This conversation was such a joy! Watch me visit with Katie Reetzke from Park End Books, unpacking the stories within and around the story that became Little Lost Nun.
We touched on so many big ideas – the definition of real tragedy, the importance of representation in books for Orthodox children who don’t live in a majority Orthodox culture, the spirituality of children – so many things! I especially loved hearing about the little girl who keep’s her home-made nun paper doll under her pillow. All the ways that children cherish their imaginative memories and bring them into life are precious.
I hope you’ll enjoy watching this interview as much as we enjoyed making it. You can find a copy of Little Lost Nun wherever books are sold.
My heart is FULL of joy. Below is a photo the publisher sent me of the final front cover printed out on real paper, so I could see it “in real life.” It’s one of several ways the publisher and illustrator have led me and my story more deeply into the human experience.
Today, by the grace of God and Summer’s excellent gifts as a book midwife, Little Lost Nun is available for preorder. I hope you will take a minute of stillness to look at the two human beings in the picture above. Look at Gerontissa’s face, and the way her whole being yearns over this little girl. And look at Tabitha, who has almost nothing, clasping her first and greatest treasure in her shaky little hands.
And this is Nina, the second protagonist from Little Lost Nun. Here you see Nina’s mama comforting her at the end of a sad day.
That makes this a picture of Black Americans as main characters in an Orthodox children’s book.
I credit the editor, Summer Michelle Kinard, and the illustrator, David Moses, with the final conception of Nina and her mama, and of Tabitha on the cover image above. In my mind’s eye, they were smaller and farther away, their color and experiences made slightly vague by their continued existence in my imagination. It’s an odd thing to say, but I feel David read and drew the story in the present. He would. It’s the perpetual mystery of illustration that no one sees back into the author’s imagination. The artist depicts only what he reads.
But I did know that for this story, I wanted the little girl who was brown to be the one who had everything, the one standing for normal, joyful life, not the one in need of rescue. And I wanted that to be true without the book being “about race.” Little Lost Nun is not about race. The character descriptions just tell you what the people look like.
Although I welcome the intention and effort that goes into making children’s books more diverse, I especially look forward to the day when we no longer do that “on purpose.” Sooner or later, all kinds of people will appear in children’s books because that’s how we see the world, not because we carefully included one of each kind. Sooner or later, we’ll reach the point where brown skin in a book is not always a plot point or a mission, not the main reason the story is told. That will be the day we’ve accepted the many skin colors God gave us. It will be the day we can give brown children books about brown children because the story is good, not as a way to support them in their otherness.
Perhaps that will never happen. But I’d like to remember it as a possibility.
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.
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.