Category Archives: Uncategorized

Paul, the movie

Every time I listen to the epistle reading during Sunday service, I have the feeling I’ve walked in on the middle of a movie. What happened before? What set up this letter Paul is writing this time? What arguments were going on, disputes being debated? What did I miss?

To be honest, it was this sense of not knowing what was going on that often had me distracted during the epistle reading, just biding my time waiting for the clearer (to me, at least) Gospel.

Last year, however, I read an excellent book about Paul (Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People) that opened my eyes somewhat to this interesting, flawed, brilliant, loving, exasperating, complicated man.

The reason I say “somewhat” is because understanding Paul is still difficult, and I still do feel at times I’ve come in on the middle of his movie, this grand story of his life and how hard he tried to be a good Christian and a good leader after his conversion, using his great intellect to impart wisdom.

Wisdom–sometimes I feel as if it’s always scampering ahead of me down the path, never quite clear enough to grasp except as a vague shape.

This past Sunday, we heard part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:4b-14) , and this is the passage that stayed in my heart:

“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

This passage comes, of course, after he lists his religious bona fides from his days before being a Christian, how upright he was, what a good follower of the law he was. But the law wasn’t enough, he found out as he caught elusive wisdom in a sunburst of epiphany. The spirit of the law, and especially the message of love that comes with it, is what’s important.

This message cuts across time, doesn’t it? It seems so simple, yet how hard it is sometimes to find and live the essence of that message as we try to follow the law…and its spirit.

After hearing this epistle passage this Sunday, my mind once again went back to the old  hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” These lines from that hymn don’t usually show up in the condensed version found in many hymnals. They are worth repeating:

“But we make His love too narrow, by false limits of our own
And we magnify His strictness, with a zeal He will not own.”

Paul’s writings are often used as reasons for being against this or that behavior or policy, but I think at the core of Paul is the core of the gospel itself, the good news of light and love, of “wideness in God’s mercy.” And that’s what I took from his letter to the Philippians.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest novel is Fall from Grace.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

(If you’ve come to my blog looking for the post on what Christian fiction should not contain, it is here. I’m grateful to all those who’ve found it interesting enough to read.)

I’ve been published by traditional houses (Harlequin, Dorchester, Sourcebooks, Bancroft, etc.), and I’ve self-published, a process I’ve enjoyed. After reading an article in the Atlantic by a woman who is in her tenth year of submitting manuscripts (unsuccessfully so far) to traditional publishers, I was scratching my head as to why she didn’t self publish.

She covers that briefly in her essay: “I’ve yet to meet an author who felt their self-published literary novel or memoir generated enough sales to make up for the amount of time and money spent marketing them. And as a literary critic, I know that very few editors are willing to run book reviews for self-published works; I don’t want to spend years writing and revising a book if not even my local paper will cover it.”

I would argue that you’re going to spend a lot of time and money marketing a book published by a traditional publisher. And not every advance is enough to cover that and let you quit your day job. As to reviews…well, they’re getting harder and harder to get even in traditional publishing, and surely an author can scare up some reviews in very local papers or reading blogs. So I don’t quite understand her reluctance to try self-publishing, instead letting her manuscripts languish.

For those who do choose to self-publish, though, it’s good to be realistic about possible outcomes and the process itself. Here are my tips for writers considering self-publishing:

DO be realistic about your goals.

Self-publishing can mean earning more money from your books, reaching more people, and/or snagging more attention for your writing than you’d get if you let your book languish on a computer. Sometimes it means better outcomes than if you are traditionally published. Sometimes. But not always. You shouldn’t go into self-publishing thinking it’s going to make you a millionaire or even allow you to quit the day job. Think hard about your goals as you get ready to self-publish and ask yourself: Do these goals make the entire project worth it to you?

DON’T think you’re going to zoom on to best-seller charts.

When I first self-published some books, I went into the exercise with high hopes. I’d read the stories of other authors making much more money in self-publishing than in traditional publishing. After all, traditional publishing’s royalty clauses often mean writers don’t see a dime outside the advance for at least a year, and good luck earning out that advance unless you’re a mega-seller. So, self-publishing, where you earn higher royalties in real time, seemed a better deal.

