I am very proud to say that I was the story consultant and first editor on Finding Grace, this very fine book by Patricia Dunn-Fierstein. This coming-of-age novel set in the Deep South during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement tells the story of Charlie, a thirteen-year-old girl, whose new friendship with a biracial girl, Violet, forces Charlie to confront the racism in her community as well as in her own family.
Below you’ll see that Patricia has kindly answered a whole host of questions about this novel. I can only say that I loved the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with Patricia over the course of a year on this project and am thrilled beyond words that this excellent book is now available for the public to read. I highly recommend it, and am so proud of Patricia for her sensitive and insightful handling of this complex subject. Hats off, my friend. You have done a fine job. Hooray!
Patricia’s Questions and Answers:
Title: Finding Grace
Genre: Visionary, Thriller-suspense, Historical fiction
Description: Charlie O’Brien is thirteen in 1960 when she discovers the aftermath of a violent crime in the forest outside of Norfolk Virginia. A stranger, Violet Marshall, happens upon the scene and offers help. In their efforts to track down the perpetrators and avenge the violence, they seal their friendship. Soon after, Charlie meets the rest of Vi’s family and learns of their mysteries and their secrets. In spite of the danger in their relationship, Charlie adores Vi and cannot abandon her. Through Charlie’s new–found friendship with Violet and her unique family, she begins to encounter life as they do. These experiences challenge her worldview, forcing her to confront the darkness in her community, her family, and herself. When the KKK threatens the Marshalls’ lives, Charlie must choose between keeping silent to protect her family, or defending the Marshalls, risking her very life in the process.
Favorite Character and why? Of course, my favorite character is the protagonist, Charlie O’Brien. I love Charlie for her plucky, intrepid, resourceful, and soulful character. I love that she is at an age of innocence yet moving into awareness so that the reader has an opportunity to grow right along with her. From the first pages, Charlie faces what comes at her with her eyes wide open, sometimes falling on her face but always getting back up and staying the course.
Who is the villain and what makes him unique? The primary villain is Charlie’s father, Tom O’Brien (AKA: The Jerk or TJ for short). What makes him unique and an excellent villain is that he is the head of her household. It increases the tension when the protagonist cannot escape the villain. Tom is also a complex character. We grow to understand him and even have some compassion for him. But ultimately, Charlie will have to make choices, which are all the more difficult because the enemy is one of her own.
Themes in the book: The three primary themes are coming-of-age (loss of innocence); Freedom, and Fear vs. Love
Significance of Title: With my background in Jungian psychology, I knew my novel would explore deep spiritual and psychological themes. As a Jungian, I understand the construct of the Self as symbolically representing the Divine within each one of us. As part of my protagonist’s loss of innocence, I knew she would have to battle for the freedom to have faith and to align with her True Self. When we are operating from the space of Self or Soul, we are in a state of grace, even when there is suffering. I also liked that I could play with Grace as a name in the novel. It was later that I found the quote from Father Richard Rohr, which reinforced my thinking and thus begins my novel: “Grace is not something God gives; grace is who God is.” Therefore, Charlie’s battle is a life and death conflict for her very Soul!
What else have I written: I have written a lot of poetry and short memoir pieces, two of which have been published in Sacred Journey and one in The Aspen Times. I have several professional articles in Psychology journals and a chapter in a professional book: Supervision of Sandplay Therapy (Routledge 2007).
Challenges in writing this book: I felt compelled to write this, but I had never written a novel before so I didn’t know how. I took classes in writing and in story structure, but I still wasn’t convinced. I was so grateful that I was led to Len Leatherwood, whom I hired as a writing consultant. She had done the journey before and knew the territory so well that she kept me on the path, always encouraging me. My other challenge was finding the time because I work full time as a psychotherapist. When I look back on these trials now, they were simply part of my journey—nothing special. But facing them was a requirement for completing the task.
Insights from writing the book: I always knew I could trust my process, but writing this book made that awareness rock solid. So I have a deeper connection within, to the One that connects everything. I am a better person for writing this book. I give more of myself to others. As Charlie and Violet struggled with the darkness around them, I did, too. They challenged me to be courageous. They challenged me to find grace every day. Already one man wrote the first review on Amazon and gave the book five stars. He told me the book opened his eyes to the plight of being a minority, and it gave him more compassion. Finding Grace made me more compassionate, too. That makes me smile.
