I began writing Sacred Strangers with very few expectations. I figured it would give me something to do after I left the newspaper. I thought it would be a piece of me that I could leave my sons. I thought it would keep my mind -- such as it is -- a little sharper for a little longer.
My friends helped me. First, Peggy McMullen, who had a writing project of her own. We met regularly, took a couple of trips to the beach and wrote away. Then JoLene Krawczak joined us, and finally David Stabler. We’re still meeting, doing our best to encourage each other, reading each other’s offerings, making suggestions, daydreaming about success and quashing each other’s excuses for not writing more. All three of my friends are working on fiction, which seems unimaginable to me -- not having much imagination. The amount of research and thinking they have to do to come up with characters and plot points is dizzying.
With their encouragement, I did finish my manuscript. I gave each of my sons a copy. And I swore not to bug them about reading it. At least, they’d have it, I told myself, imagining it being rediscovered during some massive basement cleanout twenty years in the future. I summoned the nerve to send a copy to Gina Hens-Piazza, a friend from seminary days, who teaches now at the Jesuit School at Berkeley. She suggested I send it to her publisher and, since she’d taken the time to read it and I wanted it off my mind, I did that quickly -- without much thought. Then I left with my sons, their wives and my husband’s family for two weeks in Croatia.
I came back in August. Had a phone call in September -- on my birthday, no less -- from an editor at Liturgical Press. They wanted to publish my manuscript. The following year was oddly nerve-wracking: consulting on a cover and title (final choices were theirs), figuring out how to write a blog (at the publisher’s suggestion), reading proofs, pinching myself.
The book came out in September. I did some speaking, book signing, even a reading. Wrote about it from time to time on this blog. Was nominated for an award and found out this week that Sacred Strangers placed first in the scripture category for an Association of Catholic Publishers award. It seems oddly surreal. My life hasn’t changed much. I’m on to another writing project. But our country is changing, in ways that are sobering and, from my perspective, troubling.
We are still giving into fear -- of each other, of strangers, of refugees, of migrants, of anyone who doesn’t share our convictions. And we are so convicted. I am considering a news fast -- which is weird for someone like me who has a secret crush on Chuck Todd. But too often now, news has become a place for people to state their opinions -- with few, if any, follow up questions, challenges and factual evidence. It seems like an actual conversation -- a dialogue -- is impossible these days between people from different perspectives. And if we can’t have that conversation, then whoever shouts loudest from whatever highest office will have his or her way. It is disheartening.
So, here I am back at the beginning -- with very few expectations. I pray, I read, I look for hope. You are probably doing the same. If any one of us finds some, please, let’s share it.