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Random Musings

Writing my way to healing

Our lives often remind me of small boats riding the currents of life. When things go well, we skim safely along the surface without encountering danger. We make choices to try to maintain control over the direction in which we are sailing. Some of these choices are good ones. Some not so good. Unlike the choices that result in tragedies at sea, the choices we make seldom doom us to total shipwreck. Nevertheless, the choices we make often have an uncanny ability to surprise and wound us. Our home overlooks Lake Superior. It has a great view of the lake with it ever changing moods: reflective, agitated, violent, soothing. Our lake view also contains a monster rock that hides around 50 feet offshore. I've nicknamed it Nessie, after the Loch Ness monster, because it appeared suddenly one day as I sat watching the lake. I heard a gurgle, saw a wet black back emerge to shimmer briefly in the sunlight then watched it disappear again under the waves. The water level in the lake was then several inches higher than it is now. Nessie no longer hides under the lake’s surface. She can’t. The water levels are too low. She’s been exposed because of drought. While most of us prefer our journeys smooth, life does not cater to that desire. Circumstances can so stress and disturb us that our spirits enter a drought of sorts, revealing the rocks we'd inadvertently encountered. It was during such a period of drought that I overheard my son say that he thought he was damned. Why? Because his mother had been a nun and his father a priest. I was stunned. Yes. Life had been hard since their father died when they were toddlers, but why had they drawn such a conclusion? While they'd know about life "after daddy," they knew nothing about "before daddy." I wanted them to know about the love that brought Vittorio and me together, the love with which we’d greeted each of their arrivals. It was a complex story, one impossible to tell in a few sittings. And so I began to write what I thought was a love story and discovered that beneath my surface competence, I harbored the same doubts my children did. Was Vittorio's painful death from pancreatic cancer and the suffering that followed in its wake punishment for the choices we'd made? As a teenager, I’d experienced God in such an overwhelming, unforgettable way – a love so consuming and unconditional – that I pursued it into a monastery thinking I’d be lifted to the heights of sanctity within that hallowed atmosphere. I was so wrong. Rather than saint in the making, I discovered the same compulsive/obsessive behavior that I’d condemned in my father. He was an alcoholic. I became an anorexic. I discovered that I could get as ragingly angry as my mother. That rather than disappearing into the cloister, I wanted to be noticed, to be special. What a shock that was. And when I was sent home to Puerto Rico to help my invalid father, rather than the devout and retiring nun everyone thought I was (including myself), I discovered I was sensual. That freedom intoxicated me. And that yes, I could fall in love. It’s interesting how we learn to live with and to cope with ambiguity without really understanding or examining what is happening. When I was in Puerto Rico falling in love with Padre Vittorio I became two selves at war with one another. One wanted to stay faithful to my vows. The other wanted to be loved. To survive I called a truce. I would view our love as God’s gift. We would love one another utilizing all the proper channels. We sought dispensation from our vows, waited until the church accepted our request, then married. When our little girl almost died at birth and when Vittorio simultaneously began his death journey through pancreatic cancer, I buried the doubts that maybe we’d deceived ourselves. That maybe our love was not God’s gift. And I’d kept those doubts buried until writing revealed them. In writing a memoir, I'd had to dive under the surface waves of my story, and, in doing so, I discovered that the rocks I found there had transformed from hidden dangers to islands of refuge and rescue. I discovered that far from punishing us, God had been with us throughout our journey. I encountered the goodness radiating from within my parent’s tormented lives, touched Vittorio’s anguish as he struggled to live for his children, and passed from my own loss to enter the children’s grief. The deeper I went, the more tears I shed, but eventually those tears cleared the murky waters in which I swam. I discovered that by reconnecting with my past, I can move more honestly and bravely into the future, no matter what that future holds. The late Thomas Merton, famed author and beloved spiritual guide, wrote that "When we live superficially, we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives." Thanks to writing, I continue the journey to an ever deeper awareness of who I really am. Writing opened a channel leading to my inner truth and I bless the gift it has shared with me.  Read More 
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Back in my writing shed and darn happy to be there

Not only has the desire to write returned, I've had a sudden boost of courage. I'd avoided the writing shed for so long that I felt like apologizing every time I passed it. Well, I've been forgiven, and am working like crazy to reshape the sequel to the Scent of God. Trouble is, I keep slipping back into my old habit of editing as I go. I've worked on the same 10 pages for three days. I guess this proves I'm not a global thinker. Global thinkers don't get caught up in details but see the whole picture. Wanting to be a Global thinker, I just printed up every chapter I've got and plan to lay it out on the floor and create a map. Some authors tape chapters to the wall. I haven't got much wall space, but then neither do I have a lot of floor space. The writing shed is 10' x 10'. I'm also now back on my feet and can manage five miles on flat terrain, three miles on hills and hiking trails requires hot baths and Advil. For that matter, hot baths and Advil take the ache out of those 5 mile jaunts as well. Highway 61 is clogged with visitors heading north to view fall color which is at its peak right now. Our hills are flaming with maples and aspen. An evening drive into the hills as the sun drops toward the horizon demands belief in some greater creative power.  Read More 
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Best Selling Book

