I asked L.L. Barkat, author of Stone Crossings, if I could interview her as a follow-up to my post about her book, and she agreed.What a fabulous opportunity to climb into the mind (and heart, and…dare I say, soul) of an author!Although, in a way, L.L. Barkat has actually opened wide her mind, heart and soul to us already in her honest, poignant, thoughtful book, which I introduced you to a few posts ago.Anyway, I won’t keep gushing. I’ll just let you hear directly from L.L. herself.Friends, I give you: a blog-conversation with L.L. Barkat.Grab a cup of coffee or tea and join us.LL: Ann, thanks! Very exciting to be able to come and lounge out at your blog.Ann: I have a great hammock out back, if you’d like to do some serious lounging. While I have your attention, here’s my first question…Would you please explain why you don’t have any photos of your face anywhere on your website or promotional materials?LL: Some reasons are personal (um, so I’m going to leave them out 🙂 But also, I’ve always wanted the work to speak for itself, to both men and women. I suppose if I were a chick lit writer, I could never get away with such nonsense. Things being as they are, or I guess my writing being what it is, I’m able to stay faceless. Of course, as you know, I have frayed the edges of my own purposes by giving away little visual pieces of me in the blogosphere. Shoes. Hands. Heavens, even a part of my blouse once! I should also say that this is mostly an on-line policy, though you won’t find my picture on my book.Ann: Well, it certainly lends a certain mystique to your online persona. Leaves us wondering, “Hmmm…what color are her eyes? How does she fix her hair?” The only way to find you is to follow the shoes!You saw on my post about your book Stone Crossings that I couldn’t quite figure out how to categorize it. How do you categorize your own book? Or, for that matter, how do you feel about trying to stick it in a box like that? Does that feel restrictive? (I think I just squeezed two or three questions into one—I’m getting my money’s worth out of you, L.L.!)LL: Ann, you make me laugh. And I’m glad you bought the book at Calvin, where they offered a deep discount; otherwise, who knows what I’d be obliged to answer, to give you your money’s worth. 😉 Okay, back to your question. (Questions?)First, let me say I was tickled by your categorizations. I thought, “Wow, I have really managed to confuse a few people with this humble offering to the world.” But of course you were picking up definite threads. This IS a book that should speak to both heart and mind, spirit and flesh, practice and poetic longing. I can tell you that the publisher categorizes it as “Christian Living.” In a way, that’s perfect, because the book looks at Christian struggle, hope, need, vision through the lens of both my life and the Life Giver.Also, every book needs a box. Or two. Otherwise the Stephen King people might get distressed to find they’ve picked up a Romance. Here are a few boxes I don’t mind being in, which some people have offered in their reviews: memoir, spiritual or bible reflection, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Anne Lamott, Madeleine L’Engle, Eugene Peterson. I’m not sure I deserve to be in the box with some of these people, but I gratefully accept the sweet comparisons nevertheless.Ann: Wow! To be associated with such artists! They’re placing you in good company, and I’m sure if you were all tossed in a room, you’d have a lot to discuss. While we’re talking about comparisons people are making…I know it’s only just been released, but I wonder what kinds of personal response have you gotten to the book? Have people contacted you yet with specific reactions after reading it? (Two questions in one again. This time it’s redundancy for clarity.)LL: One of the first responses I got was from an endorser’s wife. She snapped it up before he did and promptly emailed me this very long and beautiful letter. The part I remember most was that she said, “Even though our experiences are quite different, reading Stone Crossings was like reading a healing journal.” I’ve also had quite a few people tell me they started reading the book at bedtime only to stay up too late, madly trying to finish before midnight. (So I guess I don’t recommend it for bedtime reading.)There have been many kind words about the writing, the honesty, the unusual insights into scripture. But one of the most touching responses I received was from my own stepmother (okay, I know you are going to ask me WHICH ONE?). I hadn’t been in contact with Beezie for a long time, but I did send her a copy of the book when it came out. In return, she wrote me a four-page letter. About her regrets, her love for me. She sent me a little bag of polished stones. Remember the stones that my stepfather threw out the window? It was like she returned them to the little girl I was, still am in some hidden place. I cried for a long time that day. It was yet more unexpected, healing grace.Ann: No way! I love that the stones roll back into your life like that—beautiful polished stones, no less. That’s so beautiful.Okay, this is far more mundane after your story; but, for the writers among us, I wonder what’s been the most surprising aspect of this whole experience of writing and publishing?LL: Just how hard it is. People dream of writing, of being published. But it is a humbling road. Sometimes I think that’s why God has asked me to write. I didn’t seek this career; it sought me. And it has proven to be a great refiner of character. As I went through the editing process. As I have to trust God to send the book where it needs to go. Stuff like that.Ann: So, do you think it’ll be easier the second time around, now that you have more projects in the works? Or more intense?LL: Some things are definitely easier. I write faster now. My style has solidified. But some things I’m writing are both personal AND current. I have to find ways to write about myself, people and issues without revealing too much. This, of course, complicates matters immensely; after all, the best writing is honest writing.Ann: In Stone Crossings, you pretty much threw yourself out there for all the world to see—you openly shared very intimate and painful memories and experiences:
- How did that feel as you were working on it?
