Friday, December 28, 2012

A Rebellious Refusal to Please

Thanks for stopping by during our winter break. Bonnie Grove--our favorite Canadian fiction writer--will start us off January 7th. If inspiration comes in snowdrifts, be prepared for something beyond wonderful. Bonnie and family are nose-deep in snow.

I also wanted to remind you about our new book club. We'll be discussing Donald Maas' book, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling. Go here to read the first chapter free.

[Trumpet fanfare!] Book club will have its first "meeting" on January 18th. We had a blast discussing Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. This will be even better.

The title of this post is a phrase from Maas' book. He uses the phrase this way: "[Literary/commercial fiction] is personal, impassioned, and even downright quirky, yet through its rebellious refusal to please, it paradoxically achieves universal appeal. It panders to no one. It speaks to everyone."

That's the kind of fiction I dream of writing. And you?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

From Us to You

We wish you a very Merry Christmas, dear friends!
With love, 
From Bonnie, Patti, Katy, Latayne, Sharon & Debbie

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Does the Novel Matter? A Year in Review Conversation with 10 writers.

Throughout 2012 we've been holding a conversation here at Novel Matters, a year-long exploration of the question, Why does the novel matter?

To help us poke around for some answers, we invited ten writers to weigh in with their thoughts. Those writers, Joy Jordan-Lake, Alice Kuipers, John Blase, Tracy Groot, Rosslyn Elliot, Sharon K. Souza, Athol Dickson, Claudia Mair Burney, Cynthia Ruchti, and Julie Cantrell, all offered their thoughts, impressions, and perhaps even more questions to why the novel matters.

Today, as a gift to our readers this Christmas 2012, we offer this “conversation” between 10 writers we love, to inspire you to read, write, create, and become who you were created to be. It is a conversation that never happened, but, of course, it did.

Novel Matters: Make room for Joy, everyone. She’s last to arrive. The room is a bit tight, but we’ll make do. Everyone smile for the group photo! Great. Uh, John? Rabbit ears? Really? Never mind, I’ll photo shop it out later. Sit, everyone, let’s talk about why the novel matters. What good does it do anyone anymore?

Alice Kuipers: Personally, the thrill of reading, of being consumed by a story so much so that the real world ceases to exist, is one of the great joys of my life.

Sharon K Souza (nodding emphatically): The novel matters for the sheer pleasure it provides. I often read two or three books at one time, a non-fiction of one type or another, a book on the craft of writing, and a novel. The novel is always what I conclude my evening with. I’ll read an hour or two before bed, and that hour or two is the dessert I look forward to all day.

Claudia Mair Burney (waving a hand): Novels take the edge off a brutal reality. Sometimes they distract me. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they remind me that I am not alone in my suffering, and often, they fuel the most reckless, glorious hope.

Tracy Groot (standing to address the group): Totally agree. Novels supply society with needed diversion, needed respite, and needed truth that may not come when it's served up cold.

Novel Matters: Oh, sorry Tracy, I thought you were standing so we could all hear you better. Could someone pass her the veggie dip? Thanks, Athol. Tracy, I love what you said about truth.

Julie Cantrell: There is no better way to deliver truth than through fiction. It’s as simple as that.

Tracy Groot (high fiving Julie): If we're really lucky, truth may come through a kid named Huckleberry, a ghost named Marley, a hobbit named Frodo, or a place due east of Eden.

Novel Matters: A ghost, a hobbit, and the Salinas Valley. How could this trio possibly have anything to do with truth? How do those stories manage to tell the truth about life while still telling a story?

Joy Jordan-Lake (looking professor-ly, but still very kind): As novelists, we have to figure out how to spin our stories for the modern, harried, distracted reader so that the old-fashioned words-on-page print form makes sense, is worth the time and trouble because the reader comes away changed—becomes a part of the Story, and the Story, a part of them.

Alice Kuipers: Novels allow me to live other lives, explore other realities, exist in places and in ways I never could otherwise. 

