Hope Springs Eternal…Still Writing

Both the Marys will be presenting at the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s workshop in June; I’ll speak on Leaving a Legacy of Creativity and will also conduct a workshop on Writing Non-fiction Book Proposals. Mary Jedlicka Humston’s breakout session is titled “When Life’s Challenges Challenge Your Writing.”

I believe part of the reason I have been persistently and consistently writing for the last thirty years is due to the example of mentors who never stop writing, no matter what is going on in their life. That, and I’m pretty sure I would go stark raving mad if I did not take the time for writing.

One of those mentors is C. Hope Clark. I’ve considered C. Hope Clark a mentor ever since I read The Shy Writer. (since updated as The Shy Writer Reborn) As a fellow introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would face book-signings or public speaking, but thanks to her book and a great deal of hands-on experience, I’m now comfortable with both. Not only have I discovered a few markets for my writing from her FundsforWriters newsletter, Hope’s column and the short articles in it taught me a lot about the writing world. You can find some of them reprinted in the Best of FundsforWriters Vol. I. The fact that she actually took the time to reply to my e-mail with good advice when I asked about promotion and marketing shortly before my Coupon Crazy was released in 2013 facilitated that mentorship. Now, I follow her closely on Facebook, and respect her opinion on issues related to writing and publishing.  This photo popped up on Hope’s Facebook page recently, followed by her comment Still writing. 

Hopes leg

When friends and well-wishers urged her to take it easy, to watch videos, and rest up, Hope added “Husband is down with a bad disc, and I’m guardian for both Alzheimer’s parents. Though in a nursing home, I have to get them to doctors and such, manage their finances, etc. Am trying to close a deal on their house next week. Several book appearances. The garden is planted and now needs weeding and the chickens have to be tended daily. So….I’m sort of worn out. But there really isn’t an alternative to just keep on doing.”

Talk about challenges! But Hope continues to write. In fact, she is working on a sequel to her newly released Newberry Sin, Book 4 in the Carolina Slade mystery series, which I recently interviewed her about.

Tell us about your fiction books and your newest release.
The fourth in the Carolina Slade Mysteries, “Newberry Sin” is set in an idyllic small Southern town where blackmail and sex are hush-hush until they become murder. Slade holds an investigative position with Agriculture similar to what I had. She works alongside Senior Special Agent Wayne Largo, a badge and gun-totin’ real agent with a specialty in agriculture. She loves her rural South Carolina almost as much as her family, and both are displayed front and center in both books. She might not understand how a real agent would investigate, but she usually gets her guy, with Wayne often grumbling about her methods along the way. Her family’s been sucked into her cases a time or two, raising the tension, and if they aren’t involved, they have catastrophes of their own. She’s spunky with dialogue that tends to kick up dust along the way. I have to say I love this woman. And she has a pretty strong fan club.

The Edisto Island Mysteries are entertaining in their own way. Set on a real island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Callie Jean Morgan, born and raised in the Carolinas, leaves a dysfunctional family and moves north, marrying a Bostonian, both working in law enforcement. He dies as a result of one of her caseiddled with guilt and faced with a teenage son to raise, she returns to South Carolina. Her mayor dad gives her the deed to the family vacation home on Edisto Beach, and from there she builds her life back.
The characters in this book are to die for. They are colorful, humorous, and unique, much like you’d find amongst natives of a beach community. Tourism comes into play, and the series is as much about Callie’s growth as an individual as the crimes solved.


There are four Edisto mysteries with a fifth under contract. And by the way, this fifth will also find Slade from the first series, visiting Edisto and crossing Callie’s path. A fun experience for fans of both books.

To learn more about C. Hope Clark, or her books, click HERE.

Hope
Follow her on Facebook HERE.

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Book Review: How To Stop Time

Book Review written by Mary Jedlicka Humston

The books Mary and I typically review contain themes dealing with friendship or letter writing. The novel How to Stop Time by Matt Haig doesn’t have either. Instead, readers become privy to the sad effects of characters living without the steady presence of loved ones and friends.

how to stop time
Haig’s time-travel sci-fi novel masterfully creates a diagnosis of anageria for his main character Tom Hazard. Anageria is a rare, unique condition where growing older happens so slowly that one’s appearance remains young despite their age.
That’s the opposite of progeria which is a real genetic disease affecting 1 out of 4 million births according to a study from the Netherlands listed on Wikipedia. With progeria, infants age prematurely, forcing children and teens into elderly men and women despite being decades younger.
To add credence to the anageria reality in this novel, Haig explains that this condition that Tom and a small number of others possess never became public knowledge. Let me explain one reason why. Tom was born in 1581 in France and bounces around in time and country. In his first “round” he is raised by a wonderful mother. He later marries and has a child, but fears for their lives when witchcraft suspicions are bandied about because Tom’s youthful appearance never changes.

