Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Grace-Filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #36): Writing about Writing about Writing

I love to write.  Writing is my favorite.

And one of my favorite subjects to write about, not so oddly enough, is writing.

So yes, as the title of this post has already warned you, today I'm going to be writing about writing about writing.

Confused yet?

I haven't been the best of bloggers in recent months (make that years), but my output used to be rather prolific here at SOP.  My archives are jam-packed with old posts about any number of subjects, and if you're ever bored and hungry for fresh[-ish] reading material, you could always scroll through them and hopefully you'd stumble upon something that would pique your interest.  The 1,300-plus posts are not all about books and writing, not by a long shot; but those grouped under the label "Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club" most definitely are.

I started this little online book club quite a while ago, at the urging of my publisher (Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books), and it has indeed been a pleasure to host these book "discussions" with you over the years.  It's a great forum for talking about how my two novels went from tiny sparks of inspiration to fully fleshed-out stories filled with characters whom I got to know better and better as time went by.

I enjoy it so much when novels I read have Q and A's with the authors at the end, where a reader can learn exactly what motivated them to write their stories in the first place.  I usually flip back there before I even dive into Chapter One, because it adds another layer of enjoyment for me to learn how the writer was inspired to start the book and the amount of time it took to research and write it.  The writing process itself is endlessly fascinating to me.  So you can imagine why I get such a kick out of sharing my own stories here at the blog--about how I was inspired to write Finding Grace and Erin's Ring and how the books eventually took shape.

Most writers will admit that even the fictional stories they create have pieces of real people, places, and events embedded in them; that was certainly true for me--especially with Finding Grace.  But trust me, this novel is NOT autobiographical (or even semi-autobiographical).  So much of what was real was tweaked and reworked, and characters who were inspired by people I knew began to take on their own unique identities--which surprised and delighted me; truly, these characters became friends whom I missed dearly when I'd finished writing the last chapters.

I think this is a common phenomenon for fiction authors.  In his biography Becoming Jane, Jon Spence discusses how the peerless Jane Austen wove together real life and fiction in her work (I've brought this up before here at the blog, in this past book club post, and this one, and this one, too --sheesh, you guys, I'm like a broken record!):

"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."
 
"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."

Yes, Jane, that's just what I ended up doing!  And I didn't even know that you did this, too, until I'd already written Finding Grace!  (I believe we would be BFF's!)

But Austen is by no means the only fiction author who did/does this sort of thing.  Here are a few quotes by some talented modern-day writers whom I also admire, about how real life sneaks its way into their fictional tales.

In the acknowledgements at the end of One Day, a book I absolutely loved, author David Nicholls writes, "It is the nature of this novel that certain smart remarks and observations may have been pilfered from friends and acquaintances over the years, and I hope that a collective thank you--or apology--will be enough."

Ha ha, so true: I am convinced that a novelist cannot help but employ tidbits of actual conversations that he's been involved in or overheard, tweaking them to fit the storyline he's creating.

In the Q and A section at the back of Anne Rivers Siddons' Off Season (a book that had some very strange elements, to be sure, but which I nonetheless enjoyed on the whole very much) the interviewer asks, "Do you base your characters on real people or are they purely products of your imagination?"  And Siddons replies, "There is always a flicker or a seeming of someone real in most of my characters, but by the time I have developed a character enough to carry them through a book, they become their own selves and there's no doubt about that.  I never knowingly copy anybody--I'm not that good at it."

Yes, Anne!  You, Jane, and I--if only we could go out for coffee together and talk shop!  How fun would that be?

I know that when I was writing about Peggy Roach Kelly's feelings for her five sons in Finding Grace, I couldn't help but channel my feelings for my own five sons, whom I adore completely.  Whenever my husband and I would walk with our tall, handsome boys across the church parking lot for Sunday Mass, I would watch them with eyes full of love and think, "Those are all mine!  Those wonderful young men belong to me!"  They had a way of walking, a "Pearl boy walk," that made them look alike from behind. So there you have it,  the inspiration for this scene in Chapter 6 (pages 61-62 in the paperback version), where Grace and her parents are following the Kelly boys across the church parking lot:

"It was interesting how much the five brothers resembled one another, particularly from behind, where on couldn't see the variations in their facial features.  They were all Roaches, similar in height and build, and all had Peggy's chestnut-colored hair (only Grace had inherited the stature and coloring of the Kelly side).  They shared a gait that was uniquely their own, genetically programmed, so it seemed--the "Kelly boy walk": they sort of dragged their feet, yet bounced, with hands jammed in their pockets and shoulders slightly hunched, their heads leaning forward a bit.  The five of them laughed together easily as they made their way over to the church, looking and acting for all the world like a set of giant quintuplets.  They seemed nearly identical in appearance from this view, and as they say about babies of multiple births, they had almost a language of their own.  They often finished each other's sentences, and laughed at the same moments.  Their hand gestures and the inflections of their speech were uncannily alike.

They shared a tight bond that was indeed extraordinary, one that their parents hoped would never be broken.

Peggy drank them in with her eyes; Grace saw the expression on her mother's face and wished for a moment that she had ever been the one to produce such a look of naked adoration.  Then she watched her brothers loping along ahead of them, and if she'd had a mirror she would have realized that her own face bore an expression very nearly the same as her mother's.

'Aren't they something special?' Grace thought, filled with tenderness. Right then she knew more than ever that she hoped she would one day be the mother of many boys."

How obvious is it that that passage was written by a hopelessly smitten Boy Mom?!  I slid that little piece of real life in there as an homage to my beloved offspring; yet as much as the Kelly boys were originally modeled after my string of Pearls, they really did evolve and become their own selves the further along I got in the writing process.