Athol Dickson (wiping veggie dip off his fingers with a napkin): The novel is uniquely qualified to weave the spiritual and physical realities of life together.

Rosslyn Elliot: Stories need to be told in a way that ignites our passion for us to imitate their sincere and courageous example.

Novel Matters: Great point, Rosslyn, but doesn’t non-fiction do that just as well?

Tracy Groot: the world is always looking for a good story.

Julie Cantrell: I believe that’s where sermons and non-fiction books can be useful. Novels should tell a good story that encourages the reader to close the book with questions. I’d much prefer to read a book that makes me think, than to read a book that tells me what/how to think.

Sharon K. Souza: The novel matters to me because a novel is a window into the soul of a society, an age, an era.

Alice Kuipers: The novel . . . is one of the best contemporary ways to encapsulate story without visual influence – letting our imaginations as readers do the work that other mediums may not allow.

Joy Jordan-Lake: . . . to allow ourselves to be transported to a different world, to see things from someone else’s perspective, to allow ourselves to be moved and frightened and inspired and entertained---and changed. It’s that chance to slow down and step away and look deep into what makes us tick as human beings, what really matters, what really doesn’t.

Cynthia Ruchti (jumping in): Every novel I've ever read has informed me, influenced me. Some have taught me what not to do or challenged me to write in a more compelling way. Some have edged me forward in my understanding of the human spirit and what it's capable of enduring, or strengthened my grasp of concepts like hope and grace.

Sharon K Souza (after the shouts of “amen” and “yep” and that’s it! Die down): You learn the things that make one age different from another, and that in more ways than not, we aren’t that different.

Claudia Mair Burney: And when the pages are all read, we put the book down with a sense that our lives matter; our troubles and our trifles. We matter, because we see ourselves right there in print. And we find ourselves in the work. Sometimes we say, "amen." Other times we say, "I'm sorry."

(there’s a little hush here, while we all absorb the wonder of this statement.)

Novel Matters: What we’re talking about is transformation. Or, maybe better, human formation. The novel matters because it helps us form as human beings?

Cynthia Ruchti: Every time a reader opens a novel of any significance ... [she doesn't] walk away the same.

Athol Dickson: Art is one of the objective proofs that human beings have a soul or spirit, and novels, of course, are art, so novels matter for that reason. Only in a novel can we become a kind of proxy for the work of art itself.

John Blase (raising two fingers to indicate he has something for us here): For example, a lower middle class poet (me) can read about a man dying of ALS (Jim Harrison’s Returning to Earth) or about two sisters being raised in Fingerbone, Idaho (Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping) or about the lifelong friendships of two married couples (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing To Safety) and to some extent I become a better person for it because I’ve entered into these lives that I have never lived and might not want to lead but nevertheless it stirs, I think, the sense of possibilities within life. . . You understand to some extent their lives, plus your own a little more, and to a greater degree this mystical incarnation we call life. It’s quite beautiful, really, this becoming more sympathetic or human. It entails becoming more compassionate and friendly and sensitive. I like that.

Novel Matters: Thanks, everyone. Can we try for another group picture, this time without the rabbit ears?

We writers at Novel Matters wish you an inspired Christmas season, and a New Years filled with vision, transformation, and most of all, great literature.

Peace on earth. Good will to all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Highlights of 2012: A NovelMatters Roundtable

I can't believe this year is almost over. I say the same thing every December, but it feels as though momentum is picking up and the world is spinning faster than ever. And going mad, to boot. We're all reeling in shock from the horrific events that occured in Connecticut on Friday. There are no words, no words, to express the deep sorrow I feel for the families of the victims.

