Signing a contract for my Little Lost Nun

This morning, I signed a contract with Park End Books for a story called Little Lost Nun. I’m very happy!

Little Lost Nun began as a short story, nearly a decade ago. I set myself the task of writing about a conflict in which there is no antagonist. I remembered a professor of Romantic Literature telling our class at university that “the bad guy defeats the good guy” is not tragedy, not in its purest form. He said real tragedy is a conflict between two people who are good but still in conflict because of something inherent in their nature or situation. The “good guy against the good guy” is far more tragic. This perspective has remained with me, and sometimes haunted me, ever since.

I don’t mean to say Little Lost Nun is a tragedy. It is not! But it begins in a conflict between two protagonists. The antagonist has very little to do with it.

That was the original short story, and I shared it at a women’s retreat I lead at a parish on Tacoma, WA. We spent the day talking about my professor’s definition of tragedy and exploring the larger question of whether tragedy is possible to a Christian mindset. For example, how does a belief in the resurrection impact our ideas about what is tragic? It was a fascinating day.

The little nun stayed with me after the short story was written. I revised her story once or twice, and it began to seem that it was more than a short story. It wasn’t a picture book, but there wasn’t much scope for it as anything else unless it was longer. I began to wonder what the story would be if it were longer.

First, I tried it on as a part of the Sam and Saucer series.

No, it wasn’t part of the Sam and Saucer series.

Hmmm….

The little nun sat on my desk, in my files, at the edge of my imagination. Months passed.

One day, I wrote her story without attaching it to any other story. I freed it from Sam and Saucer and the idea of a picture book. That went much better.

But it’s still not a conventional story. It’s a story for children, but also adults. It’s sad but also happy. It needed a good home, and no home presented itself to me for a time.

I wrote some other books and finished them. They got contracts, and I felt that my desk was cleared and I could move on to the next adventure.

But the little nun was still there.

Sometimes, the answer to things pops up right in front of you.

Not long ago, Summer Kinard, one of my co-authors for Seven Holy Women, launched a publishing company called Park End Books. I was happy about that. We need more publishers who are friendly to Christian books from an Orthodox perspective. So much of Christian publishing in the United States is heavily Protestant, and many secular publishers aren’t open to books with even subtle Christian themes.

Park End Books began releasing titles soon after launch. The covers drew me in, and I was impressed with the books’ creativity and innovation.

Just as I was deciding that Little Lost Nun would likely never find a home, I happened to read the Manuscript Wish List on the Park End website. It struck me immediately that this might be where my little lost nun belonged.

I’m grateful to say that Park End Books agreed with me – hence signing the contract this morning. I’m looking forward to this project very much – to the editing, the polishing, the enchantment of watching art and design added to the story, and that moment that never grows old when I get to hold this story in my hands as a published book.

In the meantime, I drew a little nun of my own and took her out in the sunshine for pictures to celebrate the occasion.

May God bless the work of our hands and hearts and words.

#littlelostnun

A Board Book Story of Saint Ia of Cornwall

On Tuesday, December 15, my second board book launched – and it’s the first board book to be published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press!

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a toddler-friendly retelling of a story from the life of Saint Ia of Cornwall. Children will sympathize with Ia, who was left behind by her friends because they thought she was too young to be a missionary. But something amazing happened, just when she was on the point of giving up.

Who was Saint Ia?

Saint Ia was an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. She is believed by some to have been a princess, but the dream closest to her heart was to preach the word of God in England. Ia arrived in Cornwall (spoiler alert!) through divine intervention, and the modern-day town and parish of St. Ives are named for her. In fact, the older Cornish name of the town is Porth Ia, meaning “Ia’s cove.” You can learn more about St. Ives Church here.

St. Ives Parish Church (Photo credit: Palickap)

Making the book

One of my favorite parts of this project has been working with illustrator Kristina Tartara. Her enthusiasm matched mine, and she brought so much loving attention and creativity to the project. For example, it was Kristi’s idea to include the three little friends who keep Saint Ia company in the story, reflecting all her emotions on their expressive faces. Through many conversations, shared research, sketches, and revisions, Kristi brought the story to life.

Kristi also brought her training in early childhood education, not only providing good insight (“That’s too many words, Melinda!”) but also a wealth of lessons, crafts, and activities to go with the book. Check out these free printables, photos, lesson plans, sensory bins, leaf crafts, and more!

