Today's post comes from Marybeth Whalen of our sister blog She Reads.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had committed to a conference call with a book club that requested it, only to be challenged by them on the contents of my book to the point that I was put on the defensive. I kept wondering why this group had asked to talk to me at all if they disagreed with the book so much. My husband, who was in the background while I was talking and could only hear my side of the conversation, kept asking, "Who are you talking to?" He couldn't understand why I kept offering explanations for my characters' actions, why I seemed to be arguing about my book with whoever was on the other end of the phone.
Finally he said, "I don't care who that is, you need to get off." He was frustrated that I had taken time away from our family on a weekend, only to be ganged up on by women who were accusing me of encouraging readers to divorce so that they could find the true love of their lives. (Yes, they actually said that.)
My book, The Mailbox, wasn't written to encourage others to divorce. It was written to explore the themes of forgiveness and second chances and grace. Grace that I was not hearing from the book club I spoke to that day. Yes, my main character, Lindsey, is newly divorced in the book. And yes, she does reconnect with her first love on a trip to the beach following her divorce. But Lindsey is also grieving the loss of her marriage. I wrote the book because I've known one too many women in my real life that have been in that same situation. Where was this group's grace towards them?
After that conversation, I hung up the phone feeling stung and condemned. Though my husband tried to talk me down from the ledge (one of his main roles in life, poor guy), I couldn't stop hearing their voices. I wondered if they realized the power their words had over me; if they gave any thought to the way the conversation would make me feel, not just as an author but as a human being. I walked around processing the conversation for about a day.
And then the most wonderful thing happened.
I got an email from a woman who had read The Mailbox. She is one of those women who found herself divorced even though it wasn't what she ever wanted. She is still dealing with the loss of friends and lifestyle that comes from a divorce. She has felt the stinging judgments of others. And she wanted to thank me for presenting divorce as it really is, for creating a character that dealt with divorce in a way that felt familiar. She wrote words that were a balm to my soul, an affirmation that I believe was prompted by God so that I could break free of the condemnation I had felt following my conversation with the angry book club. I read her email over and over, letting the words sink in. Then I forwarded her letter to my publisher because I know that if I am getting criticized for writing it, they're probably getting criticized for publishing it. They wrote back to let me know that they loved her letter so much, they were reading it at their next staff meeting!
Writing is a solitary task. It is a risk when you write your solitary words and then send them out into the world. Sure your critique group or writing partner might sign off on them, your agent might tell you they're good, and the publisher might buy them. But you really can't know how they're going to be received until readers get their hands on them. I didn't expect to be called on the carpet for encouraging divorce but I did expect to help women who had been affected by it. I wanted to offer those women the grace they deserved through my writing. I am thankful for the woman who took the time to extend grace to me at a time that I needed it most. It turns out that writers need grace as badly as readers do.