Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Straddling the Fence is not the same thing as Sitting on the Fence

My little beloved manuscript is still out at publishers being considered.

When I first sent my first book out into the world to be considered, I checked my inbox hourly to look for feedback. It took five months to hear anything at all - and the manuscript had been requested by the publisher. A few years and a few books later, I have learned that the process takes a long time.

It's also a tough industry. (What industry isn't struggling these days?) But in tough times, sometimes books become a luxury. And then publishers have a hard time paying staff, let alone paying for new titles. They have to be pretty certain they have a bestseller on their hands to take a chance on it. I explain it this way to people: imagine you're walking through the airport and you stop at the book kiosk to find something to read on the plane. Are you going to take a chance on an unknown writer? Possibly, but probably not. Same for publishers. I get that. I get that brilliantly amazing books (like my friend Erin Bow's) will find a good publishing home, but many clever, bright, creative, insightful books won't. Not in today's economy.

The other strike against my books is what I allude to in the title of today's post. My books straddle the fence of the publishing world. What I tend to write about are stories of people coming to know themselves and God better. The problem is: where to put such stories? Are they Christian novels? Well, kind of. Are they literary fiction? Yeah, mostly.

I had a Christian publisher roll eyes at my second novel, saying it was too "edgy." I can't remember if it was drinking, smoking or dancing that offended, but I think the publisher thought I was trying to be provocative. My book was coming across that way anyhow. There was also a mainstream publisher who didn't know what to do with the religious stuff.

What I write is - if you'll pardon the pun - neither fish nor fowl. It is a very good thing we don't depend on my fiction to put groceries on the table.

But here is the thing: I am writing about the world as I see it. A world in which people struggle to live out what they believe. A world in which people don't know what they believe. A world that is miraculously beautiful and devastatingly painful. A world where redemption is possible and hope is not foolish, but neither is it simple. A world in which dancing and drinking can be wonderful things - and can lead to big messes too. A world in which many of us straddle the fence where we reach out for something beyond ourselves but we don't always know how.

I believe with all my heart that the books I'm writing are ones that will lodge in people's hearts, regardless of their stripe of faith or non-faith. I believe too that good writing goes beyond categories. My brilliant friend Erin, again, sometimes feels apologetic that she writes genre fiction - but the point is that she writes astonishingly well and that goes beyond categories in a bookstore or fences of faith.

So, market realities are market realities. I can be surprisingly patient about that. What I get impatient for is the breaking down of walls and categories. There is definitely successful writing that transcends those borders - think Anne Lamott, Donald Miller and Sue Monk Kidd. It's what I love to read. It's what I am made to write.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Obeying Bonnie

Bonnie says it's time for a new post here. She's right, but my creative energy is at an ebb right now. I mentioned the big Grandma party event at the end of May. And then there was a novel I finished writing. And then busyness with work. And then hosting a church lunch for 100 or more people. Plus the regular madness of three sporty kids. And new work contracts.

I go back and forth between loving my life for its diversity and flexibility and interestingness and being flat out exhausted by it.

My sister always says that it's all about expectations. I think of that comment often. What are my expectations for this stage of life? For myself?

Last week, I compared myself to Barack Obama and commented that Mr. President has far more on his plate than I do. My friend's reply was to ask me what the differences were between BO and me. Well, I said, he's black. And male. I meant to be funny, but really there is something to that latter distinction. And, she added, he has staff. Also true.

This is, in some ways, the most challenging stage of parenting so far for me. Because the kids are big enough that I can do my own thing, work-wise or otherwise, a lot of the time. However, their independence (and mine) is also somewhat illusory: they still need a mom available a lot of the time. When they absorbed nearly my full attention, I was happy to give it to them. Now, I feel a push and pull between my work and my parenting. And I attempt to do both well. Earlier this month, when things really were crazy (see first paragraph above), I kept saying to myself, with exasperation, "Oh, and I'm trying to finish writing a novel too!" Like it was a little thing.

I'm trying to be kinder to myself with my expectations - and yet, not to expect the glass of wine in the backyard every evening. That stage will come and I will miss these exuberant puppies.

There, Bonnie. There you are. Or there I am.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Big Things

When I watched the quirky, poignant movie One Week last year, I resonated with the main character's love of big monuments. I have no idea why, but I love the kitchiness of these big fiberglass monoliths. Of course, there's the Big Apple on the 401 and the Big Nickel in Sudbury, but I was very very happy to go have my picture taken with the Big Axe in New Brunswick and the Big Pineapple in Australia, and was quite disappointed not to find the Big Banana. (You'd think a big banana would be hard to hide, wouldn't you?

This past weekend was my grandmother's 90th birthday and I was the main event organizer. I was thinking about the party this morning and realizing that I adore planning big events, and always have.

As a child, I came home one day to announce to my mother that we would be hosting a backyard skating show as a school fundraiser. We lived directly across from the school and my mother recalls her growing horror as swarms of children headed our way to watch a group of us skate to the Mexican Hat Dance.

In university, I loved running the kitchen at retreats. For me, the challenge was to cook the best tasting, simplest, healthiest. most gourmet food for a fraction of the cost of previous retreat budgets that had majored on Eggo waffles and prepared lasagna.

Last fall, my mania got out of control. I single-handedly cooked for a mostly sitdown, many coursed fundraising dinner for 35 people in my home. I was the Big Banana that day! The big tired banana.

And then, this weekend. This time, I had a funder for the event (my uncle Jack, who lives in Australia and wanted to host this party but couldn't really plan it at a distance). We started planning last fall. The theme was lilies of the valley. My grandma wanted something simple - but there should be a shrimp ring and no paper napkins. She wanted no alcohol; my uncle wanted people greeted at the door with options of beer and wine. Would we send out invitations? (yes) Would we advertise in the paper? (yes) The decisions were endless, but I still enjoyed almost everything. I forgot a crucial photo in the memory book we had made - which necessitated a reprint. Other than that, the day went swimmingly and my grandmother was delighted to be surrounded by 200 people who adored her.

She was the Big Cheese and I was happy to have my picture taken with her.