My book pick from Octavia Books while visiting New Orleans last week was B. A. Shapiro’s novel, The Muralist. CLICK HERE to watch the video trailer, which does a great job describing the book. It’s been out for over a year, but somehow I missed it until now. It’s wonderful. It’s the kind of book I’d like to write, and there are similar elements in my novel, Cherry Bomb:
Both books combine fictional and historic characters, scenarios, and dialogue.
Both books focus on the abstract expressionist art movement.
Both books have an element of mystery to them.
This Publisher’s Weekly review has mostly good things to say about The Muralist, but one of its criticisms is something I think lots of authors (myself included) struggle with:
Though compelling, Shapiro’s latest is bogged down in relaying well-researched material about the pre-WWII politics and developments in the art world, ultimately undermining the power of the fictional story.
Shapiro obviously did her homework, and like me, maybe she loves research so much that it’s tempting to leave too much information in the book—information that the author needs to inform the writing, but more than the reader wants to see. In working with an editor in an early revision of my novel, I ended up cutting out one of the three main characters and making her part of the backstory instead. The books works much better this way.
I’ve spent some time researching issues of fictionalizing real people in my book—emailing with two different intellectual rights attorneys for advice. The result of these discussions is that I am not going to change the name of the real person (Elaine de Kooning) in my novel, but I will write a disclaimer in the front of the book, similar to this one, in the front of The Muralist:
The Muralist is a novel in which fictional characters mingle with historical figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Minor alterations in the timing and placement of persons and events were made as the story dictated, the details of which can be found in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
In her Author’s Note, Shapiro goes into more specifics about the way she fictionalized the historical characters. And then she includes more disclaimer-type statements:
A historical novel is a work of long fiction set in a previous time period. To me, the most important word in this definition is fiction…. This mix of history and invention continues throughout the novel.
This is helpful to me as I consider how to write my disclaimer and Author’s Note for Cherry Bomb. I think I’ll get to work on that soon. But for now, I can’t wait to keep reading The Muralist!
My mother, Effie Johnson, has been in the hospital for just over a week now, and today she’s being transferred to Hospice care, either here in the hospital or in a facility not far from here. She’s making her final ascent to heaven, and I’m here, watching, like I’ve done with several family members and a special friend over the years.
I remember my mother and I holding my father’s hands as he passed over into eternity. I felt like I was touching both heaven and earth at the same time. And now, almost eighteen years later, I’m holding my mother’s hand, singing to her and praying with her and trying to comfort her. Today her eyes are glazed over and seem to be fixed on the ceiling—she no longer makes eye contact with me when I talk to her. Her breathing is a bit labored, but she’s on meds for comfort. I’m so thankful to be here with her, watching. I feel that she is saying to me, as Jesus said to his disciples, “stay here and keep watch with me.”
I also strongly feel my father’s presence in the room, and I believe he’s praying for her as well. They were married 49 years before cancer took him at the young age of 68. They were devoted to each other, and taught my husband and I a tradition which we’ve been keeping for almost two decades now: First thing every morning, one of us will say to the other, “This is the day the Lord has made!” and the other will reply, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” When we’re apart, like now, we text our secret greeting and reponse: TITDTLHM! LURABGII! (which sounds like this if you say it aloud: “tit diddle hum!” “lurabgi!”) After my father died, mother would say the greeting and response to his photograph in her bedroom every morning. I’ve been showing her this photograph and saying those words to her. I hope it won’t be long now. I hope she is already seeing him in Heaven.
As I continue editing my 50+ blog posts about caregiving for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s—hoping to turn them into a collection of essays for publication—I’m also reading an inspirational book. The New York Times bestseller, Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, is a fictional account of an orthopedic surgeon’s decline with Alzheimer’s. It’s also a murder mystery. Brilliant book.
