator, or taken the bigtime NY advertising agency job when it was offered. Maybe I should have apprenticed at Vogue like my great aunt wanted or started at the bottom at National Geographic and worked my way up? What if I had purchased the family farm and lived that dream?

How different would my life have been if I had grown up in the town we were born in, married my high school sweetheart, and lived there still. Who would I be? I know I would be mad as a hatter and ready for the brick sanitarium with barred windows that once overlooked a sharply manicured lawn in the town I consider home. I can imagine being that person, bound to a town, a husband, a job, children, and family. How does that me react to the current me when we meet head-on in a plot?

Each path we don’t take informs and colors us as much as the one we did. The curiosity that drove us toward that choice lingers inside us. What we learned before we turned away still piques our curiosity and benefits our knowledge base. Writing is our opportunity to find out through our characters what might have been. Of course, as ladies of mystery, we spice it all up with a dead body or two, a conspiracy, a disappearance, or perhaps just the evil that stalks the dark of night. Boo!

I chose to leave the Navy when the life of one of my division members was destroyed by an unethical decision, supported by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and three fearful men. What if I had chosen to stay in? I’ll never know. But the incident and my resulting decision rode my shoulder as I drafted the final book of the Cooper Quartet, my series about a military family in the Vietnam Era. Don’t Tell will be released November 11 and is already a Reedsy Must Read, noting, “This author is an expert at action-packed intrigue and mystery.” And just in, from Booklife, “In this military milieu, Church—a Vietnam-era Navy veteran herself—does a remarkable job of keeping multiple plotlines running with clarity and power. Church spins a lively tale where motives are unclear in a vividly realized hothouse naval environment. The engaging characters and their detailed histories make this a satisfying capstone to a wide-ranging epic.”

Don’t Tell will be available November 11 on Amazon as an ebook, paperback, or in hardcover. In the meantime here is a link to the Booklife Review:

7 thoughts on “The Paths through the Forest

  1. You swept me along with your look into your past and then, brilliant writer that you are, you led me into your new book and how it came to be, what matters in it that others might not know about and what will matter to the reader from your description of it. So good!

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  2. Dawn, It is so true how what we have lived and what we would have liked to have lived can be incorporated into our writing. Congrats on the great reviews on the newest book!


  3. As usual, Dawn, you’ve written a marvelous post and one that is filled with information and heart. I read the review and can’t wait to read the book. I am in the middle of the first one of the trilogy, so it will have to wait!


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