Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesday's (Book Club "Meeting" #6): Snail Mail from My Angels

It's book club time!  So here's the Grace-filled Tuesdays trademark meme, with a quote by St. Francis de Sales, the Patron Saint of Writers.
This meeting is going to be fun, because it's going to be driven by a group of polite, intelligent, funny, sweet, enthusiastic, deep-thinking young readers--readers who are, in fact, the very target audience for Erin's Ring, my second work of YA Catholic fiction.

Not too long ago, I blogged briefly about the wonderful experience I had visiting a group of 4th-graders from two classes at Queen of Angels (one of the classes was my niece's).  They had just finished reading Erin's Ring in school and were eager to talk to me about it--and truly, it was the best book club meeting I'll probably ever have.  (If you missed that post, you can read it here.)
Actually, I must confess that when I set out to write Erin's Ring, I envisioned it as a junior high-and-up-type of book; but after meeting with this group, I realized I was selling younger readers short--because those kids were certainly more than ready for this book.  They had prepared questions ahead of time, and they took turns being called upon...and I was definitely not prepared for the insightfulness and maturity their questions revealed.  They wanted to know everything:

Q: When did I know that I wanted to be a writer?
A: When I was about their age, actually!

Q: How did I come up with the inspiration for the book?
A: Like Molly, I love finding old things and wondering whom they might have belonged to.  I love the Irish and their history.  And Dover, NH's history has the most wonderful built-in true story involving Irish immigrants.  So there you go.

Q: What was my favorite part to write?
A: Probably the romantic parts, since I'm such a sucker for all that mushy stuff.

Q: How did I pick the names for the characters?
A: Some are inspired by people I know. For example, Theresa was named after my niece's--their teacher's--mother, and Seamus Finnegan was named after two beloved dogs in my life.  But some are just made up because I like them.

Q: Why did this particular character seem like the main character of the book, but then as the story progressed, it seemed like that other character became more important?
A: The story just evolved that way, and kind of surprised me as well.  But that's what seems to happen: you start out with one idea in your head, but as you move along, the characters take you in different directions.

Q: How did I come up with the title Erin's Ring?
A: The answer I gave to that last question was that I thought it had a nice ring to it--LOL!!  Get it?--but that it also has a dual meaning, since Erin is a character in the book but also a name for Ireland itself.

Those are just a few of the questions they asked; I wish I could remember them all.  They did ask if I knew any other authors, which I thought was an interesting question, and I told them that most of my contact with authors is strictly online.  I know very few writers in real life (IRL, as they say); I met a handful at a Catholic Writers Guild Conference in the summer of 2013--among them Ellen Gable, Erin McCole Cupp, and Michelle Buckman.  But most are people I "know" strictly from Facebook and/or email correspondence--included in these "friends" are Therese Heckenkamp, Nancy Carabio Belanger, Cheryl Dickow, and Amy M. Bennett.  (As a matter of fact, before I sat down to blog today, I brewed myself some pinon coffee and poured it into my Black Horse Campground mug--both gifts I received from Amy as a thank you for supporting her excellent work on the Black Horse Campground Mystery series.)
As if meeting the kids in person wasn't enough of a thrill for me, I was just tickled a few days ago, when I checked our mail box and found it positively jam-packed with letters.  Not junk mail, mind you; actual LETTERS.  Typed-up letters in hand-addressed envelopes, from my 4th grade buddies at Queen of Angels.
I could hardly wait to dive into that stack!

There were 16 letters in all, each one written by a team of two students.  They all expressed such gratitude for my visit--because in their innocence, these kids don't know that it is actually I who should be thanking them!  But here are some of their words of thanks:

Thank you for coming to our 4th grade class to talk about Erin's Ring...

Thank you so much for coming we really enjoyed your visit...

That is the best experience that we will ever have, again thank you so much we will remember that forever...

We are all so happy that you came we were looking [forward] to it for months...

The other day it was really fun having you come to our class.  We liked that you gave lots of detail in your answers.

We really enjoyed the visit and hope you continue to write amazing novels...

We loved the book and the experience of you coming was awesome!

Every author needs to have a cheering section like the fourth-graders at Queen of Angels, let me tell you. At one point in the presentation, when I was explaining how I got the opportunity to write Erin's Ring for Bezalel Books, I mentioned that I had written and published another novel first, a book targeted at slightly older readers than they; and right away one of the girls piped up with, "Finding Grace."  I was surprised, and said, "Oh, you know about that?" and my niece's colleague joked, "They know your Social Security Number!"

And every author needs such kind critics, too--critics whose comments sound like this:

We loved the book because it was very interesting.  The book taught us that you need Faith Friends and family to help you through tough times.  This was an amazing book and we really hope you make a sequel.

We really enjoyed reading the book thank you so much for writing it...

I am happy that both of the classes got to read Erin's Ring.  This book was outstanding and I will recommend it to other people...

Do you think you will write a sequel to Erin's Ring because we loved the first one...

It was creative and interesting at the same time...It was very romantic, and kind...

I enjoyed your book even though I like writing about horror, mystery, and murder...

We really enjoyed reading "Erin's Ring" and thought it was well written...

