One will focus on health, food and the role emotional health plays into the equation. The other will focus on real life, real faith. Once I've got them up, I'll be sure to post the links here.
I've let my blogging slip since I set my new site up, in part because the blogging feature on my host is super-clunky and in part because I've been busy marketing The Language of Sparrows. But if you're a blog reader, check back soon. I'm planning on starting a couple of external blogs in the next few weeks.
One will focus on health, food and the role emotional health plays into the equation. The other will focus on real life, real faith. Once I've got them up, I'll be sure to post the links here.
I'm always looking for good reading suggestions, and I suppose if you're here, you probably like to read as well. So I've put together some reading suggestions on my Pinterest account. Here's a description of the Board: Beautiful Novels: Books that make you think, books that lend meaning to your life, books with lines and characters that come back to you long after you've read them. There are many beautiful books, ones that I love personally, but for this board I've chosen to stick to books that have something to say about God and His ways. I have wide-ranging tastes so I've listed the genre and whether the book is CBA (from a Christian publisher) or mainstream. Happy reading!
By the way, if you haven't visited my PInterest account, I have several other boards as well - a few that have scenes and characters from The Language of Sparrows, as well as quotes, writing advice, etc.
If you voted on the David C. Cook cover poll, thanks so much! This is the cover that won, and it won by a landslide (80 plus percent).
I couldn't be more pleased. I think it's beautiful and expressive of the hope I've tried to write about in the story and of the artistic nature of the characters.
It should go up on e-books very soon (possibly next week). It will take a little longer to make it to the print version, but no too long.
The Language of Sparrows is getting a new cover and there are two options. I'm so excited about this as I think the new covers reflect the tone of the book so much better than the original. You can vote for your favorite until Sunday at midnight EST here:
Yes, there's actually an updside to special needs. Today, I'm guest blogging for Connie Almony about the upside and downside of special needs with an emphasis on my own sensory issues.
By the way, if you're interested. I've written a couple of blog pieces about sensory issues. When I first began writing The Language of Sparrows, my mom who had been touched by one of my pieces, suggested that I include sensory issues in the book I was writing. I never found the space to diagnose Sierra, but she definitely finds herself overwhelmed by senory information, and for the same reason, her brain is extra receptive to the new sounds and patterns of foreign languages.
As I researched for Sierra's character, I came across some data stating that the people most likely to experience sensory issues outside of those on the autism spectrum are people who have an artistic bent and geniuses. Since Sierra is both poetic and briliant, it only seemed right that she have a sensory processing "disorder."
Here's the link to the guest blog:
As a writer, I think about what makes people pick up a book. What keeps them reading, and what type of stories do they remember as favorites? I was surprised when I glanced through several of my favorite books, trying to remember what made me pick them up. Almost every one started with a catastrophe.
Men and women were sent reeling by the death of a spouse or child, by divorce, or by everything they thought their life was about crumbling to ashes. Do people not have enough grief that they have to go searching for more?
Of course, the books’ back cover copy weren’t selling grief. They were selling redemption. People who’d lost everything were given a chance to go home again, start a project, find someone more vulnerable than themselves to care about. They were given a chance to reinvent themselves. And that’s what people are looking for after all. Not grief, but a second chance.
In real life, you don’t often get to see the story work out. Of course, marriages do heal. People recover from grief. They make big mistakes and then get their life back on path again. But life is a long and gradual process, and you hardly see it happen. In stories, we get the vicarious experience of watching lives take shape in 300 pages.
Not to mention all the other things we get to do in a novel. We smell the homemade casserole we didn’t have time to bake. We lounge in the ramshackle cabin that the characters restored for us. We raft down a river in the Cascades or pick apples in a New England orchard, despite the fact we used all our vacation time to stay home with a chronically sick kid. We experience new love, even though we’ve been married twenty years.
Life is difficult. Reading novels is easy. But how much of that goodness is there in real life, if we looked for it?
How many family dinners have we made that we were too busy to savor? How many cool home projects have we worked on, but didn’t experience because of the rush to get them done? How many fields of wildflowers have we driven past, how many sunsets ignored, because our minds were a dozen other places?
Most especially, what kind of redemption have we experienced? I’m a firm believer that old griefs can been healed. Troubled relationships can be restored (or if fatally toxic, can be put within boundaries). People can reinvent themselves. Not over the span of a few days, but over a few years, a decade, sure. How often do we even look over the last year, much less the last decade to see how our lives have taken shape?
