NOTE: My book is on sale at 50% off through next Wednesday, April 20th. Great time to give it a try–click here.
I came very late to reading. And I was led there by someone with whom I have been fascinated all my life: Louisa May Alcott.
I discovered Louisa through a children’s biography given to me by my aunt after we had visited Orchard House, a museum home dedicated to the Alcott family, and the home where Louisa wrote her classic, Little Women.
Sometimes we meet authors
our hearts to the core.
My birthday was last month and I got a pile of books as gifts:
Emily & Einstein
Thank you to my family for these wonderful books, I can hardly wait to start reading them. My sister sent me Emily & Einstein by Linda Frances Lee, a novel about a woman’s husband who dies and comes back as her dog as a second chance for a good life. As my sister put it, “You’ll never look at a dog the same way again!” Sounds intriguing.
Patti Smith and Kate Mulgrew
My son gave me two books, both biographies, one by Patti Smith (Just Kids) and the other by Kate Mulgrew (Born with Teeth). Stephen has been talking about the Patti Smith book for years, citing it as his main influence in pursuing his music and I look forward to seeing how Smith inspired him.
I have loved Kate Mulgrew since she played Mary Ryan on “Ryan’s Hope,” a soap opera in the 1970s set in a pub owned by an Irish Catholic family. It was a first for a soap to have such an ethnic setting and Mulgrew crackled as Mary Ryan. She is also known for playing Columbo’s wife, for being the first female starship captain on Star Trek Voyager (Captain Kathryn Janeway) and currently, for playing Galina “Red” Reznikov on “Orange Is the New Black.” She also did a one-woman show playing Katherine Hepburn. Can’t wait to read this one!
Last but not least, my husband Rich gave me Yesterday Once More, a series of essays on The Carpenters, written by Randy L. Schmidt who penned Little Girl Blue, a poignant biography of Karen Carpenter. As the years go by, appreciation for the music of The Carpenters grows. Karen Carpenter had a signature voice that conveyed deep emotion, all while sounding silky smooth. She is one of my favorite singers. This book at least, I can read a bit at at time.
But first, I have two other books to finish …
Portrait of a Lady Novelist
I am already in the middle of reading a rivoting biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist. A well-known and acclaimed author in her time (late nineteenth century), Woolson has been mostly forgotten except for her complex platonic relationship with Henry James. She died under mysterious circumstances, falling out of third floor window either accidentally or on purpose. It was assumed that she committed suicide over an unrequited love for James, an assumption which author Anne Boyd Rioux disputes.
Rioux shows that there is much more, introducing us to a highly intelligent, bold and accomplished writer in Woolson who broke new ground for women authors. I am only about halfway through and have already found much to relate to as a writer myself, including the periodic doubts that plague writers and the isolation that, while needed, can be very dangerous. Portrait of a Lady Novelist is giving me some much needed perspective.
I would recommend this book to any woman who is a writer. Boyd’s portrayal of Woolson makes her a much-valued companion for the journey.
I promised Rich months ago that I would read Miraculous Journey, a memoir by Anne and Whitley Strieber and I have not been disappointed. The Striebers are best known for Whitley’s exploration into UFOs and alien abductions/visitations through ground-breaking books such as Communion, Majestic and The Grays. Rich is passionate about the subject of UFOs although he does not take the traditional approach of them being “little green men.” Strieber’s exploration of other ways of thinking and other dimensions appeals very much to Rich.
While I have never made up my mind about UFOs, I do very appreciate the thoughtfulness I see in Strieber’s writing. Miraculous Journey is a detailed memoir on his wife Anne’s brain bleed and subsequent recovery, only to discover a malignant brain tumor which eventually killed her last year. It’s a heavy read but an inspiring one, showing two people deeply committed to each other in married love through thick and thin. I like to tell Rich that I see our relationship in the Striebers.
It’s been a long time since I have read such a wide variety of books and it does the brain, the heart and the soul so much good. I feel like I am feasting on prime rib while at the same time, enjoying the sorting out that reading tends to do with my mind, helping me to focus and filling me with wonderful insight.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are you reading right now?
Click to Tweet & Share: What I’m reading: a forgotten women brought to life, and a married couple facing life, death and life again http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Gc
The long Christmas break (along with the mild weather) is over and reality comes back with a thud. The prospect of a long winter ahead is daunting especially with memories of the epic snowfall amounts of last year still haunting many of us.
I once anticipated January with dread. Winter can be dark, oppressive and confining: the arctic air and biting winds… the deep snows burying the landscape … ice covering the streets and sidewalks … darkness that greets us when we rise and meets us at the end of each work day.
January is a quiet month. Birds don’t come to the feeder; their songs no longer greet me in the morning. Crickets and locusts have gone silent at night.
