Guest Post: Transforming Love By Anne Elisabeth Stengl & Starflower Autograph Book Giveaway



*A big Thank You to Anne for guest posting today as well as hosting a giveaway. Be sure to enter below!*


  
Every time I sit down to write a new story, I wonder what I'm going to say. Not about the story itself; usually that's pretty well set in my mind. I'll have the various heroes and heroines, their adventures, their desires, their ups, downs, and climaxes decently worked out in outline and/or short-story form. The plot as a whole is ready to go when I actually begin to pound out that rough draft.

But I always wonder what I'm going to say.

Writing fiction is about more than merely telling an entertaining story. Each book is a new opportunity to communicate my heart to hundreds and thousands of readers. The journey each of my characters travels is a journey my readers pursue as well. For a writer to say "It's just a story!" is the gravest mistake in the world. It's never just a story. It's a life, a series of lives, caught on paper, lived vicariously through many other lives. Every story, good or bad, matters in some way.

This is why I believe every good story has something to say. Some truth to impart through its characters and their adventures. Some truth that is deeply personal to me, but which also has significance to hundreds of people whom I have never met.

Which, when you really stop and think about it, is awfully overwhelming to a writer! I mean, it's hard enough, isn't it, to come up with compelling characters and surprising plot twists, breathtaking climax and a satisfying resolution. And now, suddenly, I have to communicate a universal truth as well? You've got to be kidding.

So I felt when I sat down to write the first draft of Starflower. Here I had a story, a fun story involving all sorts of things that had nothing to do with my personal life. A story of immortals pitted against mortals, of dragons bent upon revenge, of suns and moons personified, of rivers with voices; a story of ritualistic sacrifice. What deeply personal bit of universal truth am I supposed to wring out of all that?

I struggled on with the manuscript for many months before the answer came . . . in a most unexpected package.

I was sitting out in my sunroom one evening--about halfway through the first draft of Starflower--when a movement in my backyard caught my eye. Turning to look, I saw four beautiful, bouncing kittens gamboling about on my lawn as though they owned it.

"SQUEEEEEEE!"

I live on the edge of a little bamboo forest that is home to a feral cat colony. For those of you who don't know, feral cats are wild animals which have had no human interaction. They are as timid as squirrels and vicious when cornered, and after they reach a certain age are unlikely ever to be comfortable with people. They live harsh, brutal lives, struggling for every meal, falling prey to a number of predators and diseases. Most of them don't live long . . . just long enough to reproduce more wild kittens in far too great abundance.

The kittens in my yard that evening were feral kittens, born of a feral mother. The moment I stepped outside, thinking to give them a plate of food, they hissed and ran in terror. Which is a bit heartbreaking when you're talking about four gorgeous, fluffy, little balls of adorability!

Something had to be done.

Setting aside my manuscript for Starflower, I set about catching these kittens in a live-trap. One at a time, I caught them and took them down to my basement (I had to isolate them from my own cats because of the threat of diseases and fleas). There I set up a little room for them with a litter box, a bed, and plenty of food and water.

They were utterly terrified. Some of them hissed and scratched and snarled, trying to attack me if I reached out to handle them. Some of them merely curled up into quivering balls, unable to move as long as I was in the room. Their instincts ruled them, and their instincts screamed, Danger! Danger!

But I sat in that room for hours, talking to them, singing to them, touching them gently as they allowed me, offering them treats from my fingertips. I showered them with love. And one by one--some sooner, some later--I watched the transformations occur.

Those little kittens, so frightened, so vicious, turned into little balls of purring fluff, happy to cuddle in my lap for hours, offering to play sweetly. They no longer lashed out to claw me but would gently catch my hand between their paws and chew daintily on my fingers. They turned their bellies up for rubs, the ultimate sign (in cat language) of vulnerability and acceptance.

They turned from creatures of survival, instinct, and brutish fear into little personalities, each different from the others, each eager to give and accept love. The potential, which had always been inside them, blossomed, and they became devoted companions.

One day, sitting down in that basement with the most difficult of the kittens newly tamed and purring in my lap, eyes closed, belly-up, basking in the love I poured on his stripy little head, I suddenly knew what Starflower was meant to be about.

Starflower was going to be a story about transforming love.

What makes the difference between a man and a beast? What turns us from creatures of survival and instinct, focused only on our own desires and our own immediate needs and concerns? The answer is simple . . . and yet so profound. The answer is love.

Without love, my little feral kittens would have lived the short, brutish lives of their ancestors, moving from immediate need to immediate need. The same is true for you and me. Without love, would we be any different? We'd be concerned only with our next meal, our next comfort, our status, our immediate security. But love takes us outside of ourselves. Love gives us meaning beyond survival, beyond instinct.

Through love divinely showered upon our heads from a source beyond our understanding, we become greater creatures, more than animals. We become souls intended for relationships. As animals, we would only take what we needed. As beings of love, we can give and we can receive.

Through love, we become what we were always intended to be.

Those little kittens of mine were not born to be brutes. They were not born to hunt and kill and to be killed. They were born to be someone's companion. They were born to be small reflections of our own selves, giving love and bringing joy to others. And as I sent them off to their new homes and their new lives, I saw those kittens become what they were meant to be . . . but which they never would have become without love’s interference.

I owe those kittens a tremendous debt. Through what I learned while fostering them--and continuing to foster more kittens over these last few years--I discovered what Starflower was intended to say to my readers. Starflower is a story about love and its transforming power. It's a story about creatures becoming whole, about souls discovering what they were meant to be, beyond the limitations of selfish desires.

So when you read Starflower, I hope you will be caught up in an engaging, otherworldly adventure. I hope you will be enchanted by the seductive rivers and the wily Faerie queens; I hope you will shudder at the machinations of the dragon-witch; I hope you will be left breathless at the perils faced by my brave heroine and her immortal companion. But I also hope that you will see and understand the much deeper, more meaningful story behind the colorful characters and intrigue. I hope what I meant to say will reach out and touch your heart, and leave you eager to explore the power of transforming love in your own life.
  
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