Never underestimate the power of an enthusiastic bookseller. Yesterday, I learned that The Scent of God had made the best-seller list at Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville, "all because Heidi, one of the women at the store is crazy for your book and makes everyone buy it." The note was signed by Ann Patchett, who opened Parnassus Bookstore with business partner Karen Hayes to fill a gap left when two bookstores closed. What a thrill, especially as some book distributors say they can't get copies to sell even when customers request the book. Last week, I drove five hours to sign books at Sister Wolf Book Store in Park Rapids. Sister Wolf is a popular independent known for it's exciting author and artist festival every summer that attracts people from all over. I'd had to cancel my appearance at that event due to a severe injury and was delighted when they requested I make a separate appearance when I was finally healed enough to commute a long distance. Again, enthusiastic booksellers directed patrons toward "the author in the store," making the signing, which can sometimes bomb (customers scurrying around the author and avoiding eye contact), a success. I left Park Rapids later that afternoon and drove down to Little Falls, an hour and a half away for two events to be held the following day at Bookin’It Bookstore : a signing in the morning and an intimate three-course tea at the historic Waller House Inn later that afternoon. A good friend and book fan made arrangements for me to stay at the Franciscan Sisters Little Falls MN in a charming little hermitage where I recaptured the sense of quiet I so love. Bookin'it's cozy store was another wonderful surprise, introducing me to the lively owner Laura and her staff. Laura was everywhere with her camera during the tea at the Inn. We feasted on a delicious three course tea and the writing life and my work with an enthusiastic group of book-lovers at the tea. Then back to the monastery to rest before meeting two of that lively group for supper in town. Those three great happenings launched me back to my computer where the response to my latest newsletter generated several hundred wonderful responses waiting for my replies, and into the writing shed to pick up the abandoned sequel to The Scent of God for a fresh look prior to an extensive rewrite. I hope your week has been equally generous with you even though the halcyon days of summer are growing perceptively shorter and there's a definite hint of fall in the air here on Lake Superior.  Read More 
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Finding happiness midst disability

Once I stopped fighting And gave myself up to limitation and pain I realized how supremely happy I was Just being here On May 29, I slipped on a stairway and landed hard on my backside. First diagnosis revealed cracked open right and left sacroiliac joints. Three weeks later I wasn’t making the expected improvements despite the medication, ice packs and physical therapy, so the doctor ordered a CT scan. This diagnosis included, besides the sacroiliac joints, two hairline fractures in the sacrum itself. For almost a month I’ve been hobbling around using a walker, frustrated out of my mind at the limitations this accident place on me. The smallest movements send spasms of pain throughout my legs, lower back and buttocks. I have been unable to go downstairs to my office or walk to my writing shed. I am confined to a home in one of the most beautiful places on earth but unable to get outside for even a short walk. Fixing a meal is all but impossible. Forget cleaning up. Six days ago I started to weep. My 13-year old granddaughter, whose been trying to help, put her arms around me and laid her head against mine. She’s been an angel and I could not manage on my own without her help but a 13-year old is not into noticing what needs to be done and I hate asking for help. Feeling sorry for myself sends my self-esteem plummeting. I don’t even feel like a writer. I’ve had to cancel book signings, a gathering of writing friends five hours from here, and a 10-day retreat. I haven’t even wanted to write. But guess what? Today, while sitting on our deck, face turned to the sun, I realized what a good time I’ve really been having. I’ve discovered that by bending to the right rather than to the left I can pull on pants and tie my shoes. I’ve learned that placing my left foot flat on the ground as I step forward with my right alleviates the spasms caused by walking. That a really soft pillow cushions the pain of sitting down and a cup of afternoon tea provided by a precious teenager is simply delicious. In giving myself up to healing, I’ve had time to read back issues of favorite magazines that have been amassing on a side table for close to a year; to make a perceptive dent in the heap of books I keep buying but never found time to read. I've watched the gold-finches and hummingbirds at our feeders and listened to the lake caress our ledge-rock. I’ve taught my granddaughter how to create hand-made cards with the flowers I dried for that purpose but never got around to. Sending her to report on the status of our river after weeks of pouring rain, revealed the poet hiding within her. Today I sat on the deck and gazed upward at the cloudless sky and realized how totally, thoroughly, happy I am. Read More 
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Did you ever consider this?

