Fall from Grace: Launched!

The book is launched! Fall from Grace was officially released September 1. I hope it finds its readers, and that they like it.

Every author approaches launch day, I’m sure, with the same amount of joyful anticipation and fearful dread. An optimist at heart, I always think, “this is the one.” This is the book that will propel me on to a best-seller list, that will have agents and editors scurrying to respond to my queries, that will result in more and better contracts and a ditching of the day job.

The flip side of this sunny scenario? The book does none of those things.

And yet…and yet, I’m grateful to be a published author, to have people buy and read my books, to have found this “job,” one that never bores me, that always inspires me, that gives my life joy.

Some sweet tidbits from launch week:

Radio interviews:

Author and talk show host Eric Metaxas interviewed me on his show for nearly an hour! Here’s the interview on SoundCloud.

What a thoughtful host he was! I was already in awe of him before the interview for the beautiful, best-selling biography he’d written of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Protestant minister who defied Hitler and paid with his life for it. But Mr. Metaxas is not just intelligent and intellectual; he’s also…kind.

Authors are advised, when doing radio interviews, to mention the title of their book often, instead of just saying “my book” or “my novel.” But Mr. Metaxas handled that for me, saying “Fall from Grace by Libby Sternberg” numerous times throughout the interview. He’d also taken the time to look at my website and knew about my other books and my background. What a delight! I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Another online interview took place with Ed Morrissey, a devout Catholic and leader at the political blog Hot Air. Ed and I have emailed over the years, and I did some writing for Hot Air back in the day. But we’d never actually spoken to each other. So it was great fun talking to him on his show. Here’s a link to that confab.

Last but not least, I did a book signing at Bethany Beach Books Labor Day weekend, while we were there for a big family-vacation reunion. As the signing approached, I began to regret scheduling it since signings can be a little depressing if you’re not a best-seller, and it would take time from moments with my family. But a good reporter from a local newspaper interviewed me beforehand, and wrote this lovely article. And…I snagged the Best Book Signing Photo Ever in my life — me with two of my darling grandchildren!

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All in all, not a bad launch week. I might not be a best-seller (yet!), but I’m a happy writer.

Fall from Grace by Libby Sternberg is available wherever books are sold.

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Tender moments

Do novelists have favorite scenes in their books? I do. These are usually the episodes I can barely restrain myself from writing, climactic moments I’ve mulled even from the time I put the1 first words on the computer screen.

Sometimes, they distract me from the day-to-day plodding through the story, and I end up writing them early, way before my characters stumble into the dramatic scene, changing them to more perfectly suit the story once I come to them in the time line. Then I fit them in, a puzzle piece in the jigsaw.

These are the moments that authors look forward to when rereading the book over and over through the editing process, when having to look at your own words so many times scares you because you fear your story is too boring, too banal, too everything but good. At least, you think to yourself, there’s that big scene coming up that I know will deliver, no matter how many times I reread it.

But for my September release, Fall from Grace, the scene that I treasure most is not melodramatic. Not even dramatic, actually. It’s a moment of stillness when my main characters, Eli and Ruth, have settled in Dover, Delaware, not far from their original home together. And even though they have come to a place of detente with each other, doubt and frustration simmer beneath the surface. No spoilers there, for those who want to read the book but haven’t yet.

In this scene, Eli, the man who’s sinned spectacularly, in ways that shamed his wife, now works from home as a consultant, and their daughter is in school. And while he first rebelled against this new life, he now finds peace in it.

It was fall. Light streamed through the window, and the sweet smell of mown hay wafted through the screen along with cozy warmth. It was Indian Summer here, a balmy-warm respite between the air-conditioned prison of summer and the heated jail of winter. He’d promised to take Becca apple-picking after school. He looked forward to it.

Haven’t we all be in that place, where  a stillness after a struggle or challenge of some kind drenches us in a kind of grace, a feeling of peace and rest…even as we realize our struggles might not be over or new challenges are ahead?