Since I’ve titled my essay collection Tangles and Plaques (read this post to see why) I was excited to see LaPlante’s use of those terms in her book:
This half state. Life in the shadows. As the neurofibrillary tangles proliferate, as the neuritic plaques harden, as synapses cease to fire and my mind rots out, I remain aware. An un anesthetized patient.
Every death of every cell pricks me where I am most tender.
Ouch. LaPlante’s book is difficult to read, but I can’t put it down. Especially since she’s combined the psychological aspects with a murder mystery. Who killed Jennifer’s best friend Amanda?
It’s also interesting to me that LaPlante’s protagonist, Dr. Jennifer White, was raised as a Catholic, and her most prized possession is an icon of Saint Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of lost causes.
Alzheimer’s. Murder mystery. Icons. I’m only halfway through the book, but every page contains treasures.
August 15 is the date that millions of people commemorate the death of two very different heroes—Elvis Presley and the Mother of God.
Tomorrow is the date of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church.
On this same date thousands of people from all over the world come to Memphis—to Elvis’s home at Graceland—for a candlelight vigil for Elvis.
I’ve never been a big Elvis fan. We’ve lived in Memphis for 27 years and I’ve only been to Graceland twice—both times at the request of guests from out of town. And then six years ago I was schooled on Elvis by an English nun. I’ve grown to appreciate him as a musical and cultural icon, but I don’t venerate him. I don’t plan to attend any candlelight vigils for him.
Lots of people who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox have a problem with our veneration of the Mother of God. And yet I wonder how many of those same people don’t have a problem with the veneration of Elvis?
Oh, and for those of you who aren’t on Facebook: I now have 4 granddaughters! Isabelle Katherine Davis was born Wednesday afternoon, August 12! She’s beautiful and healthy, and I’m so thankful for her safe arrival. Mother and baby are both doing great! I’ll be in Denver until August 25 helping Beth, Kevin, Gabby and Izzy adjust to being a family of four. Also having a great time hanging out with my son, Jason, and his wife, See and daughters Grace and Anna. Heading to Anna’s 5th birthday party tomorrow. After all the extreme heat and humidity in Memphis, it’s such a treat to be enjoying this try, breezy, beautiful weather and the mountain sunsets. Enjoy a few photos!
I don’t have time to write a thoughtful post today because I’ve already spent 8-9 hours digging through medical files and invoices, making phone calls to hospitals and doctor offices to get copies of missing invoices, making lots of photocopies, sending and receiving emails and faxes…. WHY? We’re being audited by the IRS. Yes, they want all our medical expenses for 2013. The year of my devastating car wreck.
Ugh. So I’m trying to find some humor and I’ll share a few cartoons.
Oh, and I am thankful for one thing: everyone I called at all the medical offices were super nice and took time to help me. They all expressed compassion as they helped me gather information.
As our accountant says, the audit just adds insult to injury. But we’re getting it done.
Most authors already know this. Many readers might be interested to know that getting a book published is often a difficult, long, drawn-out process. A few examples from my own (recent) experience and several of my writing buddies’ stories:
In February I pitched an anthology proposal to the editor of a university press. He showed interest immediately, and I followed up with a formal proposal. We exchanged a couple of emails, one phone call, and then the waiting began. We spoke again yesterday and finally—four months after my initial contact with him—he’s ready to do an advance contract and send my proposal out for peer review. Next step will be the editorial board. Finally the real work of gathering, editing and organizing the essays will happen. And then the draft of the book will go through the same process—peer review and editorial board approval. After that the final editing, cover design, marketing plan, etc. will come into play. My guess is the book will come out in 2017. This process is without an agent or involvement with the large publishing houses.
The novel, on the other hand, is still undergoing my third major revision. I hope to send it back to the agent by the end of July. She and her staff will read the new revision and either (1) ask for more revisions, (2) possibly involve another editor, or (3) sign a contract with me and start working to sell the book to a publisher. Then the editing process will begin all over again, this time with the publisher’s editorial staff. I’m sure cover design and marketing will come into play at a much later date. I think I will be lucky to have this book out in 2017 and I began writing it in 2010.
