Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Unseen

It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you my two sons were exceptional? Even if you disagreed – if you’d met them and hadn’t found them special at all, you would at least concede that I would of course think they were, because I am their mom.

You wouldn’t disagree, though.

If you met them, you would find them handsome, kind, bright, creative and engaging. Really. That’s what I always hear from people who go out of their way to tell me. They truly are remarkable.

But what if I said that when I see them, I feel the light that emanates from their souls, I honestly see halos around their heads, I practically hear the angels sing? Well, you might believe me the way Scully believed Mulder ( “I’m sure you thought you saw… “), but you wouldn’t see the halos, and you wouldn’t hear the angels.*

Madeleine L’engle held that we are made like onions, with all the ages we have ever been still layered inside. The infant still lives, as does the two year old, the ten-year-old, the teenager. I believe this is true.

So the reason, I think, that I see these young men so clearly is that I have witnessed the formation of all those layers. Few others — their father does, and my eldest’s mother (I’m his step-mom) — understand the things I know because I was there.

I believe that when, as the Bible predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb, then at that moment we will all see more clearly past our noses into the souls of each other. We will see one another the way I see my boys and be astonished that we ever passed a human on the street without looking up.

Because we will see what was formerly unseen.

Trust me — this all has to do with books.

Over at Novel Matters, we are having a long conversation about why the novel matters, and I believe the answer is connected to all I’ve just said.

The following video is an excellent interview with Eugene Peterson conducted in 2007 at Point Loma Nazarene University. Toward the end of the video (you can drag the slider to 26:11 if you’re in a hurry), he says something I like:

“Imagination is almost, not quite, the same thing as faith. It connects what we see with what we don’t see, and pulls us through what we see to what we don’t see. ”

When an author writes a novel, she must know her characters, layer by layer. She uses her imagination to blend what she knows of her own story with what she knows of the stories of others — some of them people she knows very well.

When you read a book, you use your imagination to flesh out the story the author has given. She has written down the words, but you supply the pictures. You bring to the page what you know of yourself and those you love.

And somehow, when this collaboration works at its best, the result is that you look at the stranger on the street with new eyes. You glimpse the light between the layers. You hear music.

*Their wives might, or if not yet, I think they will. You should meet the man I’ve come to know these past 29+ years. Light and angel songs.

Friday, August 22, 2014

You See, But Do You Observe?

This is a summer rerun because I just received season 3 for my birthday and it reminded me how great this show is and how amazing the characters are. Oh, and the importance of deductions, of course.

 I would like to thank my sister for getting me hooked on the BBC's Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. It all started when she gave me a 3-episode DVD for Christmas, recognizing that some things are just good for people, whether they know it or not.  The stories are tightly written, smart and compelling. The characters are well-developed and complex.  And the villain is...well, a madman.  Both soft and vicious at the same time, which makes you squirm whenever he enters a scene. A fitting nemesis to the self-proclaimed 'high-functioning sociopath.' There are only 9 episodes so far. Total.


What I also love about the series is Sherlock's deductions, which appear briefly in writing over a person or situation stating a fact that he has ascertained by keen observation.  A piece of lint, an impression in cloth, a subtle change in gait reveals clues that are so obvious to him that he remarks to Dr. Watson, "You see, but you do not observe."  Commonplace objects and conditions tell the story for him.  How amazing it would be to have his keen eye to help me to flesh out characters and scenes.  It has challenged me to sharpen my own powers of observation.

In fact, I've put it into practice.  Not really snooping, just watching.  Last week I covertly peeked into the shopping cart of a 50-something man in the grocery aisle and deduced from the copious amounts of single-serving frozen dinner entrees and boxed macaroni and cheese that he would be dining alone, and for quite a while. Possibly he was newly single judging from the men's body wash, men's shampoo, jug of mouthwash and new toothbrush.  People don't usually run out of everything all at once.  But it could happen, and it could be an interesting twist if his actions were misinterpreted.  Perhaps he just got released from prison, or his home burnt to the ground.  Maybe he was running from something...or someone. 