It was a sad but happy story...

This book was...suspenseful with a little bit of mystery.  I liked...how it swapped between the future and past.  Your book was amazing and I felt like I was right there with the characters...All around my final judging is five out of five stars...

We really hope you soon make another book for our age, we really loved Erin's Ring.  We are not pushing you to make a new book but we would like it if you did.

Umm...I guess I should start thinking about writing a sequel.  (?)

I was pleased that there wasn't just one character who was every reader's favorite, or even two; Molly, Theresa, Ann, Seamus, Erin, Michael, Luke, Finny, and John Hughes were all mentioned in the different letters as favorites--and that's almost everyone in the book.  I love how one of the kids said I felt like I was right there with the characters.  If readers can't relate to or care about your characters, it doesn't matter how great the plot of the story is; so I'm thrilled that these 4th-graders were able to connect with so many of the people who inhabit the world of Erin's Ring.

I was also quite touched by how much they enjoyed seeing pictures of Dover, and of the library's historical room that plays such a big role in the story.

We loved your presentation and all those pictures of Dover!...

We loved the pictures of the old library.  The historic room seems really cool...

I included a glossary of 19-century and Irish terms in the back of the book, and one student commented on that:

The glossary was very helpful for the words we didn't know.  For example we didn't know what chemise meant but then learned...

I have been told by several fellow authors I "know" that I should write a YA novel aimed at boys, because certainly so far the books I've written would probably appeal more to girls.  But I was surprised to find out that the young men at Queen of Angels who read Erin's Ring were absolutely fine with the mushy parts.  One of the letters said this:

The boys didn't mind the romance at all.  (Woo hoo!)

Several of the students talked about wanting to be writers themselves one day.  A couple of the girls told me they enjoy writing short synopsis blurbs for the backs of books, and they sent me some of their work, which I found to be filled with promise.  I think there might be an editing job in one little girl's future, too; she found an error in Erin's Ring that neither I nor the publisher (nor any of the beta readers who read the book when it was in manuscript form) ever caught.  She showed me where I'd written on page 167, "Erin reached over and patted her mother's hand, and her own eyes were wet.  'Mummy, please pray for my Erin...'"  As is, that sentence makes no sense, and it should read, "Cara reached over and patted her mother's hand..."  Good eye, my friend!

Also, my niece mentioned that the class put together a family tree diagram so that they could keep all the various characters from the different generations straight, which I think was a great idea.  In fact, I wish we'd added that to the book.  (Next time, I'll do that...if there is a next time!)

So in summary: These angels liked the romance.  They liked the history.  They liked the drama of the big fire, and the plot twists and turns they weren't expecting.  They connected with the characters.  They're itching for a sequel.

The day I visited them, they were excited to have me sign copies of their books and scraps of paper, once the Q & A was over.

I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that anyone would want my signature.  It was never a desire for fame or attention or money that motivated me to write.  It was not my goal to be "successful" in the way the world views success; my goal was to give glory to God, and to hopefully inspire even one young reader to grow closer to Him...

Well, those wonderful kids at Queen of Angels made me feel as if I've achieved my goal.

I don't know if, as that one student wrote, they'll remember my visit to their class forever.  But I know I will.


  1. Have I commented on any of these 'book club' posts, or any other post on any blog recently for that matter? I don't think so. I'm visiting my Uncle in Charlottesville, presently, and suddenly find myself with loads of free time. I think I should visit him more often! ;-)

    The little Q&A is super sweet, as are all of those letters! Handwritten notes from young students are the absolute best -- though my young students would probably illustrate an incomplete, two sentence story to send for your enjoyment. The handwriting would be in cursive, though! :)

    Your sentiment at the end is one that I find myself wondering often: I have no idea if my students will always remember me (the oldest one is only 6!), but I know I'll remember them and will forever treasure this time I've spent with them in the classroom. They've given me much more than I've given them!

    God bless you!

    1. Thanks for this wonderful note, Sarah.

      Yes, those letters were absolutely wonderful. (I'm saving them!) And it's true that those kids did so much more for me than I did for them. After spending just 45 minutes in their classroom, I felt like I got to know some of their distinct personalities and grew quite attached to them.

      Your profession is a tough one, to be sure; but oh, how rewarding it must be!

  2. Just wonderful:) Did each of the children have a copy of your book or did your niece read the book aloud to the class?

    1. My niece and the other 4th grade teacher used their teacher's stipend money to buy copies, so that each child had his own while they were reading the book together. But they ultimately decided to donate all those copies to the 4th grade classroom library at their school, so that next year's 4th-graders can read the book, too. The day I was there, kids who wanted to have copies of their own to keep brought money to buy them, and I signed them that day.

  3. Love love love it!! Such a blessing for everyone!

    1. Madeline, you are one of the most loyal readers of this blog. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comments--they make my day.

  4. What a great post....and I agree with all of the students, it is a wonderful book and you should write another!!

    1. I hope I have it in me to write another. I actually had an idea of my own for a sequel; but then Regina's dad suggested a subject that might make for a compelling historical novel. So who knows...?

    2. I love it!! I look forward to reading it when it happens!!!!!!!