Telling the Truth


So I had a difficult chat with my agent last week. Not bad – she was encouraging and supportive and generally optimistic – just difficult. We talked about the market for spiritual memoirs, and let’s just say it’s not great. In fact, it's bordering on abyssmal.

“I don’t get that,” I told Rachelle. “It seems like there are tons of memoirs out there right now. Memoirs are popular. So what’s the problem?” The problem, she explained, is that for every memoir published and on the market, there are hundreds and hundreds being pitched to editors and publishing houses – there is simply a deluge of memoirs.

Apparently everyone has a story.

Combine that fact with this problem: my memoir doesn’t exactly have a “knock ‘em down” hook. “Describe your book to me in a sentence or two,” Rachelle said. “What’s the hook?”

“Well…it’s about a girl who’s estranged from God, a girl who perhaps never knew or believed in God to begin with, and her journey from that desolate place, through wrestling and questioning, eventually into a real relationship with and faith in God.”

See what I mean? No hook.

The trouble is, my book isn’t dramatic. Frankly, my story isn’t dramatic. I haven’t suffered abuse or illness or a major life-altering event. I haven’t traveled the world or served in the Peace Corps or founded a mission in Africa or a homeless shelter in downtown Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that I haven’t suffered. I don’t think I would make a good sufferer, actually; I’m too wimpy. But it’s not like I can say, “My book is about how I found God while I was held hostage for six years in a Turkish prison." That would be a hook.

On the other hand, what a two-sentence hook about my book can’t describe is this: that it’s a universal story. Sure the words on the pages are mine, and they describe my personal faith journey, but the truths embedded in those stories – truths about joy, pain, fear, doubt, hope – are woven into your life, too. These are the truths that connect us. These are the truths that comprise the fabric of life, your life and mine.

A good story can do that.

A good story can inspire you to think, “Hey, yeah, I get that. I’ve been there. I am there. That’s me!”

A good story can bond you to someone you’ve never met and introduce you to your own unique place in this world.

A good story can make you think about your own faith, ask questions you might not have otherwise, discover truths you didn’t even know existed.

Last week I tried to convey all this to Rachelle, but since I’m a writer and most definitely not a speaker, I’m not sure I succeeded. In fact, I’m quite sure I bumbled and stuttered and perspired rivers while I paced around the living room with the phone pressed to my sweaty ear.

And then, once I was off the phone, I promptly announced to Brad that I was going to quit this whole writing business.

“That’s it. It’s hopeless. I’m done,” I told him (I do tend toward the melodramatic, you know). “It’s useless. I’m pathetic. I don’t have a story. I can’t hook a reader. I can’t even describe my own book. Thank God I didn’t quit my day job.” (I also enjoy a good pity party from time to time).

Then Brad hugged me and talked me off the ledge (how many times do you think he’s done that already?), and we laughed a little when he mentioned that I can’t quit now because really, I’m right in the middle of this thing. Which is true. Brad is really good about pointing out details like that.

And besides, as I told my sister later on the phone, “I can’t imagine quitting for real. This whole writing thing is completely woven into who I am now. What am I gonna to do? Go back to watching HGTV and organizing my spice rack?”

“Actually that works pretty well for me,” she said. And then we laughed about it together, because that’s what sisters do.

So tell me: What do you think? Can a hookless book sell? And have you ever read a book that helped you understand something about yourself, even though it wasn’t exactly about you? [An example, I feel that way about Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam. While I don’t have a child with Down Syndrome, there was so much in that memoir that I could relate to on a very personal level].

Sharing at Emily's place today...


journeytoepiphany  – (October 19, 2011 at 6:41 AM)  

If Seinfeld, a TV show about nothing can make it, then your book can be a smash hit!

Mary Bonner  – (October 19, 2011 at 7:22 AM)  

Oh, Michelle...I am so moved by this post that I can't leave much of a comment.  But you have touched my heart.  I am sure your story is worth telling and your book would sell.

