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.

Corgi Seven Leaf: Book Projects Update

This is a happy year in my writing life. I have three books coming out in three genres, from two publishers. I love that!

Corgi

The first book out is actually a third book – it’s the third book in the #SamandSaucer trilogy. The first two, Shepherding Sam and The Barn and the Book, introduced us to Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, and his friends and adventures at the Monastery of St. Gerasim. Sam struggles hard. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s happy, sometimes he wants to be left. alone. please. Saucer, corgi that he is, loves Sam and follows Sam around and barks at him and pats his foot and even, when occasion demands, takes a good mouthful of Sam’s pant leg and hauls him along where he needs to go.

Corgi standing under a blooming cherry tree
Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

I just handed in my second round of revisions for this third book, and most of what’s left now will be copy-edits and minor adjustments. This book happened in layers, more than the last one did. I originally thought there wasn’t a third book, but with some prodding from my editor, I discovered there was indeed a third book. Like all my books, it fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. This is perhaps not the most dignified writing process, but it works for me! I wrote the story all in one gasp, so to speak, and then set it aside because there was time before the release date. The editor read through her pile and got to my story, and we started in on her first round of big-picture suggestions. The book gained several chapters, the characters gained depth, and it went back to her again for another round. She pointed out a few other adjustments, and that’s what I sent back to her last Sunday night.

I liked working on the characters this time around. They’re two years older than they were in the first book, and I did a little research to help me build out Sam. At no point in the books do we have a name for Sam’s particular kind of struggle. Many people have suggested that he’s on the autism spectrum, and my researched honored that suggestion. However, life has taught me that people with labels and people without labels have more in common than they think. This third book puts Sam together with Macrina, his arch-nemesis. Macrina would be the first to tell you that there is NOTHING the matter with her. But as the story developed, I realized, along with one of their mutual friends, that Macrina and Sam have more in common than either of them would like to admit. Perhaps we all do. For that reason, Sam still does not have a label. Macrina doesn’t either. There’s something in each of their struggles that most of us can relate to.

This book, like the first two in the series, will have a cover and three interior illustrations by the friendly and talented Clare Freeman! And that means I’ve also sent in a detailed list of information for the illustrations – listing scenes I hope will be chosen for pictures, and details of setting, clothing, facial expression, etc, Clare will need to create those pictures.

Seven

Seven Holy Women is a story-telling devotional I’m writing with a group of friends. All told, there are eight of us involved, but our math still works because the book focuses on seven women saints. It’s unique in my experience, for two reasons. First, I’ve never written a book with a group of friends before! Second, I’ve never run across a book like this one. Perhaps one exists somewhere, but it hasn’t popped up yet. Our book is unique because it uses short stories written in the second person to help our readers grapple with their own connections to these saints. “You are Morwenna,” the book begins. YOU. Your brain is wired to read those words and drop your imagination into the story, gazing out at the events as if they were your experiences, in your life. You aren’t Morwenna, of course. You are several centuries too late for that, but when I started writing the four short stories that were the root of this book, I loved the mental and spiritual exercise of trying to stand in these holy shoes, for a few moments only.

I needed help to make this book all that it should be, and that’s where my friends come in. Each of them took one of the seven saints, befriended her, and wrote about her. Each section includes personal surveys and a journaling opportunity, and as of this month, all seven sections are in the manuscript. The only remaining task is for me to write the final chapter, and that’s what I’m pondering now. I’ll wander back through the sections written by my friends and then I’ll have to make up my mind just what that final chapter needs to contribute to finish the book neatly and completely.

Leaf

St. Ia Rides a Leaf, the board book just contracted with SVS Press, is now in the storyboard stage! Kristina Tartara, the illustrator, has sent me the first illustration of Ia, and we’re talking over the color of her dress. This is a story set by the Irish Sea, so nearly every illustration will include shades of blue and green. Ia is a red-head, good Irish girl that she is, and we’ve tried four dress colors, drawn from our research on the dyes available to her in her place and time, and social class. Ia was a princess, so her clothes would be more colorful than those of neighboring peasants.

Meanwhile, Kristina has the final text, and this week she’s breaking it into pages and sketching the rough outlines of the scenes that will appear on each one.

I truly love watching the illustration process. I’d enjoy it for anyone’s book, and to watch my own story appear in pictures is one of my favorite parts of the writing life. It will never grow old! It’s especially delightful when I get to work so closely with the illustrator. Kristina communicates with me often and kindly sends me sketches and snatches at every stage. It makes me happy.

BLOG

And of course, my other writing project is this blog! I am so glad I came back to blogging. I’m finding all kinds of interesting people here in the blogosphere. I enjoy your words and pictures, and the ways they stretch my mind. Thank you for being here!

