I was perusing my Pinterest board for Burning Sky and found my attention snagged by several pins pertaining to Neil MacGregor, one of the heroes of the story. I got a little nostalgic, remembering the many days I spent writing scenes from his point of view, which was always an enjoyment, no matter how hard the work on any given day. He was delightful company. When asked to name a favorite character from the book, he’s the one I name though that’s a very hard question to answer since I do love them all. Well, most of them!

Why Neil MacGregor? As I shared with my fellow Books & Such author Kiersti Plog in a brand new interview posted today on her blog:

I do have a soft spot in my heart for Neil
Neil is a survivor. He’s suffered a debilitating injury that
might easily have caused him to give up his life’s passion, his dreams. It’s an
injury that renders everyday life more challenging, much less the professional
commission he’s taken on as a botanist. Yet he’s pressed on, found ways to
compensate, and discovered that with God’s strength and grace he’s capable of
more than he’d have known had that injury not occurred. I find that inspiring,
and hope readers do as well.”

~ Click to read the full interview with Kiersti, and enter for a chance to win a copy of BURNING SKY ~
Congrats to Beth Bulow, who won this signed copy!

Below are some of the images I included on the Burning Sky Pinterest board that reminded me of Neil MacGregor, with a little (non-spoilery) excerpt from Burning Sky to give them context. Visit the full board here.

Before she could think twice, she crouched and reached inside. The first thing she touched was flat, broad, and leather covered. She pulled it out. With a furtive glance at the man, she unwound the string from the horn toggle that secured its flap.

She’d expected a journal, something written down that  might give understanding of who the man was. What she found instead were drawings. In pencil, in ink, even in colored paint. Page after page of them, mostly of plants and flowers, now and then a bird or insect with the plant–all recognizable by their remarkable detail. They were carefully labeled, with notes on the borders. Or most of them were. No writing accompanied the last dozen likeness.

~ from Chapter Two, Burning Sky


There was still the problem of the dog in her way. It was one of those bred for bullying sheep, black and white, rough coated. The English word for it surfaced in her mind: collie.

The woman who had been Burning Sky slipped the tumpline from her forehead and the cord loops from her arms, lowering the basket to the ground. She gripped the musket slung at her side, even as she spoke kindly in the language of the People. “You are a good dog, guarding your man. Tohske’ wahi. It is so?” 

The collie did not alter its rigid stance. 

It occurred to her the dog might not know the speech of the Kanien’keha:ka, called Mohawks by the whites. She tried English, which felt to her like speaking with pebbles in the mouth. 

“You will let me near him, yes?” She took a step toward the laurels. The collie moved its matted tail side to side. “Good dog.” 

~ from Chapter One, Burning Sky


“Did you not see a horse where you found me? A bay roan. Answers to the name of Seamus.”

“There was no horse.” 

Her certainty was unfeigned, and he felt too wretched to be anything but full waking. Dash it all, his horse must have strayed after he fell…

He’d never been much of a horseman, but he’d managed to acquire a fondness for the roan–not a mutual regard, apparently. Still, the horse ought to have been his first thought, not the last. 

“Lord Almighty, he’s Thy creature. I’ll trust Thee to watch o’er him and lead him, if not back to me, then to someone who’ll ken his worth and treat him kindly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” He looked up to find the woman staring. 

“Amen,” she finished for him, as if in startled reflex. 

~ from Chapter Three, Burning Sky


 Neil felt a plummeting in his gut as the magnitude of his situation grew clear. By necessity, he’d traveled light into the back country, but there were things in his saddlebags he could ill afford to lose. His medical case. The field desk and its contents. His cooking gear. The plant press!

~from Chapter Three, Burning Sky

Harder to shake was this new blow–the loss of his horse and supplies, and the crushing weight of the choice now facing him. Not really a choice, just a matter of when he’d bring himself to admit the inevitable. He’d learned to function with a damaged brain, but what was he meant to accomplish without the tools of his trade? Paint with a twig and his own life’s blood? 

~from Chapter Four, Burning Sky


He sketched a trillium, bright against the dark forest soil, then a caterpillar inching up a beech sapling. Between sketches he rested his throbbing wrist till the pain eased off, taking the time to perform his daily exercise of rehearsing the lengthy field notes that went with the drawings in his satchel, the ones that bore no description as yet.

His patience–and endurance–paid off two-fold. First was a fox that stepped through the leafing grapevine draping a stand of maples. It paused in a band of sunlight, its pelts a flash of brazen fire. Moving naught but hand and eye, he began a likeness of the creature, which sat on its haunches a biscuit’s toss away and nonchalantly eyed him back.

His second audience, every bit as stealthy, drew quite near before the fox alerted him with a flick of black-tipped ears. Neil finished the sketch seconds before Vulpes vulpes melded back into the grapevine shadows. Then Neil turned his head. 

The lad stood a few paces away, watching him.

~ from Chapter Six, Burning Sky


Not two dozen paces on, he came across the trail again, winding up the pass as docile as you please. He’d been right. A short section of it had been buried in a slide, was all.

“See? Ye didna need to fash so.” 

But they’d barely reached the trail before the fool horse balked again, this time with conviction enough to nearly yank Neil’s arm from its socket. He fumbled the reins as the horse shied across the broken ground, on the verge of bolting. 

Above the clatter they were generating, he heard a noise, a deep animal grunt. He whirled to face upslope where the trail, still walled in by trees, topped another stony rise. On that rise in the center of the trail stood a bear, enormous and black, filling the gap in the trees like a sentry at a gate. 

~ from Chapter Twenty-Seven, Burning Sky

***Visit the Burning Sky Pinterest Board

A Reader Responds To Neil MacGregor

“I really like Neil; he is not the tallest or the strongest or maybe even
the best looking man in Willa’s acquaintance, and since his near
scalping, he can no longer even read or write, but what he lacks
physically he more than makes up for spiritually.  Granted, he is not
perfect – he still questions God and disobeys His instruction, but he
learns.  He repents.  He makes changes… Of all his good qualities, Neil’s ability
to be content is most impressive; as a doctor, scholar, and scientist,
words have been his world, and to lose the ability to read and write
could throw any person into depression and bitterness, but he
continually – though imperfectly – practices being content in the
circumstances God has allowed to befall him.  My life is a breeze in
comparison, but I still have much to learn from him!”
~ from a Review of Burning Sky, by Rachael Koppendrayer. Read the entire review at God Bless Hope

If you haven’t yet met Neil MacGregor (18th century physician, artist, botanist, member of the American Philosophical Society, man of God, reluctant horseman) in the pages of Burning Sky, I hope you will. I invite you to read the first two chapters for free.

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