I have three writer friends who are in various stages with their work right now. One is working with another university press and has finished all the editing and is moving towards having advance reader copies in her hands. (She already has two published books.) A second friend (who has one published book) is working with a hybrid press and is about to have the cover design and advance reader copies of her second book, with a launch date in late July. The third friend (who already has published a book, an anthology, and numerous published short stories and essays) is in the query process for her novel. Several agents are reading it and another just asked for an “exclusive,” which she wasn’t able to give since other agents were already reading it, but the agent still agreed to read it. My friend is learning how to negotiate this process.
All this to say that writing isn’t only about writing. Unless you are only writing a private journal. The publication process is indeed a long and winding road.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve seen my rants about how tough revising a novel can be—working with an editor to make the manuscript more commercially viable while trying to hold onto your own vision for your book. My friend from high school (in Jackson, Mississippi) Corabel (Alexander) Shofner has been through this difficult process with editors before and after getting a book deal for her debut novel. So today, in lieu of my own post, I’m going to share Corabel’s blog post from Monday:
I’m sure she would love to hear from you, if you have time to leave a comment on her blog or on the Facebook thread.
Angela Doll Carlson (don’t you just love her name?) and I have never met in person, but I feel like we know each other. We met on Facebook. And we’ve both contributed essays to the Saint Katherine Review. And we’re both converts to Orthodox Christianity. But our stories are completely different. Well, not completely, since Angela and her husband were part of a religious “start up” group which bore some similarities to the early years of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, which my husband and I were part of. But Angela grew up Catholic, so there’s that. And while I’ve written a memoir about my experience of becoming Orthodox, I decided not to publish it. Angel’s memoir, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition, was recently published by Ancient Faith Press, and it’s terrific.
Wait… don’t stop reading if you think this is only a book for Orthodox Christians. Or Christians in general. It’s so much more than that. It’s a book, as the Orthodox poet and theologian Scott Cairns says, that might “comfort, serve and assist other pilgrims along the way.” Yes, it’s about Angela’s spiritual pilgrimage and it’s filled with candid looks into a pilgrim’s honest grappling with issues many of us face, but few of us talk (or write) about.
Like fasting and being clean. Like confession and communion (and who’s allowed and who’s not). Like how prayer cleans your nous and how saints open windows when God closes doors. But ultimately it’s about freedom, although Angela doesn’t use that word. I almost chose “freedom” as my “OneWord365” for 2015, so maybe I look for it everywhere now. But I don’t expect to find it within the rules—or the structure—of the Church. Angela learned something about this from her friend, Beth, an artist and fellow homeschooling mom who eventually sent her daughter to a traditional school:
Beth had tried homeschooling…. Her artist-mom temperament made her a natural life teacher…. It sounded good on paper, this pairing of freedom and bonding and making the world a vast learning environment…. When Beth told me about the new plan to send Grace to school… the first thing she said was that Grace needed structure. They both needed it…. Because it allowed them both to be wild in their art lives.
Wild in their art lives. Structure provides that freedom? Angela points out that G. K. Chesterton agrees that it’s needed for “good things to run wild.”
One reason I started writing (painting) icons is also one of the reasons I quit—because writing icons requires lots of structure. There are many rules and even Church canons governing the process, and at first I found comfort in those rules. But eventually I realized that I was hiding within the liturgical art form when everything in my being was crying out to be “wild in my art life.” Iconography isn’t for everyone. Neither is Orthodoxy.
Which is why even after her chrismation Angela feels that she is still only “nearly Orthodox”:
My chrismation didn’t fix me, because I will always be in need of healing from the bleeding wounds I brought into the faith with me the day I was welcomed. I am always going to be healing, always practicing the faith, just nearly Orthodox—almost there, within reach, welcome at the feast, given food for the journey—because the road is long and winding, and it was never about the destination. It was always about the road.
