From Back Patio to Bookstore Shelf – The Journey of a Book

Everbloom, Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is the new book from Redbud Writers Guild which launches next week. How did it happen?EverBloom_Cover_04 On a sweet summer night in 2015 my hubby and I were sitting on the patio talking about the transforming work God has done in our lives which led to us chatting about how God has transformed the lives of many folks we know. He casually mentioned, “You know that writing guild you are part of must have some pretty incredible stories of transformation.” I thought to myself, yep and it would be fun to know some of those stories. The next night happened to be our quarterly Redbud Board conference call and at the very end of the agenda I threw out the idea that maybe we should do a book about how Christ has transformed us as writers. The response was milky, lukewarm as in “Hmmm, interesting. Let’s think about it.”

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The next day I got a call from Shayne Moore a.k.a. our Redbud founder, dynamo, powerhouse get- it-done kind of gal saying, “Let’s do the book. Let’s you and I write the book proposal.” It took a few months and then we sent it to our fab agent who shopped it around. We waited and waited, for months to hear anything. In publishing, if you don’t like to wait, then this business isn’t for you. A year after our first phone call, we learned that Paraclete Press wanted the book. Insert—— screaming, dancing erratically in the living room, taking selfies with Shayne, more screaming and then the real work began.images

I wrote my poem for the collection while sitting out in a fading September sun. Looking over the finished product, I cried realizing my deep gratitude for a community of women who truly, genuinely love the Lord and desire to serve him with their words. We solicited the whole Guild for essays and/or poetry to a tight turnaround if the collection would launch in the Spring of ’17. A small ocean of high caliber work flooded our inboxes which we took to the giant whiteboard in my classroom and sorted through. We love all these women, how could we say “no” to any of them? Fortunately, the final say comes from the publishing house editor which made our job a little easier. Most of the submissions I read while sitting outside, crying my way through several of them. Submitting to God’s work of transformation is painful. People die. Children get kidnapped. Suicide crosses our threshold. Miscarriages, again. Families break. The broad reach of media brushes these stories across our screens everyday, but when you know all the participants who’ve experienced them, you feel the pain deep down.

In about two months we completed the compilation and editing, then the Paraclete designers brought their art and beauty to the project. We know and trust their work. They designed my website and the Guild’s website and many of our authors’ sites and what is pure joy about Paraclete? They LOVE the arts and they LOVE Jesus. For the first time emails were coming in from “Sister A.” and “Brother B.” people who’ve turned their entire selves over to the Lord exclusively, as sons and daughters for life. Supporting our book with prayer and their talents is their first nature. What a gift.

So here’s a behind the scenes look at the folks at Paraclete Press  who made Everbloom come alive and our book trailer . We received gorgeous mugs and complimentary copies of the book, both of which I will give away on launch day, April 25th to the lucky winner who  answers this question via my Contacts page or in a comment below. And the question is…..How has your relationship with God enabled you to bloom in a dry and fallow season? Happy Spring!

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Making Marriage Beautiful

I often thank God for blessing my life with a joyful, sacred marriage for 27 years. People say that building a strong marriage takes work and effort. In some sense that is true. Self-control is a virtue that I push myself to exhibit when my husband leaves his socks by the side of the bed again. Be the loving wife and just pick them up, right? They’re just socks. But the devil hanging out above my ear is saying, “Are you kidding, he’s done it again and he’s assuming you will pick them up for him, just leave them there.” Usually, I pick them up, sometimes he does and sometimes I leave them. But enough sock talking trivialities.

What makes our marriage beautiful? Dorothy Greco’s book, Making Marriage Beautiful forced me to think about this question and that alone is a worthy exercise. I’m recommending her book here today for anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage. This book, written by a woman with insights from her husband and other couples, focuses on listening to one another and God , maintaining realistic expectations (see chapter, “Not Your Mother’s Lasagna) and how we commit to growing together long term. It goes way beyond the everyday realities of socks and addresses the big challenges found in a life of commitment. I love the book trailer posted here because it focuses on growth and how we have to dig, sweat, and wait for those springtime blossoms, much the same process we follow in cultivating a healthy marriage.