Glance at your life with a novelist’s eye: searching out the catastrophes, the conflicts, goals being met, and life being put back in order. Take in the tastes and smells and sights along the way. When you do, I think you notice something. Despite your setbacks, life is good when you pay attention.
When I was younger, I loved reading historical adventures. The adventure, the drama, the exotic locations, the hero or heroine sneaking behind battle lines, single-handedly fighting a plague or racing on horseback through pounding rain to deliver a critical message … I could stay up all night reading stories like that.
And I learned something valuable in the reading. Despite being a rather meek person by nature, I grew to believe that I could work myself out of any difficulty and toward any worthy goal with enough creativity and stamina. All told, I’m glad for the strengthened character historical fiction lent me.
On the other hand, it came as a rude awakening when real life didn’t line up with my favorite genre. I didn’t have a secret and powerful friend who would let me out of the dungeon (a lousy job). No great strategy was going to let me sneak through the civil war unscathed (toxic relationships). No intercepted letter was going to allow me to escape financial disaster. And outlasting the villain would not bring success fluttering into my hands.
I guess that’s what sparked my interest in true-to-life contemporary fiction. In The Glass Lake, when the heroine realizes she’s sacrificed everything to marry a man who as it turns out is a self-centered fool, she doesn’t turn the world upside-down or walk out. She redecorates her apartment and uses her passion to start a small business. She makes new friends.
And isn’t that doable? If you’re stuck in an untenable situation – with an unhappy marriage, deteriorating health, or a shriveling bank account, you might not be able to work yourself out of the corner with quick wit, at least not in the near future. But maybe you can reach out to a friend or find a project you can put your heart into.
Redemption is the word that comes to mind. Taking a disastrous situation, and, with the grace of God and a little patience, turning it into something livable.
Redemption makes me think of Zora and Nicky. When Zora finds herself cut off by her family, and living in an apartment with nothing but the pajamas on her back, she doesn’t get a high-powered job and show them. She reaches out to God and remembers what her dreams were before her daddy gave her the Lexus and the credit cards. She paints again. She prays again. And she finds hope in a weird mismatched but lovable Bible study group.
And of Linda Nichols. When her characters lose everything, they clean, they cook, they give their kid a bath. They go on, and because they go on, their life goes on, getting a little healthier day by day. And in the background, the imagery of the Bible brings them back to complete wholeness.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t change the world. I can’t even change myself. But I try anyway. Like the historical heroine, I persist, using every bit of creative thinking to solve my problems, and hope with God’s mercy to make each burst of insight go a bit further.
And then, like the contemporary heroine, I try to redeem the days. I do the laundry. I show up at work. I write. I hang out with my daughters. I thank God for the good things he’s given me, even on the days it's my problems that call for my attention.
And that’s life, isn’t it? Reaching for the moon, but in the meantime, redeeming the days, one hour to the next.
I don’t take much on faith. I need logic, proof, something big before I put my faith in anything. I guess that puts me squarely in the modern age.
I like Tim Keller’s illustration of the man falling from a cliff who sees a tree branch on his way down. He doesn’t have to have a lot of faith for the branch to save him. He just has to have enough faith to grab on to it.
An online friend once compared faith to the parable of talents. You may have received a meager helping of faith or heaps of it, she said, but, ultimately, it’s not important how much you have, only what you do with the faith you do have.
That’s nice. It’s okay not to be a person of great faith, they say. It’s salve for those of us with only a handful of faith. But in the end, I don’t want to be the woman with a penny’s worth of faith. I want to be remembered for impossible armfuls of faith, and the life to go with it.
The problem is, faith feels so random. When you tell me to have more faith, you might as well tell me I should win the lottery. Should I just pretend not have the questions I’m having?
But maybe faith isn’t so much about not having questions or about ideas at all. If God is truth, any question should be safe, after all. Maybe faith is about trust.
At one time, my faith seemed to fall apart every few years. I’d begin to wonder if God was there, if the God of the Bible existed at all. When that happened, I’d turn away from church, from reading the Bible and praying. Over time my questions would resolve themselves and I’d return. The last time this happened, I saw the pattern and decided not to turn away.
