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Monday, November 9, 2009

Don't Fence Me In

Okay. What did you first think when you read the title of this post? Roy Rogers? If that was a yes, you’re absolutely correct! Roy sang this song while Trigger danced in the 1944 movie, Hollywood Canteen. Many other singers also recorded it over the years – Gene Autry, Kate Smith, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (together), Ella Fitzgerald, and Harry Connick, Jr. (more recently). Did you know it’s a Cole Porter song adapted from a poem by Robert Fletcher? Me neither. But by now, I know the words are rolling around in your head, so if it’s driving you nuts, you can click over here to watch the clip.

And the purpose of this post is not to send you into some time warp. It’s the word fence I want to talk about. Some words just trigger (sorry . . . couldn’t resist with the dancing horse still in my head) immediate reactions. I don’t necessarily think of “fence” being a powerful word . . . at least I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago. I received two books in the mail on the same day: White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner and The Fence My Father Built by Linda S. Clare.

Distinct, but totally different images came to mind before I even had time to study the covers and wonder what stories might be inside. White Picket Fences, of course brought the image of a comfortable cottage with Cape Cod curtains at the window. I could see in my mind’s eye a cheerful yellow kitchen and people who laughed and lived satisfying lives. Perhaps even perfect lives. That’s exactly what the title and cover were meant to convey, but with this being a novel, I knew much more lurked beneath the surface. Wow. Did it ever. Lovely writing from one of my favorite authors.

The Fence My Father Built brought images of another sort – heritage, a solid foundation, perhaps a bit of mystery as to why this particular fence had significance. Again, an idea that hooked me and kept me turning the pages. It was indeed about heritage – Native American roots – but also one filled with action, regret over never knowing the father who built the fence, and ultimately about guarding the things we hold sacred.

Both of these books are terrific reads and well worth your time. The publishers did a fantastic job of conveying the hearts of the stories through the cover art and just the right titles. Well done.

So, books aside, and songs that are skipping through your head, what other thoughts does the word “fence” conjure up? And how might it be used in a story? A “fence” of course can take on a criminal element with regard to stolen property and the middleman. Sports-minded? How about the Green Monster – the enormous 37-foot, 2-inch wall fence at Fenway Park? To make a ball sail over it is a moment of victory, of personal accomplishment. Rivaling paramours “fence” in duels to win the love of a fair maiden. Stockades and razor wire fences are meant to contain people. Barbed wire fences keep cattle in and gated community fences keep people out.

And what about a chat over the backyard fence? Do people do that anymore? When our twins were babies, I’d sometimes hand one over the fence to our neighbor on the south and the other one over to the north-side neighbor so I could have thirty minutes to read a book to my toddler. Those were the days.

Are you convinced yet that fence is a strong, evocative word? I’m sure you can come up with even more creative examples, and may even have a few power words of your own you’d like to share. Just don’t straddle the fence about joining the conversation.

And don’t forget to check out these two new books. You’ll be glad you did!


Koala Bear Writer said...

Very interesting to look at how one work can be used! You're right about White Picket Fences - very apt title with a twist in the book. Many of us use fences to hide behind, to guard ourselves and our bit of property in this world. Yet for a mom, a fence can be an act of love to keep her children safe and close. :)

Linda Clare said...

Thanks Carla for including my book The Fence My Father Built in your article on fences. For me the fence symbolized how the character was able to link to her father via a physical object. And of course the heavenly Father has left us a beacon as well, His Word. Linda