I don't normally blog about books I've read, and I normally try to stay positive in all my online posts, but I recently finished a book that made me so angry, I'm making an exception on both counts.
To preface, writing is an artform, and, on one hand, can be expressed using whatever mechanism the writer is inspired to present. On the other hand, authors have a certain responsibility to readers. That is, if they actually care about readers and hope people continue to read their work. A writer has a responsibility to not betray the reader's trust. Early in a book, a certain expectation is set as to how the book is going to make the reader feel. An unspoken promise is made, and based on that promise, the reader decides to invest their time and emotion in the story.
I spent ten hours listening to an audiobook this past week. On a five-hour drive to a work conference and back, the book was a welcome companion. The narrator is a very talented voice actor. Simply brilliant. And the author is an amazing writer. The story had beautiful, poetic descriptions, deep characterization, and a thought-provoking plot with gut-wrenching conflicts and heart-rending obstacles that had me invested emotionally. I was enchanted by the writing style with lyrical, moving prose in every scene. The book had a solid, well-woven Biblical message and profound insights on important, relatable topics. And then . . . the book had a TWIST ENDING that made me so ANGRY I can hardly see straight even the following day. I feel duped. Not that the twist isn’t brilliant. It definitely is. But I’m still mad about it. I haven't been this mad about a story since Rhett walked out of Scarlett's life and slammed the door behind him. In that case, however, I didn't feel tricked.
This isn't the scenario, but as an example, imagine reading a story and finding out at the end that the character had dreamed the whole thing. It's strange that the "trickery" affected me so dramatically, because the book is fiction anyway. I get that. But somehow, I feel manipulated and like my investment was wasted. I'm not going to name the book or the author, and I understand, from reviews, that hundreds of people disagree with me. They weren't affected in the same way. Some loved the twist! But plenty of reviewers do agree with me.
As an author, I hope to make people cry. It means they connected with the characters and the story. But I also want them to feel that their emotional connection to the story was worthwhile. I want them to feel rewarded for their effort at the end of the book. I never want readers to feel cheated.
To the author's credit, I wouldn't be so mad if she wasn't a wonderful writer. Her words made me care. They made feel. And, even if much of my emotion about the book is anger, I don't regret the experience. I think eventually my view will soften, but this book will certainly stick with me for a long time.
My writing tends to have one overarching theme, found in Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." All story has conflict, but within that conflict, I aim to weave the truth that God can make good out of every situation. My work of Southern Fiction/Women's Fiction, Songs for a Sunday, includes many themes under this umbrella.
The main character in the present-day story, Missy, sees herself as a wife and stay-at-home mother of four. As a daughter and a granddaughter. But is there more to who she is? Does she want to be more? In the 1960s, Missy's grandmother, Annie, saw herself as a dancer. But who did she become when that was taken away from her? When the other dreams she held so dear were no longer possible? Ultimately, Songs for a Sunday is about the peace of finding our identity in Christ.
Family is a central topic in Songs for a Sunday. It follows the stories of two sets of sisters in different generations and also explores the dynamics between husband and wife, father and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, and mother and children. The book focuses on the importance of family and the value of being loyal.
3. Faith vs. Doubt:
In the story, the main character in the present day experienced a hurt that she allowed to pull her away from God. As a teenager, Missy felt rejected by a fellow believer, someone she loved, and that rejection caused her faith to crumble. To describe her pain, I gleaned from some very personal experiences. Fortunately, my outcome was that only my faith in people suffered, not my faith in God. But faith versus doubt is a major theme of the story. I hope readers that identify with this struggle will resolve their own debate on the side of faith.
4. Sacrificial Love:
One of my favorite themes in any story is sacrificial love. It's the way we're called to live as Christians--counter to our human nature. How powerful is the kind of love that makes us prefer others wants and needs above our own! The theme of sacrificial love is most on display in the 1960s storyline and is demonstrated by an older sister willing to give put her life on hold and give up her dreams, to face ridicule and uncertainty to help her younger sister. And both sisters sacrifice for the sake of an unexpected baby.
Without giving too much away, Songs for a Sunday carries a clear, distinct message of redemption. All of us need redemption, so the theme is universal. I my story, the character who had abandoned her faith for many years is confronted with the idea of belief again. Like all of us, she has a choice to make: Accept or reject the free gift of redemption.