When tragedy strikes, Tom shields himself from the pain of relationships by trying to avoid them altogether. This creates conflicts in present-day England where Tom chooses to teach history, of all subjects, at the high school level!

“Yes, there had been a void inside me, but voids were underrated. Voids were empty of love but also pain. Emptiness was not without its advantages. You could move around in emptiness.” (Page. 233-234).

This book intrigued me to the end with its many plot twists. I believe it will do the same for others who want to see what happens when a character lives within a void of friendships and loved ones.

I highly recommend it even if you’re not a sci-fi lover. Give a try.

Spoiler alert: There is a happy ending!

Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

If you haven’t read Me Before You or the sequel After You by Jojo Moyes, you will still find the newest Louisa Clark (Lou) novel filled with Moyes’ trademark humor, emotion, and engrossing storyline.

still me

Readers of Still Me can’t helped but be swept away by scrappy Lou’s (mis)adventures as she paves a new life in the U. S. far from her British home.
Hired to assist and cater to the young, new wife of the uber-rich Mr. Gopnik, Lou finds herself thrust into the elite, superior society of the very, very wealthy. Yet, she is still Lou; comfortable with everyone from the doorman to the women who own a vintage clothing store to protesters trying to save a dying public library.
There’s also Margot DeWitt, a cranky neighbor with an overbearing, tiny but tenacious dog. Lou discovers everything isn’t always as it seems when it comes to Margot.
Along the way, Lou seems to lose a little bit of herself. Letters from the past, written by Will who is a main character in the book and movie Me Before You, come to her at the right time. The letters (sent by Will’s mom) end up reminding Lou to look beyond the “outer” person into the “inner soul” to realize what’s important in life.
Regular readers of this “Mary & Me” blog know that we Marys often review books that pertain to friendship and letter writing. This book combines both. I highly recommend it.
Enjoy!

Book Review: Power to Be, by Twila Belk

“If I keep my attention on my problems and heartaches they become overwhelming to me and tend to control my life. But if I fix my thoughts on God, he becomes magnified in my heart and mind, and I’m reminded of who he is and what he’s able to do.”

So writes my friend Twila Belk in her newest devotional, The Power to Be: A 40-Day Devotional: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous.  I met Twila at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago, and felt as though I was meeting a long-lost sister.

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This lovely little book doesn’t have to be utilized as a 40-day devotional. I finished it in one evening, copying down quotes that inspired or encouraged me. I have the same wall plaque she mentions hanging in her living room, though mine is in my bedroom.
Happy moments- praise God. Difficult moments- seek God. Quiet moments- worship God. Painful moments- trust God. Every moment- Thank God.
Knowing the difficulties the author has experienced in her life gives credence to her words. It doesn’t get more real than this.
I happened to pick up The Power to Be exactly when I needed it, as I’m facing some challenges in my own life. I love the quotes and the Bible verses, including my current life verse Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.

This book would make a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day, or a pick-me-up for someone you know who is going through a difficult time.
Learn more about the author at www.gottatellsomebody.com

Book Review: Becoming Madeleine

Despite it being hailed as a middle-school age biography, readers of our blog will love this book; letters, postcards, journal entries, friendship. You’ll find all of this, and much more in this delightful book.

Anyone who has read Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink  or has followed my other blog Mary Potter Kenyon for any length of time will know Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors, not for the fiction she is most famous for, but her Crosswick Journals series. One of my first blog posts was about her influence on my writing and my marriage way back in 2009.

I was in my late 30’s when I read A Circle of Quiet, identifying with the writer who was also a mother, a woman who “escaped” the cacophony of a noisy household to burn garbage in the back yard. I often did the same. Her thoughts on the craft have been very influential in my writing:

“To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline. If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” (Walking on Water, page 140)

Because it was about caring for her husband during his cancer, I read Two-Part Invention while my husband underwent cancer treatment in 2006. I was devastated by Madeleine’s loss. It was the first book I read after David died in 2012. Madeleine walked me through those first steps of the dark unknown of grief. 

“Now I am setting out into the unknown. It will take me a long while to work through the grief. There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.” (Two-Part Invention, page 228)

Madeleine L’Engle’s words touched my heart and soul so deeply, I mentioned her several times in my book  Refined By Fire; A Journey of Grief and Grace. Her granddaughter Lena graciously wrote a blurb endorsement.