But how sweet to rest in that moment when it finds us–and I do think it finds us, not the other way around. How tender those moments are.

So whenever I had to reread Fall from Grace during first line edits, then copy edits, then final proof, I looked forward to that spot in the story where one of my characters was blessed with a time of grace.

I felt blessed to receive a lovely notice of Fall from Grace in the Midwest Book Review this week:

“Truly a novel for our times by an author with a genuine flair for deftly created characters and engaging storytelling from beginning to end, Fall From Grace is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.” Midwest Book Review

Like all authors, I hope my book does well. And I hope readers experience Eli’s moment of exquisite peace many times in their lives.

Fall from Grace is available now here. And at other bookseller sites. If you’re in Bethany Beach, Delaware over the Labor Day weekend, stop by Bethany Beach Books on Sunday, September 3. I’ll be signing copies of the book from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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Why didn’t I start writing earlier?

I’ve often told the story of how I started writing fiction seriously in my forties. In a nutshell, I was going through a period of “self-unemployment” (I was self-employed as a freelance writer/communications specialist), and was in a period of transition between clients, wondering if I should continue down the same path. My sister, who knew how much I loved writing, kept telling me I should write romance novels. Finally, I listened to her. I bought some romance novels, read them, thought “I can do this,” and the rest is history (uh, learning it’s not so easy being the first step).

Why did it take me so long? Why did I pursue two music degrees instead of studying writing or something comparable?

SloaneHallFront

A book I’m very proud of.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious that I should have pursued writing fiction as a career earlier. I loved storytelling from the time I was a girl. I remember writing a play with my sister, something melodramatic, as a child. I penned short stories as a teen and young adult. The most exciting assignment for me in high school English was when the teacher asked us to write our own ending for John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which we were in the middle of reading. My heart was on fire penning that story, something that today might be called fan fiction.

And I continued writing fan fiction before it had that title. I wrote Star Trek stories. I wrote a story based on the television show Here Come the Brides, part of a birthday “gift” for a friend (I wonder how much of a gift it was to have to read my story!). And even after I went off to college, a music conservatory, I loved writing. I still remember the praise from the conservatory English professor for a story I’d written for a class assignment.

I even wrote stories in language class. When our Italian teacher gave us an assignment to write something about Easter, I didn’t pen some dry tale using vocabulary and tenses suitable for Italian 101. I decided to write a real story of an Easter memory as a child, something with humor and poignance. The teacher loved it, laughing as she read it, even as her red pen hovered over all the mistakes I’d made. It didn’t matter. I’d written a story that touched her. I aced it.

Yet none of this pushed me toward pursuing writing fiction as a career. Neither did actually making a living as a writer. You see, at some point, I ended up working in a PR office where my writing skills were noticed and valued. I was promoted, and then when I left to stay home with my growing family, I continued as a freelance writer, eventually picking up a number of trade organizations as clients. Yet, even getting checks for my writing didn’t convince me that maybe I should give writing fiction a try professionally. Not even that.

Why not? I think a large part of my reticence to embrace this career was rooted in my middle-class upbringing. Oh, it wasn’t that being a writer would be viewed as a pipe dream in my family. After all, my parents lovingly embraced and encouraged my singing aspirations. But something in me believed that people like me, people from a working class family, with no knowledge of the classics outside of school, didn’t become novelists. That was for folks who went to places like Yale or Harvard or Princeton, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s alma mater.

Come to think of it, maybe I thought of it as a man’s career. Or, if you were a famous woman author, you still went to prestigious universities and were from a completely different social set.

I put myself down, in other words, because I thought my background too humble, too suburban, too ordinary to qualify me as a professional storyteller. Keep in mind this was also at a time when suburban life was ridiculed and demeaned, that those of us happily living in our split levels and  modern ranchers were made to feel incapable of serious thought, while hip city dwellers ruled the cultural world.

