My Favorite Fiction, Part 1

Jane Eyre, our protagonist
Jane Eyre, our protagonist

This week, I had a reader ask me what books I would recommend to her teenage daughter. Pondering that question, an idea popped into my head. Why not write a post about my favorite books and why I like them? The only problem is that if I wrote about every favorite book of mine, the post would end up much longer than what anyone would care to read. So, I believe I’ll devote a post here and there to a favorite book or two, fiction and nonfiction.  I shall begin today with fiction!

Anyone who really knows me well will predict the first novel on my list—Jan Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane endures a miserable childhood. Orphaned at birth, Jane spends her first several years with an Aunt who promised her husband she’d look after Jane, resents her obligation and isn’t afraid to show it. Aunt Reed sends Jane to a boarding school, ruled by an overbearing schoolmaster who inflicts harsh punishments for minor infractions. As a young woman, Jane makes a break with her school and advertises for a position as governess. Her first answer takes her to a solitary mansion owned by a rather eccentric man, Edward Rochester, to teach a pretty little girl named Adele. Jane soon finds herself at home with her student, her friendship with the house keeper and the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Strange sounds and sights within the house and the growing love between herself and Mr. Rochester trouble her and lead to a startling revelation.

I picked the book up for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen. Up to that point, I’d read a lot of the classics. What struck me about Jane Eyre was the completely unique writing style compared to other British authors. Whereas Charles Dickens pursued about five or six plot lines per novel and tied them all in at the end and Jane Austen made witty observations about people’s faults and foibles, Charlotte Bronte wrote from the perspective and internal thoughts of one young woman and dealt with one story line.  Jane Eyre, in particular, is so real and fresh. She is not beautiful, she thinks deeply, she has many faults which she strives to overcome, and she has great strength of character. As much as I love Charles Dickens, most of his female characters were a little too good to be true. They were terribly good and stood high on pedestals. There was not much of a sin nature to be seen in them. Even Dickens’ “fallen” women started out good and lovely and only ended up in bad places because of their outward circumstances and influences. Jane, on the other hand, is an obvious sinner with many character flaws which she must learn to overcome. I was always struck by the way she changed from a bitter, angry little girl to a woman who learned to forgive those who had treated her horribly. There are theological flaws in the book, but there is much beauty and truth to take away from it. If you have not read Jane Eyre you really must.

Before I leave you for the week, I should say that I’ll be spending Friday and Saturday in Indiana, giving a talk and a book signing on Friday plus a book signing on Saturday. If you’re interested in any of these events click here for more details. Have a good week!

 

 

Events of Note and a Book Review

Hope everyone has had a good week! Mine was good, though somewhat eventful. The back right tire on my faithful, rusty old car kept losing air over the weekend. Tuesday, I took it in to get it fixed. Turns out the air valve was loose and the mechanic was nearly positive that someone had tampered with it. Thinking about it, I recalled that I first noticed the tire being low the day after Halloween. Some little scamps must have been fooling around with it Halloween night. (Growls and shakes fist in the air.) Ah, well. It was easily solved.

This Saturday, I’m playing and singing for  Grace Christian School’s Fall Gala. My dad taught at this school for several years before I was born and up until the time I turned five. So, I’m excited to be “going back,” so to speak, and sharing my book and the songs that have meant a lot to me over the years. I do have one prayer request. One of my collaborators for this concert is going through a personal tragedy right now, but wants to continue with the concert. Do pray for her that God would comfort her through the message of the songs and for God’s blessing on her life.

Next Saturday, I’m playing in an orchestra concert that you’re all invited to. I’ve played the violin in the Kalamazoo Philharmonia for the last five years and our first concert of the 2013/14 season is coming up next Saturday. Titled “Regeneration” it will feature the music of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler as well as guest soprano Rhea Olivacce. It starts at 8:00 PM and will take place at the Dalton Theater in the Light Fine Arts building of Kalamazoo College. Tickets will be available at the door–5.00 for adults and 2.00 for students. The price is right. Hope you can come! You can find more information here.

