Archive | Novel Maters

First Time For Everything

Today’s post from the brilliant Kathleen Popa at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @kathleenpopa

My first kiss was forgettable. I just brought it up to you of course, so obviously I didn’t forget it,   but that is only because I was struck by what a non-event it was. The let-down was memorable beyond words.

His name was Gary. I wish him well.

Ever notice how wonderful first times are when they happen in books?

Around that time I liked to read the kind of love stories where the lead fell haplessly in love with the one man who wanted her dead, and the kisses in those books were nothing short of breath-taking. Lucky for my mental health, that phase was short lived. I read many other kinds of books, both before and after, and they provided me with many of my favorite firsts.

Like the time I picked up A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, read a few lines, and for the first time laughed out loud at the words on a page:

“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

I think it was two years after that when L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz compelled me to view the world through new glasses – or more accurately a green shooter marble I carried in my pocket. Any time I wanted to see the truth behind the illusion, I could pull out that marble and peer through at the world around, and there it was: The Emerald City.

Not long after, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince introduced me to that exquisite pleasure of reading something you know is deeper than your mind can hold, so deep you end up reading it again and again throughout your life, waiting for your mind to grow, waiting till you understand.

Similarly, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey taught me, when I was in high school, that Jesus could be thought of – and talked of – outside of church, and that there was serious thinking to be done about him, that there was a mystery big enough to merit a second look:

“But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy. ” *

It was in high school too, that I first stole a book. I didn’t mean to.

It was an anthology titled Being Alive, and in it were two essays by the poet, Dylan Thomas, and in those essays I found paragraphs like this one:

  “I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War—an ugly, lovely town (or so it was and is to me), crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old men from nowhere, beachcombed, idled and paddled, watched the dock-bound ships or the ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions; threw stones into the sea for the barking outcast dogs; made castles and forts and harbours and race tracks in the sand; and on Saturday afternoons listened to the brass band, watched the Punch and Judy, or hung about on the fringes of the crowd to hear the fierce religious speakers who shouted at the sea, as though it were wicked and wrong to roll in and out like that, white-horsed and full of fishes.”

I only borrowed the book. But then one thing led to another, and I found myself in love. I discovered the deep melting pleasure of sentences written by skilled hands.

And I never took the book back.

You understand, right?

Could you let go of words like those? Could you ever pry your fingers from “ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions?”

I thought not. Because you never forget your first time.

* Editor’s note: a bit of strong language was removed from the J.D. Salinger quote  out of respect for our more sensitive readers. Our apologies to Salinger who, if he was still around, would likely be preparing a very colorful tirade in his own defense. We like you J.D. Truly, we do!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Connecting To the Unseen – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Kathleen Popa of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters @kathleenpopa

It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you my two sons were exceptional? Even if you disagreed – if you’d met them and hadn’t found them special at all, you would at least concede that I would of course think they were, because I am their mom.

You wouldn’t disagree, though.

If you met them, you would find them handsome, kind, bright, creative and engaging. Really. That’s what I always hear from people who go out of their way to tell me. They truly are remarkable.

But what if I said that when I see them, I feel the light that emanates from their souls, I honestly see halos around their heads, I practically hear the angels sing? Well, you might believe me the way Scully believed Mulder ( “I’m sure you thought you saw… “), but you wouldn’t see the halos, and you wouldn’t hear the angels.*

Madeleine L’engle held that we are made like onions, with all the ages we have ever been still layered inside. The infant still lives, as does the two year old, the ten-year-old, the teenager. I believe this is true.

So the reason, I think, that I see these young men so clearly is that I have witnessed the formation of all those layers. Few others — their father does, and my eldest’s mother (I’m his step-mom) — understand the things I know because I was there.

I believe that when, as the Bible predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb, then at that moment we will all see more clearly past our noses into the souls of each other. We will see one another the way I see my boys and be astonished that we ever passed a human on the street without looking up.

Because we will see what was formerly unseen.

Trust me — this all has to do with books.

Over at Novel Matters, we are having a long conversation about why the novel matters, and I believe the answer is connected to all I’ve just said.

The following video is an excellent interview with Eugene Peterson conducted in 2007 at Point Loma Nazarene University. Toward the end of the video (you can drag the slider to 26:11 if you’re in a hurry), he says something I like:

“Imagination is almost, not quite, the same thing as faith. It connects what we see with what we don’t see, and pulls us through what we see to what we don’t see. ”

When an author writes a novel, she must know her characters, layer by layer. She uses her imagination to blend what she knows of her own story with what she knows of the stories of others — some of them people she knows very well.

When you read a book, you use your imagination to flesh out the story the author has given. She has written down the words, but you supply the pictures. You bring to the page what you know of yourself and those you love.

And somehow, when this collaboration works at its best, the result is that you look at the stranger on the street with new eyes. You glimpse the light between the layers. You hear music.

*Their wives might, or if not yet, I think they will. You should meet the man I’ve come to know these past 27+ years. Light and angel songs.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Day In The Life Of A Novelist

NM-SR-Header-BonnieToday’s post comes to us from author Bonnie Grove. Her debut novel, Talking to the Dead is a She Reads winter pick.