January was a month without life.
Then I read Henry Beston’s classic, The Outermost House. Beston chronicles a year of his life spent in solitude in an isolated one bedroom cottage which he built and christened the Fo’castle. Built in 1925, the 20 ft. x 16 ft. cottage was located at the edge of Coast Guard Beach in Eastham (now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore). Named a National Literary Landmark in 1964, it was washed out to sea by the Blizzard of ’78.
Originally planning to spent two weeks at the cottage, Beston was so taken with the “beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea … that [he] could not go.” During that year he wrote of the change of seasons and its effect upon his surroundings: the birds, animals, and insects; vegetation; the sand and the waves; the stars in the night sky. His prose is poetic, painting vivid pictures of color and texture. He describes the chaos and despair aroused by a devastating blizzard which nearly washed away his cottage, putting his life in peril. Yet even in the bleakest of settings, Beston’s writing inspires wonder and awe.
The Outermost House changed my perception of January because of Beston’s descriptions of arctic birds migrating down from the north, resting on the beach in the dead of winter. That description lifted me out of my own small circumstance and reminded me that life still goes on around me.
There was not only life, but light in the darkness: “Light came slowly into the world, coming not so much from the east as from some vague, general nowhere – a light that did not grow brighter but only increased in quantity.” It reminded me that by the end of January, the sky becomes pink again by the time I leave the office. The days are growing longer and the light, brighter.
January is not unlike time spent in the womb, waiting to be born. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly within the confines of the cocoon and breaks through into the sunlight. The baby, its delicate features forming nine months inside the dark, protective womb of its mother, emerges into the light at birth.
We just celebrated the coming of such a baby who brought his eternal Light into the world. His Light pierces the darkness and brings new life.
So, rather than give in to the melancholy that can come with the conclusion of Christmas and the reality of winter, I seek instead to embrace this Light. It may be cold, snowy and dark outside but within, that Light will increase in brightness and quantity as I take advantage of the quiet of January to bask in it.
The arctic birds are returning to the Outer Cape. The days are growing longer. In the repose of January it is time to partake of the Light of Christ.
I was privileged to appear this morning on “Jon and Jeanne in the Morning” on Iowa Catholic Radio to talk about River of Grace:
We talked about the creative ways that God’s grace works through our grief when we lose someone we love. Turns out I’m far from alone in thinking my grief journey after my mom died was strange! Jon shares a similar story during the interview about losing his beloved grandmother.
All of you who have “been-there-done-that” will nod your heads in agreement when I say there are no rules when it comes to grief except that it is yours. It is a unique experience, one that if embraced, will bring us to new and wonderful things after the sorrow begins to pull back.
We know how grief can reappear in unexpected ways during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Coining a phrase often used by author Joyce Rupp, “leaning” into our grief releases us into God’s hands where his river of grace can carry us to eventual healing.
Here is this morning’s interview. Maybe this little snippet can help nudge you in the right direction.
You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!
Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).
When’s the last time you treated yourself to a good children’s book?
How did reading it make you feel?
As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!
That said I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.
I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.
The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.
Empowering young people to change
Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.
Saints are real people
Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.
Great for adults too!
And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.
You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!
Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).
Come and meet Lisa Hendey, author of the Chime Travelers series:
How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?
I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland”! When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.
How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction?
Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?
The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.
How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?
I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.
How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?
Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel”. To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.
I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.
How can you win both books in the Chime Travelers series?
Be the first to leave a comment and the books are yours! Comment away …
I am pleased to announce that my very first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times will be released this Fall, published by Ave Maria Press!
A memoir with life application
River of Grace is part spiritual memoir and part life application, offering true and hopeful stories of growth and transformation after hard losses.
Father Robert Reed, president of CatholicTV and author of Renewed writes of the book:
“If you, like me, have experienced failure or loss and can’t quite find your way out of the darkness, Susan Bailey offers gentle reflections with graceful tools that bring light, creative renewal and a fuller Christian life.”
“Susan Bailey’s powerful and beautifully-written book is much more than an insightful spiritual memoir. River of Grace is also a brilliant reflection on the connections between creativity and grace. Deeply grounded in a profound Christian faith, the author chronicles her personal experiences of loss and shows how they were transformed as she learned to accept and respond to new challenges. This wonderful book also includes a valuable assortment of exercises that will enrich your spiritual life and gently guide you to confront your own difficulties and deepen your relationship with God. Anyone who seeks to discern God’s purposes in life’s most challenging situations will find this book one to cherish.”
Seasons of loss
Just about all of us can cite a time in our lives whether now or in the past, where we have lost something precious to us.
Perhaps it’s been the death of a parent or a child.
