A Book that Changed my Life

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My freshman year of college, I was assigned to read Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, in an English class. We had a brief lecture on it – the professor obviously didn’t like the book, and as I had not gotten my hands on a copy yet and there were not going to be any assignments, I didn’t read it. I gathered there was a scene about a ‘red room’ that was supposed to be scary. That was all I knew.

Fast forward a few years, when I was well out of college and no longer cramming down long reading lists of material, had seen a mediocre film version, and had learned to love Pride and Prejudice, I actually read the book.

It was a transformative experience.

(Spell check is telling me transformative is not a word, but I already looked it up, and Oxford Dictionary says it is, and means what I mean. Spell check loses this round.)

Oh, how I relished that book. I read it over, and over, and over again. I was carrying my first child, (and after that, nursing him), and camped out on the couch a lot. I thought I was done reading it; I could read something else. But the bookcase was next to the couch, and the book was conveniently stored right there – and picking it up again was always so inviting.

The language! The dialogue! The emotion! It just kept working for me.

I moved on to other 19th century British classics – things like Middlemarch and Dr. Thorne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I love so many of them – they are like old friends now. I can’t imagine my life without these books.

But to be honest, I used to feel a little silly about this obsession with 19th century England. Why spend so much time on these books? There’s real life happening out there, and I’m just reading this old, wordy tome that I’ve read dozens of times before. I recall looking up a graduate studies program in 19th century British literature – because I felt obscurely that I ought to do something with this passionate love for Bronte and her contemporaries. But does one really need another critical essay on Bronte? I think there are probably enough of them already.

It wasn’t until I actually started writing a real novel that I began to understand what I had been doing. I had been soaking – in language, in plot, in style, in detail. I wrote a contemporary novel. Sometimes my characters started talking like they were in Austenland, and I had to get them back out again. But I had to start with a familiar world, and reading and re-reading some of the most enduring plots in English literature gave me the tools to actually shape a story.

I wrote two more novels, (Two of these are self-published – the third is still hanging out on Google Docs, in need of some love to get it out into the world.) I had also been reading Father Brown and Lord Peter Wimsey and some of Alexander McCall Smith’s books.  And then I read P. D. James book, Death Comes to Pemberley, a mystery based on Pride and Prejudice.

Then I had an idea.

I knew Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre. I had been drinking in the diction and style of the time period for years, for the pure joy of it all. I had loved mysteries ever since I devoured a watered down Reader’s Digest version of Sherlock Holmes in high school. (One must start somewhere.) I needed a change in my writing life, so I tried my hand at a first chapter and shared it with my husband. He said it was good. (And he never really likes my stuff. He’d rather be reading about wizards or frigates. Bless him.) I wrote about four chapters – and fizzled. I was tired; I have a lot of kids; it was hard to concentrate. But I felt I had something, so I posted what I had on fanfiction.net. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12303773/1/Mrs-Rochester-Mystery-Hour-of-Fatality  I got a handful of positive comments! I was getting page views! It was enough to keep me writing.

It’s been a busy couple of years. I’m finding it tricky to keep track of the sequence of events at this point, but I’m fairly certain our family has grown by two more children since I started this book. Finding the mental space to develop 1) a novel, 2) a historical novel, and 3) a mystery novel, (really, what was I thinking?) has been a challenge. But this week, I finished writing the last chapter. (If you are looking for it on fanfiction, I haven’t posted it yet. It’s not quite typed up. But it’s on paper, which is kind of the big thing on my end.)

I was so excited to be finally, FINALLY, done with the rough draft of this book! There were so many times when I thought I would never get here!

And now I’m kind of sad about it.

But if nothing else, I am glad, that the many, many hours I have spent living and re-living Jane’s fictional life, actually led me to something. And it was something that I could share with other people, and they could enjoy it too. I hope to publish this book someday, somehow. I hope lots and lots of people read it. But I was thinking the other day – suppose I do publish it, and a handful of sweet, kind-hearted readers leave some middling reviews, and nothing much else happens. Am I still glad I wrote it? That I made the vision for this book into a reality?

Yes, yes I am. As Charlotte Bronte herself wrote,

“I have a rosy sky and a green flower Eden in my brain; but without, I am perfectly aware, lies at my feet a rough track to travel.”

I’m grateful to have both her flowery Eden, and my own. It makes the rough track a little easier.

 

 

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Now in print

Recently I carved out some time for a project I’ve wanted to finish for quite a while. My novel Love Divine is now available as a paperback. It’s print-on-demand, and the price is currently $6, which basically covers the cost of printing. I’m not  really looking to earn anything much fro m the project; I just wanted the paperback to be available for my friends who expressed an interest in a hard copy of the book. So it’s here! Via Createspace and Draft2digital and my own attempts at cover design, Love Divine is in paperback.