SAINT IA’S SONG

A special part of the project that was completely new to me was the SONG! Composer Natalie Wilson wrote the music, I wrote the words, and Natalie recorded it. You can find the sheet music HERE. The recording will be available shortly – I’ll update this post as soon as it releases.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I look forward to seeing Saint Ia Rides a Leaf in the hands of many children, whether they are old enough to pick out words or cuddled up (and probably wiggling) in the arms of those who love to read to them. Like our own lives, the lives of the saints are full of stories – high points and sad days and the train of teachable moments God arranges for us on the path of salvation. I am thankful for Saint Ia’s persistence, and for all the good gifts that come from making children’s books.

Writing board books

Writing board books is a little like math or music for me. I love it! I love gazing at the entire story in my head, and then pouring it into just a few hundred chosen words. And saying the words out loud, nodding along, hitting a pencil to the desk, listening for beat and tripping tongue moments, pressing all the meaning and metaphor and allusion into those few, chosen words. Saint stories are fertile ground for this musical math. Sometimes only a few words of story are known, sometimes there are many and it is a greater labor to fit them into the tiny book. I love doing it.

#NineWhiteDeerandMe

Painting Angels – A book in context

I just experienced a special moment in my writing journey. It’s just me and my office, my computer, books, papers, assorted pencils. But on my screen is an incredible review of my new book, Painting Angels.

The review is from a woman who blogs at Relished Living. Her name is Erica, and she felt Painting Angels raises and answers questions that are all around us in this moment, the historical moment in which the book is being published. Her words blew me away. I have nothing else to say except that I hope you will read what she wrote.

You can find the review on Relished Living. Here’s it is.

Painting Angels: The Terrible Inconvenience of Love

Painting Angels has arrived in the warehouse and in the publisher’s store. It’s official, announced release date is this coming Tuesday, July 21. But friends, you are more than welcome to get your copy any minute now! THE BOOK IS HERE!

Seven Holy Women: Who are the 7?

This week, I shared the first letter and the number of letters in each of the names of the seven women saints who are part of my next book, a storytelling journal I wrote with seven friends. Here’s what the clues looked like.

The guesses were interesting, and I learned the names of saints I haven’t heard of yet! It was fascinating to see which of our seven saints are known and unknown. Today, I announced the correct answers. How many of these saints do you know?

This book grew out of a series of short stories, which I wrote because of a long-held sense that the lives of saints have a lot of story potential! I browsed long lists of saints and their stories, looking for incidents in their lives that leaped out at me as unusual, thought-provoking, picturesque – all the things you look for in a good short story. As I wrote, I realized that my short stories were trying to be a book. But the idea of writing the whole thing myself made me so tired!

At this point, I embarked on what I like to call the Holy Spirit Theory of Writing – in which you let the book be what it wants to be and follow along in a spirit of joyful curiosity. I realized that I could ask friends to help me write the book, and after staring at my list of saint names and daydreaming for a bit, I asked the friends who seemed to go with the saints.

I’m so glad I did! This is seven times the book it would have been if I had written it all myself. And it was exciting and mysterious to see the ways that the seven saints matched the women writing about them. In every case, there was some aspect of that particular woman that was drawn out and filled with light by the saint she was writing about. I can’t wait till you read this book!! In one case, we even decided that the woman writing looked a lot like the portraits we found of the saint she was writing about.

Beauty leads to beauty, and love to love. Writing the book together is drawing us closer to each other, and I think also closer to the saints we chose to meet in our writing. It’s the beginning of many conversations, not the least of which is an exploration of creativity, or what might be called an educated imagination, in our life of faith.

#SevenHolyWomen #book #journal #storytelling #shortstory #Orthodox #saints #faith #imagination #writing

Painting Angels: Cover and Co-Author!

Painting Angels, Book 3 in the #SamandSaucer trilogy, just went to press! It’s due to release on July 21, and I want to share the cover, catalog copy, and adorable new co-author for this book as we wait to see the book “in person.”

The Cover

The Catalog Copy

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

The Co-Author

I am thrilled to announce that I have a co-author for Painting Angels! Thirteen-year-old Veronica Naasko kindly contributed an account of life as a “farm kid” that is going into the print, ebook, and audiobook editions of Painting Angels! The animal farm at the book’s imaginary monastery is central to the story in Book 3, and when we found there was space available at the end of the book, we asked Veronica to write for us. I recorded my part of the Audible edition this weekend, and Veronica is submitting hers this afternoon. Her part of this book is awesome. It has turkeys. It has wolves. It even has an unusual bishop. Just wait till you read it!! Here is a picture of Veronica recording for Audible.

Painting Angels: Coming this summer!

Today, I enjoyed being a writer for a few minutes during a day of otherwise un-writerly work. The publisher sent back the copyedited version of Painting Angels (Book 3 in the Sam and Saucer series). The book is going to press in just a few weeks. I’ve seen some illustrations and sent back feedback, and I’ve worked on all the text edits sent to me. Now I just need to read this copy-edited manuscript, and it will be off to the proofreader – almost finished!

