Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When A Coincidence Sends a Chill Up Your Spine

I think most writers will relate to this. Sometimes when we are writing we become aware of a coincidence of some sort that sends a chill up your spine and makes you wonder if there is something unseen going on. I have had this happen quite a few times but the latest one was exceptional because it was shared with someone else.

To back up a bit: A couple years ago I started writing my Marienstadt stories which, while fiction, are deeply rooted in the history, customs, and folklore of my hometown, St. Marys, Pennsylvania. I made use of the kinds of popular stories that are told on front porches and in barrooms to concoct my own stories, weaving in bits of folklore and as much history as I could sneak in. I was aided in this by my long-time friend Ray Beimel who was the President of the local historical society for years and is still the town's most learned historian. Ray read every story many times, made corrections, as well as suggestions. The first collection of stories is called The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets ofMarienstadt and it is dedicated to Ray because I couldn't have done it without him.

The collection was very popular and I decided to start a second which will be called The Bucktail Hat in the Trunk: Secrets of Marienstadt. I already have 6 stories completed and 4 more in various stages of development. One of the stories in the first book is called The Confession of Genny Franck and one of the characters in that story is a Hexe-woman named Sybillia Windfelder. She lives in a cottage in the woods and is reputed to have both healing and magical powers.

I chose the name Windfelder because it is an old St. Marys name that one doesn't hear much any more. I don't know where I got the name Sybillia—I just saw it somewhere and thought it was pretty so Sybillia Windfelder was born.

She proved to be a popular character and a number of people commented on her and on Hexe-Women in general. So for the second collection I decided to write more about her. In the story I am working on, Mulligan Wolfe has purchased the land she once lived on, including her little woodland cottage and, as he is cleaning it up, he discovers a handwritten book hidden behind stones in her fireplace. As he tries to learn more about it, the story develops. And, as I built the story, I began weaving in some history—particularly of our convent which was started by three German nuns from Eichstätt, Bavaria in 1847. The leader of the group was Mother Benedicta Riepp, O.S.B. who was only 27 years old. Mother Benedicta is something of a heroic figure. She died of tuberculosis 10 years later but in those 10 years she founded 7 convents and fought a powerful Abbott who was appropriating money meant for the Sisters for his own use. Not a lot of people know about Mother Benedicta and I decided to weave her into the story. I love the way she fits in and Ray was also pleased with it. The story still needs work but I am happy with its progress.
St. Joseph's Convent and St. Marys Catholic Church in St. Marys, Pennsylvania

Last night I was sitting here working on it when the phone rang. It was Ray. He sounded a little excited. He told me that he is giving a lecture for a historical group on the Benedictine convent in town and was doing research and he said, “You are not going to believe this. I looked up Mother Benedicta's information and do you know what her birth name was before she became a nun?” I said I did not. “It was Sybillia,” he said. Wow.

He asked if I knew that and I said I had no idea. But what an amazing coincidence. When things of that sort happen it really makes me wonder if somebody else has a hand in this. Gives me chills.

Thanks for reading. 

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