But as time wore on, and I read more, I came to understand that most big sellers in self-publishing fall into several categories (as the author of the Atlantic article noted): they were well-known authors already, with big followings; and/or they wrote in several genres where authors have more success self-publishing than in others.

If you don’t fit into those categories, you have to realize at the outset that it will be a steep hill to climb to find your readers. But if you’ve been published by a traditional publisher, you might already know that. Few authors are best sellers even in traditional publishing. Just don’t go into self-publishing thinking it’s an instant ticket to bookselling success.

DO take care with your manuscript.

In the early days of self-publishing on Kindle many authors just smacked up MSWord manuscripts on to the Kindle platform, resulting in books with funky formatting, odd spacing and sometimes garbled text. Readers would note these things in reviews but were fairly understanding in those pioneer days. They might not be so patient now, and you’re likely to lose readers if you’re not careful and thoughtful with your presentation.

This means you might need to invest in a few things: a good copy editor, for example, maybe a cover artist, and even a digital upload specialist. It all comes down to how much you can and want to do on your own.

DON’T spend money needlessly.

When you self-publish, you are highly unlikely to get your book into stores unless you work with individual shop owners on a consignment basis. So my advice is to be careful not to throw too much money at cover design for a cover that will most likely only be seen online and often as a thumbnail.

That doesn’t mean you should go for shoddy designs, but you’d be surprised what you can do on your own, buying stock art (for around $50 an image or less) and using design templates available through Amazon and CreateSpace.

Before you complain that stock art is recognizable as such, keep this in mind: many traditional publishers use stock art. You might have even seen these images pop up across publishers and books over the years. Even so, there is so much art available these days that you can avoid overly used images if you choose wisely.

Below are two of my favorite covers (of my own books). I designed them myself using the Kindle and CreateSpace templates, after buying the stock art images. They might not be to your liking — that’s okay – but they do have a professional and evocative look that is in line with the content of the novels. I confess that I like them more than I like some professionally designed covers I’ve received from traditional publishers.

If doing covers yourself isn’t your thing, seek design services. I just wouldn’t pay an exorbitant amount for them when most people will only get to see the covers online, possibly only thumbnails, as I mentioned earlier.

The same is true for other services. I am fortunate to have a critique partner who is a freelance editor as well as author. We usually work out barter or exchange agreements when we need editing services from each other.

Whatever you do, set realistic expectations for these elements of self-publishing. Recognize that even in traditional publishing, stock art gets used. Even in traditional publishing, a copy editor or proofreader doesn’t catch everything.

These aren’t excuses for poor work. But don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic high standard that not even traditional publishers adhere to. Be respectful of your readers and their expectations, yes. But don’t think that a bespoke cover design is going to make a significant difference in sales over a nicely done cover you put together yourself using stock art. Don’t think that spending thousands on editing services is going to catch every flaw.

DO spend time on promotion.

The sad truth of today’s publishing business is that all authors must spend time and even money on promotion. Traditional houses will send out your books for review, will distribute a press release about your book, and will possibly — not always — buy space in bookstores to get your book on end caps, or facing cover out or on tables of new releases.

Other than the special placement in bookstores, though, you can do those other tasks on your own. And even if you are traditionally published, you still might end up doing some of them, sending your book to some reviewers not on your publisher’s list, reaching out to reader blogs, Facebook groups and other social media venues. The point is that if you’re holding out for a traditional publishing contract because you don’t want to do the promotion yourself, you’re likely to be disappointed. You’ll be doing it anyway.

A note about reviews: Publishers Weekly will review self-published material now, through their BookLife program. It’s a highly competitive program (but so is getting a review in traditional publishing these days) and takes a while, but the option is there.

DON’T spend too much money on advertising.

I’ve heard it said that the book business is the only part of the entertainment industry that rarely advertises directly to its consumers. Why is that? Tradition and the challenge of finding readers without spending a heckuva lot of cash on the exercise.

Traditionally, those in the book business have for many years thought of themselves as purveyors of art and culture, not base entertainment. So spending money on advertising seemed base, as well.

If you do get past that mental hurdle,  the challenge becomes finding who your customers are, how to reach them effectively with the right ad, and how to move them to a “buy” once they view the ad.