This unworthiness feeling continued even after some publishing success. Yes, I managed to get published in the romance genre, but I’d never be taken seriously as a serious writer because…well, reread the above.

Fall_From_Grace_COVER

My latest – hurry, get one!

I also think I harbored the notion that because writing seemed easy to me — it always surprised me when I was complimented on my writing because it wasn’t hard for me — that easy meant it wasn’t worthwhile. Crazy, huh?

When I look back now and wonder what would have opened the door for me mentally to pursue writing fiction earlier, I think it might have been a combination of things. Maybe if I’d been exposed to working authors at some point, in career days or just going to book signings, I would have seen it was an entirely accessible opportunity for me. Maybe if I’d read more about the business of writing, the mechanics of proposal submission, for example, it would have taken some of the mystery from the process, made it more accessible. I started writing before the internet age, after all, before such information was at the tip of one’s fingers.

All I know is I’m glad I did take the leap eventually. And I’m glad to live in an age now where the things that held me back shouldn’t be stumbling blocks for other new authors.

My latest novel, Fall from Grace (Bancroft Press, September 2017), is now available for pre-order in the Kindle store! Click here to go on over and grab a copy!

 

 

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Why’d I write this book anyway?

Fall from Grace will be released in a little under a month (September 1, 2017), and I just know my fans (all ten of them, ahem) are eager for insights into why I wrote the novel, what kind of story it is, and…other stuff. 🙂 So, here’s a handy Q and A for those who might be interested in picking it up. And it is available for preorder now! Yay! Hop on over to Amazon pronto and get a copy before they run out – here. They do run out at Amazon, right? Right? So you need to be sure to get your order in now!!

What inspired you to write Fall from Grace?

Fall_From_Grace_COVERAs with most novelists, my inspiration came from a “what if” question. I was intrigued by the scandal involving Josh Duggar (of the Nineteen Kids and Counting TV show), and I wondered what if he made his way back to his wife, family, and faith—what would that journey look like?

 

What kind of story is Fall from Grace?

It’s a love story: the love between Ruth and Eli—can it survive? And it’s about Christ-like love—how does one truly live a Christian life, what sacrifices does that entail?

 

For Ruth and Eli, what are those sacrifices?

It becomes obvious fairly early that they both must sacrifice their earlier beliefs about what God expects of them and what they should be doing with their lives. Eli must also confront the sacrifice of possibly letting Ruth go after discovering how deeply he still loves her.

 

How did your religion impact the characters and plot?

I was raised Catholic but now belong to an Episcopalian church (“Catholic light” – all the ritual and one-third less guilt, the old joke goes!). I have worked with evangelical Christians on education issues. And I have a Baptist sister-in-law, as well as Jewish and atheist and agnostic relatives. I have a great deal of respect for all of these people and their beliefs, even when they don’t mesh with mine. My faith journey was a small one compared to Eli and Ruth’s, but I know how one can wrestle with whether to stay in one’s “native” denomination or change, how you can feel a tug back toward your first experience with religion. But Fall from Grace is not about theology or canon law or church edicts. I’m no theologian, and I deliberately kept out of the book characters quoting a lot of Scripture. I wanted the story to focus more on the broader struggle of these two people finding the meaning of love in the personal and spiritual sense, not the “angels on the head of a pin” type of arguments.

 

How did your respect for evangelicals color the story?

As I mentioned, I’ve worked with people whose faith is more Bible-literal, who probably fall more into the fundamentalist category of Christian faith. And they were beautiful people. It always bothered me that they and their faith would often be made fun of or caricatured in popular culture, or that public figures would denounce their views as if they were members of the Westboro Baptist Church. So I wanted to draw a sympathetic portrait of them.

 

At one point in the story, you wrote that Ruth and Eli were looking for a church that was “reasonably comfortable that didn’t offend…” What did you mean?