Last but not least, there has been a new blog review of my book on www.griffinshoney.com by Heather Pfingston. You can read it here. This has been, by far, the most personally touching review of my book. I think you’ll see what I mean if you read it. Suffice it to say, I have always hoped my book would have just such an effect on those who have struggled with why God allows painful things to happen. Also, sign up for Heather’s book giveaway! You could win a copy!

 

 

The Testimony of a Well-Lived Life

Last Saturday, I had a book signing in Battle Creek. I wanted to get there early to meet up with my history and world religions instructor from college and have lunch. So, I packed myself and all my stuff into the car and got there in plenty of time. I had an excellent time at lunch, catching up with my instructor and discussing the Bible, which we always end up doing whenever we get together! At the appointed time, I made my way to Barnes and Noble and walked up the information desk.

“Hi, I’m Amanda Barber here for the book signing,” I began.

The girl on the other side looked back at me, confused. “Book signing?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Uh…”

Just then, the acting manager came up and the girl said something like, “There’s a book signing today?”

The manager looked back at me, dumbfounded.

That’s when I knew things weren’t going to go very well.

After some rummaging around on the counter, they finally discovered the event fliers for the book signing and apologized profusely.

“I wasn’t actually supposed to work today,” the manager explained. “And the person who was supposed to work, didn’t pass this information on to me. We’ll get you set up with a table right away.”

Soon, the table was laid and I got out my chocolate that I use to lure people over and my book marks. The only problem was, they hadn’t brought out the books yet, plus the store alarms were going off for some strange reason. Once the employees stopped running around, trying to figure out what was going on, I asked the girl I’d spoken to first, “Do you know where the books are?”

“Uh, books?”

My heart was beginning to sink.

“Um, let me go ask my manager.”

So, I sat at my table for quite some time, watching the manger scurry back and forth, while people helped themselves liberally to the candy on the table. I’d never seen so many people come right up to my table before. Such a pity there weren’t any books there for me to point them towards! After fifteen minutes or so, the manager walked up to me. Her eyes were all red and she looked about ready to burst into tears.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” she said, “but we can’t find your books. I tried to call Tom” (I’m assuming this was the guy that was supposed to be working that day) “but I can’t get a hold of him.”

Well, after a few more minutes, Tom called back and it was ascertained that someone had sent all the books back contrary to orders. So, there weren’t any there. There was nothing more to do than pack up and go back home. The poor manager was so distressed and apologized over and over again. Thankfully, I wasn’t in a bad mood to begin with, which I’m thankful for or it might have been a lot more difficult to respond correctly. As it was, I felt so bad for her, I just told her that it was really okay, it wasn’t her fault and would Tom please call me back some time to reschedule?

As I left, I began to ponder the incident. I wondered, “What if I hadn’t responded well? What if I had become angry at the lack of competence? From a purely business standpoint, I had every right to be angry and demand some compensation for gas money at least. Supposing I had done all that and she had picked up my book at some point and read it. Would she have been impressed by the love of God that I was attempting to portray?”

I doubt it. She might have thought, “That’s nice and everything. But I know how she really is.”

This was sort of brought home to me a few days later. An acquaintance of mine (whom I will designate as “A”) through a social media venue abruptly messaged me and asked if I was a Christian. I replied that yes I was. This person wanted to know how I knew that I was a Christian. A little bemused, I obliged by giving my brief testimony of faith. And that was that. I guess if I had said that I wasn’t a Christian, A would have taken the opportunity to evangelize me. And as it goes, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It would be commendable and courageous to a certain degree. The problem is, I’ve been observing A’s online testimony for some time. “A” often criticizes people in very harsh terms (especially A’s spouse) and is a chronic complainer. One memorable day, I observed A railing against another Christian for challenging A’s position about an area of Christian practice. Plus, A had shown very little interest in me as a person or a friend up to this point. My conjecture was that the preacher at church that morning had been preaching about the importance of soul winning or something, and  A thought I looked like one of the first opportunities. Regardless, I thought to myself, “If I were an unbeliever and A had asked me the same question, would I have given A much room to speak to me about my soul? Probably not. Because nothing about A’s visible life looks particularly attractive.”

