My novel releases today. So what am I doing to celebrate?

I’m watching my son run.

My son runs like the wind. He pushes himself to the limit every day, practicing when he’s not feeling well, stretching when he feels strained, and pulling every last ounce of energy from the depths of his being in the final seconds of a race.

I want to live like that.

I want to write like that.

No matter what happens with this novel, I’ll know I’ve at the very least finished this race well. I’ve dug each sentence from my heart, turning and tweaking, stretching and straining, pouring over the text for years now. Yes, I’ve given it my best.

But there are more books left to edit.

More skills left to learn.

More books left to write.

More hope to pen for a weary, broken world.

So today, when my first novel releases, I am watching my son run.

I am grateful.

I am praying.

And I submit all my words, current and future, to The Author, that I may continue on in Him, and that I may finish strong and well whatever He has planned.

*****

race

And the winner of the first signed copy of #HowSweettheSoundNovel is……..

20140212-073817.jpgOn Wednesday, I opened up the first of a handful of opportunities for folks to win a signed copy of How Sweet the Sound here at my blog.

And the winner is….

Heather Day Gilbert!!!!!

Congratulations to Heather, a self-described, “a Southern/Appalachian gal,” who loves to be an influencer for books she enjoys. I sure hope she enjoys my Southern tale. Be sure to stop by her amazing blog some time.

And HUGE thanks to all who commented and asked questions. Here they are, along with the answers for you.

*****

Q: Heather says, “I know I’ve read one of your posts about the wait to get picked up as an author. What did you do to get through that waiting time? And I’m so excited for your book, being a Southern/Appalachian gal myself.”

A: It took me approximately eight years from the time I decided to actively pursue traditional publication until now. I did a lot of things during that time, which I blogged about here. Querying agents and landing a publishing house require patience, because it can feel like all you’re doing is waiting. You get to the point where you’re even grateful for rejections, because at least you’ve heard SOMETHING. But I’d say by far the two most helpful things I did to get me through the waiting were: 1) I wrote a weekly newspaper column–for three years, and for no pay. Sometimes I spat the 500 word article out in an hour. Other times, it took me 3-4 grueling days. But it kept me writing, and kept me humble, and kept me aware of just how much work–albeit fabulous work–writing really is. The second thing I did was focus other hobbies. I believe “art feeds art,” not to mention keeps a dull writer a little more well-rounded, so painting and upcycling furniture on days when the waiting felt particularly painful were great helps to me.

Q:  Cynthia Herron asks, “I’m wondering, how much input were you allowed on the cover of How Sweet the Sound? (I love it BTW!)”

A: The cover design process is pretty fascinating to me, especially as someone who used to work as a graphic designer. First, I collected a bunch of images of currently published book covers I felt resembled the theme and feel of my story, and submitted those to the AMAZING designers at David C. Cook who took it from there. They presented me with three absolutely breathtaking–and completely different–cover options. Seriously, they were each impossibly, incredibly, out-of-this world exquisite. I asked close friends which they preferred, and talked to the design team about my thoughts about each one, and in the end, they chose the current cover from those three designs. I actually preferred a different one, but in the end, I am SOOOO glad they chose this one. I couldn’t have asked for or imagined a more beautiful visual representation of my words.

Q: Kathleen asks, “Will you consider taking up your column again?”

A: I so cherished the opportunity to write my weekly column, Life with a Twist, while it lasted! Finding the blessings and twists of hope in everyday life and finding ways to make social justice issues applicable to suburbanites was a great gift. However, creating and self-editing those seemingly brief, 500 words a week took a lot more time than it appeared. I stopped writing column to focus on my novels, and since my heart–and current workload–remain with novels, that’s where I continue to focus, too. Sometimes I do consider writing columns for a newspaper again, especially when there are down times in the editing process. And I did cut my teeth in journalism. Never say never, as they say!

Q: Alyssa Faith asks, “When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?”

A: Great question, Alyssa. I wish I had a definite answer. The more I’m asked this question, and the more I read other author’s responses to it, the more I’m convinced no one really wants to become a writer–not exactly. I think perhaps when a child first learns that a crayon or a pencil can move along the surface of something … when certain souls learn that the images, then letters, then words of the heart can be pushed out through the hand and appear as tangible color and text … that for certain people, that means of expression becomes a need. Not a decision, but a need, something like breathing for the introvert who holds emotions so tightly within that only the gentle scratchings of a pen can free them to live.

Q: Molly asks, “Where you raised in Alabama? If not why a book set in the South? I will say it’s one of my favorite settings for a book!”

