Monthly Archives: February 2020

Oops, I did it again

A couple years ago, I very happily reported here that I’d sold a “book of my heart,” which is a term authors use to describe a book they’ve written not to market trends but because they felt compelled to tell that particular story.

That book, Fall from Grace, was released by Bancroft Press in 2018. My favorite review of it came from Midwest Book Reviews, which called it “a novel for our times.”

As I reported at the time, it was a novel that didn’t fit easily into any of the categories traditional¬† publishing houses use to market books to booksellers (stores, in particular). It was a faith-drenched book about a broken marriage, but it dealt with mainline Protestantism and evangelicals, their world views, how people in both groups try to live Godly lives, even if they don’t always agree on what that means.

The book was dinged by some readers who posted reviews on Amazon, but it was clear these readers were expecting a traditional Christian fiction read, an “inspirational” novel where there’s no hint of impropriety, not even a mild curse word. (For my thoughts on that, here’s a post about Christian fiction.)

To that censorious reader, I offer a proactive apology: Sorry, but I did it again. I wrote another novel with faith issues that contains bad language at times. I haven’t sold this novel yet to a publisher. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’ll self-publish it at some point.

Titled The Reed Boat (for now, at least), here’s the story:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds a key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make for their children, The Reed Boat is ultimately a story about mothers protecting children from unscrupulous men.

The reason this book will probably be a hard sell in the publishing world is because it contains a subtle pro-life message. Trust me, it doesn’t hammer the issue or hit you over the head with it. If you’re among the majority of Americans who want abortion to remain legal but only under certain circumstances (53 percent, according to Gallup in 2019), then this story will not offend.

gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048I suspect, however, that the publishing world isn’t filled with those kinds of Americans. I suspect the publishing world is populated by people who hold the view that abortion should be legal under any circumstance, with no restrictions at all (25 percent, according to the Gallup poll mentioned above). So even if a book is primarily about keeping innocents safe from men who might harm them, it will have a hard time finding a home in the publishing world if there’s even a hint of sympathy for the pro-life stance.

I’d love to be proven wrong on that. If there’s an editor out there reading this who doesn’t hold that view, I’ll happily send you a copy of the manuscript.

What about Christian fiction publishing? Maybe it might fit there, but not in Christian romance, because The Reed Boat has no clear romance HEA. And I do include some language that those publishers might believe is problematic.

Again, I’d enjoy being proven wrong on this supposition, as well, and I’d gladly email the book to Christian fiction editors willing to give it a read.

I’m happy to report, in fact, that there is, as of this writing, one editor looking at the manuscript, and I’m querying some agents, too, about it, most of whom I’ve not yet heard from. It’s early days yet, though, on that process.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will eventually … sail. But I do know sometimes authors feel compelled to tell a story, whether it’s their muse or the Spirit moving them. The Reed Boat is that kind of story for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

If  emotive storytelling appeals to you, then hurry and place Courting Mr. Lincoln, a historical novel by Louis Bayard, in your Amazon cart.

The “courting” in this tale is twofold: set in the early 1840s, it tells how Joshua Speed educates Lincoln in society’s ways so he can actually court Mary Todd, who is in Springfield, Illinois visiting her sister with marriage on her mind. Young, frontier-rough Abe Lincoln is a boarder in Joshua Speed’s rooms above Speed’s general store. The two men share a bed, in fact, something not unusual at that time.

They also share a deep friendship, a love for each other, and a great respect for virtues of fidelity and honesty. Those characteristics cause Abe the most pain, when he comes to realize that his toast to “bachelorhood” is taken by Speed as an oath:

“I thought we made a vow,” (Speed) said. “Never again to think of marrying, do you remember? Because we couldn’t be satisfied with anybody who’d be blockhead enough to have us. We made a toast to bachelorhood. To brotherhood. Do you recall?”

Lincoln agonizes over breaking this “vow,” such as it is, without adequately taking into account Speed’s feelings, which have grown very deep for this unusual blossoming politician who already seems to have a great destiny before him. Some historians speculate if this relationship was more than friendship.

Both men end up leaving each other for marriage. Speed eventually marries Fanny Henning after returning to his native Louisville, Kentucky, and Lincoln weds Mary Todd, but not without first breaking their engagement, as he sorts out, in this telling, if he’s worthy of her and whether he’s been unfaithful to his friend and that “oath” they made to each other.

The story is told from two alternating points of view, both in third-person: Joshua’s and Mary’s. Mary Todd has received some shabby treatment over the years, with an emphasis on her involuntary commitment to a mental institution years after her husband’s death, so it was refreshing to read this sympathetic take on her character. Bayard paints a portrait of a wildly intelligent woman who was Lincoln’s equal intellectually, perhaps the main reason he was attracted to her. Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 6.58.44 AM

Louis Bayard is a master at historical fiction, using details about dress, etiquette, speech, and more to set you smack-dab in the time he’s placed his stories. In Courting Mr. Lincoln you can smell the mud-clogged streets of 1840 Springfield, Illinois, hear the buzz of horse flies when windows are left open in warm weather, see the perspiring faces of party-goers crammed into small rooms with blazing hearths. You’ll want to read more of his oeuvres after this well-done novel, and perhaps more history of Lincoln, too. I’ve already ordered the book of letters from Lincoln to Speed that Bayard mentions in his acknowledgments.

One final note: If you go to Amazon to order this book, you’ll see it’s highly ranked in “LGBT” literary fiction and historical fiction. It is definitely a story of male love, but it is in no way sexually explicit. It is first and foremost a beautiful story of transcendent love, devotion, and destiny, a small piece of a history of a very great life. I highly recommend it to all readers.

 

 

 

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Tackling the controversial

I finished writing a book recently. Titled The Reed Boat, it’s probably classified as upmarket women’s fiction. It has faith overtones, though, so maybe it could fit into the Christian fiction market, too. That said, it really has only the same amount of faith references that most novels of the previous centuries had. Nowadays, most novels are aggressively secular, so if you do have spiritual elements in a story, it can be ghettoized in the Christian fiction market (not a bad place to be, mind you, but it will probably limit your readership to some degree).

Though it’s mostly a story about a woman’s search for something in her late mother’s past, it touches on, very late in the story, a controversial topic.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds the key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make to protect their children, The Reed Boat holds a subtle pro-life message that even pro-choice women should be able to understand and accept–it’s about protecting girls from unscrupulous men.

I debated whether to throw in that last sentence because I know that touching on the topic of abortion in a mainstream novel is like touching the third rail, sure to result in sparks, maybe even electrocution. But I felt I needed to insert that reference because, otherwise, agents I’m trying to interest in the novel might be upset that I didn’t warn them.

But here’s the thing: the opinions expressed by the characters in my novel echo those of the majority of Americans. If you look at Gallup polls on the topic of abortion, for example, you might be surprised to find that the views one often sees represented in news stories about abortion are at the extreme–illegal under all circumstances or legal under all circumstances. The majority of Americans polled (53 percent) actually believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances. gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048

So my characters’ views — expressed late in the novel, as I mentioned above — might align more with that majority middle ground. The reason I write “might” is because I don’t include a big polemic coming from the mouths of those characters. Like most people, they don’t sit around discussing abortion. They just…take care of their families, especially their daughters.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will snag an agent, let alone an editor. It’s not a book about abortion. It just glances the topic at the very end. But it’s such a controversial subject that I felt the need to alert potential agents to it. Maybe that’s the wrong approach. Would love to hear opinions. Post a comment here or feel free to email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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