Thursday, May 20, 2010

an excerpt from Rise

Eugene Talmadge
For the first time ever, I've decided to release a few excerpts from the novel, Rise, I wrote from age 18-23 (and have been writing and rewriting from age 24-28-- don't ask, it's a long story.)

In trying to decide what I want to focus my time on while I'm in Scotland, I'm faced with this question-- do I want to continue on with this project that I've been so close to getting right so many times, or just let it go and move on to a new novel... ??... and if I start a new novel, what kind of animal will I want that to be?

So my thought of how I would answer that question to is work through some problematic (And also some fun) sections and see how I feel about them. And get you all's help. Then, in September, I'll see how I feel.

For example, this much older section (Written probably around 2001, when I was 19.) It's an important scene in the beginning where the two main characters first briefly meet.

In case you're wondering, Rise is an exploration of my generation's relationship with religion and spirituality told primarily through the eyes of two would-be loves who meet at a Theological seminary camp in Georgia as teenagers. It alternates between their two perspectives over many years, but this section is just from the pov of Meg. The girl is a spunky Buddhist and the guy is a Methodist from Texas. It is in no way autobiographical.

:) Enjoy after the jump!

Atlanta, Georgia 
July, 1999

Meg looked one last time in the mirror and prayed to God and to the Universe that at least there would be cute boys. Meg prayed to the summer sky to take care of her. Take care of a little Buddhist girl who had gotten herself in a lot of trouble and decided it would be a good idea to live with sixty some odd Christian kids for an entire summer.
 She wouldn’t show she was scared though. Meg was this five-foot impenetrable stronghold. And despite her buried fears that she could potentially be attacked for her beliefs, Meg somehow didn’t seem to care.  It felt like the first choice she had ever made for herself. She rejected what she had in Utah, and asked for something else, whatever that might be.
Meg and her father whisked down the curving Atlanta streets that seemed to be high above the rest of Georgia, like a city in the clouds.
“Otis Redding?” Dad offered as he popped the CD into the player of the rented purple Alero.
 “Track three!” she said, and waited to sing along. “You know, I think if I could be anything, I would be a female Otis Redding.”
“Good. I like that idea. Stay away from planes though,” Dad said. “Can you imagine how many great friends you are going to make? Now, you have enough copies of the books, right? And you finished those chapters in the gosho that I told you about, right?”
 Meg could always count on Dad to be her biggest supporter, but even he had his doubts about this decision. He wanted to make sure she knew her Buddhism well enough to stand her own against ‘the lions,’ against ‘Goliath.’ Meg secretly chuckled at all of his biblical references about the place.
The world of religion had always seemed simple to Meg. But when others looked at her, they saw something very complicated. Meg never thought about being a Buddhist who believed in God. Her Dad had always made anything seem possible. He had her reading Nichiren Daishonin at ten, reading it in Japanese at fifteen.
She had been raised to believe that she could believe in anything she wanted.  But Dad had been raised in Georgia with both Baptist and Methodist influences. Meg couldn't imagine announcing to a Southern socialite mother and father that you were converting to Buddhism. They thought he had joined a cult.

