The Writer – ATCL

Last month, I got to spend a few hours with one of my writing mentors, an author whose work I love.

Since then, she’s continued publishing her usual truthful, pointed, eloquent posts and commentaries. She caught a lot of heat over one in particular, an article for CNN which garnered her over 5000 mostly-nasty messages.

Just another day at the office, for her.

This post was originally published on All The Church Ladies, a website which has closed. I am in the process of moving all my ATCL posts back over here.


Dan Simmons Is A Stud

“Dan Simmons is a stud.”

So said my high-school-English-teacher brother, after a friend had recommended one of Simmons’ books to me.

My brother was referring (I would soon find out) to Simmons’ writing abilities and to his raging intellect.

Before encountering Simmons, the only science fiction books I’d ever read were The Sparrow (which is one of my all-time favorite books and sort of defies genres: you can read my post about it here) and Ender’s Game.

I am not at all, in other words, a sci-fi connoisseur. But when my brother speaks about writing, I listen. Continue reading

And the Winners Are…

After all the great comments I got on my Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms book giveaway post (that might be too many adjectives), I decided to draw TWO names, instead of just one! So, a few minutes ago, I put all of your names into my son’s new T-ball cap, and my husband pulled two of them out.

They are both wildly appropriate.

When Dan pulled out the very first name, I started laughing. It was Perry Perkins. Perry is a writer and publisher, and he is the very person who directed me to Chicken Soup for the Soul last year (he’s been published in their books many times.) He has some friends who are having their first baby, and I’m thrilled to be able to give this book to them.

The second name Dan pulled out was Beth Yancey. I also know Beth “in real life” – she is a writer, too, and is very involved in various women’s ministries. I know she will find the perfect person to give this book to!

Okay, here is the evidence, but be warned…it’s a terrible photo. Our camera has died, so we had to use Dan’s Blackberry and, well, it ain’t pretty. (By the way, part of my earnings for this book are going towards a nice new camera.)

I have also decided to send a copy of the book (at their request) to the Campaign for Life in America initiative.

MANY thanks to all of you who commented on my post, and to all of you who spend some of your precious time reading my words. It means so much to me.

My (very short) Road to Publication – and a Book Giveaway!

Right now, as we speak, the first (and so far, ONLY) story I’ve ever written is in bookstores. In an actual book. It’s a little hard to believe.

Since I’ve already received my ten author’s copies, I am giving one away here – and all you have to do, to enter the drawing, is leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

Here’s the story behind the story. (And here’s the cover of the book.)

Last June, as I was fiddling around with ideas to start up this blog, a friend asked me for the email information for a story contest – the winners would attend a prestigious Writer’s Workshop in New York.

This was on a Thursday. The submission deadline was that Sunday. I hadn’t thought about submitting anything myself because I had only started writing the previous Fall, and the only things I’d written so far were: three essays that I’d posted on Facebook, part of a fictional short story, a handful of poems (mostly about my boys), and a couple of posts to use on my future blog.

I knew I had a long way to go, so I was planning to “practice” writing for a year or so before trying to submit my work anywhere. And then only if I thought it was good enough.

But after I gave my friend the information, I thought (in an uncharacteristic burst of pluckiness) Well, why not write something yourself? And on Friday, I sketched out a story.

The next day, my husband took our boys fishing and I started writing. As a newbie writer, the biggest puzzler for me was: How on earth do you know what to put in and what to leave out? There are, after all, at least a quarter of a million words in the English language.

It’s no wonder so many writers are a little nutty. That’s too many options.

So I wrote and rambled, and rambled and wrote, and I didn’t even realize I’d worked clear through lunch until I started feeling a little woozy, at which point I ate some peanut butter on toast, and kept right on going.

Writing non-stop for hours was simply more fun than a human being should have. I would do it every day, if I could.

By that evening I had my 2000 words. I had not, obviously, had enough time to edit the story properly. I knew it was a little bloated, but I sent it off, with a rather long-winded cover letter, wherein I ran on for an entire page about – well, about how I had no writing experience.

I never heard back from the Writer’s Workshop. (I’ll take “Things That Surprise No One” for $500, Alex.)

But a publisher friend had told me I should try submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul, and when I’d looked at their website, I saw that their next book was for “New Moms.”

And it so happened that the story I’d just written was about how, during 17 years of marriage and through several miscarriages, I’d fretted over whether I could ever even be a good mother, since I had no idea what a good mother looked like – my own mom had been mentally ill and abusive. I wrote about my internal struggles after my first son was born, and how I finally realized (after an agonizing year) that yes, I was a good mom.