That said, as I look back on my year as it pertains to NovelMatters, there are many highlights. Topping the list is the friendship I share with Bonnie, Debbie, Katy, Latayne and Patti. I thank the Lord continually for the idea planted in the minds of our agents to bring us together. What a God-thing that turned out to be. The connection and comraderie we share is really unique. I wish you could sit in on one of our marathon phone conferences. They're a whole lot of fun, and a little bit of work. We do eventually manage to get around to the agenda, but just barely. If I haven't told you girls before -- and I know I have -- I LOVE YOU! You, collectively and individually, are one of my greatest gifts. I also enjoyed getting to know our guest authors on a deeper level, which was something new for NM this year. I appreciate the time they took to share themselves and their work with our audience. I hope it was equally beneficial for them. And I also enjoyed getting to know each of you better. Every time you contribute to the dialogue, you contribute to our friendship. Thank you. But the star on the top of the tree for me this year was the visit from Megan Sayer. What fun it was getting to know Megan! Lunch in Old Sac with Debbie, Katy, Megan and me was a blast. As it happens, Megan is as much a Mentalist fan as I am, and I showed her the bridge that's in most of the episodes. It was right there next to our restaurant. Of course, she took photos. And don't even talk to me about donuts. I can never think about donuts now without laughing. I only wish Bonnie, Latayne and Patti could have been there too. Then to bring her back to my house, where she, Katy and I had a girls' night only visit, was so much fun. As we wrap up the year, I look forward to what 2013 holds, but hold onto the blessings of 2012.

Megan's visit was a highlight for me, too. We were truly honored that she would come to see us, and she was a delight.

I've also felt privileged - strange as this may sound - to share in what has been an emotional and often difficult year for all of us. The triumphs struggles with writing, and with publishing what we write, the health and financial difficulties, the soul-searching. I think it has been a holy time, the true nature of which will surely become more clear over time. These ladies are my heroes - and so, dear readers, are many of you.

Katy, it has been a holy time, 2012. And Sharon, friendships have been made more dear by all that's happened. Eternity stepped closer. Courage grew in barren soil. And I am no longer afraid. Looking forward to 2013, I anticipate learning even more, some things delightfully delicious and some bitter. But nothing that can stand against the love of Christ.

I feel like I'm about 10.5 months pregnant with a story, so I'm READY to write. I'll be publishing my own book in March, so I sense my big challenge for the year will be balancing Patti the storyteller and Patti the marketing executive with one client. Definitely, self-discipline is part of my growth plan.

I'm completely gobsmacked by the friendships I've developed here. For my family who doesn't "do" social media, it takes a little explaining that you all ARE my friends, that there are people on the other side of the dateline who share my passion for story, faith, and friendship who I love spending time with. 2013 looks promising--doesn't it?--with all that in common? Love to all.

Dear ones, As this post proves, I still can't get text to wrap around my photo (so Bonnie did it.). So maybe next year.This is the year that God did impossible things. But this was also the year that my life felt like an audiobook on iTunes that I keep trying to play without knowing the "shuffle" button is activated.I am so, so grateful for these marvelous women on NovelMatters, and for all the people who read, interact, and bless us with their insights. Love you all, and Merry Christmas.

 We did have a wonderful time with Megan, didn't we? I'll never look at pumpkins the same way again. I think the highlight for me was to see the abundant Christian life lived out before me. It has been a difficult year for each of us in different ways, and to witness my friends facing life's problems and uncertainties with the grace that only God can give has been inspiring. It has been a privilege to share and pray with Bonnie, Patti, Latayne, Sharon and Katy this year, and I eagerly look forward to the next.
I love those "Best of 2012" lists. But I'm terrible at creating them. And Megan didn't come to my house, so that's out. Some highlights of the year on the blog were John Blase's guest post back in April when he talked about why fiction matters. His article included his original poem Review for Dad-O which made me think about my little girl and growing up and I guess I trembled a bit too. I enjoyed hearing from 10 different writers throughout the year, each sharing with us a piece of their writing journey, and answering the question Why does the Novel Matter? (Come back before New Years for a recap of all of those answers--I promise you'll be inspired!) Happily, we discovered there is no one right answer. 
I loved interviewing Joy Jordan-Lake, the phone conversation with her was as joyful as her name. 
It was a rough year in many ways for me, and for my blogging friends--but the good thing about rough times is you get to see mercy pressed up close to your face like a downtown shop window at Christmas when you're six years old. It feels just like that, too. Both so near, and so untouchable. 