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Savor the vulnerable and wise voice of Dorothy Greco as you dig into her story. Ideally read it with your spouse and please leave a review on Amazon when finished reading, Making Marriage Beautiful. Here’s the link to buy the book and the link to Dorothy’s fantastic website. She is a phenomenal photographer and an author, of course. Just being proficient in one art form wouldn’t do. Love and thanks to you Dorothy for helping us and caring enough about marriage to write this book.

Buy the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Marriage-Beautiful-Lifelong-Intimacy/dp/0781414083/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491177718&sr=1-1&keywords=Making+Marriage+Beautiful

Dorothy’s Website:

http://www.dorothygreco.com

Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhyKpDLRIHM

 

 

 

Who’s Your Agent?

My dear friend signed a contract with an agent today. We met during a writing prompt session in the intimate library of the Margarite House in Evanston, four years ago. A handful of us writing strangers with no established trust hunkered down in red leather chairs to write our response to the prompt, “Write about your father’s eyes.” Outside, the robins serenaded us while magnolia petals dripped onto the windowsill. Our pens ripped across the pages of our red and black Redbud notebooks. When ten minutes flew by, we stared at each other. Who would be brave? Who would share first?

As the responses trickled out, we heard about how we all lived under the hand of dysfunctional fathers. By the time Sheli read, tears poured on pages. We coaxed her along because we shared our souls and she could too. I’ve been in many of these sessions where the author can’t read on and another writer finishes reading her work, but Sheli hung in there. She took breaks, we passed her Kleenex. Her father stalked her in their house while she hid under the bed as a child.  When she finished we all kept silence. The open leaded glass window allowed sunlight to gentle our circle. We prayed for Sheli. We prayed that someday she would share her story with the world, that she would keep being brave. Today I raise my chamomile tea to her terrified determination. Someone else in a small literary agency on the other side of the country believed in her voice.

I spent this morning being brave speaking to a book group at a local country club. When you speak to a large group there will be people there who don’t care about what you have to say. For some reason they came expecting something else. Those women were at the farthest table in the back. While I read from my novel they chattered away and giggled. My junior high students wouldn’t do this in class. I kept going and did what we all must do, ignore them. One woman on her way out said to me, “You were marvelous. You must have a hundred people lined up to be your agent.” I stood silent, too afraid to tell her that I’m agentless because I live in a world where every successful author has an agent. Her question gnawed at me. When things chip at my being I take them to my writing desk and pray. It occurred to me, ask God to be your agent. I did. He said, “yes,” an enthusiastic yes!

So today Sheli and I both have our agents and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Please take in some of Sheli’s raw, unadulterated story at: http://shelimassie.com/

Who’s your agent?

 

Your Artistic Corner

Amidst falling linden leaves, I passed by and heard the sound of a Skilsaw coming from the potting shed. For about a year I’ve been hoping to catch a glimpse of the backyard artist who lives three blocks away. Wrapped in yellow paint, her windowed workshed is a tiny haven of reclaimed creativity. The corners are stacked with orchard pear and apple crates, rusty nails waiting to be extracted. On a high southern shelf her 1940’s radio serves as friendly company between searing wood cuts. “I love Chris Fabry while I’m working,” she says nodding to the familiar voice overhead. Long planks of end-of-driveway fencing are being refashioned into nativity stables. Our dogs romped the fall green lawn as we chatted about how she began this truly cottage industry. “I started making them back in 1985 for my family and then a friend offered to buy one and I realized I could make a little business out of it.” She hand fashions the nativity figures as well, starting in January.  If you are interested, here is a look at what she makes on Etsy:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/engelsoftsculpture

Every artist needs a “room of my own” as Virginia Woolf described it.  While I don’t yet have a whole room dedicated to my version of creativity, the old Lincoln desk is where I cozy up with words. Objects in the hutch inspire with past, present and future reminders. A skull – from my San Antonio love of calaveras and their celebration on Dia de los Muertos. We are all mortal.  An ancient copy of Pilgrims Progress because we need the tangible scent of old leather and crinkling pages for connection with ancient predecessors.  My “chop,” brought back from China by a close friend. Plunging the carved dragon into blood red ink to sign my name in Chinese characters links my arms with another culture in word and symbol. The smattering of these sentimental friends extends my heart into the world while typing on green felt, at home.

