On writing: What I could write and why I don’t.

For as long as I can remember, I could write. And not just write, but write well.

When I decided to write books for publication, I surprised some folks.

*

“Do you really want to be known as something eone who writes about sexual abuse?” (A pastor asked me that one.)

*

“Why can’t you write stories like ___(insert favorite Christian romance genre writer here)___.” (A relative asked me that.)

*

I’ve fielded countless other similar questions since then. Still, my novels (with all gratefulness and glory to Him) sell well enough that I have a fourth one coming out in 2018, and a re-release of the said sexual abuse story in less than two months, September 1 to be exact.

The people who asked those questions above were right. Kind of. To be sure, my novels are meant to entertain. Each has threads of romance, intrigue, and even a little mystery in them. But those things aren’t ultimately what propels the characters, or me to write them.

I’m well aware that I don’t write what I “should” write–at least not in the eyes of others. I write the stories I argue with God about until I’m 100% certain that’s what He wants me to write. I write as a reluctant introvert and as someone who could write genre romance or Hallmark-esque stories, but I’m not called to write those. Some writers are, and that’s spectacular for them. Truly. Readers want and need and buy those books. They sell well. But whenever I’ve tried to write something more like so-and-so or less personally honest or less edgy or whatever descriptives/labels you’d like to use, I just can’t. My mind goes blank. Either that, or what comes out is a linguistically shameful blob of nonsense. (Just ask my beloved editors.)

Nevertheless, if a lifetime of Bible stories have taught me anything, it’s this: Most people won’t understand the work of someone who is listening to or following the Lord.

That doesn’t stop me from struggling with what I feel called to write. It’s downright scary to put stories out there I know are going to ruffle some feathers.

Gratefully, what I write and why made a little more sense to me when my pastor spoke this weekend about Proverbs 24:10-12. Here it is in The Message version:

“If you fall to pieces in a crisis,
there wasn’t much to you in the first place.
Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

 

See, I was perishing once. Still am, if I’m honest. Back when I wrote my first novel, How Sweet the Sound, I was perishing under the weight of having been sexually abused for over 10 years as a child and I had questions…BIG questions…for a God I grew up believing could stop such evil, and yet it had happened to me. I learned there were hundreds of thousands of others who had suffered the same way, so I couldn’t say sexual abuse wasn’t any of my business. Sexual abuse was all about my business. And when I argued with God about why it all happened, well…

How Sweet the Sound was born.

How Sweet the Sound is an unlikely novel about an unlikely family in Southern Alabama torn apart by the same fate I suffered. I wrote and wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote, until not only did I have a book about it, but I had a book of hope. And that’s the key to my stories right there.

I wrote a book of hard and a book of hope.

Whether or not it ever makes a best-seller list makes no difference, especially in light of Proverbs 24:10-12.

What makes a difference are the tens of hundreds of notes and handshakes and nods from others who’ve been sexually abused and say to me, “Me too. Thank you.”

Me too.

Thank you.

What they thank me for is not a book as much as for the hope the characters in that story found in the midst of their perishing circumstances.

Each one of my books is like that. How Sweet the Sound is about not turning my head to and finding hope in the midst of sexual abuse. Then Sings My Soul is about not turning my head to the plight of the aging and elderly. Lead Me Home is about not turning my head to the plight of small churches and small communities and overlooked people in our midst. And my fourth book (title TBD), releasing in 2018, is about not turning my head to the plight of the unborn, the plight of birth mothers, and the plight of those in the midst of the opiod epidemic that’s happening right smack in the middle of each of our back yards.

The sexually abused, the aging, small folks, and the unborn and birth mothers…all of them have two very real things in common:

1) People turn their heads to them.

2) They’re all desperate for hope in the midst of perishing situations.

Because when you’ve got nothing, hope means everything.

(((which just might be a direct quote from my upcoming 2018 novel)))

Could there be any greater reason to write–or to read, for that matter–than that?

Hope.