Where I’m at. Taking a step back.

Just this morning, I came to a decision.

I have been stuck – completely immobilized – on part three of Hope Unbroken. Stuck. Most of it is written. But not all of it. And I can hardly bring myself to open the document. My imagination refuses to have anything to do with it.

I have been holding out hope that eventually I would get a fresh surge to help me make those final touches. The book got stalled out due to a nasty prolonged tooth ache, and then several weeks of morning sickness. Although I am swimming comfortably along in the second trimester now, I have not really made any progress. My first novel, Unromantic, was largely written during the second trimester of a previous pregnancy, but this time around, the crew I already have is at a more needy stage. Life is full, and the time and space for imaginary worlds is just not happening. I’m sad about it, but also relieved. I thought I needed a little break. Apparently I need a long one.

I decided this morning to remove the first two installments of Hope Unbroken from Amazon and Nook. I have found mistakes in both of the free samples available online. Who knows what other problems are lurking in there. In the next day or so, they will no longer be available.

I feel convinced this morning that I am not in a place where I can really produce my best work. Even if I force myself to finish off Hope Unbroken, it will not be what it should be. My heart is not in it. My self-publishing journey thus far has been a totally one shop deal. I have done everything myself, including cover design and editing. It was fun, and the price was right:), but it’s lot of work, and not really something I can do without energy and enthusiasm for the task.

For those of you who purchased the first two installments: thank you. I love you. I hope you enjoyed something in the story. The ending of part two isn’t so bad, really. But if you are dying to know more, I can pass on the rough draft of part three. Send me your email or a message on Facebook, if you would like to have it.

To those of you who have offered support for this story – I can’t thank you enough. I hope that some day, when the fog clears, the story will finally be finished and available, and your encouragement will see its fruition.

I was reading my son’s Life of Fred math book the other day. There was a reference to the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, and included a reminder that it’s okay to slow down and do things right the first time, because it was the tortoise who actually won. So for now, I will be tortoising along.

A New Story Idea

A day or two ago I got an inspiration for a story I started years ago. I let it slide because it seemed too difficult, but I come back to it every so often and this morning it took hold in an opening scene. Thought I would share it. It’s pretty rough and uncut, but any thoughts are welcome.

Chapter One – The Race

The man to the right was reciting a yoga chant while he flexed the muscles in his arms. The woman to the left already had ear buds in and was singing something about the eye of a tiger in a tuneless voice. The starting line was packed so full of people that Kevin folded his limbs over his body to avoid embracing Headphones Woman, which meant he was at constant risk of toppling onto Yoga Man.

He closed his eyes. Lord, have mercy on me. Please don’t let it hurt too much.

The gun fired. Kevin’s contorted limbs leaped into the air while everyone else sprinted forward. He was compelled ahead for a split second by some unseen runner behind him, and then he was bolting into the fray, his footsteps hampered on every side. Now it was a matter of adjusting his stride until the crowd of runners thinned out. He could no longer see Yoga man, but Earphones Woman was several strides ahead.

The runners turned onto Fulsom Street – half a dozen roads had been blocked from traffic for the 5K race – and Kevin turned with them, settling into a stride that was just a little too fast for comfort. His next task was to find something to think about; something that would take his mind off the complaints of his thigh muscles and the gasp in his lungs. It didn’t always work to think about the same thing. Some ideas grew threadbare in time and no longer distracted him. Today he cast his mind on Jennifer. And it worked.

They were going uphill now and his legs churned steadily beneath him. But in his mind, he was saying goodbye to Jennifer again. She had worn a white dress, and her was hair down, and he realized now how intimidating she was, when she was wasn’t in her t-shirt and sweatpants anymore. They had worked out together for two years, and for two years Kevin had loved her. She was his cheerleader, his encourager, his confidante. They talked about everything, didn’t they? At least he did. She always listened so patiently. She sang in the choir and ran like a cheetah and never doubted him or said a single unkind thing to him.

“Even though I’m moving away, I thought maybe we could still talk, you know?”

“Sure,” she said. “Call me anytime.”

“Really?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe you could come out and visit. Or I could come visit you.”

“I would always be glad to see you.” She grew busy with something then. Something in her hands? Was she writing? Yes, he thought so. They were on the downhill stretch now. He always fell behind on the downhill. Runners flew by him in reckless haste. He screwed himself up for the long flat that stretched ahead of him. His calves were singing with quiet pain.

