Tim Farrington reviews “The Awful Mess” … and I freak out

Cover for The Awful Mess: A Love StoryI recently received an email with a lovely review of “The Awful Mess” from one of my favorite authors, Tim Farrington, who wrote the “The Monk Downstairs” — a book I love so much that I’ve gifted and loaned it repeatedly and put it on my short list of books I recommend to anyone.

And I’ve just been holding onto this review and reading it now and then — hoarding it, really. Not only because it is from Tim, taking my novel seriously, but also because he compares my writing to the work of my favorite author of all time, Jane Austen.

(Insert happy girly scream here.)

See, I was just really hoping he’d like it. I was really hoping for a nice blurb I could use to sell the book. Instead, I got more validation than I’d ever dreamed of. I feel as if I’ve had hands laid on me and I’ve been welcomed into the abbey.

But that’s also a little freaky. As a self-published author, I expected to skulk around the outside of the abbey completely unnoticed for years. Part of me is not sure I really want to take the work that seriously. Except that, of course, I do, or I wouldn’t have published it in the first place.

So I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to have received this gift. This validation.

I’m still strangely reluctant to share it, though, even as I work on this blog post. I shared it with my parents before I drafted this, just to try to loosen up. (Dad congratulated me and told me it made a nice distraction to read it on his iPad during the painful work being done on his ingrown toenails. Thanks for grounding me, Dad.)

Is this because of the whole women-shouldn’t-brag thing? A little fear of genuine sheer hubris? Or am I afraid that this will somehow happen to it:

But taking the work seriously means I have to try to sell these books rather than just write them, the idea being to get people to actually read them, so… here is Tim’s review:

I finished “The Awful Mess” with that wonderful/melancholy sense you get finishing a good book, of a kind joy mixed with sadness that it was over. It is such a lovely novel, in the classic way, with interesting, exquisitely human characters deftly drawn and fascinating in all their particularity, and a story that keeps the pages turning. Despite the comic recurrent note from the characters, that “This isn’t The Scarlet Letter, after all!” this is in fact a book in lovely dialogue with Hawthorne’s story, a New England story of a fiercely independent heroine struggling for a life worthy of aspirations, and her entwinement, in a small town, with a minister of the Lord, among others; and so a story of conscience, passion, and hypocrisy, of souls tested not only the fire of moral truths but in the glaring but often unilluminating light of a tiny community’s gossip, prejudices, and presumptions.

Mary Bellamy is wonderfully contemporary, and utterly sympathetic character, and her growth in both knowledge and self-knowledge throughout the book gives us some of the novel’s most satisfying substance. As a self-described “heathen” with a sharp mind, a good heart, and a wicked sense of humor, she also acts as a sort of acid test for the varieties of faith she encounters, and when she falls by the wayside to a violent catastrophe, it is through her eyes that we see the parable of the Good Samaritan enacted in fresh contemporary garb, with vivid and specific contemporary characters. And Mary herself, through her struggles, comes to see the real difference between the sheep and the goats: there is bathwater aplenty in this unsparing look at human piety and human self-delusion, but there is a baby as well, and a lovely awareness of that real heart of humanity is one of the many things that make the novel so completely satisfying.

It puts me in mind of Jane Austen, the moral mathematics here, that almost algebraic Austenesque precision in the characters ultimately reaping what they sow, and paying to the last farthing, is so strong and rings so exquisitely true in every case.

It’s wonderful, in short! It renews me as a reader, to enjoy a book so much; and as a writer, see it done so well.

What more could a writer ask for, right? A glowing review of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire”? (He did that too!!!) Maybe this is all just more writing-happiness than I can handle in short order. But it’s also wonderful.

Today I’m off to Florida. I hope to check out a locale or two from the next book as well as see Mom and Dad and his toes. I’ll probably be back in two weeks to share my thoughts about that — well, not the toes. I don’t write horror.

One writer’s resolutions for 2015

  1. Keep a drafting-new-work schedule, with no clicking out to “research” or just peek at social media. I had resolved to do this last semester and failed miserably. We’ll see how I do this time. I’m going to set up timers and documentation I can see on the bulletin board. Maybe I’ll give myself a gold star each day I get it done.
  2. In the time allowed for it (and no more!), get a much better handle on my social marketing and content marketing, including figuring out just what the hell those things really are. I need to get serious about this blog and make it worth the time involved.
  3. Get the audio books done. Some people just read their books that way.
  4. Read more. Just chip away at the to-read pile. Because it’s horrifying, and because writers must read.
  5. Find a way to help out fellow writers that doesn’t require me to have actually read and liked their work yet (see #4). Maybe on my web site, which might hit two resolutions at once.
  6. Get rid of more stuff. The move helped a lot, but when I went downstairs to organize the basement this weekend I realized how much more crap needs to go. I want to sit down with at least one file folder or drawer or cabinet a night and WEED. Once that’s done, I can take another look at organizing what’s left. This includes my computer files. Hopefully I will spend less time looking for stuff and more time moving ahead.
  7. Make fitness a priority – Writing is bad for you, physically. You’re mostly sitting on your butt, hunching in some cases. In the last three years I’ve been coping with Achilles tendonitis from a disastrous flirtation with barefoot shoes and a frozen shoulder that probably started with some minor injury and then blew up from all that hunching. I happily took the excuse to avoid weight work, but it’s time to get back to it. (Well, almost – I’m still holding off on shoulder work until I get an all-clear.) I tried Zumba for the first time a couple of weeks ago (fun!), and I plan to stop being a yoga virgin this year, too. And I’d like to do more country and contra dancing. And then, of course, there’s walking. I live on a hill, so I get a little workout just going around the block.

    Set up for weights and meditation. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.

    Set up for weights and meditation. It ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done. (Making it pretty can be next year’s resolution.)

  8. Meditate. I’ve known how to do this since college, but do I make time for it? Hardly ever. I have no idea if it will help with writing, but I suspect it might prime the mind for creativity a little less wastefully than standing in a hot shower for too long (which is what I do now – and since my shoulder IS still a bit stiff and my husband has retired to Puerto Rico, I’ve had to start applying lotion to my back with a rubber spatula – so dignified!).
  9. Have more real life contact with real people. Facebook is nice but it’s no substitute for knowing what’s really going on in the lives of the people you love. This has nothing to do with writing per se, but writing is rather isolating, and even introverts need friends.
  10. Practice gratitude. The picture below is a gift I got myself this Christmas. The space for each entry is short, so I’m going to challenge myself to also tweet something I’m grateful for each day in 2015. I was invited to do a shorter version of this on Facebook this year, and I found it helpful.
A Christmas present for myself

A Christmas present for myself

The evidence of 54 years on the planet suggests that I’m not going to actually accomplish all of these, of course.

But hey – any forward progress counts. Add it up day by day and that is the trick to getting anything done.

What are your resolutions for the New Year?