What was a highlight for you in 2012--either as a writer, or a reader, or a human being walking around on the planet? We love to hear from you. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Help Wanted

A reminder: For the month of December, we're offering my Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown, (read 1st chapter here) for $5, including shipping. It's a fun story for the entire family, in a beautiful hardback, with dust-cover  To order, email me through our Contacts page. Order soon to ensure you have it before Christmas.

I’m taking you on a bit of a detour today, leading you in a very roundabout manner to the topic my title suggests. But since we’re friends, I want to share some of my life experiences before I take you there, and maybe garner some sympathy.

One of the most unanswerable questions in the universe is: Where is a man when you need one? Mine could be anywhere in the world. Siberia, Cuba, Brazil. And trust me, if something’s going to go wrong, it will go wrong when he’s gone. Take last week for example. He left at 3:30 a.m. for the airport. Later, when I woke up that morning, I heard someone whistling in my kitchen. Whistling. In my kitchen. I was debating the great “fight or flight” issue as I stood there in my nightgown when I remembered, Oh, yeah, my cell phone whistles when I have a voicemail. My daughter, bless her heart, chose that setting for me.

Well, things went from funny to not-so-funny that night when I went into my office to check email, and – oh, Lord – there was a mouse on my desk. A mouse. On my desk. We’ve lived here for 10 years and have never had a mouse in the house. In the garage, yes, because we live sort of in the country and sort of not, but we've never had a mouse in the house. It’s bad enough that it was in the house, but on my desk? My Desk?! Where I write and create and, and ... My desk is sacrosanct! And not only was it on my desk, it left droppings between Roget’s Super Thesaurus and Harbrace’s College Handbook, 11th Edition! Droppings! And do you think Rick was here to play the hero? Of course not.  So I did what I always do in such situations, I called my daughter ... NOT the one who set my phone to whistle. She said what she always says in such situations, “Mom, just come over and spend the night.” It was tempting, but I just couldn’t. I had to deal with this. So with her on the line, I went to the garage to get one of the mousetraps Rick had set out there. In the process I set off the alarm, which I forgot to disarm before I opened the door. Great. But I got one of the traps, put it in a strategic place, then went to my bedroom, where I settled in to watch TV –  with my feet off the floor. Not 10 minutes later I hear a SNAP! Oh. Lord. Sure enough, I’d caught the critter. So now what? I wasn't going anywhere near it. Bottom line, my son-in-law came over first thing next morning and got rid of it for me. He earned points that day, believe me, lots of points.

And then there was a December night a couple of years ago when I was sitting watching TV about 10:00, when suddenly it sounded like Santa and his reindeer had landed on the roof. As much as I hoped that was the case, I had a feeling there was another reason for the racket. So I called my daughter, said I was going outside to investigate and wanted her with me, so to speak, you know, just in case ... Again, she invited me to spend the night, and it was tempting, especially as the racket continued to escalate right above my head. But I mustered my courage and went outside to see what I could see. Which was nothing. And yet the noise continued. Which meant it wasn’t on the roof, it was in the attic space of my house. Crap. To make a long story short, whatever it was occupied that space the entire week Rick was gone, and made its presence known every single night when the sun went down. It woke me up from a dead sleep one night, sounding like it was dragging an anvil across the attic floor – right above my bed. What was it?! Where was it?! What was it dragging?! More important, could it see me through the heating and air conditioning vents? We’ll never know, because I never heard it again after Rick got home. Not ever.