“Mary Kenyon’s Refined by Fire reminds me of my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, who taught so many of us that writing can be a form of prayer that leads us to grace. I was moved to read how her influence inspired Mary to write and heal as well. Mary’s writing style is extremely accessible, and her voice raw, authentic and brave. By the end I was crying with her. I would definitely recommend her book to anyone who is going through any type of loss.”-  Léna Roy, granddaughter of Madeleine L’Engle

So it was with much anticipation I awaited the publication of Lena and her sister Charlotte’s biography of their grandmother, Becoming Madeleine.

madelieneMarketed as a middle grade biography, don’t let that stop you from reading it. This delightful book speaks to the hearts of writers and wannabe writers, as well as Madeleine L’Engle fans. It includes photographs, poems, letters and journal entries from Madeleine’s childhood, teens, and through her successes (and failures!) as a writer. I felt a real thrill of delight when I saw the photo of Crosswicks, as if spotting a favorite place. I couldn’t bear to highlight anything in this lovely book so marked pages  I want to return to with sticky notes instead.

I was fascinated by the mind of the young Madeleine, her mature insights. From her journal, at losing her beloved grandmother she called Dearma;

“I think this has been my passing from childhood into girlhood, because as mother says, though I am fifteen, I have really been a child all these years. And I read in another book that a person is never dead until you have forgotten then, so Dearma can never be dead to me, because I will never forget her.”

Then there is her reaction to a rejection from Good Housekeeping for a poem she’d sent at age 16. She not only added the rejection letter to her journal, on the opposite page, she’d written “I got this delightful little refusal from Good Housekeeping today & my poem was returned all dirtied. Someday Good Housekeeping will ask me to write poems for it!! 

There were a few surprises. While I’d known about the loss of her husband through the Crosswicks Journal series, I hadn’t realized she’d lost a son years later. When I read that, I wanted to pick up pen and paper to write her a letter. Which just goes to show you; the true power of a good biography is that it brings the subject alive. 

“We don’t want to feel less when we have finished a book; we want to feel that new possibilities of being have been opened to us. We don’t want to close a book with a sense that life is totally unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that we have been given illumination.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Thank you, Léna and Charlotte. You have managed to bring illumination to this famous writer’s life who just happened to be your grandmother. I hope you have already considered the possibilities in working on an adult biography, as well.

Book Review: 30 Days to Peace journal

SinSELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81SELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81ce both Marys journal, and fans of our book are likely to be interested in journals,  I decided to review this one-month creative journal on the Mary and Me blog, instead of my personal blog, http://www.marypotterkenyon.com

30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journalis a lovely little book .

30 days

I freely admit to choosing it from BloggingforBooks (in exchange for an honest review) because of the cover, and the description:

“In our loud and busy lives, it’s easy to miss the life-giving breeze of peace. That’s what this interactive journal is for. It’s about slowing down and taking time to pursue and embrace peace. It’s about welcoming the call to be a peacemaker. It’s about finding a peace rooted in faith rather than circumstances and living out that miracle every day. This is an invitation to create, write, doodle, and draw your way into the deep, lasting peace of God.”

Who doesn’t want peace in their life? What busy woman doesn’t need a reminder to slow down and find peace in faith?

That said, it feels like there is a lot of wasted space in this journal, when Bible quotes fill one page and the opposite page is filled with a design. The pages designated for writing are lovely, and unlined (in case you want to doodle, instead of write), but I’ve always resisted utilizing writing prompts, preferring instead to write on whatever I choose.

A pretty journal, but not one I’d use, or gift to the other Mary. A good gift for someone new to journaling, and small enough to be carried in a purse.

Video Book Review: Love & Salt

This is my first video book review, a review of Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Lettersby Amy Andrews & Jessica Mesman Griffith.  (excuse the early audio, not sure what happened)

Check out Jessica’s webpage, or read more about Amy and their book at Loyola Press.

I attempted this video review a couple of days ago, but was interrupted by a bat. Despite my abject horror at the sight of a bat flying around my house, and my inane response (calling out for a 17-year-old to save me), I laugh every time I see this video, so I’m including it for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for more book review videos in the future, along with a video tour of my home office, my favorite place to read and write.

Book Review: Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

While Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family might appear an unusual book for our blog, the title intrigued me with that one word: letter. And, more specifically the words: love letter.