What should the reader know before they read my novel? I don’t want them to know too much. All the readers thus far have commented on the twists and surprises in the novel, and that they couldn’t put it down. I want the reader to trust that the book is meant to be entertaining, emotionally deep, and spiritually expansive. If a reader enjoys all those things, they are in the right place. I might also add that there is a bit of violence in the first part of the book, which serves as the call to action. Overall, the story does not contain much graphic violence.
Advice for a new writer: Go deep within yourself, trust your muse, and don’t be afraid to get help. If there is a book inside of you, it will come out. And even if it’s only for you, it’s worth the time to write it.
Tell about the cover: Initially, I had a woman’s hand lighting a candle, but that felt too predictable. This past summer, here in Florida, we were in the midst of torrential rains and our lake rose very near our home. I felt like I was living in a swamp as I sloshed through the water and muck to sandbag our foundation. It hit me that this is what it’s like sometimes before you find grace in your life—it’s like slogging through a swamp. I related to my protagonist, Charlie in that way, too. Then I saw this image—feet stepping out of the swamp. I asked my son, Garrett to bring over his professional camera and he took the photos. He made me get in the lake up to my knees and get real dirty and wet. We worked with the images until we came to this close-up. It expresses how hard, lonely, and scary it can be on your way to grace. We all start off with the reptiles, and we all fall into the swamp at certain points in our lives. It’s hell there, but we can climb out and discover that grace has been waiting for us all along.
Damonza designed the cover. I love how they wove the muck and grass through the words. Especially with a title of Finding Grace, I was concerned readers might make narrow assumptions about the book. I wanted the reader to know from the cover that this book goes deep into some dark territories before we all find grace. I hope a potential reader will be intrigued to know more and pick it up.
From my experience, I believe the cover plays a huge part in the buying process. I have ignored great novels because of the cover until I’d heard enough good things about the book. I believe the cover needs to grab a potential reader in some way. It should make the reader curious to know more. I hope I have been successful at that. When I showed my beta readers the initial cover with an image of a lit candle, they said: “That cover would not make me pick up the book.” I had to sit with it for months before this new idea came. When I showed them this one, they all agreed: “Yes! That’s it!”
How am I publishing? I decided to self-publish. I studied the query process, and I submitted queries to three or four agents. It was all very helpful for me to understand how to pitch my novel. Along the way, I learned that the author is expected to do so much self-marketing that I began to consider self-publishing. I explored this option further and also learned that one of the reasons agents aren’t looking at queries from new authors very closely is because they are so busy trolling for successful self-published books on Amazon and elsewhere. I also did not like the fact that publishing houses expected me to be writing my next novel, or even planning a series! I have a full life with a career that I love. I may write another book, but I didn’t want to feel pressured to do so. I simply wanted to get my book out into the world and let it grow organically.
Favorite snippet—From the prologue where Charlie is 23, luring us back to 1960:
I was thirteen in 1960 when I finished eighth grade, and prone to deep thoughts and mood swings. I often roamed the narrow paths through the towering pines and pondered the crushing atmosphere of my life. The entire country was like a kettle about to boil over, and Cheskamy—our town outside of Norfolk, Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay—was no different. As the tension grew hotter between the whites and blacks, my father became angrier, my home more foreign. Like patent leather shoes two sizes too small, it all gave me brain blisters. In the forest I could spread out.
But I’d been warned since I was four that if I walked into those woods far enough, I’d reach Nigger Town. As a young child, I had no idea what that meant, but it seemed scary, like if I ever found myself there, my life would never be the same. That part turned out to be true.
I know you may question how much a twenty-three-year-old could possibly know about life, but you’ll need to have a little blind faith in the beginning. That’s what we all start off with, isn’t it? I know I did. But by thirteen, standing on the threshold of womanhood, I almost lost all of it; forced to face realities I didn’t even know existed. I ran helter-skelter toward those truths and away from them until my entire world collapsed. My story is about loss and about those who are holding us up even when we’re unaware: Our friends, God, and our mothers—all of them—from human to divine to Mother Nature herself. Because from the beginning, even when all else failed, in the forest, I could always find grace.
Where can readers learn more?
Find out more about Finding Grace at: http://www.findinggracenovel.com