Then there was my personal favorite. Several years ago, when Rick and I became empty nesters, he built a lovely home for us in the country. To me, it was like living on the backside of the moon, but Rick was in heaven. He decided to raise longhorn cattle, and got two calves to start our herd. We named those calves after our two little granddaughters, so don’t you know they were the safest cattle in the county? Not gonna land on anyone’s dinner plate. Ever. Well, Rick was in the Philippines, and the phone rang early one morning, waking me out of a sound sleep. A woman said to me, without even a hello, “Your cows are in my yard,” and she hung up. I lay there with the phone in my hand, trying to make sense of this crazy call. “Your cows are in my yard ... your cows are in my ...“My cows? Are in your yard?!? What?! ” I throw back the covers, get dressed, pop my contacts in, grab my purse, run to the car, back out of the driveway, and— Wait. Who called? Whose yard are my cows in?? I have no idea. But I drive around the “neighborhood” looking for my cows, feeling like Little Bo Peep. I can’t find them. And what the heck am I going to do if I do find them? So I go back home, wondering what in the world to do, when the phone rings again. This time it’s my neighbor, Kathy, who lived on the acreage behind our acreage, who was like the unofficial, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. She knew everything that went on, at all times. And she said to me, “Sharon, are you looking for your cows?” Am I looking for my cows? Really? How could she possibly– I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. “Yes, I am," I said. "I’m looking for my cows.” And she tells me they’re in so-and-so’s yard. So I drive over there, and sure as the world, there’s Haleigh and Katelyn in my neighbor’s yard, and her husband is trying to herd them back to our pasture. City girl that I am, I am not equipped to handle such a crisis. I don’t even own a pair of boots. What am I going to do? And then I remembered ... one of the guys who worked for my husband was a real, live cowboy. He came, rounded up our cattle and mended the fence so they couldn’t get out again.

It wasn’t long after that we sold the house.

What does any of that have to do with writing? It’s all fodder, my friend. All fodder.

Okay, so here’s what this post is really supposed to be about. I’m getting ready to start a new novel. I’m excited and scared all at the same time. This is the longest period of time I’ve gone without writing (several months), and I’m feeling very wobbly, hoping I’ll soon get a good grip on the handle bars. In my plot there’s a woman in her late 20s who is guardian to her 12-year-old niece, and has been since the girl was 4. She’s a good provider and very loving, but there’s a threat that she may lose custody ... and I need to know why. I don’t want the reason to be cliche, i.e., child protective services stepping in for some reason; health issues for the woman, etc. I have a direction I’m considering, but I’d love to get your thoughts. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

For the Writer Who Has Everything

A few years ago, a good friend surprised me with a Christmas gift that both gratified and inspired me.  It was a wall clock that said, “Keep Writing.” This whimsical gift communicated her support for my writing and encouraged me to keep going.  It still hangs by my writing desk.

With the holidays coming (soon!) I have found a wide variety of gifts for writers. Some are serious and some are funky, most are useful. All are found online.  Here are a few suggestions for that writer-friend who has everything. Most are found at Cafepress, Amazon or Zazzle:

When it's time for the writer to pull an all-night re-write, this thermos will hold enough java to keep his/her eyes open til dawn. 'It's November. Do you know what your word count is?',486025222

 Or for the de-caffeinated among us, the 'Sir Writes-A Lot' water bottle.,420757328

 The Rules of Writing mug to remind the writer to keep going and...for crying out loud, just don't think!

Ta-da!  The Rewrite Desk. This could work if they're not claustrophobic.

The LED pen for waking in the dark, panicked that he/she will forget the brilliant idea that came in a dream.


 For the sentimental, a beautiful holiday ornament is here,667271248

Something very practical - a cute laptop sleeve:

Wall art for the uptight writer:,625038273
Wall art for the inspired writer:

And my personal favorite - a Team Bradbury salute to Fahrenheit 451.