He pictured her face, passive and calm, with her neatly turned nose – he loved her nose – and her white blond hair against her pale cheek. A dull sorrow cut through him, and he forced his legs to move faster.

The road was beginning to clear. Runners had found their pace, and he had a stretch of road to himself. A man in lemon-colored shorts was up ahead of him. He could hear tramping feet somewhere behind, but he wouldn’t waste effort looking back. They were entering a narrow street he couldn’t remember the name of. A knot of people with signs stood cheering at the corner. He didn’t know any of them, but they gave him a loud yell just the same, and he waved in gratitude. No one else was watching this race for his sake.

“I don’t really have to go,” he had said to her. “Sometimes I think I should stay.”

“Why?” She looked at him then, her blue eyes puzzled. He had hoped that she would look intrigued,or relieved, or maybe even happy! But she wasn’t. “It’s a good move for your career. Why wouldn’t you go?”

Lemon-colored shorts turned round a corner. Kevin did the same, but his mind was anywhere but the road. He was only pumping feet, swinging stride, and an ache that ran deeper than the pain his chest.

“I thought there might be something – between us. I was thinking about marriage, and – ”

“No.”

“No?”

She didn’t say I’m sorry. She didn’t even look sad. She went back to writing. “You’re just so weird, sometimes, Kevin.”

Three more strides, his eyes blinded by memory. He didn’t see her until it was too late. He caught a glimpse of her brown eyes looking frightened, just before he brought her down. Something wet and terrifically cold sprayed him. She yelled in his ear and he scrambled away from her. A dark stain of ice water covered her red shirt. He fumbled to his feet – and then he recognized her face.

“Missy! What are you doing in the middle of a race course!”

“Race course? Are you racing?”

“Well, yeah…” He looked around him. No orange cones. No pink tape lining the road. No runners anywhere. “Ah…I must have…left the course.”

She wrinkled her eyebrows at him. She had dark eyebrows that stood out in her face. They struck him as expressive. She was communicating frustration, confusion and condescension just through those eyebrows. “I can’t believe you ran straight into me.” She tugged on the drenched fabric of her shirt. “And you were looking right at me.”

“I’m so sorry. I was thinking about something else.” Great way to leave a good impression on the college staff. Tackle a fellow professor. An awkward silence fell.

“If you’re racing, you should probably go,” she said.

“Right. Ah, sorry about that.”

“I think I’ll live.”

“I owe you one.”

She didn’t answer. She smirked. Why did women have to be so shallow? He turned without another word and jogged back to the way he came. He saw the gap in the line where he had left the race course. He started running again, but his pace was half of what it was before. He looked dully at the road ahead and fixed his mind on it. Ashamed of his memories of Jennifer, ashamed of his encounter with Missy – what little heart he had for the race was already gone.

He crossed the finish line with a last, halfhearted sprint, wiped the sweat from his face with the collar of his shirt, and went silently to the car. Well, he had run his 5K for the year. Check that off the list. He thought about driving to McDonald’s for a Big Mac and fries. To make it worse, he imagined a large shake. Ice cold strawberry. He could already feel the cup in his hand, the cool moisture dripping on his hand.

Instead, he took his bag from the passenger seat and started eating his cold turkey and mustard sandwich. He gulped down a bottle of water, leaned back against the seat, and for ten minutes, drifted into a lovely oblivion of sleep. Somewhere in that oblivion, he met Missy Hannigan again, her arms thrown round him, but she wasn’t frowning this time. He woke up smiling.

Think only on what is pure. He reminded himself, and put Missy’s full figure out of his mind.

“Glad that’s over,” he thought, and drove home with a rising feeling of contentment. He had another whole year before he would make himself do that again. Maybe next time he ran a race, he would have something better to think about.

It’s that time of the year again…

When children start coming down with various illnesses, and a house full of kids turns into a sick ward. Our crew has survived the first round of childhood illness this year, which made Thanksgiving vacation a little long. But it also meant that we were stuck at home a lot, which enabled me to write a short Christmas story that has been in my head for a long time (years at least). It is now available on Amazon.

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Here’s the description:

Doctor John Thompson is charged with finding an empty farmhouse on the day before Christmas Eve. He’s hoping for an idyllic Vermont Christmas. Instead, he finds an +eccentric neighbor wielding a shotgun and the unsolved mystery of a past suicide, while he tries to persuade his teenage daughter and wife to leave New York City behind.

John sets out on an impulsive quest for the perfect Christmas tree, and finds out that healing the past will require more of the Doctor than he ever dreamed of.

This is a short work, approximately 13,000 words, or 45 pages long.

