Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Icing on the Cake

The Kindness of Strangers was selected to be the 2010 pick for Clinton County Reads. The program included several different discussions at libraries throughout the county, a reading at the wonderful Books’N’More, and the closing dinner at the General Denver Hotel.

Jennifer, the chef at the General Denver (that's her, in the second photo) asked me for the recipe of that decadent chocolate-raspberry-caramel cake that’s featured in the opening and closing chapters of Kindness. I sent it on and she very graciously made it for the dessert of the closing event. It was di-vine! And she managed to make it pretty, too. I always tell people this is not an attractive cake, but it sure does taste good. Jennifer made it look as good as it tastes! You can see Nancy Ehas (director of the Wilmington Public Library and chair of the CCReads Steering committee) and me enjoying the cake in the third photo.

My remarks that night centered on the theme that it “takes a village” to write/read a book, protect our children, be an informed people, and define our values. (Thanks and credit to my brilliant friend Mary Tom Watts for that line. She came up with that during an email exchange about my closing remarks).

It certainly takes a village to write a book, even though writing first begins with the very solitary act of sitting alone in a room and putting words on a page. Multiple villages of people helped me along the way.

A village of the most remarkable people helped me as I began the research on this novel. Since April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, it seemed especially fitting to praise the real people who spend their days protecting very real children. I worked with police officers, pediatricians, social workers, and child psychologists. I’m especially grateful to CARE House and the incredible organization Darkness to Light.

That incredible, kickass village of independent booksellers certainly helped! They got the book into the hands of readers. Book clubs are another amazing village. I firmly believe booksellers and book clubs are responsible for keeping new fiction alive and healthy in our culture.

I love book clubs with all my heart because they’re like an English class for only the really cool kids who really want to be there.

An all-community read is like one big giant book club. The idea of it is wonderful. What a point of connection, to know that someone has read a book you’ve also read, and to use that book to connect not just to the book’s content, but to each other.

I love books that make me think, that immerse me in new worlds. I know Kindness took readers to a world many would never willingly choose to explore. I know that was a lot to ask. I thank Clinton County for taking the journey, for taking a chance on fiction that took them to a dark place...because the point was to come out on the other side of darkness into light.

To push back our horizons, to occasionally step beyond our comfort zones is good for us. It keeps us fresh, it keeps our minds open. An all-community read is a village deciding to push back those horizons together, to challenge each other communally, to open a new dialogue.

I thank Clinton County for inviting me to be a member of their village for this event. That was honor enough. That fabulous meal and the chocolate-raspberry cake? That was just the icing.

(That crew in the first photo? That's a village of extraordinary, wonderful people who make up the CCR Steering Committee! From L: Marla Stewart (owner of Books 'N' More), Joy Brubaker, Mary Tom Watts, me, Bonnie Starcher, Chris Owens, Nancy Ehas. Not pictured, Sandy Neville, who was gallivanting in Chicago.)

Waiting for Germination

Today it’s 65 degrees. The sun is shining and buds are bursting everywhere—magnolias, pears, weeping cherries, dogwoods, redbuds, and forsythia all dropping their petals like confetti. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths scatter lawns and woods, all against the backdrop of that plastic-Easter-basket-grass green of the new grass and tree buds. Almost overnight, Ohio has turned into a Monet painting. All is lush and full of promise.

The danger for me in this season is the distraction of the garden. I’ve spent many a happy hour out in the garden already, weeding, pruning, preparing new beds. It’s still too early to plant much except for cold crops and hardy perennials, but my writing office is full of seedlings I started indoors five weeks ago—tomatoes, peppers, hollyhocks, lavender, thyme, zinnias, and celosia. I was about to toss out my little containers of columbine when finally!—one morning at long last tiny little green threads poked up through the seed starter. I’d continued to water them and move them from sunny spot to sunny spot, even though I’d become convinced they were dead. A lesson in patience.

I’ve been chugging along on a young adult novel and I’ve felt like I’m about to write the ending for over a month now. Every single book is so different, but this one initially unfolded for me at such a rapid, exhilarating pace...but has now has become a lesson in patience itself. Or maybe more a lesson in faith. I thought I knew where it was heading, but at “the end” new ideas and developments kept coming faster than I could keep up. Discovery is the true joy of a first draft, so I’m not complaining, but it’s odd to have felt so close to the end about a hundred pages ago! (Obviously, lots of revision will be in order).

The manuscript is in that murky place, like those columbine seeds, where I’m not quite sure what’s going on. I have to trust. I have to keep showing up to nurture it along.

The weekend before last I planted outdoors. I planted spinach, Swiss chard, beets, radishes, peas...and yet another new plot twist. Waiting for germination for them all! Happy spring!