Gabe –   – (October 19, 2011 at 7:50 AM)  

Oh, Michelle. . .don't listen to the lies, listen to your heart and I believe your heart is woven through out your book.  I recently read LL Barakat's book Rumors of Water in about an hour.  There was no hook, just a well written book I could relate to!

Marlece  – (October 19, 2011 at 7:55 AM)  

I'd buy your book....I mean it. I think maybe you are looking to the wrong opinion. Does Jesus want you to publish this book? He is the one who is going to take it to the top 10. Have faith in Him, look to His account of the book, and maybe He'll take you on to a path that the book will be seen in a way you never thought possible. It reminds me of 'The Shack' I met the author of that book way before the book became popular, he was in my sisters home. He believed in the book and got it published for friends and family, but then it started exploding and had to find a publisher who would get it out there, and they did.

I believe the same for you!

smoothstones –   – (October 19, 2011 at 8:08 AM)  

I have many thoughts about this, but the most important, I think, is that if God has called you to write this book, His purposes will be accomplished. I don't know how far you are into this project, but I say: just write. Don't look back, only up. What's most important, here, is your obedience in writing toward the outcome God has planned, which could be anything from your reflecting carefully upon His hand upon your life, to your recording your faith journey for your children and generations to come, to fame and fortune. Most of us want fame and fortune, or think we do, but what God has in store for us is the right thing whether it includes fame and fortune, or not.

I think beauty and creativity and writing style go a long way. Your words can be super appealing even without a hook!

As to your questions about the memoirs, a couple I just love are Ann Lamott's _Operating Instructions_  and Jeannette Walls' _The Glass Castle_. I also like, in small doses, Augusten Burroughs...even though his perspective can't in any way be described as Christian.

And now I think I'll save my words so I can read them back to myself, later. :)

Rachelle Gardner  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:38 AM)  

Speaking strictly from the all-about-money agent's perspective, if I didn't think it could sell, I wouldn't, you know, have said I'd like to try and sell it. :-) 

I love your story and your book... it's universal, like you said. And deep. And profound. And beautiful. It's worth the effort of trying to overcome the standard market challenges.

Sheila Seiler Lagrand  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:47 AM)  

I am thinking that there is great value in a book that shows that we need salvation even if we haven't suffered tremendous hardship or founded some amazing thing. 


Because I think most of us have stories that aren't dramatic. And we need Him as much as the people with thrilling backgrounds.

Megan Willome  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:48 AM)  

It's funny, Michelle. I do have an abuse story and absolutely no desire to tell it. Who needs another Oprah-esque tale of suffering and redemption? Blech! I'd much rather read your memoir.

kathleensomuchtosay –   – (October 19, 2011 at 8:52 AM)  

My husband and I were talking about a similar topic yesterday. I've made it my goal to write about REAL characters, in REAL situations, instead of the overly-dramatic, artificial situations we see so often now. I can't help feeling that there MUST be people like me out there who are craving authenticity in their reading material: people who would WANT to read about characters who look a lot like them, who struggle with the same things they do. My husband shook his head and invoked the crime shows and so-called "reality" TV that covers entertainment these days. "Obviously, there's a market," he said. Yes, there is. But how much of that is because that's all we're offered?

Maureen –   – (October 19, 2011 at 8:54 AM)  

This may sound crazy but what about tackling it  like a graphic novel, only it would be a graphic spiritual memoir . There are a lot of ways to depict universals and they need not be shared through strict narrative. It could be a deeply moving and very creative approach to your experience.

Kim  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:06 AM)  

I could be you - only with a camera in my hand. I'm "in the middle" of starting a photography business - hopefully one day a studio - only I'm searching to find my "hook." You know what I mean? Keep praying (and I'll pray for you too) that God will give you peace "in the middle" and help you define the "hook" that gets your story in the hands He wants it in. (I do like Maureen's idea!) In the meantime, in this middle, know that what you are writing here, today, about THIS present struggle is helping me know that it's just a "middle" and that God does have a plan for my photography AND your book. That makes me smile and even rest a little.

mary kathryn –   – (October 19, 2011 at 9:07 AM)  

All that talk about a "hook," tells me one thing:  that agents (and readers, they assume) are stuck on PLOT. If you don't have some exciting plot development in your own life, we don't want to hear your story.