 The week before school got out and she was getting ready to leave for Youth Theology Institute, Meg chopped off all her hair. She had long, thick, wild curly hair. And then, forty minutes later, she was somebody new-- nimble and unencumbered. This was the beginning of the rest of her life, she thought.  The misogynist boys at school called her haircut "the militant lesbian" but she just smiled at them, at her secret. They had no idea how happy she was going to be and she wasn’t going to waste her breath to tell them. 
She was thinking the same thing as they pulled up to the “Welcome Scholars” sign draped on the bike rack in front of McTyeire Hall. Meg was cautious. That’s what she'd decided she was going to be that day. Not unfriendly, just cautious. Maybe, she hoped,  it would even appear to the outside observer that she was mysterious.
  “Cute hair.”
 Meg turned to see a redhead girl smiling at her from behind thick glasses. But she was very pretty. Was she Meg's roommate? She had no stuff, and she seemed to have a little more confidence than the kids around did.
 “I’m Noel. I’m a mentor for this summer. We’re just here to counsel you and make sure you all have a great and nurturing spiritual experience while you are here.”
Meg elbowed Dad… see? Things were going to be just fine.
Then a peppy male cheerleader of a guy poked his head into her room with a jolt. “Hey, all the scholars are meeting at the end of you girls’ hall.  My name’s Ty. Is this gonna be a great summer or what?!”
Abandoning her dad to the unpacking, Meg & Ty wandered down to the last room on the right and crammed into the dorm.  Meg stayed close Ty and went to sit on the bed.
 She looked over at the doorway just as another boy entered the room. All at once, she felt him seem to zoom into focus. Tall and grounded, his lip curled... like...Elvis...with hazel eyes that somehow seemed purple or...gray... like a moody sky. It was like he was on all sides of her, making her very tired. 
 And then it was over and she heard all the voices of the kids around her again. And she was irritated almost.  He looked cocky.
Meg flattened her mouth in what her friends called the “disapproving face.” This kid was going to be trouble. She got the sense that he was important, possibly the most important person she had ever met, but also, that he was going to be a pain in the ass.
He tapped his friend on the shoulder and tossed his head in Meg's direction. He walked straight up to her and put his hand in her face. “Hello, my name is David Harrison…I’m from Lubbock, Texas.”
He had this voice like a great southern orator. With the accent toned down just enough to be not only intelligent, but also a little pompous. Meg imagined his body with Eugene Tallmadge’s head attached to it as he spoke. She half expected him next to say, “The people of Georgia only have three friends left: Sears Roebucks, God Almighty, and Eu-GENE Tallmadge!” Just like her Granddaddy had told her in stories about the great southern politicians.
Meg uncrossed her arms, taking her time, sizing him up and letting him know it. Be brief, Meg. Brief. She scratched her face delicately, and stuck her hand out for him.
“Meg Evans. Little bit of everywhere.”
Brief. But then she turned back into her chatty self, always with the NEED to explain. “Well, I live in Utah right now kind of, but my family is from Georgia. They live about an hour from here.”
He stared at her for a very long second, just nodding his head. And Meg could smell him.

She thought of the bed at her Grandmother’s house with the cleanest, whitest, coolest sheets on it in the summer time. Meg used to look forward all day to night time when she could glide into it and those were the nights that she actually enjoyed insomnia because she just wallowed in those sheets and the smell of where she knew she was supposed to be. And  her Grandparents were right down the hall snoring and loving her. And David smelled like the nights in that bed.
*     *      *

Meg stood in line waiting for her binder with the schedule, room listings, etc. The binder also had course materials for their Exploratory Classes. Laura held hers up to Meg from across the hilly patch of grass in front of McTyeire.
“East Meets West,” she mouthed, exaggerated enough for Meg to tell. So Meg stepped up and readied herself to grab the same binder and head over to Laura’s little huddle of scholars seeking knowledge of Eastern Religions. She completely assumed that they would stick the lone Buddhist girl in that group and she would end up teaching the class about her faith. She would coast through it like the classes in high school.  They had stuck little Bah’ai Prisha over in that crew. But Meg's binder said “Systemic Evil: Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Fredrick Douglass ‘Doug’ Powe.”
Systemic Evil and why bad things happen to good people?
Good question. This guy thought he could answer that? Meg was slightly disappointed, maybe because she knew that this class was going to mean actually giving some hard core thought to a subject she already had to think way too hard about for way too long. 
Doug announced that soon, they would be heading to the university chapel to have a welcome address and opening prayers. Meg started counting the minutes when she would turn back into the real Meg, which at that moment, she was scared to show. But the process had already begun.
Georgia humidity had already forced her to shower so her straighted hair was back to a mess of crazy corkscrews, which she hated. David came up behind her and reached his hand around the back of her neck. He floated his soft fingers into Meg's hair. She tried not to move, fearing he would stop, fearing someone would see.
“I like it better curly,” he said barely above a whisper.
She couldn't be sure what her face looked like, and she closed her eyes, but Meg was sure that her heart and her intestines and legs were all smiling, every inside part of her was smiling. No boy (other than Dad, who really didn't count) No boy ever had ever liked her hair better curly. Never. For him, at that moment, Meg wished it all back, all that hair she could almost sit on. Even with the new freedom she felt, (Meg felt ten pounds lighter) she wanted it back for him, only so that there would be more of her for him to touch.

 copyright 2004
Ryann L. Ferguson


  1. "And David smelled like the nights in that bed."...eep! Perfection. Post more excerpts soon!

    I have so enjoyed reading your writing today. For what it's worth (and I know nothing about anything), I vote for a new novel in Scotland. Fresh start.

  2. Love it!!! I say finish this one up...and start a new one.

  3. McC!! Thank you so much for reading so much of my writing today! You are a true gem & I'm glad the malicious vice grip of grad school has eases up on you so you yourself can get back to your delightful blog. I heart you!

  4. I am so glad to finally be reading this. MORE please.


Why Stop Now?

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