In the novel, both the very conservative Baine family and the very liberal Protestant minister Rev. Pete Markham use their churches as proxies for political advocacy. Even if they are not preaching it constantly from a pulpit, their implicit message is “You’re not a good Christian unless you believe in ___________.” For the Baines, that blank might be filled with things like “traditional marriage, literal interpretations of Scripture, etc.” For Pete, the blank would be filled with things like “taxing the wealthy, gay marriage, etc.” So they both use a holier-than-thou approach that Ruth and Eli grow tired of. They want a church that helps them explore their relationship with God, with the world, and especially with each other.

 

Have you or anyone close to you experienced a transformation like Eli and Ruth do?

Not in the dramatic way they go through it. I think many people experience transformation throughout life, to one degree or another, and it can be a slow process, not immediately evident during the process itself.

 

Both Eli and Ruth stray from church during certain points in the story. How does one practice religion in times of doubt and hopelessness?

I think the answer is a word in the question: practice. You just keep practicing, putting one foot in front of the other. And you hope that “bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

 

Both Eli and Ruth end up having deeper relationships with their counselors, Frederick and Lisa, and their counselors seem to reciprocate their feelings. How did these relationships affect the counselors, and their roles in Eli’s and Ruth’s lives?

Both Frederick, Ruth’s counselor, and Lisa, Eli’s counselor, end up having feelings for their respective clients. And both counselors, in important ways, help Eli and Ruth. To me, they represented a Christ-like love—nonjudgmental, all-encompassing, pure, and requiring some sacrifice. Lisa, in particular, was a favorite character to write. She was sassy, no-nonsense, and deeply spiritual. You never knew her political beliefs for sure (even if you guessed she was on the same page with Pete). She loved…without hating. In other words, she loved unconditionally, even if she disagreed with those she loved. She didn’t hate them. It would be wonderful to have many Lisas in one’s life.

 

Eli struggles to get over the fact that he’s lumped together with all the “bad guys” in rehab and at counseling, which delayed his progress. Since he was repentant, why’d he fight rehab so much?

I actually found myself sympathizing with Eli when writing his resistance! He wasn’t a pedophile or a sexual predator, yet he was made to join in therapy sessions with men like this, as if his transgression were on the same level as theirs. And if his family hadn’t been celebrities, he might have gotten away with a far more low-key approach to counseling and a faster return to his life, for good or ill. He had to come to realize, though, that his atonement wasn’t relative to others’ sins. It only concerned his own.

 

What do you want readers to learn from Eli’s and Ruth’s story?

Hope. That there’s always hope for change, for something better. That love transforms lives. That God is love.

Fall from Grace is now available for pre-order here and at other e-tailers. 

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Take Me to Church

“Take me to church” is a song by Hozier, an Irish musician. If you’ve not heard it, it’s, er, not about going to church. The title (and refrain line) is a metaphor for something else, physical love. But it’s a powerful, wrenching wail of a song, and I don’t clutch my pearls or run to a fainting couch over its overtly sexual message or its lament over how churches can unnecessarily burden people with shame. (There’s a parental warning on the music video. It contains violence and love between two men, but no graphic sex.)

I’m sure it speaks to many young people. And that leads me to the question at the heart of my little essay here: How do we who enjoy church, who believe it is valuable, get young people, the same ones, say, who are moved by Hozier’s song, to go to church, to participate in religions they might have grown up in but now turn away from?

A recent article posted by Sam Eaton at the Faith It website addresses this question with a list of 12 suggestions. You can read it here. Many of Eaton’s ideas are great, but I’ll confess I shrugged my shoulders at some, wondering if they’d really make a difference.

But the article stuck with me, taking me back to my own days of being a “yute,” thinking of my own three children, who fall into the millennial category. Two of them are regular churchgoers while the other is spiritual and goes to church, quite willingly, with family but isn’t attached to a particular one she seeks out regularly.