Hope in the midst of struggle. In the midst of terror. In the midst of grief. In the midst of abuse. In the midst of even death.

If one person picks up one of my books and finds that, well then I’ve done my job.

Recently I finished reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. (He was a writer who, in his time was often misunderstood and ridiculed and chastised. I’m smitten!) So many things moved me about that story, in particular the parallels between the hopelessness of the dust bowl era and migrants searching for survival in California, and the hopelessness of America’s current small towns and the poor and marginalized within them. These words in particular brought me to tears (and do again even as I type them):

“Where does courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from?…The people in flight from the terror behind–strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.” ~John Steinbeck

I’ve seen a lot of bitter cruelty first hand, whether personally, or in the eyes of friends in Ukraine where abortion is seen as simple birth control, or on the faces of an aging hospital patient who never has visitors, or at the bedside or graveside of someone riddled by the effects of an opiate addiction.

Some may say my faith is terrible, and in many ways I’m sure is. I doubt. I wrestle. I sin. And I sin again. I have often prayed the prayer, “Oh Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.”

But in and because of all of that, my faith is refired forever.

The perishing are my business.

Therefore my writing will never be off the hook.

Someone’s watching, after all.

Someone’s watching.

***

***

Stay tuned for details about my novel, How Sweet the Sound, releasing September 1 with a brand new cover and a chapter from my brand new 2018 novel.

Also, Lead Me Home is on sale for e-readers across all your favorite platforms. Click here for options: http://ebookdeals.net/

 

Character preview: Meet Anniston Harlan

Though the polar vortex threatens to bring down glaciers anew upon my already ice-age-flattened state, the excitement surrounding the release of my debut novel is warming up! If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my newsletter (on the right hand navigation bar of this page) to catch the latest news and information as the March 1 release date approaches. In the meantime, over the next few weeks, I want to introduce you to a few of the key characters in the novel.

As such, meet Anniston Harlan, the leading protagonist in How Sweet the Sound.

*****

“I thought I’d lived through everything by the time I was thirteen.”

*****

So says Anniston in the very first sentence of How Sweet the Sound. Thirteen years old and precocious, through her eyes we watch as crime and tragedy plays out in her family. We watch as she tries to make sense of folks who believe what other people think of them is more important than standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We watch as she finds out how mean the world can be, and that often–too often–that meanness comes from family.

Thirteen.

She thought she’d lived through everything.

And she had, if you count hurricanes and tornadoes, riding the big yellow bus to school, playing in creeks, watching the growth and harvest, the budding and the fall of acres of pecans, and the steadfast love of a father.

She’s spunky and fearless, compliant and shy. She’s sheltered, but she’s a dreamer. She’s wise beyond her years, but young enough to hold on to hope.

This is Anniston, the girl I’ve played with, talked with, laughed with and wept with for the last few years as this story has formed.

She’s lived through everything but freedom…

 And I can’t wait for you to meet her.

*****

“Like a pecan farmer knows in his bones when his crops are destined for a storm, I always knew something was off-kilter about my family, even before the shootings. Life around here was like a hiccuping movie reel at school, one of those the teacher tries every which way to fiddle with, turning the projector knob back and forth to try to bring focus, glimpses of clarity skipping by, crooked frames never quite settling in.”

~Anniston

 *****

spanish_painting._merello._april_girl

*****

Question for you:

If you’re a fan of coming-of-age and/or Southern fiction, who is your favorite protagonist?

Why? 

Raising the level of the sentence…

I am smitten with this book, “Someone,” which just finaled for a National Book Award, and the author, ALICE MCDERMOTT. You might like this interview, too.

I particularly adore this quote by McDermott:

“We are surrounded by story. Story is very accessible to us, more so than ever. But what I think literary fiction does is raise the level of the sentence to be as important as the story the sentence tells. The rhythm, the beauty, the music of it is as important as character and plot.”

You can see and read the entire interview on PBS here:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec13/mcdermott_10-09.html

20131017-070719.jpg