Or, you yourself are suffering through a long illness.
It could be a long stretch of unemployment causing financial difficulties, even the loss of your home.
Maybe you’ve lost a best friend due to a falling out.
Perhaps you’ve recently put down a beloved pet.
These are all serious losses that tear at us, causing grief or anxiety or anger. Where do we find the strength to pick up the pieces and carry on?
Could a serious loss signal a new life, even a transformed life?
This is what I write about in River of Grace, beginning with the loss of my parents and then my singing voice. Through the means of a kayak and my love for Louisa May Alcott, God led me on an amazing, joy-filled and sometimes crazy adventure within his river of grace, leading up to this book and beyond.
Stories and tools
River of Grace is not just book of stories. I provide practical tools so that you too can go on your amazing adventure. These “Flow Lessons” appear throughout the book and will also be available on this website.
In the weeks to come, I will share quotes and stories from River of Grace. Please spread the word to everyone you know who has gone through a season of loss or is just looking to jump start their spiritual and creative lives.
Available in many formats
River of Grace will be available as a print book, e-book and audio book (through Audible.com and iTunes). Just this past week I started the process of recording the book. My thanks to producer extraordinaire Ron Zabrocki for his expertise (he produced several of my music CDs).
Here is more on River of Grace:
Writing River of Grace and having it published by such a well-respected publisher has been a dream come true. I would definitely classify it as a “crazy adventure!”
Please share this post on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, through email with anyone whom you think would benefit from reading my book. Feel free to share the book cover. Your recommendation is the best way to get the word out.
Today I started reading a book entitled The Naked Now by Richard Rohr. I originally planned on reading it because a group I belong to, the Commission of Women of the Diocese of Worcester, chose this book as the one they wished to study this year. A dear friend of mine, a deacon in the Catholic Church, had also highly recommended it.
Rohr aims to teach the reader to see as the mystics see.
I have long resisted the notion of being a mystic though this same friend insisted that I be open to the idea. The pragmatist in me, the one who is unimpressed with splashy theatrics and celebrity, would have nothing to do with it. I saw no connection between my earthly life and supposed “heavenly visions.” I mistakenly connected mysticism with crying statues; I wanted nothing to do with it.
However, the creative in me, now being regularly exercised with reading and study, began to speak up and say,
“Hold on a minute. Maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.”
And my inner self, also exercised daily with prayer and reflection, objected too.
The Naked Now is now affirming something I’ve been experiencing ever since I started all this exercising: this newfound ability to “read between the lines,” and it is growing exponentially.
Rohr spells out three ways to view the world through a simple example: how three people view a sunset. One simply enjoys the beauty, nothing more. A second enjoys the beauty and understands the science behind a sunset, giving him extra insight.
The third not only appreciates the beauty and perhaps the science, but also “tastes” the experience. His vision enables him to transcend the physical experience to something mystical.
Rohr calls this seeing with the “third eye.” And I knew exactly what he meant.
I experienced that kind of vision all summer long in my lunchtime walks through the woods, past streams and alongside the lake at Wellesley College. Some of these experiences were quite intense, most especially my kayak trip on Lake Waban.
And I had noticed this vision even before the summer.
Reading the Bible had always been a difficult and dry experience. I simply could not understand what it was trying to tell me. However, last year I began to experience a strange sensation while reading: my mind and my heart would be literally flooded with ideas and insights. It was thrilling and a little scary. It was like God was chattering at me!
I don’t remember when I began acquiring this “third eye” but I am guessing it is connected to a few newer habits in my life: challenging reading, journaling and blogging, and set times for prayer. (This blog is a result of those new habits.)
I allowed myself to be carried in the flow of God’s will, just like my kayak floats down river. I went with the flow and without realizing it, accepted an invitation from God to go deeper with my faith.
I didn’t really know what was happening but had a sense that it was better to just “go with it” rather than to question.
And now, I have a book that will explain what’s been happening.
And the best part is, you can experience this too.
Everyone is called to be a mystic. It’s what Jesus intended. It was not just for those saints we see commemorated in statues and prayer cards.
Jesus means for each of us to experience this “third eye,” a direct result of a close, intimate relationship with Him.
The closer we get, the better we see.
And that’s when life really starts to take off. Surrounded by and immersed fully in this Divine love, we can experience what Henri Nouwen wrote in that post I highlighted the other day, “It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realisation of the unity of all that is, created and uncreated.”
JG: I’m a writer — a guy full of ideas and a penchant for making guacamole. I’m driven by the desire to make a difference in this world, to “leave a dent” as Steve Jobs once said. I want what I do to matter, to last well beyond the years of my life.
SB: What led you to write Wrecked? As a writer, how did you make the transition from blogger/articles to a book?