LL: First, I think there is a time for a book to be written. Write it too soon, before you’re ready, and you might implode. Much of the hardest experience related in the book happened long ago. I’ve had many years to think and rethink those memories and experience healing before throwing myself out there as you say. So, I had a measure of closure and strength coming into the process. That said, there were some dark days of grieving as I recaptured things in words. And I remember my sister could hardly read the book; she also said the language I used to describe my stepfather was too beautiful, that it wasn’t fair. I said writing that way was an extension of grace to him. Considering this now, maybe it was also an extension of grace to me.
- How did you feel after the book’s release?
Oh, just the way any new mom feels. Absolutely ecstatic! And a little post-partum.
- How do you feel about the book now that a few months have passed?
Honestly, I probably don’t think about it as much as I should, promote it as much as I should. I’m not saying I’m a bad book mom, but I’ve already begun putting flesh on my next “baby,” so I’m a little distracted.
- How does your family feel about the book?
My mom is proud. So is my dad. This is a blessing, considering that they play some hard roles in the book. My sister still hasn’t given it to her pastor. It’s not always easy to have one’s community know such intimate things.Ann: I’m glad to hear that your parents are proud of you…their response could have been very different. I can’t blame your sister for her hesitation. I hope she can embrace her own grace-filled experience, as well, through it all. But her story isn’t exactly the same as yours, and her story, whether or not it would ever find its way into print, will be different. I love that about writing and storytelling—the same four people can live through the same event and tell about it four very different ways. Your version reflects you, and as you know, I think you’re smart…and wise. What are your study habits like?LL: First of all, thanks for your kind words. I don’t feel terribly smart or wise, but it is nice that you say so! 🙂 As for my study habits, I’d call them “compulsive grazing.” Or, as my daughter recently said, “Mommy, why do you always read so many books at once and hardly ever finish any of them?”Ann: I like your phrase, “compulsive grazing.” It suggests that you’re nibbling where the words are most tender and nourishing, passing over what’s gritty and less nutritious. I grew up on a farm. Can you tell? Okay, so where did you pick up so many fascinating details about Bible stories and characters? Like that detail about the “towla”?LL: I love the Bible. I really do. I’ve read it ever since I could turn pages and decode. So I guess it just comes from years of reading the Bible again and again and always feeling so amazed. He did that?! She said that?! And underlining stuff all over the place. As far as more obscure details like the “towla”, sometimes I get fascinated with a certain part of the text. Like that reference to “worm” from Psalm 22. So I go digging in places like the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, or at blueletterbible.org. I also love the NIV Application Commentaries.Ann: Any tips on how to get smarter? (and wiser?)LL: Find good friends. Funny people, profound people (yes, that means I want to be your friend, Ann 🙂 Read the Bible. That goes without saying, I suppose. And writing is a marvelous way to hone one’s thinking. But I suppose that goes without saying too.Ann: Oh! I think we have a mutual admiration society forming here! Can, uh, I be your friend, too, L.L.? 🙂 Seriously, though, that’s a great point—hanging out with funny, profound people can help a person get funnier and profounder…and smarter and wiser. I think maybe the Internet has been a way of finding those funny and profound people even when I’m stuck at home (our initial connections being a perfect example). Virtual discussions might not be as vibrant as conversations shared across the table at a coffee shop, but it’s something. And of course you know you’re preaching to the choir regarding how writing can hone our thinking. I’ll bet every blogger reading this feels the same.Speaking of blogging and writing…describe your writing habits (especially for your book and articles).LL: I write every Saturday whether I want to or not. Sometimes that means I kick my feet up and read Annie Dillard. Sometimes that means I do the dishes and daydream. Or I sleep in late. About three Saturdays a month I actually open the computer and type. I’m not so great at writing articles. I get a good idea, oh, about twice a year. But when I get the idea, I just sit down and write the whole thing. Why wait? In fact, this makes book writing a very challenging endeavor. It’s hard to write a book in one sitting, but that’s always the way I seem to want it to go. I write and write and write until I’m done. (Gee, am I compulsive about writing too?)Ann: How do your blogging habits differ from your writing habits? When and how do you pull those together?LL: I blog on certain days, just like I write on Saturdays. Of course, I break these rules all the time. Though I promise you I won’t be blogging on the Sabbath again. As far as how I pull the two together, I don’t consciously try to do that. But how sweet it is when what we blog becomes grist for what we want to put on the paper page. That’s what happened with the next book I’m working on. It partly grew out of a series of blog posts.Ann: That’s got to be motivating for people who are dedicating a lot of energy to their blogs–to know that it could serve as book-fodder. Back to Stone Crossings–any favorite sections of the book you’d like to point us to?LL: I’m partial to the epilogue. And the epigraph. I guess that means I like beginnings. And endings that mirror beginnings. And promises that come true. Goodness knows, despite the hard stuff, God has kept His promises. I hope this truth has managed to grace every page.Ann: On Mother’s Day, our pastor said that there are very few Hallmark moments in the Bible. Then he proceeded, believe it or not, to tell the story of Tamar. On Mother’s Day. But his point was that out of these stories of pain and injustice comes the lineage of redemption in Jesus Christ. Your own story of experiencing God’s grace points us to stories like that, of imperfect people, injured people—your own imperfection and injuries—and they are all stories we can learn from. And you help us learn from your story not only by telling it, but also by offering a kind of commentary along the way. You help us see Jesus Christ working in your life as your Redeemer…our Redeemer. You point us to grace.LL: And grace does lead us home.