Ugh.

I agree with you, that you still have something important to say. The universality of your saga is SO important! How many times have we described great novels as "universal" in their message? That's what makes them last.

Besides plot, what is there? 1) Setting. Rowling sold on that alone - I love to visit Hogwarts again and again. 2) Writing style/skill. That can be learned, and many people read a boot simply b/c it's beautifully written. 3) Characters. Is your life story populated by people that readers long to know more about?

My apologies to your agent, but writing is not all about plot events. Readers are as diverse as all humanity. Have you thought about publishing on smashwords.com? When my husband and I finish our books, we're going that route, and avoiding all the agent angst. It's not worth the pain.

Shawn Smucker  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:08 AM)  

Michelle, you have a wonderfully unique voice and a loyal following. You are, and always will be, a writer, no matter the outcome of this particular book. Every writer has many books inside of them. Who knows where this one will lead you.

Regarding your question...Can a hookless book sell? Well...no. Not if the hook is what keeps people reading. But don't get caught up in the standard definition of hook. A hook doesn't have to be a dramatic event, or an off-the-wall point-of-view. The hook could be your unique voice, or your perspective on life, or your way of weaving stories together.

Some of the best books out there have hooks based solely on the writer's voice or their way of looking at things. Focus on your strengths. Don't try to base the book around something it's not (ie Amish Vampire fiction).

Wait...it's not Amish Vampire fiction, is it?

Kathrine Roid  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:13 AM)  

Correction: Amish Vampire End Times fiction. http://www.challies.com/ramblings/the-ultimate-christian-novel

Sarah –   – (October 19, 2011 at 9:20 AM)  

I think the hook is in there, buried somewhere, and you just haven't found the right words for it yet. It sounds to me like this book is going to sell because of your voice and your perspective - things that don't require dramatic plot twists to truly engage readers.

I suspect the "hook" you offered could actually be tweaked to sound a little more exciting from a marketing perspective, though I'm no expert. Think of it as a riddle :)

I learn something about myself in every good book, fiction or non-fiction. It's a journey of emotion and empathy every time. That's what great writing does.

I wish you the best of luck. Your memoir sounds like something I would love to read.

Cathy West  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:20 AM)  

Hi Michelle, I think we all have moments like this along our writing journey. No, it's not fun, but it's necessary. You won't quit, you'll just grow. And with every hurdle you jump, you'll get better! I don't write non-fiction, but I do know this. If God has gifted you with words and the ability to tell a story, He will find a place for you and your stories. :)

Serenity Bohon  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:27 AM)  

I'm with you all the way. My memoir is similarly an all-too-familiar story and hasn't sold yet. I've moved my efforts to fiction. I'm determined to get the memoir out there eventually, but I like the challenge of putting my heart into stories a different way. This writing biz is a major character sharpener I've noticed.

April Nelson –   – (October 19, 2011 at 9:47 AM)  

I agree with Shawn's definition of "hook."  It is a much broader term than "grab-you-by-the-throat-gotta-read-this." Stay on the path and listen to your own voice (and your heart).

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:58 AM)  

Whoa. I see this post has struck a nerve -- lots of comments here. I appreciate all the insights, wisdom and advice you offer here, as well as the encouragement and support!

For the record, my husband did mention exactly what Rachelle herself says in the comments below: "If Rachelle didn't think it had a chance at selling, she wouldn't have taken you on as a client." True! It helps to remember that and keep some perspective on this crazy process!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:01 AM)  

I agree. It's just a challenge, I think, to capture the essence of that kind of book when you are faced with a 30-second pitch to an editor at a conference or, in Rachelle's case (or any agent's case), a one-time opportunity to pitch to an editor over the phone. Somehow you have to grab that editor's attention, because at that moment, when you've made your case, there are only two answers: Yes, send me the manuscript. Or No, it doesn't sound like anything I'm interested in seeing.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:03 AM)  

Rachelle actually suggested this might be a possibility as well. Sometimes she said the writer will write another book, sell it, and then when she has established herself, go back to the original memoir and sell that one later. So it sounds like you are doing the right thing in turning your attention to new efforts. Maybe book #2 for me, too?!

