“So how’s the writing going?”

I don’t know about you (if you’re a writer) but I find that question rather difficult to answer sometimes. The people who ask it mean well, whether they are asking because they really care about the answer or they’re asking because it seems like the mannerly thing to do.

In anticipation of my August 3 workshop on beating writer’s block, I’m over on the Capital City Writers Association blog talking about why my feelings about the “how’s the writing going” question are so very bipolar. Join me there and find out why, sometimes, writers just don’t want to answer that seemingly innocuous and polite inquiry.

Spring? What’s this “spring” you speak of?

Spring break is always touch and go in the Midwest. But this year takes the cake when it comes to crappy weather. It snowed at least a little every day, and sometimes it looked like this:

April 8, 2016

Now, I’m normally not one to complain about snow; I consider it part of my mission on this earth to balance out everyone else’s constant whining about it. But everyone has their limit. Thankfully, it is mostly melted now and the forecast for Wednesday through Sunday is phenomenal. This weekend I hope to finally finish clearing away to old leaves from the gardens and get the yard bags out to the street for pick-up.

During the rotten weather this past week I did use my time well, adding about 8,000 new words to my current WIP. This week I’ll have to put that on pause as I go over I Hold the Wind one more time before sending it to my agent. I’ve also been putting together my first newsletter, which should be going out at the end of the week! If you want to get this subscriber-only content, you can sign up here.

I’m cautiously optimistic that spring truly is coming to stay this week, which puts me in a generally hopeful mood, as does the news that, for the first time in a long time, we may actually be getting a tax refund this year. Now, if only the housing market in mid-Michigan would bounce back a little more…

Ah, well. One thing at a time.

How Far We Haven’t Come

Remember how I was so pleased in my last post to be able to work on something new? Well my brain swiftly switched gears back to something old. Something incomplete. Something festering.

Back on December 10, 2013, I wrote a blog post entitled Adventures in Shameful American History that discussed a number of cultural and historical realities I was struggling with as I completed research for a novel I was writing called The Bone Garden. It was before the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, before the unrest in Ferguson and the riots in Baltimore, before the massacre in Charleston.

In January and February of 2014, I wrote the first draft of a novel that turned out to be frighteningly timely. It traces the race relations within several generations of one white family, from auspicious beginnings as participants in the Underground Railroad, to a mixed bag of love and hate during the Civil Rights era, to a new reconciliation in the modern time. For the next year, I worked hard on that novel, revising it multiple times, editing it to a high gloss. But there was always a problem with the modern-day timeline. I fixed some of it, but it still never felt quite right to me. It wasn’t as good as it could be. Compared to the other two timelines, it seemed…too easy.

The day after the shooting in Charleston, I attended a prayer vigil at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. The crowd was relatively small in number but great in spirit. There were mostly African American worshipers, but a fair number of white worshipers as well. The Spirit was moving and pain was released and anger was expressed and sorrow was felt. It was deeply emotional and raw.

Growing up in a white small town in the Lutheran church, I had never been part of a service quite like that before. I’m a Baptist since I married a Baptist pastor, but it’s not a “shoutin’ church,” if you know what I mean. It’s not a charismatic congregation. It’s pretty tame. But I have been privileged to join together with other churches in the city every year, usually during Holy Week, to worship together. Stiff white Methodists and shouting black Baptists and proper Presbyterians and calm Congregationalists, all worshiping together. These have been some of my most memorable times in the house of God.

Even so, this prayer vigil was qualitatively different. It was a lament.

I drove away from that service with a heart that was still heavy. Yes, I believed God would give comfort to the bereaved. But it still happened. There was still a terrible racist person who murdered nine people, including some in their seventies and eighties, for no reason other than his idiotic, misguided, backward, reprehensible beliefs. Beliefs that were taught. And are taught. All over the place. Still.

And I realized what bothered me about the modern-day storyline of The Bone Garden. It wasn’t true. Fiction — good fiction — tells the truth. And I wasn’t doing that. I wanted my modern day white characters to be better than their fictional predecessors. But they aren’t. Yes, some are more understanding and more accepting and more loving. But others are not. They cannot be. Because Dylann Roof exists. Thousands of Dylann Roofs exist, and more of them are being trained up every day. And I do a disservice to the truth to ignore that when writing this story.

So I’m back at it, working hard to make things real. No matter how difficult it is for us to stomach. We look back at our parents’ generation and think that we are better than them. We would never support segregation or turn the other way when peaceful marchers were set upon by dogs and attacked with fire hoses. We would never have let 100 years pass between the Emancipation Proclamation and Selma.

But is that the truth? Obviously not. That Confederate flag flying high in South Carolina? It’s not down yet.