= the white space that surrounds an object in an image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and bring balance to a composition
Ask me why I wrote Lu, and I’ll give you the same answer every time: to show that God is real and deals with real people. It’s a good answer, though it’s answering a slightly different question. To show that God is real and deals with real people is why I published Lu. I wrote the book to see whether I could do that. Could I write God real? Could I write people real?
Lu became real to me when she left New York City with only her Crock-Pot. Complex as people are, we have singular moves that define us in an instant. This one’s hers. Bold. Ridiculous. There’s a thousand things a girl can do when she finds her boyfriend has been cheating on her, and hijacking the CP is the best Lu could figure. It’s better than hearing more about the new girl and way better than crying in front of the now ex-boyfriend. She’s out and on her own terms that leave us wondering whether we should laugh or cry.
We meet Jackson in a different way, first as the nameless man in the kiss-cam scene, and second as a label:
“Who was that?” I finally asked Grandma Pat later that evening.
“That’s Jackson, the new pastor of our church.”
“The divorced pastor,” Nana Bea clarified.”
“You remember him – the pastor’s kid,” Gracie said.
Divorced pastor, pastor’s kid – these are big labels in the Christian world. I knew what I was doing when I wrote them into his character and left both relatively unexplained for the rest of the book. Because that’s real life, too – that you meet people by their labels and never learn their back-story. I knew the words I could have written to make Jackson’s labels easier to swallow, and I knew I could have changed “divorced” to something else and not dealt with it at all. But I didn’t write to “deal” or to “comment” or to “permit” or “not permit.” I wrote to write real, which means that sometimes I wrote events, characters, and descriptions because they exist outside of our pages, too, and for no reason other than that.
A few weeks ago, a Christian bookstore told me they wouldn’t carry Lu based on decisions my main girl makes in the third part of the story. Last week, I received my first two-star review based on my main man’s divorced status. Both rejections were graciously made, and I’m not here to argue with people who aren’t arguing with me. This is not a fight. We are not on opposing sides of the Christian school playground, snapping our fingers to a fighting beat (and this blog post is not a vehicle for inserting that West Side Story reference, though it tickles me to do it).
Not a fight.
Just some thoughts on how I deal with rejection because rejection stinks. I blog for a couple reasons, and one is that by sharing what I do, you’ll be encouraged in what you do. If we put our stuff out there, people will inevitably say, “No, thank you. I won’t carry that. I won’t recommend that.” What do we do then?
Lu has been out for two months, but I’ve been sharing the book for much longer. I shared the book with my writing partner when I was in-draft. I shared the book with 9 women and 1 husband after I was done. I shared the book with two editors before I published. I didn’t share for snaps; I shared for feedback. You’re still five chapters from done, my writing partner told me after I told her I was done. I read the first few chapters because I was your mom and the rest because I wanted to, my mom told me. If you want to keep the final Ecclesiastes sermon as is, you need to earn it, my editor told me. I love all the inside jokes from our childhood. The only one I’m pretty sure doesn’t work is “turd donuts” – that’s too weird for anyone but us, my sister said.
Each piece of feedback left me with the same question: “Would I make the change?” I didn’t answer it immediately, but let the feedback settle until I could deal with it objectively and not like a touchy writer. Then I’d run through the change in my mind, envision how it’d impact the story’s flow and purpose, and adjust accordingly. Most of the time, I revised and am glad to have done it. I’m convinced that one of the reasons Lu has landed so well is because of my year of beta-testing.
But when Lu doesn’t land well?
It’s the same process of settling that ends with the same question: Would I make the change? For this one bookstore to carry my book, would I change the decisions Lu makes in the third part of the book? To get more stars from one reviewer, would I write out Jackson’s divorce? And while I was at it, would I entirely rewrite the relationship between the two of them so that it lands in less of a gray area, and maybe also revise the other details that chaff – that scene where he has a beer, the humor that runs too sarcastic, Lu’s irreverence toward her family’s beliefs?
I would not because those changes turn Lu into a story I would not be interested in reading or writing. And they’re off-purpose with why I wrote the book: to write God real, to write people real. I wasn’t raised in Christianity; I came to it when I was 18, and one of the first things to ring true were the stories about the people in the Bible. So messed up, God’s people. And not just before God calls them, but after, too. The details in their stories are of the skeleton-in-the-closet variety, and for a long time I wondered, why include them at all? I didn’t understand until it was my turn to believe or not believe. How deep does your grace your go? Can you really wash my sins white as snow? The messy stories of God’s people told me yes, and they also told me God would keep doing it.
These gray areas in our stories – the negative space – they exist, whether we tell them or not. And to tell them isn’t to deal with sin lightly or permissively, it’s to testify to how deep God’s grace and mercy go. Our negative space brings balance to the composition; it draws our eyes to the object, the point of it all. God’s grace is light in the dark, too brilliant to enter into standing, which is why my girl, Lu, hijacker of the Crock-Pot – bold, ridiculous, irreverent, flawed – enters into it at a crawl.
God is real and deals with real people. That was my challenge in writing Lu. That’s the book’s purpose, and you know what? I don’t think the bookstore owner and the two-star reviewer are at cross-purposes with me. I think they’re going about it in a different way. I think it’s also fun to note that in this same time frame, I received another rejection. A reader told me she couldn’t get past Chapter 6 – Lu had all the interest for her as a Hallmark movie. Could I possibly add in some paranormal creatures? No, I’m not going to make that change. But I appreciated a rejection that made me laugh.