Thanks, Serenity. I appreciate your insights here.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:05 AM)  

Thank you, Cathy! I so appreciate your wisdom! I agree. The conversation, though hard, was a really good one for me to have. It got me thinking more critically about my book and about why I write in general. I think I will come out of this with a clearer mindset in the end.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM)  

Thanks, Sarah. I think you are right. I need to look at how I described the appeal of the book here, and then work that into a few-second pitch. Thank you for your vote of confidence!

Kathryn Ross –   – (October 19, 2011 at 10:12 AM)  

Michelle - The sad truth is that the book industry is in such a major process of change - revolutionary, in fact, sort of like the change from hand scripted to the printing press.   My husband is a career bookseller.  He's been in the biz for 30 years.  He knows books like the back of his hand and is an expert at customer service.  He worked for years in an independent bookstore - it closed five years ago as the new e-books and the popularity of Amazon was taking off.  He now works for Barnes and Noble.  He is in the back - shopping and receiving no less - moving boxes.  Some no faces in corporate headquarters call all the shots now.  They don't need anyone with my husband's experience on the floor or making marketing decisions.  They hire "associates" now - in their 20's - who can look things up on computers and haven't the faintest idea what's on the floor and what's between the covers.

All that to say this - agents and publishers are motivated only by the bottom line.  The rules of the book selling game has changed.  The requirements on us as writers is changed, too.

I don't like it, either.  Books about regular everyday people don't sell.  Bottom line. 

Now - how can you tell your story a different way.  Same story - fictionalized?  Re-formatted for sound bit reading (hate that, too).
I'm a 19th century literary fan so I'm long winded and take great delight in lengthy passages and bunny trails like the masters of that time.  But, in this 21st century - you gotta make it quick and painless.  Ugh!  We might have both been born in the wrong century.

My best to you as you CONTINUE ON THE PATH the Lord has placed you in YOUR CALLING.  Write!  You are a blessing to all of us in Blogworld.

And, who knows - perhaps the Lord will give you the next big idea in the writing industry.   Pray about what's outside the box - and then hold on when He answers!  I'm currently working on the outside the box book writing idea the Lord has given me - uncharted territory for this little lamb.  We shall see where the Shepherd leads . . .

Glad we're on the journey together, gal!

Joy!
Kathy

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:12 AM)  

Nope. Not Amish Vampire fiction! :)
 
And thank you, Shawn, for your wonderfully encouraging perspective here. Your second sentence really hits home. What I've realized in the last few days is exactly that: no matter what happens, God has given me this voice, and this passion to write. I never expected it, and never anticipated it, but yet it bloomed almost out of the blue, and I haven't stopped pursuing it since.
 
Maybe God's path for me consists entirely of this blog or my newspaper column. And you know what? For that I am hugely grateful. In the end, if the traditional publishing journey doesn't happen, the fact that I get to write  about God's grace in my everyday life is blessing enough indeed.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:13 AM)  

Wow, Maureen, this is a VERY cool idea. I am not a visually creative person, typically, so the idea of a graphic novel is way out of my comfort zone. But maybe that's exactly where I need to go...out of the box?

I'm going to think on this...thank you!!!

