What Goodbye Hasn’t Taught Me (And What It Has)

This is taken from a writing exercise that I completed at the Young Writer’s Workshop at Messiah College. Registration for this year’s workshop is currently open! Click here to learn more. If you would like to support the scholarship fund for this workshop, please consider purchasing a copy of The Young Writer’s Workshop Journal: Messiah College 2019. It features works by myself and my friends from last year’s workshop, and a purchase helps other writers have the opportunity to go to the workshop! Click here to get a copy.

Goodbye Hasn’t Taught Me…

  • What staying in one place for more than three years feels like.
  • How to leave or be left without pain or tears.
  • Why some goodbyes don’t feel like goodbye.
  • That goodbye gets easier as time ticks away.
  • That home is a place.
  • Where I’m “from.”
  • How to forget.

Goodbye Has Taught Me…

  • How to leave a place you love for a place you know only by name.
  • Home is people, not a place.
  • That leaving or being left by people is a thousand times worse than leaving a place. 
  • Why savoring every moment is important.
  • To look on the bright side.
  • That watching your home fade into nothing is as painful as watching a part of yourself slip away.
  • To remember that not all goodbyes are sad ones. 
  • Goodbye doesn’t always mean the end. Sometimes, it means once upon a time…

What has (or hasn’t) goodbye taught you?

Interview with Author Ashlee Cowles

I’m so excited to be sharing an interview with author Ashlee Cowles with you all today!

Ashlee Cowles is the author of Beneath Wandering Stars and Below Northern Lights. Y’all have hear me rave about Beneath Wandering Stars before in my post “7 Books About Military Kids.” Guys, if you haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK. It is honestly one of my favorite books, and I was so excited when Ashlee Cowles agreed to do an interview. She is not only a great writer, but also so kind, inspiring, and all-around amazing. Keep on reading for my interview with Ashlee!

Tell me three random facts about yourself! 

  1. I once swam a few feet away from a shark…only I didn’t know it until I got out of the water and saw the fin! (Maybe this is why I now prefer swimming in the Great Lakes to the ocean!).
  2. My high school prom was held in a German castle.
  3. I’m pretty sure I could live off of olives, cheese, and fresh baguettes.

How did growing up as a military kid influence you and your stories? 

So far all of my stories are rooted in locations I’ve either lived in or traveled to, in large part because of my mobile military upbringing. I love stories with a strong atmosphere and sense of place. I think living in different regions and among a variety of different cultures has given me an ability to recognize the little details that make all of those places “home” in some way (because most military kids don’t just have one home — they have certain memories that feel like home). For example, I can still remember the sound of cicadas from spending my early childhood years in Alabama and Texas, I know what it feels like to not see the sun for weeks during a Pacific Northwest winter, and one of my favorite scents is the smell of cinnamon almonds roasting at a German Christmas market. Those are the kinds of special details I try to incorporate into my stories to make them feel real, but mostly, I just love writing about people from vastly different backgrounds who are trying to work together and figure out how to make their way in this complicated world. Growing up in the military community gave me a lot to think about in that regard.

Where did you get the inspiration for you novel, Beneath Wandering Stars?

My own upbringing as a military kid was definitely a major source of inspiration. There is a huge population of teens who know what it’s like to change schools multiple times because your family has to move every few years, and who know what it’s like to have a parent or loved one deployed to a war zone for months at a time. Yet I hadn’t read any Young Adult novels that focused on this unique upbringing, so I decided to follow Toni Morrison’s advice — “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Your story is set during a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. Why did you choose that as the setting for Beneath Wandering Stars?

I knew I wanted to set my military kid story overseas on a U.S. military base in Europe (since that’s a unique experience many military kids have at some point), but I also wanted my protagonist (in this case, Gabi) to go on some kind of adventure that would cause her to grapple with the challenges that are part of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. After I walked the Camino de Santiago myself in 2011, I finally knew what my “adventure” would be and the rest of the story kind of fell into place! The Camino is a real-life “Hero’s Journey” and a fantastic setting for fiction — you meet so many interesting people who are walking the route for all kinds of reasons. I knew it would be the perfect setting for Gabi to encounter other characters who would stretch her and help her grow.

What message do you hope readers take away from Beneath Wandering Stars?

Whether or not you grew up in a military family like Gabi, I think a lot of us feel are longing for more connection and feel a little “homeless” right now, like there isn’t one physical location where we feel like we belong. The last line of the book will probably always be my favorite — “People are the only home the Army issues.” Because that’s what “home” ultimately means to me — it isn’t just a place, it’s the relationships and memories we carry with us no matter where we go.

If you had the chance to go on a trip with one of the characters from Beneath Wandering Stars, who would it be and why? Where would you go?  