JG:I wrote it because it needed to be written. I couldn’t find something that addressed this issue I wanted to cover. Lots of books talk about why we need to be more compassionate or become better servants, but what about the byproduct of service? What about the burden of bearing other people’s pain? What do we do with that?
Wrecked attempts to answer those questions.
SB: Your book reflects the two Great Commandments of Jesus – to love God and to love neighbor. How important is it to you to have an ongoing, intimate relationship with God and how do you think it helps you to love your neighbor?
JG: Everything requires a foundation. Compassion is no different. Our pursuit of justice or compassion or poverty relief can easily turn into an unmanageable burden, an exercise in codependency. There are so many needs in this world that it’s easy to get addicted to being needed. The best way to keep this in check for me is to actively practice my faith, which is about laying down my life — not only for others, but also (and foremost) for God.
SB:What is wrecking you now?
Fatherhood. It is the most powerful tool in dying to myself I’ve ever experienced. Not easy, but good (I think). Ask me again in a few years, though.
Having raised two myself, I think I already know the answer.
Goins describes it as a painful, often messy experience that opens your eyes to a new life. It is transformative, introducing you to sacrificial love if you’re willing to go along for the ride.
He shares experiences in his life that have “wrecked” him, the first one taking place in Spain while spending a semester overseas.
Putting a name to the poor
Goins met a homeless man and quickly developed a relationship with him. The “poor” suddenly became a flesh and blood person with a name and Goins grew to care about him. It was a first of many experiences that would alter his life course forever.
Why Wrecked is important
It is a radical book, “slamming” into the conventions of
21st century life: “Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the point of life. We think it’s about self-actualization, about becoming the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves.” (pg. 40, ebook)
It is counter to everything society says is necessary for
“the good life:” “We are conditioned to believe life is supposed to be comfortable. But ask anyone like my friend Matt who has radically changed his life, and they’ll tell you the best decisions they made were when they were uncomfortable … What we have to learn to do is lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward.” (pg. 42, ebook)
It gets to the core of the Gospel of Jesus, a core that is often sanitized, glossed over in favor of the warm and fuzzy “God loves you.”
Instead it confronts the Cross: “If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer.” (pg. 33, ebook).
Christian without being “Christian”
Wrecked imparts the core message without mucking it up with a lot of “church speak.” This book, although produced by a Christian publisher, speaks clearly to all people with a language that anyone who is searching for the meaning of his or her life will understand.
A book for Millennials
Even though there is much written about mission work and social justice (as this is Goins’ experience), don’t be fooled by this emphasis – this is not a book on becoming a missionary. Wrecked is the handbook for the Millennial generation. A Millennial himself, Goins spells out the problems, diagnoses them and offers the cure.
Wrecked also shouldn’t be construed as just another self-help book or spiritual guide. It is rather the authentic account of someone who writes honestly, understands spirituality and has “been-there-done-that.”
Wrecked isn’t perfect. Goins’ trajectory for the journey of life (having adventures when you’re young and making long term commitments as you get older) is sound but maintains that if you don’t have these adventures when you are young, you will spend the rest of your life trying to recapture your youth or relive old dreams (pg. 71, ebook).
Obviously that is true in many cases but what he doesn’t take into account are late bloomers like me and the whole idea of second chances. I was too timid in my youth to have adventures and married young, raising two children. Losing my parents between 2003 and 2010 “wrecked” me and subsequently transformed my life. Now in my 50s I am pursing the creative vocation I believe God has called me to with total dedication, confidence and commitment. I did things backwards – committing first (to my vocations as wife and mother) and having my adventure later on.
My other problem with Wrecked is one I see frequently with regards to Christians and service – that of the the cart being put before the horse.
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22), He presented two: loving God and then loving neighbor, making it clear that loving God needed to comes first. A close, loving relationship with our Creator results in a pouring forth of grace which empowers us to love and serve our neighbor. Being immersed in God allows us to see Him in others and the desire to serve becomes irresistible.
Goins mentions the Gospel story of Martha (the busy one) and Mary (the introspective one) but fails to mention Mary and the need to take the time to sit at the feet of God. I can’t be sure if he assumes the reader knows this or not. He does stress the importance of taking care of our inner lives and he also makes it clear we need to let go and allow God to lead but I was hoping for a more direct connection between taking care of ourselves and allowing God to take care of us.
Committed to Wrecked
That being said, I bought a copy of Wrecked as a going away present for my Millennial son who is heading to New York City from sleepy central Massachusetts at the end of this month.
I also got the Wrecked ten-week study guide which I intend to use with my eleventh-grade Sunday School class. And I’ve recommended it to a deacon friend of mine who runs a young adult book club at his church.