#BlogtownTuesday: Interview with On Faith and Life

Today’s interview with Charla at On Faith and Life is extra fun for me because Charla started blogging BECAUSE of #bloginstead! We met in a book review group I administer for work, and now she’s got a great place to publish those reviews. As I do every week, I’m asking 5 questions. Here’s how Charla responds.

How did your Blog Get Its Name?

I started this blog on a whim, and I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself into writing on one specific subject—so I named it in the most general way possible. I’ll be writing a lot about my conversion to Orthodoxy, but I hope to do so in a way that connects with people of all faiths; and I’ll also be writing about life—being a mom, daughter, wife, and beyond.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I’m just starting out as a blogger so I’m not really sure yet where this is going. It’s pretty exciting to have such an uninhibited space in which to write. Basically, I can write about anything I want, any time I want, and I think that’s pretty amazing!

I really like the idea of having a conversational-style blog where I can write and share things that are relevant to my Orthodox Christian faith. I want to be able to connect with others without limiting it too narrowly—for example, I’m a mom and a homemaker, but I don’t want to connect only with other moms and homemakers. I want the conversation to be Deep and Wide {old Southern Baptist hymn reference there!}.

You’re not likely to find deep theological discussion here—I will not be hosting a book club discussion on the Philokalia—but you are likely to find everyday theology, and things such as book reviews, as well as links to articles and resources that have resounded with me. And maybe a recipe here and there. And perhaps some discussion on liturgical living. Stay tuned.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

So far I love the actual writing and I love connecting with other bloggers, but I’m already starting to feel the pressure to post on a regular schedule, develop a format, etc. (To be fair, this is internal pressure.) I feel like there is a huge push to market in the blogging world, and that’s just not on my list of priorities right now.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

I simply love being able to connect with other bloggers. I’ll be honest—it’s especially wonderful for me to connect with other Orthodox Christians, because sometimes our “world” can seem pretty small. Coming from the Protestant world, where everything these days is very connected and virtual—and there are just so.many.options—it’s nice to be able to build a network of like-minded thinkers, writers, dreamers. But like I mentioned above, I want to be able to connect widely, also—as a convert I think it’s a wonderful challenge to present the Orthodox faith and life in a way that’s accessible to others.

Tell us 3 things we’d know if we’d grown up with you

  1. The first thing I ever drove was a tractor.
  2. When I was 10 years old, I won the blue ribbon at the state fair in the cake decorating category.
  3. I grew up in a 100+ year old Southern Baptist church where my grandparents and great-grandparents were members. Many of my family still attend that church.

Thank you, Charla!

You can connect with Charla at On Faith and Life. See you in #Blogtown!

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…

The Time Value of Literature

“A classic is a book that has lasted more than 100 years.” –

Famous Person Cited by English Professor Too Long Ago to Remember

But the forgotten famous person has a point.

Today at work, I was talking with someone about a writing project she’s considering, and two books published several years ago came into the conversation. “Of course, they wouldn’t be published now,” I remarked. Times have changed, the publisher’s needs have changed, what the market is reading has changed…the list goes on.

My subconscious mind must have thought this was interesting because the topic recurred in another guise while I was scrubbing a saucepan after dinner.

It began with recollections of a picture book my mama read us often when I was a little girl. The book is called Supposings, by Johanna Johnston, Pictures by Rudy Sayers. See? That’s already something different. Picture books now say “illustrated by” on the cover. Why did that change, I wonder? Is the word “pictures” too specific, or not specific enough?

Everything about this book reminds me of my 1970s childhood. I remember it being read to us, I remember the sunlight inside the rooms of our house and that soft “nap-time-soon” quiet feeling of cuddling on the couch with wiggling siblings, staring at pictures, pointing at things at will, floating along in the sound of our mother’s voice.

The colors in the illustrations and the style of them remind me of the curtains on the landing and a wool plaid vest my mama sewed that still hangs in my closet, simply for love.

I love this book. But if Johanna and Rudy submitted it now, would it be published? Would it be hard-back? (I don’t like picture books to be paperback. Thin and flooooppppy.) Would this simple, childlike journey through an afternoon of daydreaming be considered a plot? The illustrations would be different, wouldn’t they? Even art for children follows trends. Are those trends set more by adults, or by the shifting landscape of a generation raised in front of screens?

Supposings was published by Holiday House, Inc., in New York, in 1967. There was no such thing as self-publishing in those days. That means a New York editorial staff thought this book was a good risk. Would they now?

What was the competition like back then? Were publishers swamped with submissions the way they are now? Perhaps they thought they were, but could their swamp compare with the tsunami made possible by personal computers, internet research, and the lure of social media stardom?

Years ago, my Daddy explained to me what he meant by “the time value of money.” He told me that even if I have a million dollars, if it hasn’t been paid to me yet (or it’s tied up in a trust fund or etc. etc.), then it’s value is changed. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Is there a similar principle for literature? To me Supposings is a classic because it is lovingly bound to a host of childhood memories. My objective analysis of its literary worth will be quite subjective, no matter what. Love is not blind, but sometimes love is not seeing the same object that everyone else is.