Today I also received the “promo copy” for the book. This is the description that shows up in the publisher’s catalog, on their website, on Amazon, and everywhere the book is sold (in English). When the original manuscript was submitted, I completed an author questionnaire as I do each time one of my books is published. The questionnaire asked me to provide text that could be used to create this promo copy. The editor worked with it, and I’m happy with the final result. Here it is!

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

Reading this, I realized how well this book fits the time in which it will be released. God willing, we’ll be out and about before the summer, but who knows? Even if we are, our memories of being cooped up, struggling together, will be fresh! COVID-19 never entered my head during the writing process (in fact, the last major revision was completed before quarantine), but today I see major parallels!

Writing and imagination, minds and thoughts, and the whole spiritual atmosphere swirling around us fascinate me. There is no knowing the complex of our connections with each other, or with the unseen influences around us and within us. Perhaps the only key to the mystery is this:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

God help us all, according to His purpose.

Our Board Book: St. Ia Rides a Leaf

As you know, illustrator Kristina Tartara and I have contracted with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press for a board book. Earlier, I shared this photograph as a hint about the book.

Where is this place? It’s St. Ives in Cornwall! This charming seaside town, and the parish church that watches over it, are named for St. Ia of Cornwall (Ives is an Anglicized version of her Irish name).

I discovered St. Ia’s story while researching another book (coming out this Fall), and although it fit beautifully with the women’s devotional I had in mind when I found it, the story stayed with me until I realized it makes an excellent book for little ones as well.

St. Ia was an Irish missionary to Cornwall in the 5th or 6th century. England owes much of its Christianity to Irish missionaries who crossed the Irish Sea to save those heathen English.

Ia expected to travel with a group, but unbeknownst to her, her fellow missionaries decided she wasn’t old enough to come along. (Is there a child anywhere who can’t relate to this?)

Ia’s group left without her, and without telling her. She ran down to the beach, expecting to board the ship with them, and instead, she saw it disappearing over the horizon.

Ia was heartbroken. She stood on the shore for a while, being sad and praying, and she saw a leaf floating on the water. She touched it with her staff, the way you do when you are busy being sad and you start fiddling with something around you. The leaf began to grow, and Ia realized something special was happening.

The leaf grew large enough to be a seaworthy boat, and Ia rode her leaf to Cornwall. In one version of the story, she arrives before the people who had left her behind. (That must have been just the least little bit satisfying.)

Our book is a simple, lyrical 300-word retelling of this story. With contracts signed, Kristina and I are venturing into the world of story-boards and sketches. I love this. I will never get over the enchantment of seeing my stories illustrated, and Kristina is a great partner. We talk over the time and place, the probable age of Ia (our guess is very early teens), and the layout. When it’s ready, I’ll be sharing Kristina’s work here, both in development and finished.

Meanwhile, here is some of the other artwork we’ve found that shows Ia’s voyage, each interesting in its own way.

Board Book Contract with SVS Press

I am SO happy to announce that in company with talented illustrator Kristina Tartara, I have signed a board book contract with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press! God willing, the book will release the Fall of this year.

Now that I’m blogging again, I’m going to enjoy musing and reveling my way through the publication process. I adore books with pictures, and I will never, ever get tired of the magic of writing a book and seeing it illustrated. It is one of the world’s great enchantments, for me. Kristina has already sent me a few tiny sketches – just lines, already full of character and humanity. It is WONDERFUL.

Board books are like word puzzles, I find. You have a story, and it may be quite large. The setting includes oceans and mountains and multiple human beings, and there are sounds and feelings and layers of meaning, and all of this? All of this. All of this must be poured into 300 words. 300 tiny words. So first, I write the story, wandering around it in my head, letting it be the words it can first lay hold on, and then I go back and shave off words. Polish. Polish. Polish. Words fall off like wood shavings, and the story grows clearer as it grows smaller. At last, it fits into those 300 chosen words, and I am satisfied.

Sometimes, the story happens in 20 minutes. Sometimes it steeps in a misty corner of my mind for months before it arrives.

And now, with 300 words and the clear visions of the inward eye, I let go of it and Kristina’s inward eye and skillful hand bring it to even greater life.

I love this.

I’ll be sharing the story behind the story, the main character, the history, the setting, the illustration process, and all the fun we have after it gets published. But for now, I will leave you with a hint.

Here is a picture of the location where the story is set. Can you guess where this is? Have you been there? Of course, you have to imagine away the houses. They were not there at the time…