Thursday, June 30, 2011

WARNING: Pentecostal Revivals Can Be Dangerous -- Just a Taste of Hattie's Leila

Men, women, and children alike, danced wildly around the room in ways you would never see outside the walls of the Mount Vernon Pentecostal Church. Brother Gordon was jumping up and down; next to him was Sister Hoberne, who was rolling on the floor and flopping like a fish out of water, with her undergarments exposed for the for the world to see.

At last, Brother Shaw’s hands found Mrs. Kendall. One of his palms held the back of her head while the other cupped her forehead.

“In the name of Jesus Christ,” Brother Shaw shouted, “you will be made whole again!” At the same time he pushed forward with the hand on Mrs. Kendall’s forehead sending her flying backwards, one fat leg then the other doing their best to keep her on her feet. It was no use, however, for Muriel was on her hands and knees howling to the roof when her mother backed upon her. Mrs. Kendall was going down, but no one around her reacted, for the entire congregation was hypnotized by the energy in the room. Herbert and I put our hands to our ears in anticipation of the impact.

I believe the windows rattled, and the floor dipped in the spot where Mrs. Kendall landed. There was for sure, a crack on the pew where her head hit.

They said she never felt a thing, poor Mrs. Kendall.

I walked with Herbert on the way home from Church that day, still in shock over the events we had witnessed that morning. Our mother’s had gotten far enough ahead and were so bereft with grief over Mrs. Kendall’s unfortunate demise, they never noticed us with our pastries. The normal after service socializing put most people off from the thought of food, but not Herbert and me. We had both managed to grab an apple tart from the basket on our way out the door.

“Poor Mrs. Kendall,” Herbert said, between bites.

“Poor Muriel, she killed her own mother!” I replied,  as I sucked the sweet glaze off each of my fingers.

“I suppose that would be pretty hard to live with. I wonder if she’ll come back, to church, I mean?” Herbert began pondering that very thought when the idea came to me.

“I’m going to do it,” I said, stopping in my tracks.

“Do what, exactly?” Herbert stopped, interest showed in his eyes as his left eyebrow rose in anticipation of my newest brilliant idea.

“I’m going to get healed,” I announced, as if this was some fantastic idea no one had ever thought of.

“What if you end up knocked out dead, just like Mrs. Kendall?” He asked, bringing up a good point. Judging by the outcome of Mrs. Kendall’s experience, healing was more dangerous than I had previously thought.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Litopia and the Value of Critiques

Before I started writing Hattie’s Leila, I never had reason to give the word “critique” much thought; well it has been four months and I have gotten to know the word well. You could say it’s my ‘favorite word’ these days. I sent pieces of my story to a couple of family members, but only heard crickets in response… not very encouraging, but it is what it is, which is a different story altogether. Desperate for help, I thought it might be a good idea to find a writing group, a place to commiserate with other’s who are on the same journey.  After searching online I came across a group called Litopia.

When I first signed up, I immediately recognized its value. Members are comprised of new writers like me, seasoned authors, agents, and editors from all over the world. The advice and support I have found there has been inspiring as well as informative. Membership is graded, so when you first register you have access to a few of the message boards, but after a while you can request full membership status and submit a chapter to the all-powerful beings in charge. They will read it and either accept you as a Full Member or throw the pages back at you, telling you to try again.  The prize at the end of that tunnel, other than the warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance, is the chance to put your writing out there for critiques. Not everyone gets that warm fuzzy acceptance, some try several times before they succeed, and some never make it.

Well, I am proud to say I made it on my first try! I was taken aback by how emotional I felt the moment I read the email telling me I’d made the cut.  I cried and then walked around the house aimlessly for a day or two, with my head in the clouds. I suppose just the validation I felt knowing someone out there saw something in my writing made me feel the way I did, because truthfully, putting your work out there leaves you feeling vulnerable and at risk for rejection. For a writer, knowing someone is actually reading what you write is very important. There is nothing quite as depressing as when you send it to someone who never gives you even an indication they’ve looked at it, especially when they asked to see it in the first place... again, different story. Well. after the happy dust settled, I wasted no time submitting my first chapter—my hearts soul – for critique.  What I received both inspired and taught me.  I was lucky, for the reviews were positive. They liked my ‘voice’ and the story was good, however, the critiques also brought to light areas where perhaps I was leading the reader off in directions I hadn’t intended and places where backstory could be replaced with dialog; let’s not forget misplaced commas, those nasty little things I hate so much…  The result so far has been a completely different beginning to my story with fuller chapters and more dialog, as well as deeper character development. Oh, and don’t forget better comma placement—those damn commas!

Writing a book is a challenge to say the least, my characters are real in my head, they sometimes ramble, they sometimes do crazy and unexpected things leading my story on different roads than first imagined. Oh and timelines—do not get me started on timelines!  In the end, with my friends at Litopia, I know this story I am weaving will turn out better because of them; I am grateful every day to have such a talented group of comrades to walk with me on this journey.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lessons Between the Covers

I’ve been challenged to write about a book that has changed the way I look at something. Ironically, the hardest part of this challenge, at least for me, was choosing the book. How do you name only one book that changes you? Some books have taught me lessons in life; some have walked, hand in hand along with me, as I’ve learned my own lessons. There is a book of poetry, which without, I do not believe I would be writing today. There is also a book about God, which gave me peace in my heart, and showed me it’s OK to say, “I’m just not sure…”

There are classics, which gave me a deeper appreciation for writing. There are books of historical fiction, which have taught me something fascinating and at the same time, entertained me to tears.

For this challenge, I’ve chosen Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone with the Wind.

I was given the book by my mother, when I was around twelve or thirteen. I had already seen the movie, so I was familiar with the story. There was no doubt I would enjoy it. There was only one problem with the book, as far as my twelve year old self was concerned… It was too big!  I was judging the book by its cover, afraid to start it, because I was foolishly afraid it would never end.

The book sat on my shelf for at least three years. I looked at it now and then, turning its heavy hard cover around, flipping through pages.  Only to set it back on the shelf, until the next time it caught my attention. Finally, on one of those exploratory ‘flip-throughs’, I found the courage to actually start reading it. I struggled with the first sixty or so pages. I found them lacking in interest, leaving me bored and wondering if it would ever get better, an opinion which I still stand by today.

Page by page, I continued to read it, and before I knew it I’d fallen so in love with the story and the people Mitchell created, I could not put it down. By the time I had finished it, I was sad to say goodbye to Scarlett O’Hara, for the movie did not do her justice.

Never again would I judge a book by its length.

This is a lesson I’m teaching my oldest son, who at the tender age of eight, still sees reading as a chore. I see him when he picks a book, the way he holds it and judges it. Sometimes, I will suggest an old favorite, I think he might enjoy….

Does it have pictures?” He asks?

The words will paint the pictures for you.” I tell him.

How many pages does it have? He flips through it with apprehension.

Does it matter, if it’s a good story?” I reply.

Right now, on his shelf in his room, is his version of Gone with the Wind. It’s titled Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was mine, I gave it to him last year. I’ve caught him turning it over, feeling its weight, and flipping through its pages. He knows it’s a good story; he’s seen the film, but like his mother, he’s judging the book by its cover. Eventually, he’ll find himself willing to give it a try. He may put it down, but I have no doubt one day he’ll finish it.