Instead, I asked for a sign, something like Gideon’s fleece. If you’re real, I told God, send me something with 1 Corinthians 13 on it in the mail that’s not from a church or religious publication. I felt silly for praying that prayer. But two days later, I received a secular magazine from the neighboring town. The title article was about finding romance and in the side bar was 1 Corinthians 13. I made a decision then that with any future episodes of doubt, I would bring them to God. I wouldn’t ask for signs. I’d just keep praying and showing up. I’d trust He would be there helping me work my questions out.
And it’s trust, only trust in God, that inspires me. When I look at the great men and women of faith, I don’t see theological complexity. I see generosity and joy that springs from trusting a large-hearted, powerful God. I see a relationship.
So I’ve chosen not to be the cynic anymore. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions. Sure – I explore away. But I’ve stopped looking for the dark undercurrents. The only thing under the surface is God holding me up. If God says he’s with me, he is. If he says he means me good and not harm, I count on that. And if he asks me to take a leap, I trust him. He’ll get me to the other side.
When I first started writing The Language of Sparrows, I envisioned it as a two-party story: 1) Sierra’s time in high school and 2) Sierra’s return to Houston as a college professor shortly after a debilitating injury. Sierra’s mother was a minor character in this version. I abandoned that approach, added April and concentrated on one year in Sierra’s youth. Here are a couple of scenes (still somewhat rough) that I wrote for that earlier version showing Sierra as an adult.
After the worst of the dizziness subsided, Sierra Wright made her way to a sitting position on the edge of her bed, limb by limb. She looked longingly at her running shoes in the closet. That had been her mainstay in years past. Running kept her energy up and her mind focused, but she’d been banned from running.
She ambled around her study instead, touching her books and laptop, as if she would do something with them, but it was a pipedream. Just touching the books made a pinch start behind her eyes. She wandered into the kitchen, staring mindlessly into the pantry, but finding nothing there she wanted.
Lurking around the house like a lost spirit wasn’t Sierra. Almost without thinking, she dressed in her old running clothes and laced up her shoes. She left the house, intending to take a soothing walk. She wouldn’t run. She told herself that.
She passed the rows of duplexes and restored depression-era houses in a blur, and by the time she turned the corner onto the wider road, her pace had turned into a vigorous, blood-jolting walk. Before she knew it, she was jogging and then sprinting. It felt good to pump her legs and arms, to breathe methodically, to rise to speed. She ran and ran.
The band began to form around her head, but she tuned it out. Instinct told her that if she could just get moving again, her focus would return, and so would her health. It had always worked before. Her doctor’s advice said otherwise, but she ignored that voice.
By the time she came to the end of the road, her vision had begun to blur and a band of pain tightened around her forehead. Humiliated at her failure, she slowed to a slow walk. She blinked when she finally made it to the park ahead. Scattered benches and groves of flowers, stone statues and streams made the place into some kind of fairyland. How had she never noticed this place before?
She fumbled down the path to a bench, but rubbery legs wouldn’t make it that far. She slid to sit in the grass next to a maze of bushes. Stretching her head over her lap, she gulped for air. In the blurry distance, a workman stopped what he was doing to watch her. She gave her best imitation of a smile, and took out her cell phone as if she were calling a friend for help. There wasn’t anyone to call of course.
Her mom, even if Sierra could stand to call her again, was at work. She’d relied on her new friends – colleagues from work mostly – one too many times and she was out of favors. She had to sit it out and somehow she would walk home.
Sierra sat cross-legged slowing her breathing, trying to train her body to calm itself. Her empty stomach heaved.
Sierra opened her eyes, saw the man’s work gloves in his hands dangling at eye-level and looked up, dizzily.
“Do you need some help, Ma’am?”
She recognized the voice from some dim recess in her memory, but she couldn’t place it. She tried to focus on his face and failed.
“Fine!” There was a deep rumble of laughter and then, “I’d like to see what sorry looks like if this is fine.”
Sierra knew that laugh. She looked into his face again. “Carlos?”
He looked at her for a second before he knelt by her side. “Sierra Wright.” His voice softened. “You’re all grown up. I wouldn’t have known you on the street.” And he laughed his hearty, big laugh again.
“It figures,” she finally said. “In a city of millions how did I pick this place to get sick?”
