One of my goals for 2021 is to mark the release of my first book, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings: a mother’s search for grace. Telling you a few things you don’t know about it should be easy. I haven’t told you much.
1. The author is frequently unavailable for comment.
For a long time, I didn’t discuss my book because I don’t share my unfinished work with people. I don’t even let my family glance over my shoulder while I’m typing; it sets my teeth on edge. This distrust has bled over into the rest of the Zooks. I recently observed one of my kids getting all defensive when someone peeked at his unfinished Yahtzee scoresheet. I thought that was taking it a little too far. I would never be that way. Not at all.
These days, with my work nearly completed, I am still shy. I think there will be lovers and haters of this release. And when one has wanted something for a long time and it comes, one runs the real risk of becoming a tiresome salesperson (given my personality, not likely) or a self-absorbed fathead (more probable). Pretty sure there are a few of you who will be more than happy to nip those tendencies in the bud. Thank you in advance.
2. I am really excited.
It’s the best and worst writing I’ve done. That is to say, containing the most layers of Shari – humor and pain and thought and sarcasm. It has my best ideas in it, and my worst poetry. (Does anyone remember The Year I Had Bronchitis and He Had Pneumonia? Yeah. Coming soon to own – so much to look forward to.)
Perhaps because it is my first book, or perhaps because it is about motherhood over a thirteen-year swatch of my life, it contains a surprisingly large portion of my history. I asked permissions from a lot of people. But honestly I think everyone I’ve ever really loved is tucked in those pages somewhere, and perhaps only they will recognize themselves. Perhaps not even then.
3. I didn’t seek this opportunity. But I rejoiced (and panicked) when it came.
Two years ago, an acquisitions editor from Herald Press reached out to me to ask if I had any book ideas I’d like to share with her. Wow. That was a dream come true, and it lit up my brain in the middle of the worst December of my life (2018 – think, losing three children), but it also intimidated the tar out of me.
We batted around a few of my ideas, and she liked one and said – “Write me a proposal. I can’t guarantee that my team will take it, but we’d like to take a look.” She sent me a link to walk me through the process.
A book proposal is a comprehensive pre-layout of a book. It took me a year to write it, and by then I had a large chunk of the book going on. First times are stretching, and I wanted to have something worth turning in. It took forever just to find the voice I wanted to use.
By the time I reached out to Herald Press, the editor who had contacted me no longer worked for them, but before realizing that fact I spent an anxious week or two waiting to hear back from her. That was kinda silly-crazy. Then I did a little Googling and reached out to a current editor, who responded immediately to acknowledge receipt. I still wore an aura of interest because I came through one of their own, even if she wasn’t there anymore. I feel super grateful to her – thanks, Valerie.
4. I wrote through each of the chapters three times or more.
This probably sounds like overkill, but one of the ways I talked myself through committing to the process was by calling it “rough drafting” of the chapters. Just getting the stories down. It was truly rough work, but it gave me time to develop my style and content, without fine-tuning anything I would later have to go back and rework substantially. The second time through, I wrote the content – the ideas and takeaways and spiritual journey and thoughts – tucked into the stories, which I also reworked. The third time, I polished and smoothed and made sure everything fit together. Then I turned it in.
5. The act of writing was cathartic and faith-building for me, in a difficult year.
When I got my acceptance letter from HP in February of 2020 (rush of emotion) and signed my book contract with them in early March, I imagined that I was sailing into smoother waters, a good place to write from. We were healing from fostering losses, our son was on his home stretch at boys’ camp, and life was looking up.
I had no idea that within weeks, my husband would share the disclosures that rocked our world, leading to months of painful healing. I had no idea that Covid was about to smite the earth, nor that I was about to become a homeschool mom. I would NEVER have picked this timing. I considered asking for time from my publisher, perhaps a year’s delay instead of “first draft due in October.” But I knew that having committed, the task would hang over my head until completion. I didn’t want that.
Honestly, as I look back I’m grateful. First, our intentional break this year from foster parenting (to welcome our son home and reestablish his belonging and stability), and our simultaneous break from pastoring (as a result of my husband’s confessions), created a great deal of time and quiet.
Second, I needed to be reminded of God’s goodness in the past, and his faithfulness through all of our journey so far. It was a meaning-making and truth-seeking kind of writing, wrestling and penniless and productive. I badly needed this currency. Third…
6. If you summed up the theme of my book in one word, you might call it CRACKING.
How can you write a book about cracking from a place of strength? The inadequacy and grief of the past year shaped the tone of the book, my desperate need of Jesus, and my complete inability to patch nice platitudes and smiley faces over our history.
Nope. I would never have picked this timing, but I look back and am grateful.
7. When I saw my book cover for the first time, I screamed for joy.
I didn’t know Herald Press’s current style of covers. I was secretly hoping for bright and contemporary, but I had not told anyone that. (A cover is one of the few things the publisher owns complete discretion in.) And the idea of combining the two images had never crossed my mind. I don’t want to be sacrilegious, but it was like seeing the face of my baby for the first time. I don’t know the name of the man who designed it [Update: Reuben Graham], but I bet he went home from work that day feeling proud of himself. I love it.
I’ve seen two versions of the peanut butter wings, one neat and one messy, and I’m not sure yet which is going to win the day. Stay tuned!
8. Each chapter shares one of twelve “surprisingly uncomfortable ways” to reach for grace.
All of the content is framed around motherhood, but the theme includes more than that. I talk about the help of medication, the cost of owning no, the saving grace of girlfriends, the gift of physicality, and more stuff like that. If you’ve been reading here on Confessions for long, you will recognize the stories. But you’ll hear more careful and comprehensive versions there. (Consider yourself warned.)
I just finished two rounds with the most delightful content editor known to mankind, Margot Starbuck. I now love her so much, and working with her was straight-up gift. She blew my ideas about editors to shreds: every word in that book is still my own. Now we are on to copyediting, design, reviewers, and final stages! Still due for release July 6.
9. I think you will like it.
10. And I feel like I should add another point just to make it ten.
I like experimenting with the effects of different writing locations and other variables. Some days what I wrote felt like junk copy, and I rewrote it all the next time… other days, the words chose to play nice. I liked those days a lot better.
If you like to write – stories, journals, letters – where and how do you do it?