This book’s topic is about football and dealing with severe brain injuries due to concussion, but it is also a letter of love that Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht wrote for his family. (with Mark Tabb) He writes his thoughts as a love letter to his wife Karyn and four daughters (although the book is written as a memoir, not as a collections of letters). It’s all the more pertinent because he is currently living with the side effects (in his case, severe memory loss) of what he is believed to suffer with: CTE, (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) a condition resulting from repeated head blows and concussions.

Current research has proven a link between CTE and football, but the condition is impossible to diagnose while the player is still alive. In fact, an autopsy on football players’ brains currently is the only definitive way to attain a diagnosis. Recent news reports highlight a study, conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University School of Medicine, which was published in The Journal of American Medical Association in late July, 2017. The study shows that depression, memory loss, cognitive trouble, changes in behavior and/or mood, and addiction are symptoms indicative of severe brain injuries associated with concussions sustained during football.

Five major concussions are documented during Utecht’s football career. That’s not counting the multiple mild brain injuries he also suffered. Writing this book allows him to record his memories for his family should he ever reach a point where his memory loss interferes with recalling important events from his life.

One poignant segment of the book stands out for me. He is chatting with his wife Karyn and two good friends about the couple’s recent marriage. As the conversation continues, Utecht becomes angrier and angrier. How can they be so rude as to talk about this wedding while he’s sitting there? He was best friends with the groom and yet he was not even invited to the wedding. When he finally unleashes his anger and deep hurt, he immediately sobers when shown a photo, not only proving that he attended the wedding, but that he was a groomsman.

counting the days

Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family (2016) is heavy with football stories and language, but it’s also a personal story of triumph and determination and how Utecht perseveres despite the challenges he faces. He has also become well-known for singing (he’s sung with Christian singer Sandi Patty and has frequently sung the National Anthem at sporting events). A beautiful song results from that love letter he wrote his wife and his daughters that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. As a nice accompaniment to the book, I’d advise you to watch the You Tube song/video inspired by that letter: You Will Always Be My Girls.


Even though I didn’t understand all the football language and some play-by-play action, I recommend this book. It especially becomes more pertinent since CTE has been in the news so much lately.

Book Review: Letter to My Daughter

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Maya Angelou.

I believe everyone in our country knows of this acclaimed poet/writer. Like me, many have probably read or at least heard of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. My friend Denise and I even had the good fortune to attend our local performing arts center years ago to hear Ms. Angelou speak and recite her oh-so-true-to-the-heart poetry.
So, how is it that I hadn’t heard of Letter to My Daughter?

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When I checked the publish date, I had my answer. 2008. The year I had stage 3 thyroid cancer surgery, treatments, and recovery. The year destructive flooding occurred not only in Iowa City (where I live) but in many parts of Iowa, destroying homes, businesses, and even University of Iowa buildings (including the performing arts center). It was a year where staying current with the literary world took a back seat to living the world around me.

However, finding this gem now was well worth the wait. Short essays fill Letter to My Daughter with a variety of Angelou’s deeply personal experiences to laughter to poetic reflection to memoir.
While Angelou never had a daughter, she writes as if readers belong to her family, thus pulling us right into the meat of her life.

I love her introduction.
“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all.”

The chapters are short, headlined by such titles as “Violence,” “Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,” “Reclaiming Southern Roots,” and “Salute to Old Lovers.” The length allows this book to be read for a few minutes, set down to digest, and then picked up again so the reader never loses momentum for the next slice of Angelou’s life.

In Letter to My Daughter, Angelou invites us into her vibrant, wise, and honest world. I highly recommend that you accept her invitation.

Book Review: Chasing Slow

“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” –Mary Oliver

chasing slow

I know it’s going to be a good book when, only a few pages in, I pull out a paper and pen to take notes, then get so lost in the narrative I abandon all note-taking. Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner is just such a book. Before I became too engrossed, I did manage to jot down this tidbit;

“There is a lion inside us all. It reigns over pace and time and intention, and it lingers in the rooms of our hearts daily. It roams, searching for the reasons we were place on this planet- our passions, dreams, abilities- and it scoffs at the demands of our daily lives- our schedules, responsibilities.” (page 18)

Yes. Oh, yes.

This same thing has been up for discussion in recent letters between the two Marys. The demands of life and lack of time are not new topics for us. In Mary & Me, we both mention time being at a premium during our early mothering years, though mine stretched out far beyond hers. I still have two daughters remaining at home.  Readers of our book also know that of the two of us, I’m the one who has struggled with envy over the amount of time other women seem to have, especially those who don’t have to work outside the home.