And if you are waiting for the next installment of Hope Unbroken, it is coming very soon!

Advanced Review Copy coming your way…

…if you would like one. Leave a comment if you would like a free electronic copy of my forthcoming title, Best Part of You, (romantic women’s fiction). I’m going to release this story in three parts, to make it easier for me to finish, and easier for you to read. I’m planning to hit publish on the first installment on October 27th.

If you would like an advanced review copy, I’m happy to email you one (just specify which format you prefer, mobi for Kindle, etc.) You are not obligated to leave a review if you do receive a copy, but it’s always appreciated!

You can send an email to leannemckinleyauthor@gmail.com, and I will send it on to you soon.

Is there a reason for why things happen?

I know this is unrelated to fiction, but its something that’s been on my mind and I wanted to share my thoughts.

A friend of mine asked this on Facebook a while back. Someone she knew had committed suicide, and the turmoil of the experience prompted her to ask the question. Although I feel like I have already answered this question for myself, the idea snowballed alongside a lot of other concerns that have been making their appearance in the back of my mind lately. Depression, war, sickness, suicide, loss – it is a season of sadness this year. There are almost daily reminders of the ravages of evil in the world.

Do these things serve a purpose? Are they a part of some greater good that we hope for but cannot see? Or is the universe a purposeless place? Is the pain and heart ache of life a mere by-product of randomness, an incurable, untreatable disease upon the universe?

It’s an easy question to ignore – at least, when life is going according to plan. And yet, when the cold rain falls, I find it almost impossible not to ask, why? Why do these things happen? And when you profess to believe in a good and all-powerful God, as I do, it becomes even more of a challenge. How can we justify such a God in the face of so much evil? Here is my answer, by way of a little biographical information.

There have been many times in my life when I have been faced by something difficult for me, whether it was prolonged unemployment, or struggling with depression; being single, or being overwhelmed as a parent – whatever the trial, if I looked hard enough, I could see a reason behind it. I felt comforted to know that I was growing, I was learning something as a person. I felt that God had a purpose in it.

It was hard work, at times, to get to a place where I could see things in that light. At least, it seemed so at the time. Until I couldn’t do it anymore.

I have four beautiful, awesome, healthy children. They are the most incredible blessing. They are my life. About two years after my second child was born, I conceived a third time, and we told all of our friends and family as soon as we found out. Everything had been just fine before, it would be fine again, right?

No, as it turned out, it would not. At twelve weeks, the bleeding started. I had miscarried. We were heartbroken. The physical experience was overwhelming. The bleeding was so awful that at one point, I blacked out. In retrospect, I think I was anemic. But who knows? I will never really understand.

In the weeks that followed, I dreaded the sound of the telephone. Every time I answered, it was someone who hadn’t heard. I had to tell the bad news all over again. And I simply did not want to talk about it. I couldn’t think about it. I just had to think about something, anything, else. I had little children to take care of, and I had to keep the sadness at bay. I stopped calling people.

A good friend of mine at the time became pregnant. During previous pregnancies, we had always chatted about how our time was going, sharing jokes about the troubles of morning sickness and food cravings. After one conversation , I tried to laugh, and then avoided her for months. She was a good friend, and I just dropped out of her life. I couldn’t bear to talk about my own pain in the midst of her happiness, and I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay. I couldn’t help being angry that I had lost what she had gained.

Not long after, I conceived again. I prayed and prayed and prayed for that baby. I miscarried again. When I pushed my shopping cart past the baby clothes section, I learned to look away. It hurt too much to look.

I conceived a third time in the same year. We were hopeful, but tried to be prepared for the worst. I miscarried again. I have never wanted anything the way I wanted another baby. And at the same time, the thought of a positive pregnancy test terrified me. Emotionally, I was healing a little, but I was a still a mess. I didn’t talk to anyone but my husband about it, and neither of us had much to say.

At that time, we were attending a church in New Mexico that had hired Fernando Ortega to conduct the worship service. He plays beautiful piano music. I remember one Sunday morning, standing in the pew at the start of the service, and this absolutely gorgeous, moving music brought me uncontrollably to tears. I wept and wept and wept. And I thought, first, ‘who’s great idea was it to have Fernando Ortega play the worship music? What are they trying to do to me?’

And I also thought, ‘Why would God do this to me? Three times in one year. Why? Do my prayers mean nothing?’

I felt that I was not simply enduring a hard trial. I felt that God was being cruel, unnecessarily so. Nowhere in me could I find any sense in this.

