What happens when a fighter and a peacenik fall in love?
From the wind-swept horse country of the Yakima Valley to the airy academic halls of the University of Washington, three adventurers pursue their own Edens. One wants to be a hero, the second just wants to save her home, the third to make sense of it all.
Jake’s tragic death in the opening days of the Iraq War leaves his sister and best friend reeling.
Jessie finds herself all alone in the fight to save their family cattle ranch, even as the patriarchy of the Valley seeks to crush her.
Andrew’s questing mind is driven to the brink as he seeks to balance his pacifist convictions with his friend’s sacrifice.
Drawn together, this unlikely pair struggles to find meaning in their loss while they fight for their dreams.
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What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The Iraq War is a fascinating time for me because it proved the most divisive period in America since the Vietnam War. So many of the ideals used to justify the Iraq War – only to be rejected later as neo-conservative delusions – had been held in very high regard just two generations earlier during WWII and the reconstruction of Europe. This paradox of what role, if any, America should play in the world endures. To my reading of history, this great debate began during Thomas Jefferson’s administration and echoes down to the present day.
In that regard it was easy for me to write Jake’s character. While I have the same longing that Andrew has for a world without war, I know from personal experience living overseas that this world can be a very dangerous place. Thus, Jake, a soldier whose basic motivation is the Arthurian legends of Lancelot – a shining knight righting the wrongs of this world by defending those who cannot defend themselves – was equally enthralling.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
One of the two main characters, Andrew, was inspired by my personal search for meaning. Questions of ultimate meaning have been a burning issue with me since I went looking for God on my paper route when I was ten years old. As such, I’ve spent decades pondering – including through formal study – the major faith traditions that we as a people have developed over the last millennia. I focused on Andrew’s very real, very human struggles with these deeper thoughts as he grieves the loss of his best friend. Throughout the story, he spelunks through the majestic caverns of classical Buddhism, classical Taoism, mainstream Christianity and evangelical Christianity. His questing mind cannot help but find a certain delight in drawing contrasts and comparisons between these abundant traditions of spirituality.
Then, too, I never want to approach religion without a sense of humor. I hope the readers will be tickled by his equating sexual ecstasy with the murmurings of a medieval saint.
The other main character is Jessie. The inspiration for Jessie was my wife. Readers will note that I dedicate the novel to her for teaching me to ride bareback. My wife found growing up in a patriarchal, fundamentalist culture quite the challenge, as does Jessie, my character.
Jessie has no patience for the racism she experiences on a daily basis in the Valley. She has even less for the misogyny. When she was younger, she was able to brush them aside. However, when Jake is killed, her father collapses, and she’s left alone to save her family ranch from those who wish to scoop it up for pennies on the dollar, she finds that she can ignore those twin evils no longer.
At that point, just as her brother does, she digs deep and finds the warrior within to save everyone and everything she cares about.
Fighting for Eden
by Jeff Stilwell
© Jeff Stilwell 2018
Jake threw out a lariat and began coiling it, interrupting her thoughts. She grinned, suddenly ridiculously happy that Jake was home.
"So how d'ya want to do this?"
She smiled over at Andrew. "Would you count for us?"
"Sure." He smiled, confusedly. He had a not bad smile, she thought suddenly. When he relaxed.
"Nah. Let's do it for real. At the same time. We'll rig slip knots, we've got the rope. Opposite sides of the pasture, this end."
"All right," she laughed. Looking over the pinkeyed calves, though, she frowned at the thought of bothering them, knowing they weren't going to like the next week of their lives. Instead, glancing around, she pointed out two steer calves farther down the pasture, butting heads as they capered back and forth together. "Let's use those two. They look about the same size."
"Good idea. They could use a little exercise from the looks of 'em."
Jake and Jessie both turned at the sound, staring at Andrew.
"I sell pounds! Now, I get it. He doesn't want us to run the…fat off of them."
Jessie screamed out laughing, delightedly, feeling like a girl again. Happy. Andrew began to blush again, then stopped when Jake began laughing, too. "That's right, hoss. If Pop had his way, they'd be born in a stall and stay that way their entire short lives."
"Not if I can help it." Jessie surprised herself blurting this out. Jake only smiled. "Anyway, let's get to it."
They led the haltered cows and their pinkeyed calves down to the herd giving them lots of room. Then, acting the clown, Jessie strutted around in front of one of the steer calves, distracting it long enough for Andrew, instructed by Jake, to grab its hind hooves while Jake threw on a shortened halter and, together, they dragged it, bawling, to tie it to a slip knot on the fence in their end of the field. They did the same for the other, tying it to the fence on the opposite side.
Leading Whip over to her calf, she was surprised to see Andrew trotting Digger up to her. "Do you mind if I…I judge?" he stammered out. "Jake said it was…was fine with him."
"Good. The only thing is…I don't…know what to look for. Jake said I should ask you."
"Oh." Laughing with delight again, she thought a moment, then simply said, "Calf is down on the ground all tied up and first hands in the air wins. Oh, and, we'll each start, mounted, about thirty feet from the calf. When you give the signal, we pull the slip knots letting 'em free."
"Okay. Seems easy enough. I'll uh…" squinting back to the edge of the pasture, he pointed, "…be over there. And…uh…throw my hat in the air to start."