What does the lion in each of us want, we’ve recently wondered (only we didn’t use the term lion, but our own desires), and how does that align with God’s intention for us? During Mary’s visit last week I mentioned our mutual friend, and the book she was working on.

“I’m not in a hurry,” the woman had told me, and with that pronouncement, it was instantly clear to me that I am. 

“I am in a hurry,” I told Mary. “I’m always in a hurry. And it’s never enough. No matter what I do, I want to do more. I want the book proposal written. To finish my next book.”

I’ve also bemoaned my greediness with time in recent letters to Mary. Since I’ve changed jobs, I’ve dropped in hours,opening up more mornings. I’ve always utilized morning time for writing, even during the years I was raising young children, when I’d get up at 5:30 a.m. just to savor a precious hour or two. I lost that morning time to an office job for 18 months, and nearly came undone in the process. With my new job, I have five of seven mornings free, and I’m making the most of them.

“And still, it’s not enough,” I lament to Mary. “I hunger for more. More time. More hours to myself. More speaking engagements. More workshops. What’s wrong with me?”

Or, if we are speaking lions, why is my lion so restless, so loud?

“We fluff this great pit with our ego boosts, our need for control, our unrealistic expectations, and soon our days are dictated by its excess. The lion sulks around our soul, pacing for his next meal, hungry for more than we are throwing his way. Perhaps we are feeding him the wrong thing.” (page 19)

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It fascinates me that for the majority of the book, I was seeing the author’s unique style of chapter headings and her numbered “lists” in the sidebars as 00:01.

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Not 001. 002. 003. But 00:01, 00:02, 00:03. Like a clock. Quite telling, don’t you think?

Perhaps it’s natural I would be starved, ravenous even, for time. For the majority of my adult life, my time has not been my own. That same mother who trudged down the stairs in her pajamas at 5:30 a.m. for a moment’s peace, would inevitably be called back up by a baby or toddler’s cry on the baby monitor before long. Factor in the logistics of mothering eight children in an attachment-style manner, and there wasn’t much “me” time. Of course I want more now, when I finally have some.

But according to Erin Loechner’s wonderful book, more will never be enough.

“It can’t be counted or valued or summed or justified. More is always, by definition, just ahead at the horizon. That’s why we never stop chasing it. More is never enough.” (page 87)

Of course, Erin wasn’t talking about time here, but stuff. It was material possessions, fame and fortune, she made a conscious decision to minimize. In Chasing Slow, she turns away from her viral and HGTV fame and frenzy to shift her focus to the journey that matters most; her husband’s brain tumor, bankruptcy, family loss, a baby. Not only does she say no to some choice opportunities, she empties her closets, and pares down possessions, carting bags of excess to Goodwill.

My chase for more time is still a chase.

“We can throw it all at the lion and watch as he devours it like scraps of meat; the fast life, the slow life, the more, the less. We can exhaust ourselves with our offerings. We can keep tabs, keep pins, keep watch, keep score, keep track.” (page 281)

“Why do you always have to be doing something?” was my husband’s lament when I begged off sitting on the couch next to him to watch television, or I was too intent on finishing something up at my desk to lie next to him for a nap. Too late now, I can no longer do either. What drove me to be incessantly busy?

I believe part of the answer lies in the words I recently transcribed to my journal from Mary DeMuth’s memoir, Thin Places.

“I cannot stop. I must always work. I must always prove that I am worthy to take up space on this earth.” 

Maybe all of the former “raggedy little girls,” as DeMuth describes her childhood self, feel that way.

I need to remind myself daily that God put me here for a reason, that He has plans for me. He gifted me with the same 24 hours in a day he gave everyone else. I don’t have to “do more,” “be more,” “work faster” to gain the grace He has freely given me.

Life’s answers are not always hidden where they seem. It’s time to venture off the beaten path to see that we’ve already been given everything we need. We’ve already arrived. (from the back cover of “Chasing Slow”)

Some of my takeaways from this book:

  • The author married a man with a brain tumor, but she still had to figure out how to put him first. According to her, that was ten years. I was married for 27 years before a stint of caregiving when my husband went through cancer treatment taught me that valuable lesson. I’m grateful for the bonus five and a half years we shared after that.
  • Sometimes, the answer (to more) should be NO.
  • The lion inside of us can be a real beast.
  • God is in control.
  • Sometimes, less is more.
  • The next time Erin Loechner gets rid of her stationery, I think she should give it to me.

You can check out Erin’s website Design for Mankind by clicking HERE. Read the first chapter of Chasing Slow HERE.