Of course, physical clues are only part of the story.  Intent and motivation are not easy to deduce or to show. The truth is, I 'see but don't observe' much of the time.  It takes practice to read a person's body language and the clues they unwittingly give. Some good news is that I think that just getting older has helped to make me more observant. Maybe because I've seen a lot. And I bet you have, too.
 Image result for deerstalker hats for sale
So be the 'hat' detective.  Slip on the deerstalker cap (interesting name) and use your powers of observation to really 'see' something you might otherwise have missed.  Look for the intent or motivation behind it, and share it with us, unless you're saving it for your next novel, of course.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We at Novel Matters put together a recipe book a while back: Novel Tips on Rice. It contains some of our favorite recipes, along with some of our favorite writing tips  ... all in good fun! You can purchase this delightful book for $15, postage paid in the US. To order, email Sharon at
Below is Latayne's marvelous disclaimer.
Disclaimer:  The NovelMatters authors cannot be held responsible for any untoward factors related to the development and use of this cookbook, including but not limited to:  errors in printing and/or errors in judgment; download viruses, food poisoning, gagging children; small kitchen fires, large kitchen fires, house fires of any description; appliance malfunctions, ingredient malfunctions, logic malfunctions; wrong measurements, unauthorized condiments, failure to rise; rejection slips, slips of the tongue, slip and fall cases; the spoiled or out of date condition of your ingredients or query hooks; marital disputes, editorial disagreements, writing-related depression; accidental insertions of chapters from WIPs due to rogue cut and paste computer functions; hurt feelings, moral outrages, menopausal symptoms; forgetfulness, hearing loss, oblivion; ringing in the ears, phantom tastes, missing-limb syndrome; weight gain, weight loss, intolerance to all waiting; list-obsession, list-phobia, listlessness; tics or other involuntary actions; allergies, lip chewing or any other causes of swelling of the mouth; technophobia, claustrophobia, cibophobia (look it up), bibliophobia, gynephobia, chronophobia; dropsy, palsy, leprosy or any condition whatsoever that involves bodily emissions or any other King James malady. Or from any other Bible version.
This book was processed in facilities which produce other literary works involving nuts.
I have read and agree to the above conditions.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday at the Movies: NOT a rerun!

Welcome to Monday at the Movies! This is not a rerun but a wonderful interview with two of the most acclaimed YA writers in the world, Katherine Paterson and Kate DiCamillo. (Patti here: I adore them!)

They talk about what a writer is, and it's amusingly honest. You won't hear any must-dos from these ladies. You will hear that writing is hard work. Sorry, no magic pills!

If I were to recommend two books, one from each of these ladies, I would have to suggest The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by DiCamillo and The Day of the Pelican (because you've all read The Bridge to Terebithia, and if you haven't then pity your deprived reader's soul).

Without further ado, here's the interview:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Reruns: The Pain of Promotion

This expanded article originally posted on October 9, 2013.

Not long ago I read a novel by an author I'd not read before, selected it late one night from the sales pages of when I'd run out of things to read. The first thing that caught my attention was that it was published by NavPress, the house that published my first two novels, so I read the opening pages and was intrigued enough to order it. It was surprisingly good, a refreshing find, completely out of the box for CBA. It was published in 2006. In my opinion, CBA has tightened its net, so to speak, in the intervening years, and I'm not sure this book would find a home in CBA these days.

The author, first name Annette, did a remarkable job of writing a male protagonist (a topic we discussed on this blog in August 2013). She wrote real-world characters you could truly identify with, who had goals beyond getting the girl/guy next door, and problems that look a lot like mine; problems that don't always have good solutions. I applauded her guts and her ability, and sent her an email saying how much I'd enjoyed the novel. Her response kind of blew me away. She graciously gave me permission to share some of what was contained therein.

Annette is the author of 13 novels, the first published in 1997. It sold roughly 140,000 copies. The others, combined, sold about the same number. Combined or not, I was struck with Serious Envy when I read her sales numbers. I've never come close to that, nowhere near, though I never stop working at it.