A: I was not raised in Alabama, nor anywhere close to the Mason-Dixon line or I-10. I have great insecurity and anxiety about this fact, that I am a Yankee writing a story about the South. I have vacationed in the area for over two decades, but I am aware this does not count. However, Alabama (the gulf coast, in particular) was where this story had to be told. Only in the ocean air, where the moon tugs relentless against the tide, and where the heat of the day blurs the hard and the concrete could such deep pain and redemption within a story like How Sweet the Sound occur. So, I hope true Southerners will forgive me for barging in to their neck of the woods. Y’all are welcome here in Indiana any time. :)

Q: Debbie asks, “Question, where did the unique names for characters come from?”

Oh, I’m so glad you asked about names! Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. I spend a lot of time researching the origins of names, looking at surname lists from setting regions, and discovering the ancient meanings of names. Sometimes a name on those lists immediately catches my eye, like “Princella.” Other times, I’m surprised when I like a name, and then learn by accident the meaning precisely fits the character, like “Anniston,” named after the town where the Freedom Riders stopped (a fact I learned well after I named her). Every single character I’ve ever named in this novel, and in my second (coming 2015), have deep and rich significance. Not everyone will know this or bother to look up the meanings of those names, but it helps me define and develop the characters as I write. I also believe names empower the characters as a story–and their role in it–unfolds. This reminds me of Isaiah 62:2-3,

“…And you will be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will designate.
You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord…”

*****

Thanks again to everyone who commented and asked these fabulous questions.

And again, CONGRATULATIONS to HEATHER DAY GILBERT for winning the very first signed copy of How Sweet the Sound!

So what’s my novel REALLY about? A universal answer.

That’s what folks want to know.

Many of the authors I follow talk about a phenomenon where readers assume everything in a work of fiction must surely be based on real life, the author’s real life, in particular. How else, they reason, could the writing be to true and deep and realistic?

I read oodles of books and blogs, articles and textbooks on writing, by people who are experts on the subject. People who study literature. People who hold doctorates and win prizes and have great followings of readers. One of the threads stringing through most of these is that yes, effective writing comes from deep within an authors heart, his observations, snippets of conversations she overheard in Super Stores and along pee wee soccer sidelines. How each author processes these often daily, sometimes life changing observations depends on the author…and to a great extent, his imagination…

…her ability to take the real and make it more real…

…his skill at morphing the daily into something shiny, glittering, and capable of rising like an orb of hope above the cacophony of those who, rushing to complete tasks from morning until night, miss

everything. 

Authors, writers like me, are often accused of having too-thin-skin, of having their heads in the clouds, having ridiculous imaginations, wearing feelings on sleeves….

Turns out these “weaknesses” are strengths to those who would embrace a pen.

So.

What’s my novel really about?

One day, about four years ago, I sat on my back patio praying, asking God what He wanted to do with my story. I was at a bit of an ends, as the manuscript currently stood, and I knew it needed a major overhaul to turn it into something marketable. The story had bones–a coming-of age plot, an Alabama pecan farm setting. And as the hummingbirds buzzed among the Rose of Sharon blooms, I heard God whisper: Tamar. Re-read the story of Tamar.

And so I did.

How Sweet the Sound is a loose allegory, set in 1980, of the Tamar of II Samuel 13, one of the daughters of King David. Raped by her half-brother Amnon, who was then killed by her real brother Absalom, Tamar’s story ends there, when scripture tells us she was left to live a desolate life.

How can that be? I asked God. Argued with Him.

That’s not the God of the New Testament, the God who promises restoration, the Christ who raises men and women alike.

You’re right, I heard God whisper. Tell the rest of her story. 

And so, How Sweet the Sound is my attempt to do that.

That’s what it’s really about.

Because one out of every three women in America alone have experienced sexual trauma, molestation, incest, rape. I have never been shy about admitting I am one of those statistics. But my story is not Comforts. Nor is my story Annistons. In the end, my personal story is not important.

What is important is that the majority of those one-in-three women feel like their stories end there, that their lives lay useless and dirty, tainted and worthless, at the feet of their abuser–or abusers.

My hope is, after reading How Sweet the Sound, they’ll feel different.

They’ll know different.

They’ll have hope.

The reality?

The story of Anniston and Comfort, Princella and Jed, Ernestine and all the characters in How Sweet the Sound is universal. Early reader reviews which include heartbreaking, “me too’s,” and “hurt people hurt people,” verify this. Families tear each other apart, even with rape and murder. Tamar experienced all of these things thousands of years ago. Pick up a newspaper or listen to the evening news, and these tragedies are rampant, still, today.

The truth is, story has a way of uniting souls around common hurts, common celebrations, common tragedies, and ultimately, common hope.

The truth is, this story is fiction.

And because of that, it holds more truth than a lot of things in this world.

Plain and simple.

And true.

*****

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. `- Anne Lamott”

*****

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