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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

Behind the Ugly Duckling ...

This week I had the truly magical experience of taking part in the famous Pawleys Island (SC) event called the Movable Feast. It's a joyful place where book lovers convene to listen to an author discuss their latest book, buy a signed copy, chat with the author and then enjoy a delicious lunch. I've attended many of these events as a reader since relocating to the Lowcountry. But this week, I appeared as an author! (In fact, it was my second time!)

The book we were promoting was the very special project Charleston Light, an anthology of stories written by members of my American Christian Fiction Writers Lowcountry chapter co-members. All the stories featured the lighthouse on Sullivan's Island. I opened up with a description of the project, then I went on to describe my own contributed story. And the other authors all came up to describe their story too.

I can't really describe what a Cinderella moment this was for me, one in a multitude of "that will never happen to me" magical moments that have occurred over the last two decades in my writing career. So in this blog I'm going to share my comments and some photos. Enjoy!

Opening Comments

Thank you all for coming! We are all thrilled to see you here, and we welcome you

and thank you for your support of our anthology.

The eight of us, as well as five other authors, are all members of a national organization called American Christian Fiction Writers. National organizations are great, but they’re so much better when they offer local chapters for people to join and attend regularly, but the closest one to me here in the South Strand was four hours away in Anderson, SC. Three and a half years ago, four of us (Christina, Annette, Melissa and I) decided to charter a new Lowcountry chapter of ACFW. We went through all the steps and we now have a thriving chapter in Mt. Pleasant.

We have about a dozen members, and we’ve become a close-knit group. We’ve done some really fun things for such a smallish, newish group. Two years in a row now, we’ve held a writing beach retreat right here in Pawleys Island! We’ve stayed at SeaView Inn, which many of you have probably stayed in, or at least driven by on the island.

Last year, we came up with the idea of writing an anthology of stories and publishing it. We knew the stories should all be tied together by a common object or theme. After brainstorming, we settled on the Charleston Light Lighthouse on Sullivan’s Island. Each story could be whatever genre or tone or style of story the author wanted, but the lighthouse had to appear in the story to some extent, and the story also had to include an inspirational element.

We took a fieldtrip to see the lighthouse in person. We observed it from a distance, then we came up close and personal. We climbed up the hill to where it stood, we looked out from the structures on surrounding Fort Moultrie. We visited the gift shop, talked to the park rangers about its history and we crept through the cement bunkers nearby.

One thing became clear to all of us: this lighthouse was very odd-looking. It’s not like other beautiful, majestic, scenic lighthouses. It’s triangular, and very low-budget. The US Coast Guard built it in 1962 to be functional, not decorative. Let’s just be honest – it’s kind of ugly. BUT! Its ugliness lends all kinds of story ideas to an author’s brain, so we stuck with it as our anthology object. And now that the collection is complete and we’ve read all the stories, I think we’re all amazed by how each and every story is completely different. Each author took that one common object and created something unique and meaningful.

My story is called Looks Aren’t Everything. When I first saw the Charleston Light in person one idea popped into my head, “It’s an ugly duckling.” Remember the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale? The baby swan who grew up around ducks and all the birds put him down because they thought he was ugly. Until he grew into his own adult beautiful body and was exactly what God intended him to be all along.

I decided I would make my anthology story a modern-day retelling of The Ugly Duckling. Charleston Light, although it’s not beautiful in appearance, excels in function. In fact, doesn’t everyone have some sort of ugly duckling transformation sometime during their life? Not necessarily transforming from ugly to beautiful like the swan did. But God can (and does) transform all sorts of imperfect people to be perfect for the calling he has in mind for them.

I started with Wanda Byrd. (B-Y-R-D). When we meet her, she’s at work as a nurse in the pediatrician’s office of Dr. Marcus. She calls a new patient for her appointment and it’s Kendall Swann (you see what I did there? 😊 ). Kendall is a ten-year-old girl with a bald head and a scar on her skull. From those clues we find out that Wanda has a deep connection with little Kendall because beneath her own hair that has long since grown back, Wanda has that same scar. Wanda had a brain tumor removed when she was a kid, just like Kendall.

Because of this experience, Wanda’s childhood took a sidetrack and she did not develop into a happy, carefree teenage girl like those around her. She grew up self-conscious, she withdrew from others’ attention. She just wanted to avoid anyone looking at her because she was different. Without realizing it, she came to think of herself as an Ugly Duckling. She grows up healthy and accomplished and is living a perfectly fine life, but she never had any experience with romance because she kept herself so closed off from the opportunity.

Once she’s met Kendall, she becomes friends with her and Kendall’s mother. Wanda is a big help to the two of them, giving them advice about the scar and the illness and hope that Kendall will recover fine, just like she did.

One day Wanda gets a call from Kendall’s mother who asks her a favor: would she take Kendall to visit a nearby lighthouse? Kendall has an assignment from school and she has to write a paper on it. Kendall’s mother had to work and couldn’t go. Of course, Wanda would be happy to. She happily shows up for a fun day with her new favorite little girl and when the door opens, a handsome, muscular, very un-ugly man about her age is standing there. Wanda stammers until Kendall announces, it’s her Uncle Mark who surprised them with a visit!

What turns into a magical, once-in-a-lifetime day they spend together learning about lighthouses is really the first time Wanda finds herself in such close company with a handsome man. But he’s such a nice guy that she pushes aside her shyness and begins to calm down and enjoy herself. There’s no pressure, she tells herself, because a man who looks like him would never be interested in her!

Or would he?

When Kendall is selected to read her Lighthouse paper out loud at Class Night, Wanda and Mark find themselves face-to-face again and Mark’s got some news that Wanda would’ve never EVER expected. Is it possible that he is a transforming Ugly Duckling of sorts himself???

Read Looks Aren’t Everything to find out!

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1 Comment

Christina Sinisi
Christina Sinisi
Jul 02, 2023

Thanks for leading us in this process, Laurie!

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