To think about the questions I posed above, though, you first have to ask a question many millennials probably pose to themselves: Is church necessary? Is it absolutely necessary for salvation, for a relationship with God, for living a Godly life or being a good Christian. And, to be brutally frank, the answer is…probably not. One can live a perfectly beautiful life as a loving, giving Christian, as a devout believer to the depths of one’s soul, and I somehow doubt God will be checking your church attendance record when you stand at the pearly gates.

Without consulting any surveys or polls, I suspect that’s where many young people are today, not going to church because they don’t see it as the be-all and end-all of how to lead a good, spiritual life with a daily connection to God or the gospel. It doesn’t mean they don’t think about God.

We have to face that if we want to attract young people to church, we people of a certain, ahem, age (when asked the year of my birth now, I tend to mumble…). We have to understand that for many young people, church simply isn’t a priority, and they don’t view nonattendance as sinful.

Okay, then, if that’s the case, what will lure them to the red doors? And to answer that question, I ask myself: What do I get out of church, and what do I want young folks to get out of it?

First, if young people showed up at my church, they’d see a sea of white and gray hair. The average age of our parishioners is in the mumble-mumble area. And while millennials are perfectly capable of being polite and nice to their elders, chatting up a granny probably isn’t high on their list of fun things to do.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we need to look for ways to make worship “fun” or “relevant” for them. If they come to worship, the focus is on God and away from our own needs. Sometimes it’s about boosting our neighbor up in his/her focus on God. There are Sundays when I’m tired and don’t want to go to church, but I go because I know there might be people there who need to see other people standing with them. e69ee70e4c409afbe64b1e07af353f43

And that’s a ministry of sorts that kindhearted millennials will surely understand…once we get them through the doors. They’ll understand, because they’re smart, that going to church is about gathering in a community of love and support where people lift each other up…to God.

So my one big suggestion for getting them there is to first attract them to the idea of church community by ministering to their needs, lifting them up by helping them. And–don’t laugh at me–but I think one of those needs is fairly simple: the need for a place to socialize that doesn’t cost anything.

Back in the day (before I mumbled my birth year), the Catholic church was my home (now the Episcopalian one is). One of the Catholic church’s ministries was the Catholic Youth Organization, or CYO. I’m sure CYOs did lots of things, but the one thing I remember most about them was their social aspect. CYOs sponsored dances–at churches, Catholic schools. The CYO at my parents’ last church was a regular weekend gathering place, a meeting of youths in the rectory basement where they’d chat, laugh, and play cards with the pastor.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches provided that kind of space, even bringing bands in sometimes, for young people who don’t have much money to spend but who have time on their hands on Friday nights? What a ministry that would be, not just for the church’s youth but for youth in the wider community! (And I’m sure there are churches that do this.)

If you’re still reading — I do go on! — I’ll repeat my general suggestion about attracting young people. It’s pretty simple. We need to find ways to minister to them, to show, rather than tell the Gospel message by thinking about what they need, what they want, and…providing it. With no strings attached, no looking over the tops of our reading glasses and tapping our feet waiting for them to walk the few steps from the parish hall into the church itself. Our job isn’t to judge, it’s to love.

Maybe they will take those few steps…eventually. Maybe not right away, maybe when they’re down the road a little, when they’re starting families of their own. And maybe sporadic church attendance will turn into regular attendance as they realize this place, this Godly place, has been good to them, it has filled them with hope, it has shielded them and will do so “as long as life endures,” that it is a place of…Amazing Grace.

Libby Sternberg is an author whose novel Fall from Grace will be released this fall by Bancroft Press. 

 

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High Summer Holds the Earth

The title of this post comes from a sweet poem by James Agee, “Sure on this Shining Night.” It has been set to music by Samuel Barber and others (Morten Lauridsen has a lovely choral version), and I include links at the end of this post to two performances.

To me, the poem captures that feeling of blissful peace that summer mornings and evenings can trigger. “All is healed. All is health,” writes Agee. “Hearts all whole.”