In my own personal experience I have to say that it IS about the destination for me. If it was only about the road, I might not have made it. The road was (and often still is) too difficult. Too full of dangerous curves and unsafe passages. Sometimes I don’t feel that the destination (the Orthodox Church) was worth the journey, which damaged my soul as much or more than my years leading up to that journey. But I can still appreciate Angela’s story. And it’s so well written that it should be read and enjoyed for its own sake. She figured out a way to be “wild in her art” and to produce a memoir that is truly a work of art.
Happy 9th Day of Christmas! Some folks believe the twelve days of Christmas are those days leading up to the holiday, but historically the meaning has been applied to the 12 days between Christmas and Theophany (January 6). This is the time of feasting and celebrating the birth of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry on earth. I’ve always loved singing the song with a group of people, but I didn’t realize until a few years ago that it was created as a secret method of teaching Christian catechism during a time of persecution. Two meanings have been applied to the 9th Day of Christmas:
Nine Ladies Dancing—This verse is about the fruits of the Holy Spirit described in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, with modesty and continence added to the original 7 gifts listed in the scripture. It’s good to focus on these virtues that can easily be forgotten amidst all the flurry of shopping and gift-giving and cooking and partying during this season.
We hosted three parties over the past few weeks—two of which were actually during the preparatory days leading up to Christmas (known in Western tradition as Advent and in the Orthodox faith as the Nativity Fast). Although partying isn’t recommended before Christmas (in the Orthodox faith,) I felt that our gatherings were very much in keeping with love, joy, kindness, and goodness, as they brought together friends and neighbors in a spirit of friendship. Our third and final party of the season was our annual New Year’s Day Open House (yesterday) at which we also celebrated my husband’s Name Day: the Feast of Saint Basil the Great. (Saint Basil was a priest who also established the first hospital, which makes him a wonderful patron saint for my husband, who is a priest and a physician.)
Nine Choirs of Angels—Another meaning attached to this day is the nine choirs—or orders—of angels. These nine orders are divided into three hierarchies:
Second hierarchy: Dominions, Virtues and Powers
Third hierarchy: Principalities, Archangels and Angels
How will you celebrate today? My dancing feet are a little achy, so I think I’ll embrace the fruits of the Spirit instead of the ladies dancing. But I’m always dancing in my heart. It’s cold and damp outside, and I’m pretty tired from yesterday’s party, so I’m going to stay in and catch up on some writing and editing. Tonight we plan to go see the movie, “Unbroken.” I think I’ll learn something about the fruits of the Spirit from this brave man’s story.
By the way, all the icons in this post adorn the walls of our parish here in Memphis, Saint John Orthodox.
P.S. I’m beginning the New Year by continuing Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. Here’s his entry from January 1: “A New Beginning: A Journey of Faith.”
Happy New Year!
I LOVE CHRISTMAS CARDS. Here are the ones we’ve received so far this year.
I used to do posts about my favorite Christmas cards:
“On the Eve of Nativity” (also in 2010)
“The Best Christmas Card Ever” in 2009
What do my “favorites” have in common? Most of them include original art and/or writing by children. Some have icons done by the sender. Others have nostalgic or historical value. Two families who have been mentioned by me in the past have come through with yet another “favorite Christmas card” this year.
Erin and Christian Moulton’s card features original art by one of their sons and text by another.
Anne Marie and Josh McCollum’s card (left) also has original art by one of their children.
What do these two families have in common? They’re Orthodox (hence the icon art) and they both homeschool their children.
My two favorite original art cards done by adults?
This one (below) from my high school friend, Kit Whitsett Fields, a fine artist whose work adorns several walls in our home.
And the one below that from Damon and Weezie Boiles. Weezie designs these herself (don’t know how!) and the people, dogs, cars (she did a house for her in-laws’ card) look just like the real thing.
(I’m having technical difficultlies and can’t get the art work to insert in the right order, but you can figure it out.)