"In a proper Christian understanding of things, the earth is not just a stage for human beings . . . with no value in itself apart from us. Like humanity, it too is God's work of art, God's child." This morning, Father Ron Rolheiser's blog post struck me with wonder. It was a moment of grace. The earth as God's child! Why had this thought never occurred to me? I knew earth was God's precious creation and loved it as such. I sometimes thought of her as St. Francis did, as Sister Earth. Why then, had I never considered her a "child of God." It is, as Rolheiser claims, "destined to share eternity with us." Which makes me wonder if you've ever thought of earth as a child of God?  Read More 
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Avoidance

It is hard to breathe when asked to probe deeper. What if I don't understand? Unleash some monster, when all I need is the light already shining there, in the darkness.
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Favorite New Spiritual Memoirs

I'm a besotted book-lover. I have heaps of books piled on tables throughout the house waiting to be read or in the process of being read. Many of these books have been recommended to me by friends whose reading preferences I respect. When these books are spiritual, it makes sense to recommend them ona blog dedicated to spiritual living? These are not exactly reviews. They are meant simply to share what I've loved. They are a get-to-the-point-and-do-it-quickly type of review that will perhaps inspire you to check them out and maybe buy a copy. My two newest spiritual favorites are both memoirs and both were written by Jesuits. When a Jesuit writes, you can usually count on the work being erudite. Some Jesuit authors are also darn good story-tellers.The authors of the next two books are erudite and they know how to engage the reader. I have numerous books on the lives of the Saints. I've recommended some of them here, in the past.While all of these books introduce us to saints and their lives, I've not found one that combines both the lives of the saints with a personal experience of these saints. Father James Martin's My Life with the Saints >is a perfect blend: a personal spiritual memoir combined with the lives of the saints. This book is a delightful journey with a self-effacing, articulate, and often funny Jesuit as he meets and “befriends” saints both modern and ancient. Martin is a gifted story-teller and guide to those seeking to know the great friends of God. This book has instilled in me a new curiosity about my own and other's relationship with the saints. I question whether I've ever considered them friends. I wonder if reverence for their lives and the inspiration they offer qualify as friendship. I wonder what is your experience? Are you friends with particular saints? (you can link to publisher site by clicking the book cover) I received Tattoos on the Heart from one of my best friends: a nun who spent the money I'd given her to buy books, to buy me a book! Actually, she bought several copies to share; she loved it that much. (click title link above to access publishers website) Tattoos on the Heart is a spiritual memoir of Father Gregory Boyle's work with the “homies” in Los Angeles. As we follow him into the heart of the LA ghettos, we travel with a priest who has dedicated his life to restoring hope and a sense of self-worth to hopeless lives. He introduces us to gang members who want more than anything to "to get a job." It is having a job that instills a sense of dignity to their lives. But even more than that, these young people need to be loved and it is love, unconditional love, that Father Greg offers. For the past twenty-years, Father Greg has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles ( the "gang capital of the world.") The lives of these young people, as told by a wise and courageous priest, propel this book with such urgency that you will find it hard to put it down. Some of the stories Father Greg tells will make you laugh. Others will break your heart. To my mind, they are certain to enlighten and uplift you.  Read More 
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Author updates

For the past six years, I've been working on a manuscript tentatively titled Looking for Francesca, the sequel to The Scent of God. In a recent post, I mentioned that I was waiting for news from my agent in New York. Sad to say, the manuscript is once again on the drawing board. Rather than despair at my agent's comments, I sent it to five more readers and received their feedback soon after. I even enrolled my 13-year-old granddaughter in the effort who is here visiting for a week. Seeing her head bent over the book, pencil in hand, every free moment she can seize from our busy schedule, floods my heart with gratitude. This afternoon, she finished reading it. I remember the awe I felt while reading my children’s creative endeavors. It was as if they’d allowed me into a sacred place: an encounter with the unique persons they were becoming. I expect that Cassie's comments will trigger a similar emotion. We return to our beautiful Lake Superior home in early May, where I look forward to reconnecting with you, my readers and dear friends, and of course, to the restructuring and strengthening of Looking for Francesca. Just goes to show you, (especially you budding authors) that just because you've had two fairly successful books published, there's no guarantee that your third manuscript will find instant acceptance.  Read More 
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Tale of Two Books

