This week author Jayme Mansfield joins us to talk about her award-winning WWII novel, Chasing the Butterfly.
|Jayme H. Mansfield ~ Author, Artist, Educator|
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
The first time I found myself in “the zone” was when I knew I had found my passion to write. Hours and hours went unnoticed and turned into full days in front of the computer. Ironically, for being an extravert, I discovered a wonderful place—to be by myself, creating new stories.
What inspired Chasing the Butterfly?
The initial seeds for the story grew out of writing assignments for the Christian Writers Guild and my personal passions for painting and traveling to France numerous times. But after that, I was inspired to persevere and complete the novel as a personal journey and challenge. At some (often many) junctures of our lives, we have to contend with forgiveness. Writing the book was my way of navigating pain, communing with the Lord, and ultimately realizing the freedom and joy that come with forgiving. I promised God I would finish the story, and when I did, I wasn’t sure if it would remain for His eyes and mine only. But His ways are surprising—that’s when the doors began to fly open.
Tell us where do your story and character ideas come from.
My characters come from bits and pieces of family members, friends, and myself. I don’t recall ever concocting all of the characters—instead, they seem to invite themselves into the story because they have something important to say or do. As for the story idea, I am fascinated by strong women who eventually figure out how to survive life’s difficulties, and ultimately find hope in the blessings. I have always been intrigued with history so weaving that with an artistic element motivates me to create story.
You are one of the busiest writers I have met. How do you manage to balance writing time with teaching school and being mom to three active boys?
I suppose I’m one of those people who have never understood the meaning of boredom. I find that I am driven by my passions to create in many forms. Sometimes, I wish I could lay aside a thing or two, but then I feel something’s incomplete. It’s probably a good thing I have three boys and a husband who are active and have so many personal interests. But I admit, there have been many days that I jump on and hold on tight!
Tell us how you came up with the lovely cover of your book.
My long-time friend, Kelly Berger, is an accomplished professional artist in Colorado. When I received word from the publisher that they would consider an original piece of art for the cover, I went straight to Kelly. She read the manuscript and fell in love with the story. I had pulled at least thirty different images and photographs of Provence, laid them out randomly in my art studio, and asked her to take a look. From those and our shared travels to Provence, we envisioned the low vantage point—poppy field with the butterfly in the distance and the sunset backdrop. Off to work she went…when the final painting was unveiled, I was stunned. Truly, it was exactly how I had imagined the cover! Our friendship has been blessed by the opportunity to share in the creation of the novel.
How did you research your setting in France? Do you have any anecdotes or interesting experiences arising from your research which you would like to share with our readers? Have any of these found their way into your book?
I’ve been to France, particulary Paris and Provence, several times. On each visit, hundreds of photographs captured the beauty and history—those images became ingrained in my mind and served as the visual memory when I wrote many of the scenes. I find World War II fascinating to read about, both in other novels and in non-fiction. Eventually, I needed to pull myself away from researching and get on with the story. On a fun sidenote, whenever I mentioned paint colors, I had to make sure the specific names of the paints existed at that time. I had a wonderful time delving into the history of art materials—it’s amazing where those unique names originated—but, that’s another story.
How do you see the importance of Christian fiction?
The presence of Christian fiction is imperative—it’s a venue for biblical truth to be woven into story in an appealing, inspirational, and fresh manner. I can’t tell you how many readers have appreciated enjoying a story without the offenses that are prevalent in much of today’s writing. Whether a reader has been a Christian or not, the discussions that have ensued from the story always contain elements of faith, hope, love, and God.
What are three things that have had the most influence on your writing process?
Belief--I have a story to create that is intended to touch the lives of others.
Gratitude and Humility – this writing journey is not merely about me, and I couldn’t do it by myself.
Challenge – writing is difficult in every way imaginable—but the process, nuances, and craft is exhilarating (even when I’m exhausted!).
Do you plot your stories out ahead of time, or just sit down and write from the seat of your pants?
Give me a horse to ride, and I’m on it! That’s my way of saying, “I love to write seat of the pants!” I get a rush from letting the story take off and run.
What events in your personal life have most impacted your writing, and how?
I write from plenty of emotion. I have discovered that I write scenes and dialogue based largely on what is currently on my mind and what themes are coursing through my heart and soul at the time.
What was the most emotional scene for you to write in your novel?
The scene at the pond ripped my heart out. Each time I reread that portion, I wept. Somewhere hidden in my greatest fears and deepest emotions, the descriptions evolved for those events.
Would you share the opening scenes of your novel with us?