I am thoroughly convinced that no area of my life should ever be secular. Every area should be infused with the fruits of the Spirit. I believe it was St. Francis of Assisi that said, and I’m probably paraphrasing, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” That’s only half true, and as it stands, rather silly. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. But I understand the sentiment behind it. If what I’m saying on social media or at work or in a novel is loudly contradicted by my actions, then the words are rendered nearly useless. (I say “nearly” because God can even take the words that hypocritical people say and use them for his glory.) I hope and pray that I will continue to grow into  more and more consistency between my outward life and the inward reality of God’s grace in my heart,so that I do not unintentionally drag my Lord’s name through the mud.

Book Signings and Other Hazards

At Barnes and Noble, Mishawaka
At Barnes and Noble, Mishawaka

This was my first big week of book signings. How do I describe it? Maybe by how I felt at the end—exhausted. I started out the week with the interview with Brenda Layne on WSJM, as you all know. That went quite well and I enjoyed it. I taught music students the rest of the afternoon and all day Wednesday. On Thursday, I taught music and gave a lecture at Dowagiac Public Library in the evening. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all book signings—one at Parable Books, and two at Barnes and Noble locations. So, you can imagine why I was tired.

It’s really coming home to me that American culture or I should say, American attention spans are extremely diluted. In other words, people are spread so thin right now, that the likelihood of them remembering that I had a book signing or even being able to attend if they did remember, is incredibly thin. If you think about all the concerts, events, activities and things you were personally invited to last week, I think you’ll know what I mean. My publicist worked hard to get the word out about my events, and just a handful of people showed up to any of them. The fact is, we live in a noisy world. People are positively bombarded with messages, things to do and places to go. To me, it’s amazing even a few of them heard my small voice last week. So, this book promotion thing is proving to be as hard as I thought it would be! Yet, there were good signs, as well, and small steps taken in the right direction.

In spite of the small turnout to all the events I did last week, I still got rid of quite a few books. I made a number of contacts with store managers and customers. In fact, I just got off the phone with a freelance writer who called to interview me for a piece he’s doing for Publishers Weekly on new authors and self-publishing. He got my name through the manager of Parable Books in St. Joseph. So, through that little book signing, it looks like I’m going to have my name in a well-known periodical. Every little bit helps!

Humorous happenings at book signings: Often times, people would mistake me for an employee. At Parable, for instance, one lady asked me where Beverly Lewis’ latest book was. I snickered to myself and went to help her find it. That happened a couple of times. So, I’d just point people in the right direction or find their books for them and then steer them back to mine. So sneaky. At Barnes and Noble, I’d get these confused guys coming up to my table asking, “Man, don’t they have bathrooms in here?” “Right there, in the corner,” I’d reply. Or there’d be that random guy that would walk up and start flirting or offer to buy me coffee. Ugh. Oh, well. Modus operandi: deflect admiration from me to book.

So, I carry on. I’ll be back next week to report on my book signing this Saturday at Barnes and Noble in Holland, MI.

Something of interest: The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club was accepted at the Flint Film Festival. This festival is competitive, so we have the potential to win an award. It’ll be showing at 7:30, tomorrow night. We shall see what happens with that!

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A Radio Interview

At WSJM Tuesday morning for an interview with Brenda Layne!
At WSJM Tuesday morning for an interview with Brenda Layne!

On Tuesday morning, I did my first radio interview with Brenda Layne of WSJM’s In the Spotlight. You can listen to the whole interview here: Amanda’s Interview. Originally, I was to be one of two guests to appear that day. It just so happened that I ended up being the featured guest the entire hour segment because the second guest didn’t show up!

Something I learned: Apparently, radio studio mics are so good, you don’t have to close the door to the studio anymore. The door was wide open and a window was open too. But if you listen to the interview, you won’t hear any outside noise. Interesting.