“I’ll get my truck and drive you home.” His words were curt, and she regretted hers. It wasn’t Carlos’s fault that he always was there when her life fell apart. Nor was it his fault that he had not witnessed her decade of self-reliance. She had been the one to put that distance between them.
“I’ll be all right.” Her trembling voice gave her away. “I shouldn’t have been running. I just need a few minutes.”
“Okay.” The drawn out word told her he didn’t believe she was all right for a second. “You need anything, you let me know.”
Sierra looked at her watch, determined that in fifteen minutes, no matter how ill she still felt she was going to make her way home. It was full of ridiculous pride and she knew it, but Carlos Castellanos wasn’t taking sickly fragile Sierra home. Just wasn’t.
In fifteen minutes, the world was tilting at an angle and her head was exploding. She stood, only to wobble and reach out blindly for the bench.
“Wo,wo, wo!” Hands wrapped around her shoulder and helped to a bench.
She put her face into her hands.
She looked up into his face, but saw only watery sunlight.
The quiet was uncomfortable. “What’s going on, Sierra? Have you got the flu?”
She forced herself to look up at him, though the effort probably didn’t fool anyone. “I was in an accident a couple of months ago.”
“You need a doctor?”
“How about a ride home?”
He half-walked her, half-carried her to his truck on the curb, and saw her inside her house. Without a word, he made his way into her kitchen while she collapsed on the couch.
“I’m sorry, Carlos. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Not a problem,” he called over the kitchen bar, but his tone held no forgiveness. She could hear him running water and moving things around, but she was too tired to look. In a minute he returned with a cup of hot tea and Tylenol on a tray.
“You probably have to get back to work,” she said, sipping the tea.
He glanced at the cell phone on the coffee table. “Can I trust you to use that if you need help?”
He studied her with all-too-knowing eyes. “Why don’t I buy that?” He sat down across from her and stretched out his long legs. “You rest, Sierra. If you’re doing okay in a couple of hours, I’ll get out of your way.”
“Thanks, Carlos.” She closed her eyes and tried to rest. It was hard. She couldn’t sleep during the day in the best of times. With Carlos watching her it was impossible, but she dutifully closed her eyes. Why would Carlos be doing yard work in a park anyway? Hadn’t he had big plans?
When the room grew hot from the sun, she heard Carlos opening windows, and she sat up. Her headache had dimmed, and while the room had a strange, overly bright color, she could focus again.
Carlos kneeled in front of her, holding up his hand. “How many fingers?”
He nodded, and handed her a cup of OJ. “It was good to see you again, Sierra.”
“Thanks for being there,” she mumbled.
He gave her a curt nod and went to the front door. Stay, she wanted to say. Stay and tell me about your life, but his face was so closed. He stopped with his hand still on the knob. “I saw you on the news. What you did for that girl was good.”
Sierra closed her eyes. The one heroic act in her life and it had stolen everything from her.
“Maybe she didn’t appreciate what you did, but now she knows. What you did for her, you told her she’s not anyone’s punching bag. She’s not anyone’s victim unless she wants to be. She knows that now even if she tried to hurt you for it.”
There was something unstated in that sentence. She looked up at Carlos, daring him to say it, daring him to say she was the one who had turned on the ones who had tried to help her, but he only looked at her.
She was who she was because of two men, father and son. Maybe she was even still alive because of them. When her life had turned into rubble, they had convinced her that she had the heart not only to survive, but to become someone special. And yet, she had turned her back on them. She knew time was running out for Mr. Prodan, and still she couldn’t bring herself to do what needed to be done.
“How are they?” she asked weakly.
Carlos gave her a crooked smile. “They’ve done okay, Brown Eyes. But they’d be better if you’d drop by for a visit.”
Mr. Prodan wasn’t a morning person, she remembered, so Sierra arrived just before lunchtime. She parked in the empty driveway and rang the doorbell, waiting several minutes, fidgeting with her purse. The organized flower garden gave evidence that he still lived here, and the fresh paint looked just as it had done fifteen years ago. Only the neighbors’ houses had deteriorated. Window bars and door gates all along the street told her the neighborhood hadn’t improved over time.
Finally, as she was about to turn away, footsteps sounded and there was the sound of a door being unlocked and unlatched.
He had looked old when she last saw him. Now he was positively ancient. His skin was paper thin and peppered with a few age spots. His hair, white as snow, had thinned, and he’d grown thin and bent.