But it was her next statement that really blew me away. She wrote, "As for why I stopped writing ..."

Excuse me?!?

Stopped writing?!?

With that kind of success?!?

Yes. Stopped. She had three main reasons:

First, I absolutely cannot bear promoting. I'm quite private, more so as I've gotten older (I'm 54). I am the only person I know not on Facebook. When I began writing, promotion meant speaking a bit, doing book signings, giving out bookmarks. I did do a blog for a bit, and didn't mind that. But now ... I just can't do all that is expected and needed of an author. When I weighed the pain of promoting vs the joy of writing for publication, writing did not come out on top. I do not see how someone unwilling to promote can publish today.

Second, writing was never a calling for me. I loved it. It came easily and naturally for me, and I had a talent for it. I read a few how-to books and subscribed to Writer's Digest, but I never took a writing class. I attended my first conference after I'd had 7 books out. It wasn't something I longed for or dreamed about. I was a voracious reader, but really never thought being an author was in the realm of reality. It was an amazing surprise.

But my true calling? Hospice nursing. I've been an RN since age 20. It is what I was born to do. It is where I have served, where I have done my best work. It was easy to let writing slip away when it wasn't my only thing, or even my main thing.

"Wasn't my only thing, or even my main thing."  That line really struck me. Because aside from my relationship with my family and God, writing IS my main thing and has been for 28 years. Aside from unforeseen circumstances, I have no intention of stopping. But I completely get what she's saying. Debbie wrote a great post on the truth about introverts. Many writers are introverts --- and shy to boot, as Lori Benton pointed out in the comments to Debbie's post. That certainly describes me. So when Annette said she couldn't bear self-promotion, I could relate so well. And yet, as she points out, someone unwilling to self-promote these days won't get far as an author.

The environment we find ourselves in as writers is somewhat a dichotomy. On one hand, publishing opportunities are greater --- and less costly --- than ever before, if one is willing to go the independent route. Because many authors, even those who have been multi-published traditionally, are choosing to go independent, the stigma of self-publishing is diminishing.

On the other hand, going independent means the full weight of promotion falls on the author. And for those of us --- which basically is all of us --- who dislike self-promotion, it makes the writing life that much harder. Building a readership is like tossing a stone into water and watching the ripple spread out from the initial splash. Turning that ripple into a tsunami is the goal, but how do you do that?

We learned from Latayne's post last week that Lisa Samson, an author all of us here respect and admire, has thrown in the towel, primarily because of the demands of marketing. She's not the only author to give up on writing, at least in the traditional sense of publishing. The burden of marketing is a huge factor in the decisions, but it isn't the only factor. Authors with really good sales numbers are finding it difficult to get contracts these days, or if they do get contracts, to get the type of advances they're used to and need to get by.

That makes the ground beneath my feet unstable indeed, because I don't have the sales numbers, I don't have the industry contacts anymore. I don't have the following of a Lisa Samson. But what I still have is the desire and tenacity to press on ... in spite of another recent series of frustrations and setbacks. And so I press on. Especially for the next novel I plan to release, because of all the stories I've written, this is the one I most believe in; the one I so want to succeed. I have no idea what kind of success it will be met with, but my daughter Deanne helped put things in perspective when she said, "If you sell your books to 100 or 1,000,000 people, continue to write. Do your best to market and earn money, but keep writing.  God didn't give you the passion and the talent...and the story for you to quit because of someone else's version of success. You are successful because you've completed the task. And your writing is stellar."

I appreciate her encouragement so much.

Have you found a way to balance writing with promotion, and have you found a promotional tool that's been successful for you? Is the fear of promotional responsibilities enough to give you pause in your writing, or perhaps deter you from going independent? What, if anything, would make you put down your pen for good?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Story is Our Wailing Wall

Robin Williams died and I can't take in that truth. I've been thinking about all the stuff of life that people can't talk about. 
There are shards of my life that I can't talk about it.

