I’m reblogging this post from Literacy & Hope, an organization I am so proud to support through my work with SheReads.org. I know that both the post and the founder, Alyse Urice, will inspire you this weekend and remind you of the true value of literacy – HOPE.
There is a marvelous online community of women–authors, bloggers, book group leaders–called She Reads. They have made it possible for our Homecoming Queens to have books this year. She Reads made it possible for these formerly homeless reading enthusiasts to each splurge 1/5 of a gift card at a local big box store. Remarkably enough they each bought the same indulgence for themselves–new undies and new books. Extra money was pitched in and they created a “goodie” basket that passes from woman to woman each month. It is stocked with bath and grooming items they consider luxuries. The generosity of the She Reads women is amazing and I am incredibly grateful to them. But, I do have one problem with the ladies of She Reads. I’m fairly certain they should change their name to She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better. Okay, so it’s not catchy. And it probably wouldn’t fit very well on a size S/M tee shirt. Nonetheless, I will continue to champion my idea for a name change. Here’s why:
The last time I met with the HQs it was happy and amazing and interesting as always. The women have all promised to encourage one more women to join them this year and there was a new woman among us. She was a little awkward and mistrustful and I could see her waiting for “the catch” associated with this book group. The other group members smiled. They were just like her a little over a year ago. I listened as they answered questions and reassured her in more ways than I could that she was welcome and not judged.
About 20 minutes into the meeting a whirlwind popped through the door followed by her daughter. I had not seen this woman in more than a month and was agog (how often do you get to use that word?) at her transformation. This is a woman who had been on the run from abuse; a woman whose child clung to her everywhere she went and was devastated during the hours mom spent at work. I have frequently been of the opinion that she is a mom who makes sure her child eats and only has dinner herself if there are leftovers. The woman who glided through the door was visibly and audibly different. She gave me a strong squeeze and plopped down beside me laughing. I could see that she had put on 5-6 pounds, her skin glowed and her hair was shiny. She encouraged her little girl to go play with another child and to my surprise her daughter skipped off to play. For the next few minutes she told us about full-time work, a chance to become a manager, a regular customer at the restaurant who has offered her an opportunity to read and edit his writing. Me–me!–getting a chance to edit something! The other women asked questions and we finally settled in to discussing Orphan Train (because even though we read it two books ago they are still talking about it) and Susanna Kearsley’s new offering The Firebird. I will admit I don’t remember much of the specifics they shared. What held me in place, moved me, and sent chills skittering up my spine was the buoyancy of the conversation. Women who used to have no opinions were voicing them. Women who struggled to express themselves were discussing the stories in the books, contrasting and comparing them with their own lives. They talked about how this or that made them think about themselves differently. And the new incarnation of the woman sitting next to me still spoke with a Texas drawl but expressed herself with a developing, thoughtful new vocabulary.
As I walked out with my hostess, she nudged me with her elbow. You were pretty surprised by her weren’t you? I admitted I was amazed. To tell the truth, she’s been getting better and better since the day we all got our tiaras at the Queen of Your Own Life ceremony. It was like someone flipped on the switch labeled self-confidence. I thought about this group of determined women. She battles homelessness. She overcomes helplessness. She reads.
I am fortunate enough to chat online with authors frequently and sometimes feel like the torch bearer for Samuel Johnson’s philosophy that authors begin stories and readers finish them. I have escaped turmoil and hardship between the pages of novels. I have never been on a go-somewhere vacation but I have walked the Camino, time-traveled and spent nights in the palaces of places that my GPS will never find because they exist only between pages 23 and 243. I have seen a reflection of a better me mirrored in what a heroine accomplished between chapters 5 and 7.
When she reads, she sees other paths she did not know existed.
When she reads, she escapes, dreams, dares.
She reads and other realities become possibilities.
Joyce Meskis just wanted to open a book store. Denver’s Tattered Cover is 4 locations strong and Joyce has an embarrassing number of literary awards. Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, opened in an ugly part of town and transformed it. Owner Emoke B’Racz blames it all on what she reads: How my life has been brought to undiscovered lands and how much richer it gets–all from words printed on a page. How a book can have 560 pages but in only 3 pages change the reader’s life. Kathy Patrick dreamed up a book club for real women, The Pulpwood Queens and it is now more than 500 chapters strong. She reads, writes, and can transform your limp locks into a sleek new ‘do at Beauty and the Book. Some of the Homecoming Queens want to own businesses, one has taken the first steps to become an entrepreneur. Each of them have found something new to hang on to, to dream about or believe in somewhere between the Dedication and Acknowledgements.
I am willing to alter my original plan. Instead of She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better what about this: She Reads And Is Transformed. It’s true. And it would fit on the tee shirt.
It’s not a habit of mine to post on my own behalf. I’d almost always rather be sharing news about friends or introducing new authors to new readers. But something wonderful has happened to me and I really wanted to say thank you to all the readers and friends who have supported me and my debut novel in the last months. I hope you’ll celebrate a wonderful event with me, something unexpected and so encouraging for me and my writing life. This year the Georgia Writer’s Association awarded me the Georgia Author of the Year Award 2013 for first fiction, The River Witch!
Thanks for coming along on the ride!
