Tag Archives: lessons

Read or Not Read

Did my title confuse you, dear reader? Don’t worry, I’ll explain. After my publisher launched my debut book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, in 2011, I gave a number of talks and signings for various organizations to familiarize people with me and my work. In addition, I was on several panels at writers’ conventions in which the subject of the panel had something to do with the panelists’ books, and a signing followed so attendees could purchase said books. For me, there were talks with signings at libraries, art galleries, and civic groups, but there was one thing in common with all these talks. No one had read my book yet. Of course, I’m referring to the public, not people who were associated with the publication of the book itself.

I had been attending writers’ conventions and conferences for a number of years before my first publication, so there were lots of writers whom I had met and also lots of aspiring authors like me with whom to share experiences. In fact, an author friend introduced me to her agent. Although my author friend’s agent wasn’t looking for my particular book, it was a good experience for me to have contact with her. I also did several pitches to agents and editors at these conventions and finally I acquired my agent at a convention. It was all so frightening, exhilarating, exhausting, energizing, deterring and inspiring, and produced both insecurity and later a bit of confidence and I loved most every moment!

In all of these instances people had not yet read my book, so in delivering my talk, I was always aware not to give away any important clue, or say too much about any character. My subject matter covered my motives for writing this particular book and what went into doing so. I talked about how I accomplished the research needed. Everything was general and somewhat vague, so as to not spoil the book for a new reader. I only realized this recently when I was scheduled to give a talk for a book club in which everyone had read my book.

The first part of my talk with this group was like previous ones since most of my audience didn’t know me, but I started seeing smiles of recognition as I went on. I was able to talk more freely, specifically about placement of red herrings, or why a certain character acted a certain way. During my question and answer period, I received some interesting questions that I was able to answer fully without having to be concerned that someone’s reading experience would be ruined by a spoiler. This was the first time since my book came out that I had specific feedback on it.

As an author, this experience was more helpful to me from a writer’s perspective. I guess one could call it a critique session from readers. I really enjoyed this. In this case, my audience was too kind to give me any negative feedback, but I would have welcomed that as well, because one learns from all criticism.

Reviews and comments on Amazon and Goodreads are good too, but in the case of the book club, I was able to interact with my questioners. That isn’t possible, of course, in a review.

The only drawback to doing a talk for a book club is that the author probably won’t sell many books, if any, because book clubs usually read lots of books over time and book stores and libraries usually don’t have enough copies for all the members to share. Since costs of books would get prohibitive, often the prospective readers will buy used books or ones from another vender than one that would provide a royalty to the author. I certainly understand that, but I have to say that’s not a reason for an author to not do book club talks, because I certainly learned a great deal from my experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Yes, we do want to get paid for our work, but sometimes the lessons we learn along the way can be much more valuable than the cost of a few books.

I’d love to hear what you writers feel about this subject.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Second Chances

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a character flaw and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying.

I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

Even so, God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

Finally, God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

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How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face (I include myself as being guilty of this from time to time).

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what being a writer is all about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we often run from it.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.

 

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