I'm sure there are other themes we could discuss, but I hope this look at five of the major themes of the story has piqued your interest. Songs for a Sunday is available at Amazon and other retailers.
I love split-time books. I think I was first introduced to that writing mechanism by Fannie Flagg, who is one of my favorite authors. But writing split-time means a historical timeline in addition to the contemporary, which, in my opinion, means more research.
In writing Songs for a Sunday, I relied heavily on two resources: the Winston-Salem Time Traveler website, owned by Molly Rawls, and the North Carolina Collection of the Forsyth County Central Library. There is an amazing wealth of information in both places. I had articles and photographs right at my fingertips to help in constructing a 1960s story.
Ms. Rawls is the author of five books about Winston-Salem, including Winston-Salem: From the Collection of Frank B. Jones, Jr. Mr. Jones was a photographer for the Winston-Salem Journal and Twin City Sentinel newspapers. He captured the city in photos from the 1930s to the early 1970s.
While doing research for the book, I discovered that Winston-Salem celebrated its bicentennial in one of the years in which the story is set. Though Winston and Salem actually merged in 1913, the oldest of the two cities is Salem, which was founded in 1766. In 1966, the city had a year-long celebration to celebrate its 200th birthday, which included hosting Billy Graham at the Festival of Thanksgiving in November of that year. In December, The Nutcracker was first performed by students from North Carolina School of the Arts, which is mentioned in the book.
Somewhere along the way, my research landed me on eBay, where I discovered the juice glasses pictured below. These glasses were made to commemorate the birthday, and they are in great condition. Of course, I had to buy them for inspiration. Having these in my home, something Annie might have owned and passed down to Missy, helped me feel closer to the characters I was writing about.
I hope readers learn a few things about Winston-Salem and enjoy the history sprinkled throughout Songs for a Sunday.
The book releases 2/7/23 and is available for pre-order now:
Want to know how I have a story set in the future that isn't a "futuristic" story?
Songs for a Sunday is my first split-time novel. A story set in the 1960s is told alongside a story set in the present day and the two merge to tell a bigger story. In that way, the book is both historical and contemporary, which makes it only my second historical work.
After writing Where I Was Planted, for a time, I doubted I would do another historical. All books take research, but in my experience, there is much more research time involved for historical (and I only had to go as far back as the 1960s.) While I find it all interesting, it definitely adds another level of complexity to novel-writing.
Another layer of complexity for split-time is aligning the story timelines and keeping them straight. When I wrote Songs for a Sunday, primarily back in 2020, I ran into what seemed like a problem. One of my characters needed to be born around the time the North Carolina School of the Arts was being planned. But in the present-day story, that same character needed to celebrate a milestone birthday because his party is important to the plot. For my character to have been celebrating his 60th birthday, it meant my "present day" storyline would begin in Fall of 2023, since I didn't want to alter the dates of real historical events. But was it okay to tell a story that far in the future and have the heading on the page be "Present Day?"
When I first started pitching the story, an editor told me not to stress over the dates too much because there was no way to know when the story would get published. And she was right. The publication date landed in the same year as the "present day" timeline, even though the book will be published a little over eight months before the story actually begins.
As stressful as nailing down the timeline was, it's the kind of thing I enjoy about writing books. The planning and the telling are like putting together a puzzle, except you don't know exactly what the picture will look like until you're finished. Songs for a Sunday releases February 7, 2023, and I hope you enjoy the final product.
My obsession with audiobooks probably started last year when I listened to the three books in "The Broken Road" series by Richard Paul Evans. I listen to audiobooks primarily through the subscription service Sribd, and I almost always have a book playing while I'm driving. I even bought a Bluetooth speaker so I can connect my phone and listen to audiobooks in the shower. I listened to some fantastic stories this year, and I'm excited to share the list with you.
The following are in no particular order, and there's a chance that I actually listened to some of them late last year. (I didn't track the dates and time is running together.) I'm also quite sure I'm forgetting some. But all of the books listed below are wonderful.
Now that I've shared some great books with you, I feel it's time to share my shameful secret. I've been dreading this for a while.
I wasn't a reader of Christian Fiction before I started writing Christian Fiction. To be fair, I didn't set out to write a book, either. When a story struck me one day back in 2017, and I felt compelled (obsessed) to write it, I was excited that I could create a piece of fiction and tell people about Jesus at the same time, It was only after I dove headfirst into writing and publishing Grace & Lavender that I realized there are thousands of brilliant people with the same goal.