I hope this makes your holiday shopping easier. Do you have a favorite writerly gift that you have received?  Please share it with us - there are only 13 shopping days left til Christmas!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Rolling Out a Blog Tour: Bonnie Grove's Talking to the Dead

This week, I'm kicking off a blog tour for my novel, Talking to the Dead, which is available as an e-book download for only $2.99! And, since this is my favourite place to hang out, I wanted to start the tour here with you. 
If you want to jump in and help promote the last 10 days of the special price download, you're very welcome to do so by either pointing folks to this blog, or by asking for the blog tour package, and I'll send it to ya. 
At the bottom of the interview is Chapter one of Talking to the Dead!
Who the heck is Bonnie Grove?
Bonnie started writing when, as a teenager, her parents bought a typewriter (yes, durning the age of dinosaurs). She clacked out a terrible romance novel filled with typos and bad grammar that her mom loved, and she's been turning out improving prose ever since.
Her non-fiction, Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You, came out of her experience working with families in crisis. She believes people have the knowledge and ability to make changes in their life without being told what to do or how to do it. And, oddly enough, has managed to write a book that helps people do just that.
Her novel, Talking to the Dead, came out of that crazy place inside her head that has more questions then answers. Questions about grief, love, sex, God, therapy, and how laughter can make everything seem okay--even if just for a moment or two. It has won a few awards, and has been internationally published in languages she doesn't speak.
Bonnie has completed several novels since Talking to the Dead, and is currently working her butt off to ensure they see they make their way into your hands.
Bonnie is married to a cute guy named Steve, they have two children, and they make their home in Saskatchewan.

About Talking to the Dead
Twenty-something Kate Davis can’t seem to get this grieving widow thing right. She’s supposed to put on a brave face and get on with her life, right? Instead she’s camped out on her living room floor, unwashed, unkempt, and unable to sleep—because her husband Kevin keeps talking to her.
            Is she losing her mind?                  
            Kate’s attempts to find the source of the voice she hears are both humorous and humiliating, as she turns first to an “eclectically spiritual” counselor, then a shrink with a bad toupee, an exorcist, and finally group therapy. There she meets Jack, the warmhearted, unconventional pastor of a ramshackle church, and at last the voice subsides. But when she stumbles upon a secret Kevin was keeping, Kate’s fragile hold on the present threatens to implode under the weight of the past…and Kevin begins to shout.
            Will the voice ever stop? Kate must confront her grief to find the grace to go on, in this tender, quirky novel about embracing life.
Bonnie, tell us about your main character.
            Kate Davis is having the ultimate bad day, and is living out some intensely strange circumstances. My goal was to create a character that reflects real women – messing up, but stronger than she knows. Kate is a fighter deep down in her soul—she just doesn’t know it yet.
            She has her own, unique way of navigating through the world. It isn’t an easy way—but it is her way and she owns it. To me, that’s heroic. To bear tremendous loss and heartache, yet remain true to herself to the end.

Please tell us about yourself.
            I’m a happy Canadian. I’m married to a guy I love, and we have two children who are so well behaved I have to ask for I.D. when they come home from school each day. I just can’t believe they are mine. Our house is usually a mess, and one summer we lost our dog (Poppy the Pomeranian) twice in one day. We found her both times, she’s fine and forgave us.
            I think in stories, and have a hard time understanding the world without them. I have recently rediscovered how much I love poetry and am thumbing my nose at all those English teachers who told me I didn’t really understand what the poem meant.
            I’ve often thought about getting out of the publishing gig and just going to work for Taco Bell, but I’m too far gone, so write I must.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
            Wow, I’d love to say no. That I just make it all up based on something I saw on the bus one day.
            I recently wrote a list of images and ideas that reoccur in each of my novels. It was a long list that included things like forests, narrow paths, isolation, and mental illness. Cheerful, eh?
            At this point, I can’t pretend I’m not working out my issues via story. The plot in Talking to the Dead is fiction, and I’m not Kate Davis, but if there is such a thing as an emotional biography, I think that is what I wrote.
            The other item found in each of my novels? Humour. The day we can’t have a laugh in the middle of it all is the day we’ve just given up.

