A Korean War widow’s difficult mother dies before revealing the identity of Dee’s father. As Dee sorts through what little her mother left, she unearths puzzling clues that raise even more questions: Why did Leora send money every month to the Basque Relief Agency? Why is Dee’s own daughter so secretive about her soon-to-be published book? And what does an Anglican priest know that he isn’t telling? The Sheep Walker’s Daughter pairs a colorful immigrant history of loss, survival, and tough choices with one woman’s search for spiritual and personal fulfillment.
Stories Begin with Questions
Why do families keep secrets from their closest family members? Is it important to know your family heritage? These are the questions posed in my novel, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter.
Ancestry, religion, and community provide the context for the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. My main character Dee lacks all three. Her sense of disconnection and isolation is profound. Not knowing the identity of her father or the people he came from is the result of decisions her mother made, but her isolation is self-imposed. Where does that come from?
The stories people tell down through the generations allow parents to identify family characteristics—ones they want to preserve and pass on, and ones they might want to root out. In my case, I remember hearing, “We come from a family of strong women.” Of course I wanted to pass this sense of identity down to my daughter and granddaughter. We also have a rich vein of imagination that has produced talented writers, as well as dissemblers who have used cutting wit to deflect attention to character flaws. Over time, this is behavior that can crust over into mean-spiritedness. If you know how that played out in great-grandma’s life, you might want to have some cautionary tales in your repertoire when you see history beginning to repeat itself in your children.
The spiritual journey of a middle-aged woman with no religious upbringing was another topic I wanted to explore. What would it be like to come to faith when you’ve made it halfway through your life without seriously asking the question, “Does God exist and what does that mean to me?” I wanted to walk with Dee, and watch her heart grow as she began to experience God amid all the distractions of life.
Father Mike, an Anglican priest, pops up early in my story. I’ve known a few Father Mikes in my life, wise, patient people who have a good sense of timing and know when to ask just the right question to break through the strongholds we build up against the pain of life.
Dee is given an opportunity to discover her roots, find faith, and let new people into her life. But all good stories have a dark side. She will have to battle her own demons and her feelings of betrayal.
My story is set in the 1950s, but Dee is not June Cleaver. She is a reluctant military wife, a single mother for all practical purposes, and a career woman in a man’s world. She will need to make a fresh start on all those fronts.
Father Mike does not feed her mind with answers. Instead, he encourages her heart to see the questions. Each question is spiritual exercise that challenges Dee to do hard things that are only possible when we open the door to our hearts.
Father Mike encourages Dee to ask God her biggest, toughest question and then be on watch for the answer. Nothing builds faith like receiving an answer to a life-changing question. When Isaac carried the wood he would shortly be placed upon, bound for a sacrifice, he asked his father Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” His life depended on his Father’s answer.
There is power in directing your most heartfelt question to the One who has the answers.
About the Author
Sydney Avey lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Yosemite, California, and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifetime of experience writing news for non profits and corporations. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Foliate Oak, Forge, American Athenaeum, and Unstrung (published by Blue Guitar Magazine). She has studied at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Sydney blogs at sydneyavey.com on topics related to relationships, legacy, faith, and the writing life.