Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bitter Blessings Leaves a Sweet Taste

(Shirley) Thank you for coming to the cemetery today. Sorry about the rain, but at least we’ve got my big golf umbrella to stand under. I love the sound of rain. One thing I don’t love is reading cliché “conversion stories.” They make me want to gag on my Postum.
“Bitter Blessings” may be classified as a conversion story, but I think it is so much more. For one thing, it’s not sappy. It’s actually more like a delicious mystery, with a compelling twist that I did not see coming. Each character is true to their role, and the protagonist, Megan Randall (did I spell that last name right :o)?) is not a perfectly-picked-on Cinderella.
Thank goodness.
Megan has trials, indeed, with family deaths and trauma handed out to her right and left. She shoulders her load for a long time, but then finally breaks, just as a real human being (like me) might, and has to deal with added regret and sorrow. (Also just like me.)
But hold on! This book is not without its lighter moments. I had to laugh out loud when Megan’s friend, Adam, described some prom dresses he’d seen in a catalogue with a shudder and the words, “There was lace and big bows and poufy skirts.” Having raised six sons, I can just hear the perplexed and dismayed tone in his voice when uttering those words.
Well, well, look who’s coming. If it isn’t Christine Mehring herself. Look out for that headstone, Christine. Here, get under this umbrella with me.
(Christine) Hello, Shirley. I'm so glad you were willing to meet me here today. Most people get a little skeevy when they find out how much I enjoy walking in the cemetery but I think the atmosphere here is just dense with stories, and besides, it's quiet and people tend to leave you alone.
(Shirley) Especially if you're standing in one spot, reading headstones. Hey, I have to wonder, have you ever lost anyone close to you?
(Christine) Only my grandparents, all of whom were dear to me, and very elderly. So far, the rest of my family has been kind enough to stick around.
(Shirley) That is nice of them. Your description was so close to the heart that I’m curious just how this story developed in your wondrous little brain.
(Christine) I just have a slightly overdeveloped imagination. :) Actually, I start stories with what amounts to a couple of snapshots in my head - a beginning scene and an end. Watching my characters get from point A to point Z is what makes everything worthwhile. As the story developed, I realized I wanted to accomplish a couple of things with it. First, I wanted to write LDS YA fiction that would have appealed to me as a teenager. I read a lot as a kid, and I wanted to like LDS fiction, I really did, but I always left it feeling like, well, let's just say that Polly Perfect Protagonist and I didn't have much in common. Second, I wanted to explore how a "typical" LDS family would handle the need to share the gospel in a situation where they couldn't just bear a testimony or offer an invitation to church.
(Shirley) Well, it really worked. From the greenish thumb that sends tendrils through your book, I’m thinking that you probably have a fern at home, or did when you were a child. I loved your description of lying on the floor and looking up through the fern’s branches and feeling transported to another place. Are you quite the gardener?
(Christine) I am an outdoor gardener only. I've actually had my license to own houseplants revoked due to criminal neglect. My mother is the queen of houseplants and the ferns belong to her.
(Shirley) Hey, look, the sun’s coming out. Let me just move this umbrella… oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to dump that water down your neck. It’s almost like going swimming in the waters around French Polynesia, isn’t it? No? How do you know, have you ever been there?
(Christine) I haven't ever been there. My imaginary self is an accomplished sailor who spends at least half of each year blissfully island hopping. Unfortunately, my real self gets seasick in the bathtub. Maybe someday my imaginary self will tie me up, buy a boat, stock the hold with Dramamine and off we'll go. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
(Shirley) How are you at crossing your toes? Oh. Never mind. That makes your eyes cross, too. No matter. It’s so nice to feel the warmth of the sun and the warmth of love that you so skillfully wrote at the end of your novel. I do hope this cemetery doesn’t mean that this is the death of your writing career.
(Christine) I hope not. It certainly isn't the end of writing, or the end of killing characters off. I'm currently working on a murder mystery for the LDS adult market. It deals with a woman who comes back to her small hometown after a long absence just in time for the suspicious death of a person she used to know. I love complicated characters with buckets of motives, secret personal agendas, quirks, conflicts, doubts, and deeply held convictions. Mysteries seem to be my natural home. No matter which genre I choose to work in, there's always going to be a puzzle to solve.
(Shirley) Oh, look, our ride is here. Hm. There’s only one seat left up front. I’ll take it. You go ahead and ride in the back where you can stretch out. Go on, there’s plenty of room, all the coffins have been unloaded. That’s what you get for killing off your protagonist’s families. There you go. Nice and comfy? Good. Let’s go out to eat. What do you say to some good old all American hospital food?
(Christine) Sounds good to me. Can I have your jell-o?

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