Okay then, that's about it from here.  But before I sign off, I'll leave you with a few images of the six fabulous men in my life, who inspired me to write a book that included five completely lovable brothers and a perfect love interest for my shy little heroine, Grace Kelly.





Sunday, February 17, 2019

Everyday Mary, Our Mother

Hey, look at me!  I tore myself away from Instagram long enough to write a blog post!

Speaking of blog posts, I used to read Camp Patton all the time, back when Grace spent more time there than she does on IG.  Yesterday I decided to visit her blog and see if I'd missed anything, and I noticed that she's not posting at the Camp more than about once or twice a month these days, so I'm in good company.  ("Laura, are you ACTUALLY putting yourself in the same company as Grace Patton?!?!"  You're right--the nerve!)

Grace had this to say in her Jan. 30 post: "I remember long ago when someone predicted Instagram would kill blogs I feigned a horrified-hand-to-chest move because I didn't think it would ever be possible but welcome to 2019, Grace No Foresight Patton."  [A quick aside: that right there is an example of the sharp and witty writing style that made Grace one of the superstars of the blogging world.  It's no wonder her followers are legion.]

Anyway, if you're still here (if you haven't jumped ship to check out the offerings of all the Grace Patton-quality blogs that are still up and running, or to scroll through the easier-to-digest mini-posts that make Instagram so enticing!), I thought I'd use this Sunday post to talk a little bit about one of my favorite subjects: Our Blessed Mother.

For ages now, I've wanted to get a Kitchen Madonna statue to have on the counter in the room where I spend about 75% of my life.  We've always had plenty of images (both statues and pictures) of Mary around the house--Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Grace, the Immaculate Heart, etc.  But no Kitchen Madonna.  That is, until one day last week when I decided to do a little eBay browsing...and look what came in the mail yesterday.
Isn't She just the sweetest?  [Insert heart-eyed emoji here.]  This is a used resin statue, but in mint condition (and it was a good bit cheaper than a new one would have been, not to mention the seller's offer of free shipping!).  I love that Mary is shown wearing an apron.  Aprons are my favorite--just ask my boys!  (Actually, don't, because they'll just make fun of their mommy.)

Today while I made my husband's Sunday brunch, I wore my "fancy" one--my "Little Black [Dress] Apron" with pearls on it--over the Sunday best frock-and-jacket combo I chose for Mass.
I am the worst at posing for fashion shots; and my husband is a really, really good sport.
Okay, I guess as long as I'm posing here in all my fashion-forward glory, you could call this a "My Sunday Best" post (although I'll have to check to see if Rosie is hosting this link-up today; she is, after all, about to give birth to baby #7!).  I have given this same adorable black apron to each of my four daughters-in-law, usually at their wedding showers.  If that seems like a sexist sort of gift to give a girl--"Here, you're going to be cooking a lot for my son, so you're going to need this!"--I didn't mean it to be.  And I do realize that most gals don't don an apron every time they approach the kitchen, like I do.  But this one had pearls on it...and they were about to become Pearls...so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

(BTW: This is by no means a sponsored post, but if you like this apron and just HAVE to get one for yourself, you'll find it here at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.)

(Also BTW: HOURS after our eggs and bacon had been consumed, I was still wearing my apron while I sat in my recliner watching HGTV with my husband....so I guess I deserve all the teasing my sons want to give me.)

But back to my new little Kitchen Madonna: another thing I like about Her is that She's holding a broom.  (My husband teases me about my love of vacuuming--but if I'd been a housewife in Mary's time I would have been the "mad sweeper" rather than the "mad vacker," as he likes to call me.)

Aside from the apron and the broom, I love that Jesus is reaching his arms up to be picked up by His mom.  What a sweet reminder that Mary was a mother to Jesus, that He was Her little boy, and that She spent Her days doing the kinds of repetitive, self-sacrificing, seemingly mundane tasks that all women do in the home, for Him and for St. Joseph.  I recently came across a 2013 Our Sunday Visitor article by Marge Fenelon that reflected on this theme, and here is an excerpt:

"We tend to forget that Mary is a real woman, a real wife and mother who walked on this earth, doing all of the things we do, or will do, as moms.  She cooked meals, mended clothing, did laundry, washed dishes, changed diapers, sang lullabies, worried about the choices her child was making, kibitzed with other women, served her husband and child, and went to bed exhausted after a long day of hard work.  Mary isn't a statue and she isn't an untouchable goddess.  She was and is a mother--Jesus' mother in an actual way, and our mother in a divine way."

I think that is such a lovely way to think about Our Blessed Mother: to imagine Her as "everyday Mary," doing ordinary things like sweeping Her kitchen floor or hanging wet clothes on the line, always with Her Son close by.  That's why I'm so fond of a painting known as "The Polish Madonna" or "Mary's Wash Day."  I have a framed copy of it hanging in the hallway right across from the little laundry room in our VA home.

This lovely image is one more reminder to me that there is no task (no matter how menial!) performed with love for my family that is beneath me, because even the most exalted of women spent Her life on earth working day-in and day-out as a housewife and stay-at-home mom.  If it was good enough for Her, how could it not be good enough for me?

I hope it's not too vain of me to perform my household tasks while sporting a fancy, lace-trimmed apron adorned with pearls.  If you know of a more humble-looking, Mary-themed apron out there that I could wear instead, leave me a comment.  (But to be honest, I'm probably heading to Etsy right after I push the "publish" button for this post, now that I've got the idea in my head!)

Bye for now!  (And if you haven't done so already today, call your Mother--or maybe I should say OUR Mother.)