In all the years of my life previously, I had been able to find some kind of meaning behind the adversity I was facing. God was doing something good, even if I couldn’t see it. I was sure of it. And inevitably, as the pressure slackened and I passed through that rough place, I could look back and see good that had come of it. I cold find ways that I had become a better, or stronger, or more loving person because of what I had been through. But from that point on, that feeling was gone. I simply could not imagine any good that might be achieved by it all.

It would have been easier to believe in a random universe, without wisdom, or meaning or purpose, than to believe that there was a good plan behind all this.

But I did believe in a God who has a good purpose for all things. I still do.

I think, at that point in my life, I learned to live something that as a Christian, I had always tried to believe. We trust that God has a good plan, even when we can’t see it.

The truth is that we really don’t know why God does things. Not in the here and now. God promises that all things work together for those who trust in Him. But we don’t know anything else. All our assumptions about the good work that God is doing in our lives are assumptions. Sometimes it is a real and genuine blessing, to recognize something good that has come out of our trials. But I don’t really know, and I don’t rest my faith on it. What I do know is this.

When I think about my life – when I really stop and think about what’s there, I know that my life is a daily, hourly gift from a good God. From the food on my table, to the unspeakable beauty of my child’s laugh, to the breathtaking blue of the sky, to the miraculous existence of my own body and the complexity of my brain, in the very desire of my soul to know him, I know that God is good. When I think about the great gift of His Son, I trust that God loves me. And because He is good, I trust that He has a good plan for all the workings of my life.

If I feel like that is true, that’s an extra blessing, a gift of God to cherish. Sometimes I don’t feel it. But I believe it anyway.

I’m reminded of the old, and for some familiar, idea of life as a tapestry. A thousands threads woven together to form a picture may have threads of bright and golden colors, and other threads that are dark and coarse and dull. When the work is finished, it will be possible to see how those dark and ugly incidents in life are really necessary to complete the picture, so that all of creation can sing the glory of the Lord.

But here in the midst of this life, we cannot see the finished picture. We can only see the present moment, and whatever share of darkness and heart ache it may contain. It’s a small and limited picture.

I don’t believe in a God who plans and coordinates my good because I can see it happening. It is because of the good that I can see, and I trust the God who has given it to me.

When my third child was born and put into my arms, I was awestruck. He felt like SUCH a miracle. Many people never get that kind of miracle, and I am still grateful.

Things could have been a lot harder. They are certainly harder for many people around me. And life probably has even worse in store for me before my time on earth is done. But I am trying to be thankful for all that God has done for me. I cannot see the big picture, but I trust that He does.

Deaming is Believing

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My new title is on its way to Amazon. It’s pretty much completely different from anything else I’ve published, and I’m not sure if I’ll write anything like it again. I just had this idea one day about daydreams and how much would be revealed about ourselves if other people saw what we imagined, and the absurd difficulties we would be in if they became real – thus my first sorta’ paranormal story was born. The word count is under 10k. It seemed appropriately autumn-ish and I wanted to get a new title out there, however short.

First reviews

Product Details

A few weeks ago, I woke up from a dream in the night in which I had been looking at my novel on Amazon, and it had received several one star reviews. At the time I had not received any reviews for anything.

I would not exactly rank this as a nightmare, but I suppose it does reflect some of the fear that comes from putting one’s work out into the world. I have done my best thus far to remember that anyone’s opinion of my work is not a personal reflection on me, but I don’t always succeed at that. I try to write for myself rather than for anyone else’s good or bad opinion, but it’s a difficult task sometimes. Nothing slows down my writing process more that obsessing about whether or not my work-in-progress is ‘good’.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised this morning to discover that THREE whole reviews for my little Christmas story have been posted. Apparently they were written in January, but now I can actually read them. I’m not exactly sure which of my friends posted them:) but it was really encouraging to see that some of you enjoyed the story and took the time to review it.

It will be a help the next time I’m slogging through a book that seems to be going nowhere.

The story is here, in case you’d like to read it next December:

Good Angels Be My Guard

 

Now in paperback, and other news.

Product Details

Love Divine is officially available in a few different formats now.

For Nook readers, for Kobo readers, and for Apple devices.

It is also available as a paperback through Amazon, (actually through Amazon’s publish-on-demand company, Create Space). All this means is that when you order a copy, they print up a new one for you.

However, I have not yet had a chance to look at the paperback in person, so the cover may be off, and who knows what else. But if you would like to check it out, it can be found here.

Did I mention that I used Draft2digital to do all these wonderful things? They are still in Beta testing, but so far it has been a good experience. If anyone buys the book and finds something that’s off, I would definitely appreciate it if you let me know.

So, there is my news as I inch my way slowly along the path of self-publishing.