How did you come up with the story for Talking to the Dead?
            I’d love to say I was so savvy I plotted and wrote the novel in a few weeks—like those genius writers I hear so much about—but the truth is, I had a question nagging me, and I started writing out that question in story form.
            I used to work with at risk families (families that experience a host of social and economic disadvantages) and it dawned on me that I couldn’t judge what a person was trying to accomplish simply by watching their behavior. That, often, what I thought they were doing and what it was they were actually trying to do were very different things. In other words, that behavior doesn’t always match up with intention. So the question was, if behavior isn’t an indication of intention, then what is the best way to truly understand a person?
            Did I answer the question? Probably not, but this story is an attempt to explore that question. I’d love to hear from readers and have them tell me if I hit on any sort of answer.

What are you working on now?
            I’ve recently completed a novel entitled The Season In Between that is now in my agent’s hands. It’s the story of an East Coast island, a dying fishing community that is confronted with the lies of their past.
            I’ve started work on another novel, the working title is Trillium, about a woman who stumbles upon a magical town, and must fight to save it.

Where are people getting Talking to the Dead?
            Until December 17th, you can download the e-book version of Talking to the Dead for only $2.99!

Kindle (download is actually $2.51 on Kindle!)

            If you’re a fan, like I am, of books made out of paper, you can always order the paperback of Talking to the Dead at Amazon, Barnes & , or your favorite brick and mortar bookshop.

Excerpt from Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove

Chapter 1

Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn’t go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn’t feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing.

Funerals exist so we can close doors we’d rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake? I refused to pick at dainties and sip hot drinks. Instead, I wandered into the back

I knew if I turned my head I’d see my mother’s back as she guarded the patio doors. Mom would let no one pass. As a recent widow herself, she knew my need to stare into my loss alone.

I sat on the porch swing and closed my eyes, letting the June sun warm my bare arms. Instead of closing the door on my pain, I wanted it to swing from its hinges so the searing winds of grief could scorch my face and body. Maybe I hoped to die from exposure.

Kevin had been dead three hours before I had arrived at the hospital. A long time for my husband to be dead without me knowing. He was so altered, so permanently changed without my being aware.

I had stood in the emergency room, surrounded by faded blue cotton curtains, looking at the naked remains of my husband while nurses talked in hushed tones around me. A sheet covered Kevin from his hips to his knees. Tubes, which had either carried something into or away from his body, hung disconnected and useless from his arms. The twisted remains of what I assumed to be some sort of breathing mask lay on the floor. “What happened?” I said in a whisper so faint I knew no one could hear. Maybe I never said it at all. A short doctor with a pronounced lisp and quiet manner told me Kevin’s heart killed him. He used difficult phrases; medical terms I didn’t know, couldn’t understand. He called it an episode and said it was massive. When he said the word massive, spit flew from his mouth, landing on my jacket’s lapel. We had both stared at it.

When my mother and sister, Heather, arrived at the hospital, they gazed speechlessly at Kevin for a time, and then took me home. Heather had whispered with the doctor, their heads close together, before taking a firm hold on my arm and walking me out to her car. We drove in silence to my house. The three of us sat around my kitchen table looking at each other.

Several times my mother opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Our words had turned to cotton, thick and dry. We couldn’t work them out of our throats. I had no words for my abandonment. Like everything I knew to be true had slipped out the back door when I wasn’t looking.

“What happened?” I said again. This time I knew I had said it out loud. My voice echoed back to me off the kitchen table.
“Remember how John Ritter died? His heart, remember?” This from Heather, my younger, smarter sister. Kevin had died a celebrity’s death.

From the moment I had received the call from the hospital until now, I had allowed other people to make all of my bereavement decisions. My mother and mother-in-law chose the casket and placed the obituary in the paper. Kevin’s boss at the bank, Donna Walsh, arranged for the funeral parlor and even called the pastor from the church that Kevin had attended until he was sixteen to come and speak. Heather silently held my hand through it all. I didn’t feel grateful for their help.