Charming's Mama  – (October 19, 2011 at 10:20 AM)  

I feel like I have always known faith, but I still struggle and I still need encouragement and that's what books like yours are for, so keep up the good work my friend.  I am blessed with your words and your prose.
-Sydney

P.S. Katrina Kenison didn't have a "hook" either and both her books got published and are selling.

afamilytreehouse –   – (October 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM)  

Well.... rats! This is indeed a very frustrating dilemma, no? Here's the funny thing, Michelle. I love reading about your faith journey in the everyday here on your blog and sometimes I am so struck by something very strange. Hmmm, how to say - we both started at different places in life, moved about through our lives, ended up in each other's beginnings and found God where the other didn't see Him. I have never really thought about writing a memoir of my faith journey - but have thought about writing about my grief experiences that are all tucked neatly inside my mental filing cabinet and haven't ever been let out onto paper. I find it interesting though and see a book like this... one side - your journey to God from Catholic upbringing to wonderful life at Southwood. Flip it over and upside down and read how I started in a Protestant upbringing and found God in the Catholic church. Funny how we both find God in the middle, but start and end at each other's beginning/end! Weird, no? Anyway - kind of a "hook" but don't know that you want to go there, nor do I know if I have the skill... I have the ramblin' thing down pat, though!! My college English minor skills have not been brushed off for reals for a looooong time. My blog is a place to ramble, not overly edit and drop in my kids' pictures!! :) Anyway, everywhere there is a "hook" and that would be the hook for me in buying your book! I would say - weird, she started where I ended and I started where she ended! Just sayin'... :)

Viviana Reza Morales  – (October 19, 2011 at 11:31 AM)  

You already have the best hook there is......you're writing for a lot of us! You're able to say what most of us feel, think, and wonder but can't put into words.   It's seems people's favorite stories/plots/dramas to hear are those about themselves....and isn't that the best hook there is?

briantmiller –   – (October 19, 2011 at 11:44 AM)  

i think that our stories are what link us together...and we should take the time to hear them and connect...the writer in me that has similarly been beaten about understands the reality of 'selling' and having to give them a reason to buy it...

Rachelle Gardner  – (October 19, 2011 at 11:45 AM)  

Just to clarify, I have never, ever said anything to Michelle remotely resembling "If you don't have some exciting plot development in your own life, we don't want to hear your story."  And I never would. Michelle and I were discussing the challenges we face in finding the right publisher for her book, and I was trying to find the compelling hook that would help me grab an editor's attention.

Mary Kathryn, I applaud your decision to publish on Smashwords, but I must respectfully warn you that you will have angst, regardless of whether there's an agent involved. You will still face the necessity to attract readers' attention to your work. And you will have to deal with online reviews of those who give you 1 star and publicly trash your writing.

If you're going to write words that you want people to read, there will be angst. As an agent, I get the privilege of helping my authors through it all.

Chris –   – (October 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM)  

I ABSOLUTELY think a book w/out a hook will sell--and I've bought MANY books WITH hooks.  I have often thought--"well, as much as I enjoyed this story, been immersed in the person's journey from pain to rebirth, WHEN will there ever be  a story about the person WITHOUT a traumatic past"?  Like My PAST.  Drama-free. 
For every person out there who has something traumatic they have been forced overcome, there are THREE more people who have NEVER had to experience the trauma.  Those of us who have not have a dramatic past tend to have similar struggles, insecurities, doubts/fear--in essence feel MUCH the same inside! 
Honestly, the book WITHOUT the hook is really speaking to the grand majority of people.  It's important.  It's necessary.  It's long awaited.
KEEP WRITING.  God will provide that "hook".

JosephPote –   – (October 19, 2011 at 12:32 PM)  

That was hook enough for me!  When and where can I get a copy?

Seriously, I have struggled with the same basic issue in regard to giving a personal testimony.  There's nothing exciting, just a normal guy searching for God, bumbling through life, trying to figure it all out and be of service in some capacity.

And yet, when told the right way, that is exactly the story that will resonate most with many readers.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 12:38 PM)  

This is true, MK. When Rachelle asked, "What's your hook?" and, how can I summarize my book in an enticing pitch to an editor, I was stumped. The fact that my story isn't overly dramatic is my own hang-up, and maybe even my excuse for not being able to craft an enticing hook. I think perhaps I assumed "hook" automatically equaled drama.

Anyway, to answer your question, I have considered self-publication. In fact, many, many people have urged me to go that route. But I am an old-school book lover and a traditionalist in a quickly changing publishing world. And yes, let's just say it, a bit of a snob, too, because I want my book to be published by what I consider to be a "real" publisher.