Tonight, I’m going to be speaking at the Dowagiac Library. You’re all invited. Tomorrow, I’ll be at Parable Book Store in St. Joseph from 4-6 pm. Saturday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in Mishawaka, and Sunday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in Kalamazoo. For more info on any of these events, just click on the “Events” tab up top and it will take you to my complete Fall Tour Schedule.

Well, it’s time to go through the main points of my talk for this evening. Hope to see you there!

My Week

I believe last week qualified as a whirlwind. Between Monday and Thursday night, I taught nineteen music lessons, finished a Union Gospel Press assignment and prepared for the weekend. Friday, I was off to Martin JC Wheeler library where I talked to a group of 35-40 kids from the local Christian school.

Talking to the kids!
Talking to the kids!

That evening, I sang and played an hour’s worth of music to about 30 ladies. Saturday, I hopped back in the car and drove to LaGrange, IN, where I gave a talk about how I became a writer.

At LaGrange County Library
At LaGrange County Library

Sunday, I went to church, came home went back to church and rehearsed some music before the evening service, went home and crashed. Yesterday, I taught four music lessons and went to the first orchestra rehearsal of the season. It was tiring, but didn’t lack for interest, that’s for sure. For instance: on the way to LaGrange, a glass bottle flew up from who know’s where and smashed into my car. My grill is thoroughly banged-up. Shortly after that, the car in front of me got a flat tire and practically stopped in front of me on the free way. Next, a girl in an SUV pulled out right in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes. My good old car is still kicking, though.

As I look forward to the rest of this week, I realize there is so much to do! First things first, is set up that book club idea I mentioned in the last post. I brought that up to the kids at the library, and some of them seemed fair to bursting with excitement at the possibility. What shall I call it? Amanda’s Book Club? Any ideas? I’m open to suggestions.

I recently noticed that another blogger undertook reviewing my novel. Here’s what Jhona said, “I will admit that I haven’t read a fiction book in the Christian Historical Fiction genre for a long time because I felt like they were predictable and I was quickly bored with the simple plots…I was so happy that this one surpassed my expectations!” You can read the full review on Jhona’s blog We Weirdos Need To Stick Together. If you leave her a comment and your contact info, she’ll enter you to win a free copy of the book plus a mug and tea! The giveaway was entirely Jhona’s idea, as she bought an extra book just so she could give it away. I feel honored.

Well, I must go. If you have name ideas for my book club for young people, leave them here for me in a comment! (Just recall that it involves writing, as well.)

My Grand Idea

On Friday, I’ll be going to the Martin J C Wheeler Public Library for a book signing. I discovered that a group of kids from the local Christian school will be showing up to hear what an author has to say and ask questions. I am greatly looking forward to that. Some of the kids, I understand, are interested in writing and want to get some tips. So, I’ve been pondering what kind of tips I can give. Honestly, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m convinced that writers have to be great readers before they turn into great writers.

I think, in other words, that I would encourage them to read constantly! That is exactly what I did as a little girl and teenager, and I believe it shaped me as a writer.

The wheels are beginning to turn in my mind with all sorts of questions. What books would I advise them to read? What questions should they ask themselves while they read a book like, say, Jane Eyre? (One of my favorites) Well, they should consider the kind of theology Charlotte Bronte put forward in the book. How does her idea of God fit with what the Bible says about God? Was it a wise choice for Jane to go back to Mr. Rochester in the end? What would the Bible say about that?

I have this wild plot hatching in my brain. What if I were to recommend one book a month right here, and ask young people to read it with certain questions about the book in mind? Once finished, they could write a little review, expressing their thoughts about the book as they read it and send it to me. What if I published the best paper right here on the blog? (With parental permission, of course.) I think it would be a lot of fun to hear a young person’s perspective on the great classics, don’t you? Kids are far more perceptive than we give them credit for.

Well, I will have to think about this grand scheme a little while longer. And so I will say goodbye for this week while the wheels continue to turn.