I sat on the porch swing, and my right foot rocked on the grass, pushing and pulling the swing. My head hurt. I tipped it back and rested it on the cold, inflexible metal that made up the frame for the swing. It dug into my skull. I invited the pain. I sat with it; supped with it.

I opened my eyes and looked up into the early June sky. The clouds were an unmade bed. Layers of white moved rumpled and languid past the azure heavens. Their shapes morphed and faded before my eyes. A Pegasus with the face of a dog; a veiled woman fleeing; a villain; an elf. The shapes were strange and unreliable, like dreams. A monster, a baby—I wanted to reach up to touch its soft, wrinkled face. I was too tired. Everything was gone, lost, emptied out.

I had arrived home from the hospital empty handed. No Kevin. No car—we left it in the hospital parking lot for my sister to pick up later. “No condition to drive,” my mother had said. She meant me.

Empty handed. The thought, incomplete and vague, crept closer to consciousness. There should have been something. I should have brought his things home with me. Where were his clothes? His wallet? Watch? Somehow, they’d fled the scene.

“How far could they have gotten?” I said to myself. Without realizing it, I had stood and walked to the patio doors. “Mom?” I said as I walked into the house.

She turned quickly, but said nothing. My mother didn’t just understand what was happening to me. She knew. She knew it like the ticking of a clock, the wind through the windows, like everything a person gets used to in life. It had only been eight months since Dad died. She knew there was little to be said. Little that should be said. Once, after Dad’s funeral, she looked at Heather and me and said, “Don’t talk. Everyone has said enough words to last for eternity.”
I noticed how tall and straight she stood in her black dress and sensible shoes. How long must the dead be buried before you can stand straight again? “What happened to Kevin’s stuff?” Mom glanced around as if checking to see if a guest had made off with the silverware.

I swallowed hard and clarified. “At the hospital. He was naked.” A picture of him lying motionless, breathless on the white sheets filled my mind. “They never gave me his things. His, whatever, belongings. Effects.”

“I don’t know, Kate,” she said. Like it didn’t matter. Like I should stop thinking about it. I moved past her, careful not to touch her, and went in search of my sister.

Heather sat on my secondhand couch in my living room, a two seater with the pattern of autumn leaves. She held an empty cup and a napkin; dark crumbs tumbling off onto the carpet. Her long brown hair, usually left down, was pulled up into a bun. She looked pretty and sad. She saw me coming, her brown eyes widening in recognition. Recognition that she should do something. Meet my needs, help me, make time stand still. She quickly ended the conversation she was having with Kevin’s boss, and met me in the middle of the living room.

“Hey,” she said, touching my arm. I took a small step back, avoiding her warm fingers.

“Where would his stuff go?” I blurted out. Heather’s eyebrows snapped together in confusion. “Kevin’s things,” I said. “They never gave me his things. I want to go and get them. Will you come?”
Heather stood very still for a moment, straight backed like she was made of wood, then relaxed. “You mean at the hospital. Right, Kate? Kevin’s things at the hospital?” Tears welled in my eyes. “There was nothing. You were there. When we left, they never gave me anything of his.” I realized I was trembling.

Heather bit her lower lip, and looked into my eyes. “Let me do that for you. I’ll call the hospital—” I stood on my tiptoes and opened my mouth. “I’ll go,” she corrected before I could say anything. “I’ll go and ask around. I’ll get his stuff and bring it here.” “I need his things.”
Heather cupped my elbow with her hand. “You need to lie down. Let me get you upstairs, and as soon as you’re settled, I’ll go to the hospital and find out what happened to Kevin’s clothes, okay?”
Fatigue filled the small spaces between my bones. “Okay.” She led me upstairs. I crawled under the covers as Heather closed the door, blocking the sounds of the people below.