Chicken Soup’s deadline was a few weeks out, so I had time to edit and polish the story – and whittle it down. Way down.

The word limit for the Workshop had been 2000. Chicken Soup’s was 1200. I had to cut my story almost in half. (My fellow writers will probably shiver in appreciation at that.) But it was excellent practice; and, of course, it made the story tighter and better.

Months later, Chicken Soup notified me that they were very kindly buying my story for their book. And on a rainy day in February, the postman delivered a box full of my “author’s copies” of Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms.

What a thrill to pull open the cardboard flaps and see those pretty, shiny books inside! Even if my name was nowhere on the cover. Even if my real name was actually nowhere in the book.

The publisher had asked me to use a pen name, because of sensitive content in the story. So my story appears under the name Lynn Juniper, and is titled “A Good Mother.”

And I’m giving away one of the copies! If you are a new mom, or if you know a new mom (which covers just about everyone, right?), you (or they) will enjoy this very cute book containing 101 stories from empathetic Mommies who were once in the newborn trenches.

All you have to do is leave a comment below, and I will put your name in a hat. Next Wednesday, my husband will draw out a name, and I will send your copy out by mail.

Here is a question to answer: Have you ever accomplished something you really didn’t think you’d be able to do?

And if you don’t like that question, you can simply write anything at all.

I like “Howdy’s” just fine.

The Snipers

This post is about poetry…now just hold on, there.

You’re not going anywhere, Dear Reader.

(By the way, if you can give me the reference for my title, without reading any further, leave me a comment and tell me so. And I will be duly impressed.)

April is National Poetry Month in the United States. Here is a great website giving details about this event – please note the endearing invitation to “Join thousands of individuals across the U.S. by carrying a poem in your pocket on April 14, 2011.” (Whole thousands?)

Anyway, I want to celebrate poetry this month because, in many respects, the craft just “don’t get no respect” these days. And no attention, either.

For a long time, I didn’t care that much for poetry – which is odd, for someone who loves words and language as much as I do. But it was partly because a significant percentage of published poetry makes no sense.

At least to me.

Every time I pick up one of the literary magazines (Tin House, I’m looking at you) and flip through it, I crash into a poem that makes me want to rip my own hair out. Because it Has. No. Meaning.

For example:

The jackdaw raises his crested head
And calls forth
From the necklace of bone around my neck
He calls
They call
Is this what I have wrought?

Okay, I just made that up. But you get my point.

I realize the fault must be mine. My oldest brother lives for these kinds of poems. When I stand in the bookstore and read them aloud to him, fuming about their nonsensical-ness, he always says, “Oh, no, that makes total sense. I get it.”


I think the other reason I bypassed poetry for a long time is this: it requires far more attention than a novel, or even a non-fiction book. When reading a poem, you have to set everything else aside and give it your full concentration, and you have to read it through a few times, and give it a chance to sink in.

Only then do you realize how breathtakingly good it is.

Poets have to make every single word count; they have to slay you with truth and emotion in only a few lines.

In fact, the best poems contain some of the finest writing in the world.

In his brilliant sci-fi novel Hyperion, Dan Simmons has one of his characters say this: “Words are the only bullets in truth’s bandolier. And poets are the snipers.”

And that’s as good a description of it as I’ve ever read. A great poem can slam you in the gut, take your emotional breath away as no novel can.

A few weeks ago, I picked up the April issue of the Oprah Magazine, which is dedicated to poetry. It contains all sorts of articles, interviews, and essays on poetry – and of course, there are lots of poems.

So to start off Poetry’s special month, here are a few random things I loved in that issue of the magazine.


In a rare interview with the famous, elderly poet Mary Oliver, she is asked: “How do you know when something is a calling?”

She replies: “When you can’t help but go there.”


There is an article on the current U.S. poet laureate, W.S. Merwin, who lives in Hawaii and is deeply passionate about the earth. Here’s one of his gems:

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves


After his mother’s death in 2009, Timothy Shriver found comfort in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Exultation Is the Going.”

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses – past the headlands –
Into deep Eternity –

Bred as we, among the mountains
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

Holy. Crap. (And by the way, writers of the world, unless you can do it that brilliantly, please don’t try to make your poetry rhyme. It’s not pretty.)


Okay, I have to leave you with one final, exquisite poem, by Naomi Shihab Nye. This might be my favorite thing in the issue.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.