I actually was not a big reader when I started writing, which I felt guilty about. I had read everything written by Fannie Flagg (except the most famous one made into a movie) and I had been enamored for years with Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. I really enjoyed Robert Beatty's Serafina series, too. But how could I love writing so much and not be passionate about reading? It made me feel like an imposter.
I quickly learned that, along with studying writing through conferences, craft books, blogs, and podcasts, I needed to study other writer's works, too. For a long time, that made reading even harder because I analyzed everything I read, rather than simply enjoying it. That, combined with my lack of time to sit down and read, is one of the reasons I love audiobooks so much. Having someone read to me takes away some of the inclination to analyze sentence structure and verb choices. Plus, I can listen while I do so many other things. Some of the books I listed above have sparked a renewed passion for reading. Now I can't seem to get enough. Maybe audiobooks would be a good choice for you, too.
I truly hope Songs for a Sunday will be released as an audiobook, but I won't know that for a while. Three of my books are available on audio now, though. (Where I Was Planted is my favorite.)
Happy reading and listening in 2023!
The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12) So, when someone says that a movie, book, or sermon "brings the Bible to life," it doesn't mean the Bible needs reviving. At least, it shouldn't. But as fans of the wildly popular television series "The Chosen" attest, retellings of Bible stories can help us understand and relate to those historical events in a new and powerful way.
In Bible story books for children, the thoughts and feelings of Biblical characters are often imagined, and details extraneous to the Biblical account are included to help the reader visualize what the scene might have looked like. Biblical Fiction for adults does the same thing, but often with plotlines and character arcs that go much further into the "what might have happened" realm while staying true to Biblical information and the overall theme of Scripture. My dad, Bobby W. Norman's, first published book, In the Days When Judges Ruled, is a bit of a mix between the two. While you won't find the story of Jael driving a tent peg through Sisera's head in most Bible story books, it is included in his anthology about the judges of Israel, though in a standalone story about Deborah and not a novelized account of the Biblical period.
As a devoted pastor for over forty-five years, my father has spent countless hours studying the Bible. His studies, combined with his love of story and his creative imagination, resulted in TWO books released this year, both Biblical Fiction with some very unique elements, and I was honored to assist him with editing and publication.
Before the time of the judges, the nation of Israel had strayed from her godly heritage and into idolatry, and God had allowed them to be sold into the hands of their enemies as punishment. When the people repented, God sent judges to rescue them from bondage and restore their land. In the Days When Judges Ruled, which released in April 2022, is a retelling of the stories of those sixteen men and one woman, based on the record of Scripture. The unique part of the anthology is the Biblical commentary weaved into the creative writing. The stories of the judges reveal life-changing lessons for us today.
My dad's second book, The Generations of Adam, released in October 2022, and the imagination involved in the telling of the creation account is spectacular. The book takes us from the beginning of the world and Adam's fall, all the way to Adam's being redeemed from sin by the resurrected Messiah, with many thought-provoking scenes along the way. Have you ever wondered if Adam might have had a special pet in the Garden of Eden? What if it was a pet dinosaur? How perplexing it must have been when Adam and Eve realized their child had a belly button and they did not. What if Adam kept a diary of the first human experience? Told in a narrative style, this Biblical Fiction work also has a good bit of sound Biblical commentary interspersed. The first and last chapters of the book are my favorite, and the powerful message of the Gospel is brought full circle.
My dad has always been the most enthusiastic supporter of my writing career, and I am so proud he's now realized his dream of being a published author. There is much more on the way from him. Follow Bobby W. Norman on Amazon to learn more.
As the name suggests, music is an important theme in my upcoming novel, Songs for a Sunday (available for pre-order now.)
THREE SONGS, in particular, play very important roles in the story.
1.) Amazing Grace, by John Newton
Written in 1772, this beloved anthem of the church is very important to the plot of the story. After not singing in public for many years, a character in the book is encouraged to perform at a party. But the song she’s asked to sing isn’t a “party song”. It’s Amazing Grace. How can she possibly sing about a grace she gave up on a long time ago?
One of the hardest parts of writing the book was imagining that someone could sing Amazing Grace without being moved by the words. But certainly, many of us have different hurts and circumstances that, at one time or another, have hardened our hearts to truth. The beautiful thing is that grace is still alive and available, no matter what we’ve been through.
