March 2014: The Children Are Tender

Caregiving, teaching little kids to read, and riding in the pickup with Farmer John; I tweet, pin, and blog, from my home in rural Kansas. If you've landed here looking for information about my books, visit my author's page by clicking this link: A. Born. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Farmer John Gets Creative

It may come as a surprise to some that authors are not typically the ones who select the titles for their books.  Once an author signs on the dotted line of a publishing contract, creative control is, if not lost, certainly diminished.

I shouldn't have been surprised that my current editor does not want to call my new book The Children Are Tender.  I've prayed about this and feel led to stand firm, for now.  That the title is an apt one for my book and reflects God's heart for children is not the point; publishers need to assure that a book is given a catchy title that will sell.

Awhile ago my husband, Farmer John, came home in the middle of the day and went to bed, chilling and groaning.  This is unprecedented; and I fear a case of influenza.  He knows of my title woes, and while I was putting a second cover over his shaking frame he began muttering.  I leaned as close as I dared, given that he is probably contagious, and heard him mutter, "A Teacher's Diary."

"What, Honey, what did you say?"

"Title for your book.  Teacher's Diary."

I was touched.  "Thank you Sweetheart, but you'd better go to sleep now."

A few minutes later he called out, "The Children Are Innocent!" And awhile after that, "Lighting the Way!"

That was a couple of hours ago, and every ten minutes or so since then, like the Old Faithful he is, another prospective title erupts from his lips:

"In the School Yard."

"Turning the Light On."

"Schooldays at Karola."

"Management, Staff, and Children"

"Joys and Tears of Teaching"

I don't know how to tell him that the publishers have wished me a Merry Christmas and have said they won't be in contact again until after the first of the year.  Meantime I'd better get out a pad and pencil to record Farmer John's fever-induced thoughts. He just might come up with a title that will please both his wife and the publisher.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lydia and Linda, Born and Birn

At a book signing a couple of weeks ago a fellow author said jovially, "Well I see the main character in your new book is named Lydia Birn."

He leaned forward and winked at me several times.  "Soooo--do you think anyone will figure out the similarity between your name and the lead character's? OH let me see...who MIGHT Lydia be modeled after in real life???"

I attempted to explain to him that at this stage of my life I bear a much closer resemblance to the character I named Abby than to Lydia, but he was still wagging his head and winking and I decided to ignore him.

Naming book characters carries with it a similar weight of responsibility to that of naming one's children, and I blush with the realization that giving my lead character a similar name to my own echoes past naming patterns. My husband's name is John, our son is Jonathan.  My name is Linda, our daughter is Melinda.  Since my husband is John Born IV I actually feel I was quite the rebel to call our son Jonathan rather than John, and I have lengthy explanations as to why Melinda's name has nothing to do with my own.  No one ever believes me so I've stopped trying to correct the idea that I named my daughter after myself.  You would think I'd have learned something from all the years of teasing I've endured for naming my daughter so that her name sounds as though I was literally trying to create a mini me:  ME---Linda.

I've always had the name "Lydia" in the back of my mind as a name for the lead character in my novel and that was that, to have changed her name would have been like learning to call my best friend by a different name.  I chose the last name Birn because I once had a child who called me "Mrs. Boin."  I thought this so sweet that I wanted to include her darling foible in my book with no changes, and giving Lydia a similar last name to my own accomplished this.  I needed a German surname, and Birn has Germanic roots.  And so Lydia and John Birn are the lead characters in my book.

That's all the explanation I have.  Lydia Birn is who she is and I can't change her now at this late date (unless my editor says I have to that is...).

If you'd like to see a brief characterization of the lead characters in The Children Are Tender, click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hope for the Future

John walks across a newly rebuilt pond dam, the bare dirt cracked and dry beneath his feet. 
 When I was writing The Children Are Tender, I carried a camera as I did chores with my husband, the real life Farmer John ("Farmer John" is one of the main characters in the book).  As we drove from field to pasture, I captured Kansas beauty frame by frame, and then spent the afternoon hours at my word processor working hard to paint word pictures that conveyed the blessings of our rural life. These descriptions provided a setting that I think brings the story into sharper focus. 