When viewing our garden of blue hydrangea, pink roses, purple lavender, and more, and when listening to the cheerful chatter of catbirds, the chirping of cardinals, the whistling of robins, the squawking of bluejays, it’s as if we were in Eden, my husband and I, sitting on our patio surrounded by lush greenery and scampering wildlife. It silences me, and that’s saying something since I, like the catbird, can’t seem to stop myself from chattering.

18955070_1496000777124927_8476757496991873269_oThis summer has already brought joy and sorrow, but mostly it’s brought peace. On the joyful side of the story, we’ve been blessed with a new grandchild, a beautiful baby girl named Filomina Mae who is as precious as a new baby can be.

And on the sorrowful side, a choir friend has passed away after several months in health care facilities.

All of this makes one “weep for wonder,” as Agee’s poem goes, wonder at the beauty of the world, at the cycle of life and death, of the desire for a stillness that can capture all of this and have it make sense and meaning. I wonder if that’s why Agee weeps “for wonder at shadows on the stars,” if he cries for his lack of ability to truly capture the greatness of creation as appreciation wells up in his heart.

When I was a child, spring and summer, the warm seasons, were my favorite times of the year. Summer meant no school, of course, and I especially remember with delight a mild sunny day when I and some friends lay on a blanket in the shade of a tree quietly reading or jotting notes in those marble cover notebooks of yore. I remember the existential ache that Agee’s poem evokes, wanting to make that serene day the benchmark for all others, yearning for it to be a guidepost toward deeper meaning. 18955073_1496000670458271_6770429931937764373_o

Older, somewhat wiser, I now recognize that you must carry “high summer” in your heart, no matter the season, that its feeling of love–you loved me enough to give me this, God?--should color every day, no matter how gray or cold. That’s a hard task sometimes when large worries and petty irritants can distort perspective. It’s no wonder we “weep for wonder,” contemplating the beauty of high summer, as we realize how awfully, awfully hard it is to retain that sense of awe and appreciation throughout the year.

SURE ON THIS SHINING NIGHT by James Agee

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Sure on this Shining Night by Samuel Barber, sung by tenor Kyle Bielfield.

Sure on this Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen, sung by Vox Humana chorus

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, Fall from Grace, will be released September 2017.

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FREE for a few days: light works by Libby Malin

When I first started writing, I used my married name, Libby Sternberg, to pen my first book, a young adult mystery (that went on to become an Edgar finalist). Then, Harlequin bought my humorous women’s fiction (“chick lit” it was called back then), Loves Me, Loves Me Not, and I decided I should write that kind of fiction under a different name so my throngs of YA fans wouldn’t pick it up expecting to find YA. Throngs. Ahem.

Anyway, I wrote that Harlequin book under the name Libby Malin. Thus started my split-personality writing life (I write in different genres — you can read about that here.) Libby Sternberg books are either YA or more serious adult fiction. Light, often humorous, novels are written by my alter-ego Libby Malin.

And Libby Malin has a number of books for free for a few days at the Amazon Kindle store. Libby Malin hopes these freebies generate interest in these lighter works. She’s working on a new one right now, and when it is released (by a publisher, herself, the Man on the Moon), she hopes new throngs snatch it up. More about that release after the serious Libby Sternberg’s new book, Fall from Grace, is published in the
fall.

Here are the freebies available at the Kindle store for a few days. Get them while the price is right — zippo! Click on the titles to be taken to the Amazon pages!

Rodeo Robin Hood: In Texas hill country, an out-of-work
college instructor meets her old crush while working at a Renaissance fair. Sparks fly.

Winning the Beauty’s Heart: A retelling of “Snow White” in the Texas hill country.

Woman with a Parasol: An exploration of a mother’s love.

Smart Cookie: A food network films a group of friends…and lovers…for a restaurant makeover show …what could go wrong?

If you grab one of these freebies, please read and…offer a review on Amazon! Those reviews mean the world to authors and can help others find books you like.


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