I love singing and leading others in singing Amazing Grace. After the last verse in the hymnal, at my church we often sing "Praise God" over and over to the melody.
2.) O Holy Night, by Adolphe Adam
Although not a "Christmas book," a large part of the present-day timeline in Songs for a Sunday takes place at Christmastime, and "O Holy Night" plays a MAJOR role. Don't you love this song? It has to be one of my favorites. I think my favorite line is:
"The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
3.) Peace in the Valley, by Thomas A. Dorsey, performed by Elvis Presley
I absolutely love the video of Elvis Presley singing Peace in the Valley on the Ed Sullivan Show. Something about it moves me to tears. It's been said that Ed Sullivan was hesitant to let Elvis sing a gospel song on his show and that Elvis responded, “But Mr. Sullivan, I promised my Mama.”
I'm not going to spoil how this song is used in my upcoming novel, Songs for a Sunday, but it's very important to one character in the 1960s timeline!
So far, in looking at real locations in Songs for a Sunday, we've talked about University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Reynolds Auditorium. This next location is somewhere very special and is the setting of the entire second chapter of the book.
Hanging Rock State Park is located about 30 miles north of Winston-Salem in Stokes County and was started as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was completed in 1942. The father of the two fictional sisters in my 1960s timeline was a member of the CCC and helped build the park.
The 9,011-acre park gets its name from the rock formation pictured and is a fantastic place for hiking, swimming, biking, climbing, and just enjoying nature.
My children and I spent a wonderful day at Hanging Rock State Park in May of 2019 that doubled as book research. I didn't get to visit the specific waterfall used in the story on that day, so I had to rely on pictures, but my family did hike to it on a return trip in 2021.
Songs for a Sunday releases 2/7/23, but you can pre-order now: https://www.amazon.com/Songs-Sunday-Heather.../dp/1563096137
(Image: Brett van Beynum/Google)
"This auditorium is to be devoted to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, and to the education of people, in affectionate recognition of the life and services of him in whose honor and memory it is dedicated." That's the inscription on the bronze memorial tablet in the lobby of Richard J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium in Winston-Salem, which was dedicated May 8, 1924.
Last week, I shared a little about University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a place that's history plays a very important role in my upcoming novel Songs for a Sunday. This week, I want to share another location that's featured in my book. (Can you see me in the picture, standing in the middle of those six giant columns?)
Reynolds Auditorium is the setting of TWO pivotal scenes--one in the 1960s timeline and one in the present-day timeline. Both of these scenes are some of the most emotional I've ever written.
The building is so majestic, it begged to be included in a story. And its history is so intriguing, it deserves to be remembered. There's much to tell, and I encourage you to read about it at the link below. (The site includes a digital copy of the 33-page program for the five-day celebration that marked the dedication and opening of the auditorium.) https://www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/domain/12029
Here are a few highlights about the magnificent building:
In Songs for a Sunday, two of my characters get to perform here, in very different situations. I hope you enjoy how this special location is used in the story. The book is available for pre-order now.
North Carolina School of the Arts plays a major role in my next novel, Songs for a Sunday (releasing 2/7/23.) I thoroughly enjoyed my research of the school's amazing history.
The idea of North Carolina becoming the home of the first public arts conservatory in the United States was conceived in 1962, and a state committee was established that would eventually make North Carolina School of the Arts a reality. The school opened in Winston-Salem in September of 1965.
From the school's website: "The school’s location was determined when the citizens of Winston-Salem, known as the “City of Arts and Innovation” and home of the first municipal arts council in the nation, raised nearly a million dollars in a two-day telephone campaign to win the school for the city."
In 1972, the school joined the University of North Carolina system, and in 2008, the name was officially changed to University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
The institution trains students at high school, undergraduate, graduate, and post-master's levels and consists of professional schools of Dance, Design & Production, Drama, Filmmaking, and Music.
The school is well-known for their annual production of The Nutcracker, which is referenced in Songs for a Sunday. The first performance, which two of my characters would have attended, was on December 10, 1966 at Reynolds Auditorium, a venue that's the setting of two major scenes in the book. The picture below of that performance is from the school's online digital archive: https://digitalcollections.uncsa.edu/islandora/object/uncsa%3A266
Another fun fact: The school's mascot is The Fighting Pickle.
Songs for a Sunday is available for pre-order now.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!
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