When readers get the heart of your book

A golden moment occurs when people get the heart of a writer’s novel. Especially, when they, for the moment, love to talk about it as much as you do. I was blessed with two such golden moments.

My first golden moment

I had just reunited with a long-time friend and former co-worker.  Unexpectedly, our conversation turned to my book.

Shelley declared. “You know, your book is not about horses. It’s about adoption.”

I had to admit, “Absolutely!”

I have had a life-time of observing the dynamics of a family with step-parent adoption. During my research, an authority in adoption once shared that every person in an adoptive family has experienced loss. The adoptive child has lost their birth family, and the birth parents have lost their child. Similarly, the natural parents have most likely lost fertility or children. Less well understood, the natural-born children have also lost what would have been their natural role within the family. Sibling conflict between adopted Jessica and younger sister Rebecca is the core conflict of my book. Additionally, the plot includes struggles of both birth and natural parents.

The golden truth

“You are right,” I told my friend, “My book is about adoption. But it is also about loneliness. Truly, in some sense, every  character is ‘orphaned.’”

 Each character in the book feels apart, alone, isolated in one life struggle or another:

Two generation of adults who have survived war or disaster—and who are still reeling in the aftermath.

Parents who are struggling to find better lives for their daughters and find themselves failing.

An adopted adolescent whose gifts and inclinations are so different from her adoptive family—who struggles with her self-worth, body issues, and questions about her birth family.

A mother who finds herself at cross purposes with her adopted daughter.

A quiet, introverted girl thrown into new school in new community with little support from her immediate family. Like many introverts, Rebecca finds comfort and solace in animals, and she suffers in their absence.  

Finally, family members who at the same time love, frustrate, aggravate, and wound each other.

 “Everyone in the book needs grace and mercy.”

Shelley observed, “Even characters we do not see. The distant grandfather, and the wayward cousin in prison.”

My second golden moment

Just before Thanksgiving, I read two of saddest and funniest chapters in A Thing of Beauty at a local middle school. The chapters could have been titled “The New Kid’s Miserable Day,” and “The New Kid’s Revenge.” Appropriately, the sixth graders giggled at the funny parts, but I also observed some somber eyes and sober expressions. They absolutely understood and related to Becky Ramey’s hard day. I asked for a showing of hands. “Do you think the other students ‘got’ Becky? Could you leave behind a horse or a dog and not be sad or upset?” Raised hands and shaking heads signaled, “No.”

These sixth graders made their teacher proud that day, asking questions, making predictions about the plot—and correctly perceiving the conflict between the sisters. One of the best questions was this, “Why do you write?”

I said, “Kindness and compassion to others is very important to me and that is an important value in my writing.”  I offered this quote from J.M. Barry.

“Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

Very simply, for our all orneriness and failings, we each need mercy. We each need goodness and kindness that we so often do not deserve.

Two women, hugging as they look out a window
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person…”—George Eliot

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