 

Karen Cushman has her own out building – a writing studio.  A place apart from the bustle of laundry, the phone and distractions. Cats sit on her lap all morning or ball up around her feet like an angora blanket while she researches her next novel. Stephanie Hulthen, who took the portrait photos for this website, lives on a farm with a gaggle of children and geese. Her photography studio is a small barn, set apart from her zany house full of runny noses, spilled milk and broken crayons. Here she can put things together with vision, seeing them through her singular lens, taking time amidst the drying corn stalks that stand on the periphery.

Before walking my dog home, I bought one of those nativity stables as we talked over linseed oil soaking into the grain of reclaimed wood. The sawdust smell alone forced me to do it, but also the joy of seeing my neighbor putting her hands to what she loves in her shining corner of the world.  If you don’t have a room of your own, stake out a parcel and start creating. If you do, send me a photo or a comment  about what lurks there.  If you aren’t creating something now you MUST at minimum have your own cozy reading nook. See some favorite reading nooks on my pinterest page: http://www.pinterest.com/margaretphilbri/

 

Writing with Lyme Disease

Most of July was spent promoting my novel and trompling through northwoods forests, running trails, spying on an eagles nest through binoculars and praying along the lakefront…pretty sweet , but deer ticks are not sweet. They are the size of a pinhead and unremarkable. When you go to the doctor and they give you the attractive photo of this pest, you will not recognize it. When you get a fever of 103plus for five days, you will think you have a virus. It is the ugly rash following the fever that should get you to the doctor. Antibiotics can kill this bacteria if you catch it early. Generally, I don’t go to the doctor, but generally I don’t get this sick. Dr. S. takes one look at me and tells me I have Lyme, take the antiobiotic and I’ll get better. I hate bugs more than ever!

So I think about Laura Hillendbrand writing Unbroken in bed because she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and I marvel. I couldn’t write anything last week if you offered to pay all my kids’ college tuition., room and board.  This week, at least I can read., (and write this blog post.)  The BIg Rich by Bryan Burroughs is a deep dive into the lives of the big four Texas oil families, the beginning of research for my next novel. It is pretty tragic stuff and Godless for the most part. I really feel sorry for these people.  Hassie Hunt sobbing over his father’s casket despite the fact that his father made the decision to ruin his life by approving a frontal lobe lobotomy to relieve his depression. Lyme Disease looks pretty minimal in this light. Lying in bed, looking out at the sun baking on our terra cotta roof, gives me plenty of time to think about these ghostly lost souls drifitng through the balance sheet of life. Despite so much money, they missed the “couer” of life, the heart, the joy. It’s good thinking inbetween fits of fever. By the way is it Lyme Disease or Lymes Disease. Could someone let me know? Stay healthy dear readers! God bless you!

Your Manuscript is Done! Now What?

I’m a slow writer. In creating my novel, I followed author Linda Sue Park’s advice, “Write something every day and then first thing the next day, review and revise it, then keep writing.” Sometimes the next day does not lead to writing, just revising. Or, the whole section might be deleted and you start over. Good writing takes time. A favorite professor at Trinity University told us, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I’m sure Hemingway or someone famous said that first, but Frank Kerznowski gets the credit today.

After countless hours of living with your characters, the time inevitably comes when you need to share them with someone who can be trusted, someone who is also a writer. These professional friends become your “first readers.” I asked for feedback from a few of them and they so kindly complied, by sending a red line edit back to me or an email with their thoughts. Because A Minor (my novel) intensely weaves classical music into the plot, I asked a dear Redbud Writer’s Guild friend if she would assess the manuscript from a musical perspective. She was a piano performance major in college and she had plenty of wise contributions and questions for me to think through like, Tchaikovsky vs. Chopin concerto choices? What to do about that? Go back to the desk. These comments invoke the need for more research which leads to more revising than anticipated. I fell in love with Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto as a result.

A manuscript group is invaluable. In my suburban world this looks like a bunch of well dressed women who meet once a month to drink wine, eat low calorie food, laugh and cry over the work presented and then tear your work to shreds. Of course, you’ve known these women for years so everything they share is worthy of your ear and heart. In the group, there should be some more experienced writers than you are and some less experienced. One of the best critiques that came to me from this group was, “She is having a miscarriage on the bathroom floor. Don’t tell me that in one line, tell me all about it. What happened before, what happens after. How was she feeling in that moment?” Because they are women, they will think about your work from a feminine perspective so make sure some of your first readers are men as well, seek balance.