What a fun question! I would probably want to go on another walking pilgrimage, and I would love to take along Homer, the German Shepherd, who makes an appearance at the end of the book. He’s such a loyal companion and he would make me feel safe if I wasn’t traveling with other people (Homer also plays a major role in the sequel to Beneath Wandering Stars, Below Northern Lights). I’ve had serious wanderlust for Italy (and gelato) lately, so I would probably want to hike the Way of St. Francis — a pilgrimage route from La Verna that passes through Assisi and ends in Rome.

What are three of your favorite books? 

Three recent favorites are A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, and Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.

What is your favorite quote? 

I love this quote so much that it’s actually on the homepage of my website: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~T.S. Eliot 

Lastly, what is your number one piece of advice for writers everywhere?

To write well, I think you first have to see well. By that I mean you have to notice details and pay attention to what moves you and what moves other people. That’s why I’ve kept a notebook of quotes and poems and little snippets of writing that I love — it helps me to pay closer attention to what kind of words ring true and why they make me feel something long after I’ve finished reading them.

Thank you so much, Ashlee! I’ve loved having you on my blog and reading your fantastic answers.

About Ashlee Cowles

Ashlee Cowles is the award-winning author of BENEATH WANDERING STARS (Simon Pulse), BELOW NORTHERN LIGHTS, and WISDOM FOR THE WAY. Raised in a military family without roots, Ashlee enjoys traveling the world almost as much as she loves telling stories. Learn more at ashleecowles.com.

Click here to buy Beneath Wandering Stars ~ Click here to buy Below Northern Lights

In what ways does you life influence your stories? If you could go on a trip with a book character (yours or someone else’s), where would you go and who would you take?

You May Also Enjoy….

7 Books About Military Kids

April is the month of the military child! It is during this month that we recognize the sacrifices that military children make through many moves, deployments, and uncertainties. But with all of those sacrifices comes pride, community, and adventure. I, myself, am a military child and am proud to have been one for many years.

There’s nothing quite like finding a book with characters that one can relate to. As C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Unfortunately, there are not many books with military children, or even simply children with loved ones in the military, as the main characters. That’s why I have created a list of some of these books. It is my hope that some military children will be able to find a book with a character that they can relate to so that they may know that they are not alone.

For Children’s Book Readers

Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut

“Back and forth our star will fly, racing through the nighttime sky.”

Night Catch is a sweet story that tells how a nightly game of “catch” using the North Star brings together a deployed father and his young son. Told in catchy rhymes and beautifully illustrated by Vicki Wehrman, Night Catch is a great book for kids who have a parent who is deployed.

Click Here to Buy Night Catch on Amazon

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops by Jill Biden

“Be brave, Natalie.”

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops by former Second Lady Jill Biden is a tale inspired by her granddaughter’s life, Natalie. It’s a touching tale that very accurately describes what life is like when a parent is deployed. Many military children and families will be able to relate to Natalie and her family.

Click Here to Buy Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops on Amazon

For Middle Grade Readers

The Molly Series by Valerie Tripp

“Everything was different now because of the war. Dad was gone and Mom was busy.”

These American Girl books are books that I cherished and enjoyed as a young girl. Molly may have lived during WWII, but the experience of having a parent away at war has remained the same through the years. The illustrations and history tidbits that are included in these books are wonderful!

Click Here to Buy the First Book in Molly’s Series on Amazon

Army Brats by Daphne Benedis-Grab

“Maybe being brave wasn’t the most important thing anyway.”

Army Brats is part mystery and part coming-of-age story. Set on a military base, there are puppies, mysteries, and lots of fun. My sister Maya read it and loved it! Don’t worry, I plan on reading Army Brats soon too. 😉

Click Here to Buy Army Brats on Amazon

For Young Adult Readers

Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles

“People are the only home the Army issues.”

Once I had this book in my hands, I couldn’t put it down. I felt that I found a kindred spirit in the main character of Beneath Wandering Stars, one who understands what a life of changes and goodbyes feels like. I have never found that in any other book. You can tell that the author herself was a military child. And to add to that, there’s an exciting adventure on the Camino do Santiago that has me itching to visit Europe ASAP. A full review will come soon!

Click Here to Buy Beneath Wandering Stars on Amazon

“Dear Jamie, Love Rory” by Micaiah Saldaña

“Today is your birthday, and you’re not home.”

This is my own little story, a story that was partly inspired by my own experiences with my Dad’s deployments. The story is told as a series of letters from Rory to her older brother, who is deployed in Afghanistan. Through this story, I wanted to portray some of the pain that comes from a deployment and how letters keep loved ones connected.

Click Here to Buy “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” on One Story’s Website

“For Felicity” by Audrey Caylin

“I’ll be leaving on deployment when the leaves are almost gone.”

“For Felicity” is a story by my friend Audrey Caylin. It tells the story of a girl named Felicity and her brother Stephen, who is about to deploy. Felicity’s tale may be short, but it is packed with emotion and has the most perfect ending ever.

Click Here to Buy “For Felicity” on Amazon

Have you read any of these books? Do you know of any books featuring military kids?