To be honest, I’m very stingy with advertising dollars. I’ve used ads on Amazon (which do move the sales needle on certain books) and on Facebook (no movement there). And I recently bought an advertising package, splitting the cost with a small press that was publishing me, on a radio show targeting Christian listeners, since my book tells the story of a Christian couple struggling with fidelity and faith. This also moved the sales needle.

Again, your challenge here is no different than if you were traditionally published, though: finding the most effective way to reach your readers. And when you’re doing an ad, no one’s going to care much if you’re published by Simon & Schuster or Your Name Books (whatever name you give your self-publishing imprint).

In Summary

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. But it no longer carries a stigma of being “less than.” It takes effort, yes. But in today’s publishing world, a lot of that effort (promotion, in particular) is going to fall on your shoulders even with a traditional publishing contract. Authors need to have realistic expectations about both forms of publishing — traditional or self-publishing. For me, a combination of the two approaches has worked best, allowing me to continue to be in front of readers with material that didn’t fit neatly into traditional publishing niches while still pursuing traditional publishing contracts.

Libby Sternberg’s latest novel Fall from Grace is published by Bancroft Press (traditional publishing) and available wherever books are sold. It has been called a “novel for our times…that will linger in the mind and memory” by Midwest Book Reviews.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized, writing

Christian fiction should not contain…

Excuse me while I lick my wounds. My new novel Fall from Grace just received a one-star review (on Amazon and Goodreads) from someone who was offended by its language and the two scenes in it that are sexual in nature (but not overly explicit; I draw the curtain). This reviewer remarked that “there is so much in this book that should not be in a Christian book.”

I suspect the reviewer picked up the book thinking that if it’s marketed as a Christian book, it will fall into what  publishing calls the “inspirational fiction” category. This subgenre in fiction has very, very precise guidelines for what can not be contained in the book. I know the restrictions because my day job is copy editor for a major publisher.

I’ve edited inspirational fiction, and I’ve had to refer to the guidelines to double-check if, say, it’s okay for the hero to say “for Pete’s sake” (nope) or “jeez” (nope) or can he play cards (nope) or drink (of course not). He can’t kiss the heroine below the neck, and there can be no suggestion of the heroine reacting to physical affection except, well, chastely. There can also be no use of words like “heavenly” or “angelic” except in the literal sense. Oh, and no reference to Halloween, either. I could go on. Suffice it to say it’s a very restrictive genre.

Fall_From_Grace_COVERI’m not criticizing inspirational fiction’s restrictions, though. I like the idea that one can pick up these books knowing what’s (not) in them. I’ve written two myself (Kit Austen’s Journey and Mending Ruth’s Heart).

But Fall from Grace, while a Christian-themed book, is not an inspirational. You won’t find it on the shelves of a Lifeway store, for example, which stocks inspirational fiction exclusively.

The reviewer’s claim that there is so much in the book that shouldn’t be in a Christian book got me thinking, though. I would love to see the genre of Christian fiction expand beyond the restrictions of inspirationals. I’d love to see Christian and/or spiritual themes, in fact, woven through more mainstream fiction. While most fictional characters in novels are usually highly secularized individuals, most real people do pray (at least occasionally) and wonder about God. Many even go to church.

Fall from Grace covers sin–adultery. I chose to show one of the main characters in that sin (again, closing the curtain at a certain point) to convey the depth of his fall…from grace. I wanted to show his impulses, what leads him to this act of betrayal, to, yes, have the reader cringe at his sin, to be repelled by it.

The rest of the book, of course, is about whether he can overcome that sin, whether he can climb out of the pit into which he’s fallen. To convey that struggle, I did include bad language (some even spoken by “pure” characters), moral dilemmas, kissing that isn’t sweet (although it isn’t below the neck!) and the very human challenges he and his wife face as they try to figure out: What does Christ require of us?

If that kind of story is for you, then pick up a copy of Fall from Grace. But if you’re looking for inspirational fiction, don’t. Buy my other books in that category instead! (See covers below.) 🙂

To reassure readers who might consider looking at Fall from Grace, it did receive a wonderful review from another source:

“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

Inspirationals: Where faith isn't preachy; it's just not hidden     Mending Ruth's Heart_250x400

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, Uncategorized, writing

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!

unnamed-41

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, writing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, writing

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!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, writing

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. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, writing