I think it's true, there is angst along the journey no matter which publishing path we choose. And honestly, I believe there is angst in following any dream or passion to its fullest potential. I'm grateful to have both you and Rachelle in my camp -- you both make me think hard about why I want to be a writer, no matter what!

Lisa  – (October 19, 2011 at 1:49 PM)  

I think you really hit it when you said your book, your story, is a universal story.  For me, that's what makes it so readable.   So, yes, I definitely think a book without a "hook" can sell. 

thefisherlady –   – (October 19, 2011 at 2:56 PM)  

Michelle... just keep writing... let God handle the outcome <3

thefisherlady –   – (October 19, 2011 at 2:56 PM)  

I agree!

Diane Bailey  – (October 19, 2011 at 3:02 PM)  

I loved Temple Grandin's story, even though I do not have a child in that position.  

I believe there are a lot of people in the position of not knowing God.  It's your story, tell it.  You may need to self-publish.  It's a lot of work, but what isn't?  Seriously...

I took gymnastics for a while and the most important rule I had to learn was, " you can't change your mind once your feet have left the mat!"  Ask me  how I know...

If you are anointed to write, then write, and don't quit!  No one ever succeeds if they quit.  If you get discouraged, just call on you blog friends and we will lift you up again!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 5:55 PM)  

Amen, Joseph! Thanks for stopping by...

Matthew –   – (October 19, 2011 at 7:43 PM)  

Michelle, a writer's greatest hook is her honesty. You've got it. And a good hook catches fish, one at a time.

But I'm thinking of Jesus and those loaves again. He published enough to feed a few thousand. While He's always interested in multiplying, He's also interested in the lone fisherman and her obedience at sea.

Jesus promises to multiply our catch. But even if one particular catch feeds only one hungry reader, the faithful writer still sits, obediently, at a grand table of multiplication. Who knows how far the fish will go? It's all very mysterious.

But if nothing else at all, at least one writer and one reader have shared communion together. And, now, two know they are no longer alone in their hunger for more.

Now sit down at that writing table, Michelle. Be hungry for a mysterious catch -- knowing that, somehow, it will be multiplied as more.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM)  

Is this your first comment here, Viv? I am impressed! Thanks for your kind words -- I knew you were my Nebraska BFF for a reason! :)

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:16 PM)  

Thanks for this note of encouragement, Lisa.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:17 PM)  

I like that, Chris: God will provide that hook. It's true -- it's about trusting him, isn't it? Thanks for adding your perspective here.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:22 PM)  

It does seem like there are a fair number of those more dramatic survival stories out there, and I've read a lot of them that are riveting and well-written.  But when I was looking for stories of faith --  regular, how do you do this faith thing stories -- I couldn't find any. Which is part of the reason I started writing my own. That's why I say sometimes that God wrote me toward my faith -- in writing about my discoveries, I found a deeper faith in him. Kind of a miracle, actually!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:24 PM)  

Oh Marlece, thank you! You are so sweet. And wise. Look to Jesus -- how simple is that? In the last few days as I have pondered this issue, that is exactly the answer I came up with.

I heard that about The Shack -- I find that author's story very compelling and hopeful!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:31 PM)  

Ok Matthew...first of all, you better be writing a book of your own, because you have an incredible way with symbolism and metaphor.

And second, just thank you. "Even if one particular catch feeds only one hungry reader..." That's it, isn't it? That's more than enough. And I am particularly grateful for your thoughtfulness today.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:33 PM)  

And you are so very good at lifting up, Diane! Love that example from gymnastics (and I love that you took gymnastics -- you are brave!).

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:36 PM)  

It's a precarious balance, isn't it Brian? I understand the industry and the need to sell books to keep the industry viable, but on the other hand, art -- and writing falls into that category -- is a lot less precise and a lot less able to be confined or boxed in to one definition. I guess that's why it's art and not science.