I rarely do this. You know it. I know it. (Lately, I rarely post anything on the blog, I’m so busy with the writing of the next book and raising a family.) But sometimes I come across someone who truly, TRULY impresses me as a person and a writer. Jolina Petersheim has done both these things and I know that you will love her and her work as I do. This sassy little sprite of a girl stole my heart last year at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books. She is swift and sure and her debut novel will knock your socks off. I’m letting you in on this a little early, ahead of her release date. (Tyndale House Publishers, June 21, 2013 Click on this link to see her page there) You can thank me later.
Here’s the description:
Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop.
But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.
A bonnet book, you say? Seriously? Oh, yes, I answer, cocking my eyebrow knowingly. Just wait and see…
Oh, OH! Here! See the trailer!
AND…if that’s not enough for you, here’s a teasing guest post from Jolina the Fine, herself. (Did I mention you NEED to read her blog? Because it’s fabulous.) And I BET before you finish reading this piece, you are already ordering The Outcast.
The Seed for Story
“A writer is a reader driven to emulation.” ~Paul Bellow
One of the girls who lived with us for a summer said that my family should host our own reality TV show. But I think we should write a book.
My father has floppy black hair needled with silver and hazel eyes that glow green when he tells a story, which he must accentuate with explosive hand motions, facial expressions, and colorful descriptions that keep his listeners enthralled.
My mother’s stories aren’t full of much action, but she is very introspective and curious: a combination that constantly spots stories and characters hidden among her interactions with customers who visit her quaint Miller’s Amish Country Store.
Launched from a genetic pool such as this, it is really no wonder that I fell in love with storytelling before I could even read. We didn’t have a TV for a majority of my childhood, so I passed time until my older brother returned from school by sitting on the front steps outside our cedar-sided home, sucking on my pastel candy necklace, and concocting elaborate stories about my day that I did not yet know were actually fibs.
Once I learned to write, I scribbled these “fibs” on notebook paper and stuffed them in an evening purse that I had ruined when I cut out the silk lining to hide a fuschia smear of dress-up lipstick. Then I dug a hole in the backyard with a child’s garden spade, tossed in the purse containing my stories, and buried it like a seed that I hoped would sprout into a creative beanstalk (Jack and the Beanstalk was one of my favorite tales at the time).
My family moved. The forgotten fibs moldered in their satin coffin, but the stories did not stop. My fat scrawl filled pages of diaries that I believed could not be tampered with because of a tiny gold lock that, looking back, I’m sure my brother picked.
And I read even more than I wrote: Little House on the Prairie, The Boxcar Children, American Girl, Baby-Sitter’s Club, Nancy Drew and Mandie mysteries. . . .
At night, my mother would tuck the covers tight around me and read, like a bedtime story, a chapter from one of her inspirational novels penned by her favorite author, Janette Oke. When I couldn’t stand the cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 10 (were the romantic love interests actually related?), I tiptoed across the carpet in my parents’ bedroom and snatched the paperback from the nightstand.
Back in my room, aided with a flashlight that blazed beneath the tented quilt, I read the climatic ending with my heart skittering. Then I calmly started at the page number where my mother had left off—satisfied that I knew the hero and heroine weren’t related and therefore their unending love could actually work out.
Eighteen years later, I can see that my love for story was like that “seed” of fibs I tucked in a purse and planted in the ground. Listening to my father tell tall-tales around the supper table planted in me the cadence of language and how the pace quickens as the tension mounts.
Because of my mother’s eye, I can spot characters amid the garden of mundane interactions and draw out their story with a subtle question that is really a writer’s cattle prod.
And now, before bedtime, I set my young daughter on my lap—breathing in her scent of warm cotton and strawberries—and read a story to her. And sometimes she flips through the board pages with her dimpled hands like she is overeager to understand the end.
Cuddling her close, I imagine that perhaps, through sharing my seed for story, another crop of young storytellers might be sown.
SEE! See! What did I tell you? You can find THE OUTCAST anywhere books are sold. Or click on the links here to find it on Amazon.
Jolina Petersheim holds degrees in English and Communication Arts from the University of the Cumberlands. Though The Outcast is her first novel, her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications. Her blog is syndicated with The Tennessean’s “On Nashville” blog roll, as well as featured on other creative writing sites. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Follow Jolina and her blog at http://www.jolinapetersheim.com/.
When I was writing THE RIVER WITCH, I came across this wonderful video that confirmed all the things I know (and suspect) to be true about the power of music in our lives. A friend reminded me of this particular piece today and I thought it was worth sharing. The character of Otis Green came to me as a whole person and later, when I was doing some research I saw this piece of film and felt I’d maybe met him in the flesh. For so many people who are living out their last years in nursing homes it can be a lonely and isolating time. This film gives such a sense of hope and it inspired me. I hope it will inspire you to find creative ways to reach out to those in our communities who seem lost or isolated beyond our understanding. When I watch it, I see what I’ve always believed – music is the language of the soul. I hope to always speak it.
The celebrated north Georgia poet Byron Herbert Reece may have put it best.
“From chips and shards in idle times,
I made these stories, shaped these rhymes;
May they engage some friendly tongue
When I am past the reach of song.”
(Reece, Epigaph for Bow Down in Jericho [Dutton, 1950])