I learned to run that day, really run. I gathered my scattered papers, knocking over the glass holding my new paintbrush. The blue-tinted water pooled around my knees and soaked the hem of my dress as it filled crevices between the stones on our front porch. I ran across the lawn and on to the gravel road leading to the center of town. It didn’t matter that the bottoms of my bare feet stung from the jagged stones.
I couldn’t stop. If I did, I’d never find her—she’d be gone. My long hair tangled
and caught in the tears streaming down my face. Pushing it out of my eyes, it flew out behind me like a windstorm. My pale yellow sundress twisted between my legs and threw me to the ground. I lay there trying to breathe, then pushed myself up, hiked my dress to my waist, and ran full stride down the center of the road. My head was down, determined—running for my life.
I raised my head in time to see Papa’s car swerve onto the soft shoulder and skid to a halt. Except for the strained car engine, there was silence. I froze, gripping the hem of my dirty dress with one hand and my crumpled paintings in the other. Silhouetted by the setting sun, Papa leapt out of the car and ran to me. I tried to focus but my eyes were drowning.
“Ella! What are you doing? I almost ran you down.” Papa wrapped me in his arms. “Your feet are bleeding. Oh, dear God, what happened?”
My lips quivered, and my entire body began to shake.
Papa held me tighter. He sat cross-legged in the road and gathered me into his lap. He breathed hard against my neck. “Did someone hurt you? Tell me, Ella.”
He took my face in his large hands and pushed the tangles of hair from my eyes. My breathing slowed and I felt a momentary calm like the sea before a storm.
“She’s ... I know she’s gone.”
I shook my head slowly from side to side. “Mama.” I stared into his soft, brown eyes. “She didn’t come back,” I whispered the vicious words. “She said she was going to the market after you left for Marseilles. She was dressed up, Papa, wearing her pretty blue dress and red lipstick.” I ran my tongue over my lips, tasting the dust and tears. “I said, ‘Mama, why are you dressed up?’”
"Bet she just wanted to look pretty.” Papa winked an eye and forced a smile.
“That’s what she said. She said, ‘Ella, I want to be pretty again.’"
"Again?" Papa's smile faded.
I nodded. “I told her she’s always pretty."
Papa tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Yes, she’s a pretty girl, just like you.”
“But I waited for her on the porch all day.” I lowered my eyes. “And I heard you and Mama yelling last night.”
“Your mother and I had a little disagreement. That’s all. It’s fine now.”
“No. She had her travel case. I was coming up the path from the pond and saw her put it in the front seat.”
“Did she tell you where she was going?” Papa stared hard at me.
“I tried to ask but she didn’t stop. I ran after the car as she drove away.” I breathed in deeply and stared back at Papa’s widening eyes. “I tried. I ran fast but I couldn’t catch her.”
Papa squeezed me. “Oh, Lord, she didn’t.” I watched his eyes fill with tears. He pressed his mouth into my hair and whispered her name as though wishing her back home. “Marie.”
But his voice confirmed the truth. I wrapped my arms tightly around his neck and felt a damp spot forming on his shirt as the tears rushed from my eyes.
Finally, he gathered me up and stood to his full height. He turned towards the sun as it cast its final light on the hills. Like many evenings, we watched the color of the hills intensify to a deep crimson. Tonight they looked as if they were bleeding hearts. Then slowly, the color darkened and the hills beat their last bit of life.
Papa carried me back to the car. My body was limp like the injured baby bird I tried to rescue last spring after a windstorm had knocked its nest out of a tree. Opening the passenger door with one hand, Papa placed me gently on the front seat.
“We’re going home, Ella.”
“Back to New York?”
“New York?” Papa’s forehead wrinkled. “Of course not. Why would you ask that?”
“Mama says this isn’t our home.” I whispered.
Papa sighed. “Ella, the farmhouse is our home. Roussillon is our home.”
“But, you told Mama she’d be happy here.” I waited for him to say something, but his open mouth was silent. “Remember, you said we’d live happily ever after in the sweet smelling vineyards and...”
“I know. And the far-reaching lavender fields in the south of France.” Papa’s eyes filled with tears, but he quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand.
As we pulled back into the center of the road, I looked out the dust-tinted window in time to see my paintings spiraling on the side of the road as a gentle wind lifted them in unison. They chased in circles as if trying to catch and hold on to one another. I don’t know when I set them free. Perhaps I let them go the moment Papa also realized she was gone—I knew then my gifts for her would never be received.
As Papa drove slowly down the road, I turned and knelt on the seat so I could watch my papers through the rear window. My paintings danced—beckoning me to return and play some day. As they floated to the ground, they waved a final time, fluttered a last breath, and then lay scattered and lifeless, like the pieces of my seven year-old heart.