Appreciate you stopping by here, today.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:39 PM)  

That's the perfect example, E -- even though we came to faith in different, in perhaps opposite ways -- our journeys overlap and carry common threads that unite us. And I love the way you say that we both found God where the other didn't see Him. God is crafty like that, isn't He?!

Thanks for your perspective here -- I love that we are on same/different journeys!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:43 PM)  

I think you are so right, Sydney -- some of the struggles and questions are universal, even though some of us have had a strong faith for a long time (like you) and some of us are hanging on by our fingernails (like me!).

Really good point about Katrina Kenison, too -- I love "The Gift of an Ordinary Day" -- and doesn't the title just say it all? She is writing about the ordinary...or rather, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Love you!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:48 PM)  

I'm glad we're on the journey together, too, Kathy -- and thank you, thank you for this insightful comment and your advice. The industry HAS changed hugely (Rachelle wrote a post at her blog about that today). And the changes your husband has had to endure are terribly hard. I really feel for him. And it's true. Gone are the bookstore clerks that you can hang out with for 20 minutes discussing books -- they quickly tap onto a keyboard, lead you to the section, and their job is done.

I like your willingness to step outside the box and listen for what God may be telling you about what's next. You are a great inspiration and role model for me in that regard!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 8:55 PM)  

Kim, thank you, thank you -- and yes, I will pray for you in this middle place, too. I love how you put that -- that it's just "a middle" and that God has a whole plan for us. I'm smiling and resting a bit more in that, too.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:00 PM)  

All really good questions that you and your husband are grappling with, Kathleen. I think in some ways we've gotten complacent -- we've grown accustomed to having shallow, easy entertainment spoon-fed to us. The TV shows or the books that dig and wrestle take too much time and thought in this media-frenzied world.

Have you read the book "The Shallows," by Nicholas Carr? I'm afraid that I agree with him -- it seems that our brains are being rewired to swallow quick bites of information at a rapid pace, rather than taking the time to digest deeper more thoughtfully presented information.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:00 PM)  

So true, Sheila. As usual, you know just the right thing to say.

Sheila Seiler Lagrand  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:03 PM)  

Michelle, you're too kind. Really. 


See, I can sit here and reflect for a long time if need be. In face-to-face conversations I stumble and stammer and put my foot in my mouth. 

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:05 PM)  

Thanks, Rachelle -- so glad you are taking a risk on me! My husband has reminded me of your point more than once (see, I meant what I said about him talking me off the ledge): "Michelle," he says, "If she didn't think she could sell your book she wouldn't have taken you on as a client. She didn't sign you on out of pity, you know!" Oh yeah, I forget that sometimes! :)

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:08 PM)  

I'm pretty far along in the process, actually -- the book is done. It's in my agent's hands to pitch to a publishing house. So it's completely out of my control (and it really always has been, as you point out). I really do like what you say about God always having "the right thing" in store for us. No matter what it is, it's the right thing. That really does bring me peace. Thank YOU!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:10 PM)  

"Rumors of Water" is a great example. I love that book. I read it in one sitting because I just couldn't stop, and now I'm going to go back and read it again, this time more slowly. Thanks for offering me the perfect example here, Gabe.

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:11 PM)  

I loved Operating Instructions and enjoyed The Glass Castle, too. And I admit, I picked up Burroughs' "Dry" in Barnes and Noble one day and could not put it down -- I stood at the display table reading for at least 20 minutes (although I didn't love his "Running with Scissors" -- too over the top!).

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:12 PM)  

Mary, you are sweet -- and I'm so glad to know we are going to meet in person soon. Can't wait!

mary kathryn –   – (October 19, 2011 at 9:37 PM)  

I know there are all kinds of angst; I'd just like to avoid the particular kind I see my writing friends going through, with their agents. It doesn't appeal to me, but perhaps it doesn't bother others. An from our modern readers, I do think many are stuck on plot, so much so that we are losing the ability, as writers, to describe beautifully. No one has patience. They want the next event.

I hope you both find that "hook." 

smoothstones –   – (October 19, 2011 at 9:53 PM)  

Good for you for being done. I'm just getting started.