Would it be easier to evaluate the lasting literary contribution of a book for adults? I’m not sure. Novels go out of style. So do self-help books. Medical advice? Goodness yes! But at some point in all this analysis, one must confront the reality that a change in criteria is not always a change for the better. Before we can finish judging a book that wouldn’t be published if it were submitted today, we can’t avoid asking whether it should be.

The last day of 2019

This moment has little in common with the year that preceded it. It’s quiet. I have no immediate responsibilities, and I’ve had enough sleep for several days. The writer in me has relaxed into a daydreaming creative. Gratitude and peace are vying for space in my heart.

As always, I reserve this space for reflection on only those aspects of my personal life that directly manifest in my writing life, so I will not be journaling the events of this year. They were many, and more than once, they were life-changing. But I learned from them, and I’m glad of that.

In my writing life, I broke into two new genres! First, board books. It began with Piggy in Heaven, and then I got a contract for a second board book (due out in 2021), and a third is about to be contracted for August 2020. Three board books, three different publishers. Happy dance!

I love board books! I love writing stories that will be illustrated. I don’t think that will ever get old – hooray for illustrators! And I love the solid cardboard pages. I remember that board books are often teething toys, and this makes me smile. Little hands, dimply cheeks, wide eyes. God bless them every one.

My second burst into a new genre is a book I wrote with a group of friends. That in itself is unexplored territory, but the genre – a devotional journal – is also new to me. I’m looking forward with curiosity and wonder to the Fall 2020 release of Seven Holy Women, from Ancient Faith Publishing.

The third Sam and Saucer book took shape this year. I just sent in my revisions. The name of this one is still evolving, but it’s due out in July 2020. It’s interesting, to me at least, to look back to the scratch papers scrawls, the short story, the collection of short stories, the day we abandoned the collection, and the birth of that first book, Shepherding Sam. At first, I thought that was the only book. But the second – The Barn and the Book – came quickly, and its release in Romania was another highlight of 2019. I was sure there would be only two Sam and Saucer books. My editor said she thought there might be three. No, I said, just two. But maybe there are three, she persisted. Well, maybe. Actually, yes. It turns out there are three, and now I have learned not to decide how many books are in a series, because what do I know?

This was the year of audiobooks, too. Shepherding Sam and The Barn and the Book are now both on Audible, and with the gifted help of actress Sophia Boyer, so is Letters to Saint Lydia!

And now. I’ve lived too long with my wild brain and my busy life and my acceptance of the many twists and turns in the Great Plotline to make plans for 2020 in the ways I might have once. I do have hopes. I hope I write often. I hope there will be board books. I hope there will be many spacious hours adrift in the middle-grade novel I began this year. I hope I photograph our corgi doing one of the zillion adorable things he does, all the time, when I can’t reach my phone.

God bless and keep you!

Image: Clock, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, Bryce Barker on Unsplash

Putting Joy Into Practice: Why you need this book!

Putting Joy Into Practice

Putting Joy into PracticeHave you read Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church, by Phoebe Farag Mikhail?

This is an amazing book.

It reads like a conversation, the kind you might have on a tough day, sitting in a squeaky kitchen chair and cuddling the cup of hot coffee that’s going to keep you alive until bedtime. Christmas is coming, the world is sparkling around you, and you are exhausted by your attempts to be as happy as you expected to be. That’s why you need this book.

Reading it, I decided that most of us (including me) have no idea what joy really IS, let alone how to BE joyful. The book has many strengths, but one of the best is the way it uses clear, practical language to convey deep theological wisdom. You’ll read a sentence and think it’s simple, and then the floor will drop out of it and you’ll realize it has enough depth to keep you reflecting on it for the rest of your life.

Phoebe Farag MikhailPhoebe does a wonderful job of including the voices and experiences of the church fathers – AND those of human beings she has seen or known in modern life. She includes stories of both defeat and victory on the path to joyful living. The book is honest and hopeful. It holds you to a high standard, but gives you the tools and inspiration to meet that high standard.

I also appreciated the many ways in which the book was not “obvious.” You might think, even after a glimpse at the table of contents, that some of the 7 practices are things you’ve already heard or already tried, but as you work through the chapters, you discover their enormity. These practices are things a normal person can do in normal life. They are simple, but not easy. But even thinking about them, beginning to plan how you might attempt one or two, will stretch your mind and heart.


This book is available from Paraclete Press, Amazon, and the Ancient Faith Store. Go get it! Make it part of your devotional time in the new year, or get it for a friend who’s sitting in her squeaky kitchen chair, praying to God for a lifeline on the journey through this difficult world.


Thank you, Phoebe Farag Mikhail for putting this book on my path!