There are things that happened in my past that I cannot even utter. Still. After I'd already grown impatient with myself.
Times when I've been little more than raked earth, half returned to the ash I came from. When I looked with eyes blind to the wonder all around me, but saw it anyway. 
There are things beyond language. I know this because I've been there.

This is where story plays its most fantastic role. It's where we all go to find ourselves tucked between the words. Story is our 
dear diary, 
wailing wall.

I've done real soul-baring in my writing, but not in a way that would be easy for the reader to locate. Not theme, or subject matter. Not plot. My soul shards are tucked between the words, present, but hidden from plain view. This is the way it must be for me. Every writer is different. For some, it must be front and centre, painful as that is. Why? Because it must.

For me, I must tuck it away. Will that change? Maybe. I don't pursue it, instead I let it pursue me. A writer never travels to the place she intended to go.

I'm good at the road I never wanted to walk. Sometimes I didn't get my way because my dreams were too small. Sometimes . . . well. Here's a poem I wrote a while ago.
With Thanks to Bill Holm
by Bonnie Grove
Words lined up in particular form
bring the mirror to your face,
it isn't your reflection as much as it is
the face you thought you'd already forgotten.

I've been taken up by my hapless collar and
pulled through the rake of divorce;
tendons separating from bone.
Bone and marrow finely defined.

Later, I leapt
foolish footing from a cliff's edge I hadn't
noticed, or pretended not to see. I didn't think, only
felt the fall and blessed its decent. The
ragged bits of me weightless in the movement;
fantom limbs.

I forgot
the sensible thing, the priority of self
preservation and gave it up
for a guy with blue eyes, his hapless collar tented at the
back. His raked form lovely to my missing eyes.

All these years
for the sake of the heat of the hand in the middle of the night.
The one that has been there for years. Will be.
             The heat that could melt a stone. 

Tender writer, all raw-souled and roiling, how do you put yourself in your work? Are you front and centre? Tucked between the words? A shadow falling across the page, or a charge of light illuminating the ink?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Circumference of Hard Times

Today's Summer Re-run is from a guest post elsewhere. Written a couple of years ago, but more true now than ever.

I approach today’s post with an assumption about you: that some time in the past month – or week – you've felt a wobble in the wheels of your wagon of life. One more setback, one more bill, a single word more of bad news, and your wagon might collapse altogether.

I feel safe in my assumptions. I know so few people who haven’t commented that surely the present trial couldn’t last much longer. The five ladies I blog with certainly understand the feeling. When we first banded together – most of us strangers to each other, all of us newly published authors with big plans and high hopes – we thought our purpose as co-bloggers would be to encourage our readers and hoist each other to ever higher levels of publishing success.

We found out different. Even as our shared relationship flowered into a rare and special kind of friendship, we discovered that our purpose was in fact to help each other survive the coming wave of hardship. Maybe this is a case of “you had to be there,” but I cherish our lifeboat friendship much more than the hand-up-the-ladder kind. Or – to say it better, I hope: the surviving is more precious to me than success.

There is something lovely about falling into the hole you hoped to stay out of. Once you’re in there, you can walk its circumference, and feel the cool clay of the wall, and realize that you can settle in for as long as you must, and you’ll still be alright. The fear you might once have had of not being able to take it begins to show itself as the lie it was.

Even in the hole, you have friends. You learn, in whatever state you find yourself, to be content.

My prayer for you is that you will find the kinds of friendships that  make surviving a beautiful thing. In that hope, I offer a few suggestions:

Choose people with a capacity for affection and optimism, generosity and humor.

Love them well.

Cheer them on when the news is good, sympathize when it’s not. Be lavish about this.

Stay in close touch, close enough to feel the pulse. We ladies at Novel Matters live far apart, but we email each other every day. We may not know how to pull each other from the hole, but we sing to each other till the wind picks up.

You know the wind, right? Ever hear the Ojibwe saying?

“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind  is bearing me across the sky.”