I met my poet friend Katie Manning in college, where I was the bible study leader on her freshman hall. (We went to a rather small Christian college where halls had bible study leaders.) I remember that one of the studies we did was on dating, and we read a really terrible book that I want to publicly apologize for suggesting. I can’t recall the title, but the cover was pink and purple.
Anyway, she has since become a wonderful poet, even despite having read that dreadful book. She tagged me last week in a writer-to-writer interview series called The Next Big Thing, which helps writers promote their work. She has a poetry chapbook that has just been accepted for publication called Gospel of the Bleeding Woman. I have read some of her stuff, and she never ceases to amaze me with her clarity and originality.
Some of you are very familiar with my book, and others of you are new to the blog and have never heard me talk about it, so here are my answers to the interview questions:
What is the title of the book?
Whirlybirds and Ordinary Times. The title is supposed to be a juxtaposition of the miraculous and the ordinary—something the reader understands after reading the essay called “Whirlybirds,” which is the final one in the book. There is a lot that I love about this title—the sound of the word whirlybirds, the dual reference to the church season of Ordinary Time and the “ordinary times” of life upon which the book centers. But it also seems to confuse people. The publishers are suggesting we change the title for the trade paperback, which is coming out later this year. So if you have any great ideas…
Where did the idea come from for the book?
In graduate school, I began writing a bunch of essays about the season of Advent. Celebrating the church seasons was sort of new for me, as I’d grown up in a Protestant nondenominational church that never used words like “Lent.” I found so much richness in exploring the symbolism and meaning behind each season. At first, the collection was going to be all about Advent, but then I began wanting to write about experiences that correlated better with other seasonal themes. I decided to stop limiting myself, and the writing got a lot better.
What genre does your book fall under?
Creative nonfiction. Technically, it is a collection of essays. This scares people. They think about essays they wrote in high school English class or something. But I love the genre so much. In fact, it was only after I found the essay that I really began to feel “in my skin” as a writer. I couldn’t do poetry. I was not a great fiction writer, either; I kept writing the same stories, and they were all thinly veiled versions of things that had happened to me. Reading Anne Lamott in college changed my life—here was a person who was writing her own stories and finding God in them. Beautiful. Complex. Artful. I studied the essays of E.B. White, Scott Russell Sanders, David Foster Wallace, and I began to find my voice.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I would play myself. My husband would be played by George Clooney. (Just kidding, Scott.)
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
This collection of narrative nonfiction is an examination of my Evangelical roots and how my faith has since matured and changed shape; the voice is humorous and authentic—it strives never to take itself too seriously. (I sort of cheated with that semi-colon there.)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took upwards of four years. I’m rather slow and contemplative when it comes to writing (which might be why blogging comes a little bit hard for me), but I had a baby during that time, too, so I have at least one good excuse.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The essays are mostly inspired by small moments—events that are funny, or that I can’t get out of my head for one reason or another. One was inspired by my friend Beth’s clean kitchen, for instance. Another one was inspired by some random guy asking to pluck a whisker he noticed on my chin. You know, the usual groundbreaking material.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope this is a book about faith that is accessible to people who don’t necessarily claim a faith tradition as well as people who do. I don’t think of myself a Christian writer, but rather a writer who happens to be a Christian. There is a big difference between those labels—one that can cause some tension, I think. But the tension seems healthy.
To me, being a Christian is one of the most fundamental parts of who I am—no matter what I write, there are echoes of this identity there. I’m not writing for a specifically Christian audience, though, and this means that there are moments in which I don’t “tow the party line.” (You can’t find my book in some conservative Christian bookstores because of some bad words, for instance.) I think this is healthy and real. And I think the “party line” is dangerous—the political nature of the metaphor suggests why.
Being an Evangelical Christian has taken on cultural meanings that I don’t resonate with at all, so one of my main goals in this book is to get beyond the platitudes and clichés that some Christian writing gets bogged down in. Above all, I wanted the work to be honest.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book was published by Howard Books, which is the religious division of Simon and Schuster. And may I say, they are awesome. Seriously.
I’m tagging the writers below for The Next Big Thing interview series because they each have a recent or forthcoming book that I would love to hear about in detail next Wednesday.
(I’m waiting for confirmation on the other two writers, so I’ll update this when I hear from them. I dropped the ball on asking them in a timely manner… oops!)