Matthew –   – (October 19, 2011 at 10:15 PM)  

Thank you, Michelle. It's time for me to cast a hook into my writing table, too.

So here's to bumbling, stuttering, and wet and sweaty ears!

Southern Gal  – (October 20, 2011 at 5:52 AM)  

God's saving grace is worth reading about every.single.time.
Keep at it. 

Christine LaRocque  – (October 20, 2011 at 6:15 AM)  

I hope you realize that there is an audience for what you are writing. I think you know that after my own post this week - how lost so many of us feel, how much so many of us need to learn from what you've learned. And even if it  doesn't hit a bestseller list, even if your words don't extend beyond this blog, you ARE making a difference. Keep writing, no matter what, keep writing.
xo

Amy Sorrells –   – (October 20, 2011 at 7:09 AM)  

You too??!?? I thought I was the only one who broke into a Broadcast News-like sweat and paced the house like a caged beast when talking to Rachelle about hooks! I stink at hooks. And our journeys have so many other similarities. I turned to fiction writing last year when in our same dilemma, and it's been great fun! I see several others have thrown that idea out to you. Fiction writing is a whole new learning curve, but storytelling is storytelling, really. The world needs your words, Michelle! Don't give up and know you're not the only one to flounder in all those emotions you describe above. I'm so grateful I read this blog post. Truly, it's a great encouragement to me, too. Writing mercies to you, girl!!!

Cathy  – (October 20, 2011 at 8:48 AM)  

It's all about the writing. Rick Bragg could write about a year of walking to the mailbox every day, and I'd buy it. Also, with the popular memoirs (The Liar's Club, The Glass Castle, etc.) - yes, they had great hooks, but honestly? I was swept away by the glorious writing. I wouldn't have cared what they were talking about. Seriously.

You're a very good writer. I liked this post. :-)

Stacy S. Jensen  – (October 20, 2011 at 9:18 AM)  

I've read several traditional published memoirs that don't seem to have a flashy "hook," but the life topic made me read it. I read lots of nonfiction - essays, stories, etc. and I always learn something about myself or something I don't want to repeat. My heart ached for you when I read this post. I liked your agent's response. Memoir is wildly popular, but it's a tough market to crack - so it seems. 

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 20, 2011 at 12:38 PM)  

Oh Amy, you made me smile at your description of the sweating caged beast! Thank you, thank you for your honest and encouraging words here. They help so much -- and it helps, too, to know I'm not the only one with the memoir hook issue! The thought of jumping into fiction-writing though...egad...that scares the heck of out of me! You are brave to try something new -- I am so impressed with your courage. I've never written a word of fiction -- I wouldn't even know how to begin. Maybe I need to pick up a writing craft book or two and at least start thinking about it? I think I might break out in hives at just the thought!
 
Seriously, thank YOU for your encouragement!! And writing mercies right back at you!

Michelle DeRusha  – (October 20, 2011 at 12:39 PM)  

Renee, you are the best -- what a good point! Thank YOU!

Emily Wierenga  – (October 20, 2011 at 3:13 PM)  

my dear michelle... you and i are so very similar. i wish i knew the answer. all i know is, when i finally make it into the CBA, i'm determined to change it. :) (my husband is always cautioning me to go slow... i wonder why? :)) love you. don't give up, okay? yours is an important story, even if you decide to tell it eventually through fiction... xo

Connie@raise your eyes  – (October 20, 2011 at 10:51 PM)  

 I know Rachelle is terrific in her field but....I will buy your book as soon as it's on Amazon.com...because I love your writing. I don't need a hook...nor do I want to be hooked. I just want to read worthy writing.

Donna –   – (October 22, 2011 at 6:19 AM)  

I'm not a writer. I'm a reader and a person with opinions who blogs but I've always been curious why so many bloggers feel they have to have a book in them to be validated as a writer. 
Isn't it enough to give your stories and observations form and a life of their own and set them free?
You have several avenues already through which to impact peoples lives and their faith... why the insistence on a book?
Not a judgment, just wondering if that's something you might want to look at.

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