This pond was twice the size it is now just a couple of years ago.  That's our dog, Annie, stopping by for a drink. 
 Now, however, the countryside reveals a different ambiance.  Two years of drought have caused ponds to shrink in size or to disappear completely.  Grasses are parched and break with an audible crunch when I tromp across the pasture above our house on my evening stroll.  Dust grits between my teeth if my walk takes me down our gravel road.

I find myself wondering what Lydia would make of such stark surroundings. Lydia is the main character in The Children Are Tender, and one of her defining characteristics is a deep love for nature. A recurrent theme throughout the book is her habit of stopping along the road to enjoy God's creation.  Would she be able to find refreshment from the nature scenes I'm photographing now?  Even the trees seem weighted by a burden of suffering; much earlier in the season than normal they began to cast down their leaves like dry teardrops. 

I  believe Lydia would still find beauty.  I don't want to provide a spoiler here, but the story's ending does show that Lydia is a woman of faith, able to hold to hope when circumstances offer little reason to trust. 

It will rain again.  When the rains come we will lift thanks and begin to take blessings such as green grass and growing crops for granted once more.  Meantime, like Lydia, we can find beauty in unexpected places and trust God for the future.  

Through a haze of dust the stark outline of a sunflower reveals sculptural beauty.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Edgar and Mrs. Birn

The characters in The Children Are Tender came to life for me with such clarity that I began to feel I was writing a story that already existed rather than creating something new.  I was afraid this phenomenon was simply my own almost-maternal feeling toward my book, but then I had a dear friend read the manuscript. Toward the end of the tale she found herself praying for a character who was preparing to make a speech before the school board: "Dear Lord please be with Ruth..."

My friend said she jerked to reality with a start as she realized she didn't need to spend intercessory energy on a book character, and then looked quickly around her as though to check whether anyone noticed...

I found myself similarly connected to a little guy named Edgar who appears in chapter ten. He is an emotionally damaged child who finally lets down his guard and runs across the playground into his teacher's arms. This vignette was so clear in my mind that the night before my pre-publication checklist was due, I had my daughter and conveniently first-grade-sized grandson re-inact the scene. It was a blustery October day, the sun was under a cloud, and we didn't have time or energy to go to the playground at the school. I couldn't find my old teacher's whistle to use as a prop; the scene was so clear in my mind that the impact of the child's body into the teacher's arms flings her whistle back over her shoulder. Nevertheless, I used my phone camera to snap a few hasty shots, and somehow the results elicit the emotion of that moment in chapter ten. The boy's fists are clenched shut, the curve of his cheek and shape of his head elicit empathy, and the teacher's comforting arms offer hope for this child. I sent the photo off to the publisher along with my author bio and back cover copy.

I'm looking forward to seeing the publisher's design!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

To Design We Go...

I received an email yesterday telling me my book project has been sent to the design team.  We'll see how many elements of my cover design survive when a Real Designer who is a Real Artist goes to work. The publisher tells me first round edit completion is scheduled for December 3.  On that day of reckoning the edits will be shared with me...prayers appreciated.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Welcome to Karola

Yes, this is Lebo's sign, shamelessly photoshopped to become the welcome to the fictional town of Karola. 
Karola, Kansas is a fictional place inspired by my own Kansas hometown of Lebo. Like the character of Lydia in The Children Are Tender, I married into a wonderful community. Neither Lydia or I were born and bred in the towns we eventually came to call home.

With just three exceptions, there are no Leboites in Karola; Anna and Bob Williamson do bear a startling resemblance to my parents, and there will be quite a few people who recognize Farmer John Birn as my husband, John Born. The other inhabitants of Karola came to life for me in a very real way, as though they were new friends I was meeting for the first time. Before long I began to feel I was writing a story that already existed, a story the Lord wanted told.

The Children Are Tender is scheduled to be published in late spring or early summer. I hope you'll stop by this blog often in the next few months for an introduction to the Karola community and school.