I believe every one of us is creative in some way. Some knit, some create scrapbooks, some of us garden, or sing, or have a flair for decorating our homes. There are so many ways to live out God’s gift of creativity. (Reading is another way we can express our creative side †” diving into a novel, experiencing the lives of characters as if their world were unfolding around you †” yes, that is very much part of the creative experience!)

Me? I’m a reader †” just like you. And I’m very fortunate to write novels for a living. I’ve loved books since I was a kid, and to be writing them now is a dream come true †” a real “God thing” in my life. But, like all creative pursuits, it isn’t always smooth sailing.

Have you ever read a book you loved and thought, I wonder what went into writing this book? How long did it take? What does this author’s creative process look like? How do writers come up with ideas?

Well, jump in my dune buggy and I’ll take you for a spin through a day in the life of one writer. Come along with me as I struggle with concepts, wrestle with words, and try to make sense of it all!

There are dishes in my sink, kids to be picked up, laundry to be washed, friends waiting to hear back from me. . . but, I’m busy thinking.

My husband, Steve, rushes in the room. “I’m taking the van in to be serviced, Ben needs to be picked up at school and Heather has swimming lessons.”

“Hmm?” I say, not looking up from my computer screen. “Do you think zinnias grow well this far north?”

“What are zinnias?” says Steve.

I flip to another screen. “Would you describe this color as ‘gun metal’ or ‘stainless steel’?”

“Bonnie,” he sighs. “We really need to get going.”

“Where?” I ask, as I follow him out the door. We climb into the van and I say, “Have you ever picked a lock with a pencil? I mean, do you think it can be done?”

“What are you doing in the van?” says Steve. “You have to take the car to get Ben. And where is Heather?”

I get out of the van and walk around to the driver’s side. I tap on the window. “Do you think people eat bunt cake at funerals most often, or are brownies more common?”

“Finger sandwiches, and don’t forget to pick me up at the garage when you are done at Heather’s swim lesson,” Steve hollers as he drives off.

Pretty good. I fish for the notebook I always keep on me and write ‘fgr sands’. I’m sure I’ll know what it means when I read it later. My daughter, Heather, finds me standing on the driveway scribbling in my notebook. “I’m ready,” she says.

“For what? Hey, Heather, do you think someone could climb up that lattice?” I say, pointing to the structure leaning against the house. “Or do you think it would break?”

“Sure. You could do it, Mommy.” She climbs into the backseat of the car.

I hesitate. She could be right, but she’s only four, and I doubt she knows much about it. I write it down anyway. I’m walking back to the house when I hear Heather call, “Mommy? I have swimming lessons.”

“Oh yeah, uh, I know. I was just going to call Ben.” I holler into the house, “Ben!”

“Ben is at school,” Heather says.

I check my watch. 3:45. I’m fifteen minutes late picking him up.

“How was school?” I say to Ben when I finally reach him.

“We had a substitute teacher. He had a big nose,” He says

“How big,” I say. “Big like a ball of dough, or big like a ski slope?”

“Big like a pickle,” says Ben.

“Wow. That’s really good Ben.”

“It is?”

“Yes. Big like a pickle. Good for you,” I jot it down in my notebook, put the car in gear, and head it toward the pool.

I leave my daughter with a girl I’m reasonably sure is her swimming instructor and sit by the poolside. Soon, I’m transfixed by the movement of the water. I mumble to myself and scratch in my notebook. “Hey Ben, what do you think that water looks like? Besides wavy. You can’t say wavy.”

He thinks for a moment, head tilted to one side. “Bumpy.”

I roll my eyes. Six year olds. But I write it down anyway.

After swimming, I head to the library. The kids run for the children’s section while I get lost in the instructional books. I’m immersed in a passage detailing the invention of toilet paper when my son pokes his head around the bookshelf. “I’m hungry, when are we going home?”

“Soon,” I mumble as, once again, I hear the theme song from The Pink Panther playing loudly. “Why on earth do they keep playing that song over and over again?” I say as I write down the name Joseph Gayette.

“Mommy, your purse is playing that song,” Ben says.

Oh, yeah. Steve downloaded it as a ring tone for my new phone. Rats. “Hello?”

“Bonnie,” says Steve. “Where are you?”

“The library, of course. Did you know the ancient Romans used wool soaked in rose water as toilet paper?”

“No. I’ve been waiting for over an hour. I’ve called and called.”

“Waiting for what? Hey, Steve, only fourteen percent of households had bathtubs in 1907.”

“Good to know. Please come and pick me up at the garage.”

“The garage? What are you doing there?”

Later that night, I lay in bed exhausted. I lean over and kiss my husband goodnight. “I’ll be glad when this book is done,” I say. “You don’t know how consuming writing is.”

He smiles and says, “Oh, I think I do.”

You can read the first chapter of Bonnie’s book, here.

You can learn more about Bonnie on her blog or at Novel Matters.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more