For the past few months, I've been skirmishing with several giants. The battles began with the launch of my latest book, A View of the Lake, published by Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. this June. A View of the Lake is the saga of my husband and my impulsive move to the Lake Superior’s North Shore and how it changed us. The primary market for this book is the Twin Cities and greater metropolitan area. It’s also of interest to anyone who loves lake living, or dreams of following a dream. I was surprised, then, when my email box was inundated with people in the Twin Cities asking why they couldn't find the book at Barnes & Noble. The publisher launched an investigation and learned that the regional buyer for B&N’s had ordered only 40 copies, one for each Twin Cities store. Those books were not in the stores but in B&N’s warehouse. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wander bookstore aisles and buy what looks interesting. If a book isn't there, I can’t pick it up and decide to buy it. Following the Barnes & Noble debacle, Amazon sent notices to all those who’d preordered A View of the Lake claiming the book was not available. “ How can that be?” I asked the publisher. The publisher was as amazed as I was. They been filling Amazon’s orders every week since the book was released in June. A search discovered that Amazon’s website had the book listed on two separate pages. One had the wrong ISBN number. Orders placed there could not be filled. The good news is that those who have bought and loved A View of the Lake want to buy my first book, The Scent of God (Counterpoint 2006 hardcover, 2007 paperback). The bad news is that independent bookstores where I've been doing readings and signings for the past several months have been unable to get copies of The Scent of God. I knew books were available because I’d just ordered a full case of The Scent of God in soft cover from Counterpoint’s distributor Perseus. I emailed Perseus to ask why bookstores should find it difficult to get copies. Perseus did not understand why, either. They had 800 plus copies in their warehouse. I forwarded these messages to the concerned bookstores. “What distributor do you use?” I asked. The reply was consistent: “Baker & Taylor.” Ah, I thought. I’ll just contact Baker & Taylor.” I went online, found the Baker & Taylor contact for the Midwest, and sent her an email. She wrote back saying she only handled customers (i.e. bookstores and libraries). She’d been kind enough, however, to check on the matter and found that Baker & Taylor had received a delivery of The Scent of God at their regional warehouse in Momence, IL on September 9. If the regional warehouse had received a shipment, why couldn't regional bookstores get copies? Not knowing what higher up to contact at Barnes & Noble who might work with authors and publishers, I contact Perseus asking if they could help. They were, after all, the primary distributors of Counterpoint books. “Unfortunately, no,” they replied and suggested that the “accounts in need of your title are more than welcome to call in to customer service and create an account with us for direct delivery.” So I fired off another email to the concerned bookstores. By now, the bookstores are probably sick of hearing from me. And what of those other independent bookstores who might want to order? I guess I’ll just have to leave it to their ingenuity. Here’s a question for all you authors out there. Do you have a similar story? Were you able to resolve the situation to your satisfaction? And, if so, how? There are probably others like you pulling at their hair and wondering what to do next. Read More 
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Travails of the small publisher's author

i wonder how many small publisher's authors encounter difficulties getting attention for their books. Every sale is critical for an author's survival. Sales determine the success of that writer as an author. Poor sales make it difficult to get their next book, which could be a block-buster, published. Amazon and Barnes & Noble probably account for the majority of book sales. My newest book, a View of the Lake, has had problems with both. I liken its difficulties to a prolonged labor. The book is still undergoing birth throes. At first the difficulties consisted primarily in getting the book listed online properly. Photo covers, product description, authorship and the like. I won't deal with those issues now. What concerns me is the difficulty my readers are having getting my book. Since the book was published in June, I have received numerous cries of distress from readers complaining that Amazon is cancelling orders due to supplier issues. The supplier, in this case, is the publisher who insists that they have plenty of books in stock and have been filling orders for Amazon ever since the book was released. Barnes & Noble is another giant, but when Barnes & Noble whittles down their sales force to one regional buyer for the entire east and east central regions of the US, the problems multiply. How can one purchasing agent accurately read the pulse of the reading public in such a huge territory. Case in point is my book. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of Lake Superior knows that metropolitan Minneapolis and St. Paul are the predominant markets for regional books. My book, A View of the Lake, while of interest to many throughout the nation, is a predominantly regional book with the Twin Cities as the major market. The Barnes & Noble buyer, however, purchased only one book per Twin Cities store, claiming that the book did not qualify as one of Metro-Interest(or some such jargon). Now, I ask you: As a reader, if a bookstore has only one copy of a book, and that book is not even in the store but in the warehouse (as happened to my book with B&N) how would you know whether or not the book is one you'd like to read? When I go to bookstores, I look first at the books that are featured. In local independent bookstores, these are often highlighted by staff recommendations. In larger stores, they are displayed on tables for the browsing public and are most often limited to books by publishers willing to finance a prominent display. Curious readers, looking for good new books from smaller publishers, hit the shelves by genre. One book on such a shelf remains hidden. If the book is not there, it does not exist.How can the reader discover whether or not they'd like to read it? I feel totally frustrated right now and I'm making noise about it. Maybe you'll join me as a reader or an author.  Read More 
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