“Mr. Prodan,” she said quietly, “It’s me, Sierra.” She had a sudden desperate idea that he wouldn’t remember her. Maybe his memory had decayed, or he’d buried memories of her on purpose.
“Sierra Wright.” His voice was as lucid as ever.
He turned back into the house without inviting her in, and she followed as she had so long ago. The furnishings were even more sparse than she remembered, but the kitchen still smelled like cooking. He went to the counter where there was a bowl of some kind of spiced flour and a mound of something on a cooking board – mashed potatoes?
Without preamble, he washed his hands and began taking bits of potatoes and rolling them in eggs and flour, while Sierra stood idly by.
She stuttered over her words. “I’m sorry I haven’t come before. You know when the police told me I couldn’t come all those years ago, I swore I would come here the minute I was eighteen. But then . . . .” Sierra ran out of words. Mr. Prodan was a precise man and she didn’t want to give him thin excuses.
He stopped rolling and waited.
“It was vanity,” she admitted. “I wanted to come to you as Dr. Wright, a professor who had her life all together.”
“Who told you I needed only professors for a friend? I never said such a thing.” His words strung tight across the kitchen.
Sierra shook her head, gently, as she had learned to do. “No, you never told me that.”
“And now you are Dr. Wright and you have this impressive life?”
“I am Dr. Wright.”
He gave her a wry glance and began to place his potatoes on a baking pan. “Impressive lives are more difficult to come by than credentials, yes?”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could do it over again.”
He sniffed and looked down at the cabinet. When he looked at her, his eyes were like glaciers. “No, Sierra Wright. I do not accept your apology.”
Sierra shifted, trying to find the air in the room. Whatever she had expected, it hadn’t been that. That he had forgotten her, possibly. That he would think less of her, almost certainly. But that he would write her off? Never.
She blinked back stubborn tears and picked up her purse to go.
“You did not get to be Dr. Wright by giving up so easily,” he said, gesturing at her with a piece of potato in his hand.
“I gave you an apology. You don’t accept it. What else is there to say?”
He waved at her. “I do not accept your apology, Sierra Wright, because I do not want you to think, ‘I regret this,’ and ‘I wish I had done that.’ Listen to an old man with more regrets than hope. What you have done is irrelevant. What will you do now?”
Relief flooded through Sierra and she felt the first real smile beam through her in months. “What will I do now? I’ll help you with your potatoes.”
Mr. Prodan laughed. “Ah, that is a daring request. You wish to make chifelute de cartofi?”
She nodded, smiling. The only Romanian cooking she’d ever had was from the little café Mr. Foster had taken her years ago.
“Wash your hands then.”
She rolled the potatoes in the little mixture of eggs and then in the herbs he had. It was an activity that required quiet and concentration, he said, so they worked quietly, finally frying the potatoes. While the potatoes cooled on wax paper they went to sit in his study.
“How is your son?” Sierra asked.
Mr. Prodan leaned back. “I see my son. He has a wonderful wife and two sons nearly the age you were when I last saw you. Nicu is healthy, but I cannot say how he is. This is one of the regrets of an old man.”
She leaned forward. “What about not regretting the past? What will you do now?”
“As you can see, I have very little time now left. Not here.” He motioned toward his study.
“I didn’t know Mr. Foster all that well, but he didn’t seem like a man to hold a grudge.”
“A grudge, no. But simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ is rarely enough between a father and a son.”
Sierra thought of her own mother and all of the secrets she’d kept from her. They kept in touch, but it was a delicate relationship.
“It’s none of my business, but have you told him about what happened? During those years you were apart?”
He stared at her, and she thought he would tell her that indeed it was none of her business, as he had once before. “No,” he said finally. “It is not a past anyone wants to hear about, nor one I wish to tell.”
His eyes brightened into pools of unfathomable pain, and common decency told her to leave it at that. But she thought of the chasms between Mr. Prodan and his son – so many echoing canyons between father and son, daughter and mother, between friends and lovers. She’d let it drop for today, but eventually someone would have to start speaking across the canyon.
The Language of Sparrows is available today, so if you've preordered the e-book, you should have it. The print book should be on its way soon. If you haven't ordered it, you can order it now.
Sherri Johnson is hosting me on her blog today, and I'm talking about how I come up with the ideas to complete a novel. Enjoy!