Once your work has survived these rounds in the ring, you are ready for “Joe Plumber.” I found it insightful to receive feedback from someone who was not a literature major, does not write, does not talk about T.S.Eliot at the dinner table, but does read A LOT. What would the average reader tell someone else about your manuscript? I wanted to know. Listen to them. They probably won’t email a detailed summary of comments, but they will tell it to you straight. Revising will be needed after you hear from them. Now you are ready to seek out a real editor who will comb through your manuscript and fix your writing deficits. Mine fell mostly in the realm of point-of-view, too many people speaking and thinking in a chapter. Because this is my first novel and I believed in the story, I decided to pay someone who specialized in fiction editing to do this. It added a couple more months to the writing process, but it put the manuscript in a place of readiness to send out to potential agents and publishers. That is where the fun really begins!

The Editor’s Mark

Happy New Year! The email finally came. It took four days of psyching myself up to open it. Change is inevitable and most of us do not appreciate change, particularly to our creative product. As I rolled through holiday feasting and festing, I nearly forgot about the impending hair pulling session that would ensue as I sat at my desk crying and screaming over the editor’s changes to my manuscript.

His cover letter spoke to all that was wrong without a compliment to ease my fear. As I read through the comments it seemed pretty accurate. In my heart, I knew the change from third person to first person in the last third of the book was a risky one. An editor who had worked through the manuscript with me to get it ready for submission to agents and publishers had asked me to rework it so that the entire story was consistently in the third person. Somewhat stubbornly, I chose not to revise that point of view issue. Buoyed by the fact that Koehler Books had accepted it for publication despite this inconsistency validated me. I knew best, perhaps. Now this “seasoned” editor had asked me to change it and there was no choice. They had bought the book and were preparing to deliver the best possible creative message to the public. Time to comply.

The redo from my end took about two weeks, but I spent five hours on chapter 25. In this critical passage, Clive, the main character, must face the ruthless piano competitors of the Tchaikovsky Competition by giving his own voice to the music. Grappling with Clive’s thoughts while he is playing coupled with what the audience is experiencing, proved to bring new insights into the life of his character. I was back on the stage with him again and I realized how much I’d missed Clive. The revising of that one chapter brought me so much closer to him, his heart and his trials. Yes, authors do get to know their characters as if they are real people!

Instead of pain, the revising process brought a collaborative JOY! This editor, whom I’d never met before, was strengthening the book through his artistic direction. I actually like the finished work much better than what was originally submitted. So, when you find yourself submitted to someone who knows better than you, trust them. Be open to what they can bring and pray like crazy for the creativity to accomplish all they ask.

The Fear of Submitting

I hit “submit” last night. This time it wasn’t to an agent or a publisher. This time it was personal, to a poetry publication. During the long winter months of looking for a publisher for my novel, A Minor, I grew quite used to hitting the submit button and then waiting for weeks only to receive a polite, three sentence no thank you. The email goes something like this, just to prepare you if you ever decide to venture down this path of pain:

“Thank you so much for considering us for representation/publication of your work. While there is much about the manuscript that we admired, it is not what we are looking for at this time. Writing is a subjective art so do not be discouraged. What we are not interested in may be just the thing for someone else.”

After awhile you become immune to it. Everyone tells you, “The Help was rejected 69 times before being accepted. Harry Potter more than 20 rejections.” I wonder how those know- it-all publishers and agents feel today reflecting on the millions of readers and dollars they said no to. But submitting a poem is different. I’m not a part of the main character in A Minor so there’s distance. In the poem, I am the main character. If the publication says no to my heartfelt word painting, they are saying no to me. I become nothing more than a pesky weed in their garden of literature, one to be pulled out and thrown onto the slush pile. Of course, you can’t take it personally or we would never submit anything to anyone.

This is where being a Christian writer makes the process a bit easier. “He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) My rejection is nothing compared to His reality. While walking our dog at night, my husband kept reminding me that “no” can be a refining, character building experience, all part of God’s plan for my work.  In the end he was right because the way I found my publisher, Koehler Books, was so illogical and other worldly, only God could have put us together. So when you have that fear factor creeping up on you, preventing you from throwing your work out into the abyss, remember that God does know what he is doing. Don’t forget to submit it to Him first. After you’ve done too many revisions to count, take a deep breath, say another prayer, then hit the dreaded key on your computer screen and let it fly!