Soup and Misery: What motivated me to write my first book

After my mother died on a cold January morning, I stayed in the hospice room for the next eight hours with my hand over her womb, contemplating my own impending death. No, I’d had no bad news test results, no aches or agonies. But in middle age, I was looking more and more like my mother. With a little imagination, that could be my body on the bed, empty of soul and out of time. In those hours of fresh grief, I sat with my oldest friend, Julie, and felt the last vestiges of my innocence about my own mortality fall away. For the first time, I knew with a pale, grim certainty that one day I would die.

Julie and I finally went out into the winter dusk for a bowl of soup, and there I poured out my misery. It wasn’t just my mom’s passing that engulfed me in mourning; it was that I saw myself for what I really was, a fearful woman who allowed that fear to rule my choices in lots of areas, and at the head of them all was the gnaw of my inadequacy when it came to my writing and the terror of trying to get published. To anyone who ever wondered what the most boring question in the universe is, it is this: What if I’m not good enough?

Well then, and what if I am? I’d been fooling around for a year with a short, humorous manuscript about my experiences discovering the Orthodox Church. Now that manuscript, and my lack of attention to it, began to haunt me. I wasn’t finishing the book because …. because what? Because I’m scared, lazy, easily distracted, and live under the delusion that tomorrow is as good as today, that’s what. I knew that unless I got serious fast and wrote as hard as I could for the rest of my life, I would never be my truest self. I would be committing psychological suicide. Everything changed then. Serial rejection by publishers every day and month and year for the rest of my life seemed suddenly less torturous than the bleakness of never trying. I decided I would write my first book and have some portion of it on an editor’s desk before Thanksgiving.

 It’s a blessing that the stakes were high, and that death was looming. Out of desperation to stay alive, my motivation grew to the proverbial fever pitch. The lean, mean muscle of disciplined writing made those months exhilarating. I even met my self-imposed goal, literally running through the season’s first snowstorm because the roads were bad in order to get my manila envelope in the mail, full of precious chapters. It was very dramatic, very writer-ly.

The following year, Regina Orthodox Press published my book, Great Lent Unplugged (alas, that little experimental gem just went out of print). It was the rush of my life, right up there with other highly memorable rushes, all of which seem to have taken place when I as a teenager, like my first kiss and reaching the top of Mt. Rainier alive. Despite the book’s flaws, I still feel exhilaration when I pick up my copy to read favorite passages once again and look at the cover with my name on it. Note to everyone: one’s name on the cover of a book is a drug.

Of regret, British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes said this: “The only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart…”

Don’t die; invest enough heart.

Getting Rid of Cain

“Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse,”  Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormonc. 1880, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 

I’m happy to announce a republishing of Gold in Havilah: A Novel of Cain’s Wife through Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. The challenge of editing to Westbow’s specifications was a great learning experience; I’m glad I made the effort and am satisfied with the results. Click on any of the Buy buttons here on my site and the little publisher’s helper out there in cyberspace will patch you through to Amazon or Westbow. The prices are the same both places.

Meanwhile, I’m smitten, dizzy-in-love with the plot and characters in my second book in this series of ancient fiction stories centered around the early chapters of Genesis. The working title is, for the moment, Zyla: A Seer’s Tale. I’ll do a couple of things in this book, the first being to introduce an amazing new female lead, Zyla, one of the wives of the infamous Lamech, sixth from Cain and the first bigamist mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:19). Zyla is a cerebral, willful woman with a prophetic gift who must learn to use her gifting wisely. Being a book character, that’s going to be harder for her than it should, because that is how book characters are. Just like in the movies, these guys always, always go into the dark, creepy house while you pull at your hair and scream, “DON’T GO IN!”

I’ll also satisfy the curiosity of some of my readers who have been asking, “So what happened to Cain?” They’re right, for after all, I did leave Cain’s miserable self pretty stranded at the end of Gold, without a resolution to his story. Readers’ interest in Cain’s outcome made me realize I hadn’t yet exhausted my treatment of this annoying villain, the world’s first murderer. I promise I’ll sate people’s appetite for more about Cain, and his measly seven generations of progeny as well.

So get ready for Cain on steroids, with his scabs and scars and bad attitude and all the rest, just as you enjoyed him in Gold. And get ready to like Zyla, even if she does have to learn everything the hard way, which shouldn’t sound too unfamiliar to most of us.