"Sounds good." She watched him trot off across the pasture to Jake, wonderingly. Before she knew it, however, Jake and Andrew were already in position. She waited, the end of the rope holding the slip knot to her calf in hand, another rope clenched in her teeth, watching Andrew out of the corner of her eye behind her but staying focused on her calf. Suddenly, Digger reared and for a split second she thought a snake or something and that Andrew was going to get thrown but, no, there he was lifting his hat at the height of Digger's rear. Sonofabitch, she thought, yanking the slip knot free even as she was heeling Whip to explode out of their stance. Pounding down toward the calf, she saw its eyes rolling as it frantically scattered downfield to find its mother in the herd. Whirling her lariat over her head, she saw the calf start zig-zagging crazily across the field, the dusty sunlight picking up brown highlights in its black hide, then suddenly turn around to head right back where it had started. As she turned Whip in its path, making it skirt around them, she swore and wondered if she'd just lost. Twisting in the saddle away from the glimpse of Jake's calf already down as he dismounted, she threw that thought with her lariat out over her shoulder, watched the loop settle neatly around the calf's heaving shoulders and pulled Whip to a sharp, hard wheel, hearing both the steer stop dead in its tracks with a bang and the lariat tied to her saddle horn sing with the quivering strain. Knowing her horse, feeling Whip's stand, she didn't bother looking to see if the steer was fully down, but was already dismounting and turning toward it, tasting salty grit on her tongue, one hand following the lariat to her steer struggling on the ground. Arriving just as the calf was starting to wriggle around so as to get up, she grabbed the two hind hooves, wrenched the rope out of her mouth, feeling something tear, and looped them together, then grabbed a fore hoof and added it to the pair. Panting, she wildly threw up her hands.
And looked over. Jake was just tying the fore hoof! He began to throw up his hands as he looked over at her, then seeing hers raised, stopped. Instead, he pumped the air with a clenched fist and let out a throat-ripping whoop. He jumped up, then started running toward her, with a limp she saw. She ran to him, seeing Andrew and Digger pounding toward them. They met in the field with Andrew managing a running dismount, no less. Jake threw his arms around her and for a moment, she felt like a little girl whose best happiness was her older brother's hand in hers at the fair. Andrew stood back, like he was wondering what to do, until Jake released her and began thumping Andrew on the back. "Tripped! Fucking tripped! Did'ja see that!?" He whooped again and thumped Jessie on the back now. "Fucking bastard kicked me, the little cocksucker! Whew!" He paused and leaned on one leg, rubbing the other. "Ow! Sonofabitch!"
Jessie, still panting, leaned over his leg. "How bad is it?"
"Try walking it off," she suggested.
He nodded and began limping down the pasture. She watched him for a bit, then turning to Andrew, said, "He'll be all right. Knock some sense into him." She stopped, realizing that Andrew was staring at her, his eyes glowing.
Growing uncomfortable, she felt her cheeks burning and asked, "What?"
He suddenly looked down and mumbled something about "poetry." She didn't want to think about what that meant, so she decided to change the subject. Before she could say anything, though, he managed, "You're bleeding." She reached up to her mouth and felt it, remembering ripping the rope out.
"It's nothing." Seeing the cattle trough nearby, she walked over to it, nudged a cow's head out of the way, and splashed some water on her face and the back of her neck.
Looking back at Andrew, she saw him wincing. "What now?"
She snorted. "So you can make Digger rear?"
He flashed a glance at her, then said, "Oh. I…well…I…" before trailing off. She waited, then shook her head, feeling annoyed all over again. What was it with him, she wondered?
Jake began limping back toward them, a little more easily now. "I showed him. I know you don't like it, Sticks. But I was so proud of how quickly he's coming along, I asked him what he wanted for a prize."
She turned toward Andrew again, wonderingly. "And you chose rearing a horse?"
"Yes…yes," he mumbled, looking away.
She smiled, throwing up her hands. "Well, just be careful with that, okay? He's old. And you're young. As a rider."
Jeff Stilwell excels at the unexpected.
Not content with his midwestern roots, he found ways on the cheap to explore the wider world including selling gummy bears in high school to visit the Alps of southern Germany. To pay for college, he worked a slime line as a head chopper in the clammy tundra of Alaska.
His thirst for adventure next took him to Asia where he studied the martial arts and Asian philosophy while exploring exotic locales such as the Himalayas and the lands of Lord Jim, even surviving a squall in the Gulf of Siam.
Attracted to strong women lifelong, he met and wooed his wife, jewelry designer Manya Vee there, winning her heart by following her to Java. Upon returning to the States, they founded an art gallery just north of Seattle. She taught him to gallop bareback at the family farm in the storied Yakima Valley, the inspiration for his first novel Fighting for Eden.
His flair for the dramatic led him to write and stage fifteen plays in and around the Seattle theatre scene. His works earned numerous laurels such as "an intense dramatic comedy you don't want to miss…an uninterrupted 90-minute power pack with something to say," for his One Tile Short and "a trip and a half in a little more than a hour and a half through an Alice-like wonderland and a half; ground-breaking in ways more than one," for his Teacup Tipsy.
Too restless, however, to merely sit behind a computer, he recently completed a solitary 750 mile hike from Stevens Pass in Western Washington to end, a Biblical sounding forty days later, at Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Once upon a time, he even ran for Congress. If it's big, Stilwell has dreamt it, attempted it, or achieved it.
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