Beads of Gratitude

Beads of gratitude

Since Tuesday, I’ve been trying to find just the right words to tell you about Words in Process, the reading of my forthcoming novel and discussion of blogging that I did on June 18 at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier.

But, first. A few beads of gratitude.

So many people helped make the evening happen and made this such a wonderful one for me. I owe a great deal of thanks to Amy Yanity for inviting me to be part of this writers series. Amy’s one of my newest friends who somehow feels like a kindred spirit (together, our collective ghost radars are probably turbo-charged). Our daughters, present at the reading, resembled twins and seemed to feel the same way. 

Amy introducing me

Amy Yanity (left) introducing me.

Allegory GalleryAnd my thanks also to Andrew Thornton, an incredible and breathtaking talent who celebrates art in all forms through his craft as well as through his shop, Allegory Gallery. Described as “one part bead shop, one part jewelry boutique, one part fine art gallery, and one part gift shop,” from the moment Andrew welcomed us, I knew this was a place alive with art reverberating from every corner. Ligonier is so, so lucky to have him.

Hydrangea cupcakes

And to my seems-like-a-brother friend, Keith Campbell, for the introduction to Amy and the steadfast belief in my work (all of it), and the incredible hydrangea cupcakes he made (red velvet cupcakes with chocolate liqueur!) in celebration of this story. Indulge me for a moment on the meaning of the hydrangea, so apropos here, from “…a bouquet of hydrangea expresses the giver’s gratefulness for the recipient’s understanding. Still others suggest it represents anything that’s sincerely heartfelt.” That is my friend Keith, precisely.

It is true, and especially so in these times, that we get by with a little help from our friends.

So, then.

Imagine the most cliched, stormy weather possible and that’s what we encountered (me, The Husband, and both kids) on a tiny rural road headed toward Ligonier. It was monsoon-like and all I kept thinking was, “This is the glamorous life of being a writer: the possibility of being flooded in one’s car with your entire immediate family on the way to your first-ever reading.” To paraphrase the magnificant Manilow, I honestly don’t know how we made it through the rain. 

Allegory chalkboardBut, made it through we did, and we arrived in Ligonier – which, if you’ve never been, is quite a charming town. And haunted in spots. Before the event, Amy and I stood outside the gallery tracking ghosts with her Ghost Radar app on her phone. Given that my reading was part of my novel, which is set in 1988 during the AIDS epidemic and is inspired by my late uncle, I was a little freaked when THE FIRST LETTERS OF MY UNCLE’S NAME appeared on the Ghost Tracker.

Or maybe that was just a coincidence.

I started my remarks by discussing how, as a writer, blogging has become such an important part of my life. I spoke about the changes in publishing and, regardless of whether one pursues self-publication or traditional publication, the onus is on us as writers to market and promote our work.

“While Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube are all important channels, I believe that blogging offers a distinct advantage for writers,” I said, namely that it offers a built-in audience that trusts you and knows your voice and your style. The book blogging community in particular was a natural fit; these are obviously readers and the opportunities abound for cultivating an audience through features such as The Sunday Salon and events like the 24 Hour Readathons (and so much more).

Melissa talking 2

Melissa talking

I spoke about how and why I started my blog, the evolution of it, and how I was frustrated with my creative-writing endeavors when I joined NaNoWriMo in November 2009. I posted some excerpts of what I was writing on the blog, I said, and was astounded when people responded with “I really like that,” and “When can we read more?”

“Instant gratification is a writer’s best friend,” I said, “and blogging gives that to you as an author.”

Melissa talking 3

I read most of the first chapter of the novel, which was received well, and then I also demonstrated how I wrote a blog post about marriage equality and related that to a family experience AND an excerpt of the novel.

Melissa talking 4

From my vantage point, it seemed like I was trying to give the small audience everything I knew about writing and blogging, which is impossible, but I wanted to make sure they felt as if the evening and their time was worthwhile. And although I’d rehearsed my remarks to some extent, I’m somewhat of a go-with-the-flow speaker … which is hard when you’re not used to cameras flashing and a reporter taking notes.

(Did you get that? A REPORTER. Taking NOTES. About what I had to say about blogging and quotes from my little novel-still-in-progress about one family dealing with AIDS. It was somewhat surreal, to be honest.)


We had a Q and A session (people actually asked questions!) and cupcakes and wine, and admired more of the beadwork, then it was time for the open mic portion of the evening where the audience members were invited to share portions of their writing. I love hearing new writers, and trust me when I say there is some  great writing talent nestled in and around Ligonier. I heard and saw it for myself.

Amy Yanity reading her poetry.

Amy Yanity.

Tom Beck reading one of his stories.

Tom Beck

We heard two poignant poems from Amy followed by Thomas Beck‘s story with Charlie Brown (yes, the Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame) as a muse.

Joe Stierheim reads a memorable story, set in Appalachia, about a girl with blue eyes.

Joe Stierheim

Suzannah Paul, who writes the blog, "The Smitten Word," reads us a post on her phone.

Suzannah Paul

Joe Stierheim shared a touching story set in Appalachia about a girl with memorable blue eyes (he has quite a way of delivering the spoken word, that  Joe). I thought his story was going to end differently – he had me breathless for several moments. And Suzannah Paul of The Smitten Word brought us with her to the supermarket with a hilarious and all-too-familiar blog post. (I bonded instantly with Suzannah; we’re both reviewers with TLC Book Tours!)

What was interesting about this was that all the writers who were there – at least the ones who read their work – have blogs! The links above take you there … please do check them out and show them some love.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge The Husband and kids. It meant so, so much to have them there with me. The Husband had had a long, tough day at work and driving nearly 1.5 hours each way to Ligonier was probably not his preferred way to unwind after his first day back from vacation. It was also the first time that The Husband was hearing any of the novel. He has always been my biggest support, through this story (the writing of it and the real-life version that he lived through with me) and … well, just everything.

And the kids were just incredibly well-behaved. Betty was the first one to come up to me with a hug and kiss after the reading, and Boo was so attentive while everyone else read. I was so proud of them.

One of the questions during the Q and A session was about the potential of adversity that one might open oneself up to, given the subject of the novel. Another (from The Husband, ironically), was about how to distance yourself emotionally from the sensitivity of the story.

I answered that by saying that this is a story I believe in, wholeheartedly, that I feel needs to be told. Our family’s story is that of so many families during the mid-80s. Some of the voices are silenced now and are unable to tell about that time.

Some, like mine, with the help of some new friends, are just beginning to be heard.

Many thanks again to Amy, Andrew, Keith, Cami, and all who attended. Thank you for listening, for being open-minded and caring. I will remember this night, with gratitude and appreciation, for always.

Read Andrew’s recap of the event on his blog: The Writing and Art of Andrew Thornton: Words in Process at Allegory Gallery 

Thanks for sharing this post!

5 thoughts on “Beads of Gratitude

  1. Pingback: When You Reach the End of the Internet, Keep Calm and Go Fishing. (And Call Prince Charming.) | melissa firman

  2. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    Man, I don’t know how I missed commenting on this… It sounds like a wonderful evening, thank you for writing about it! And congrats on getting to share you story and all the awesomeness that is book blogging with other people.

  3. Andrew Thornton

    Thank you so much for coming out! We are definitely grateful for the opportunity. I think that everyone will agree that you were an amazing speaker! You were charming, insightful and inspiring! We are honored to be the first place you’ve done a reading.

    The words you shared hit home. Maybe it’s because I’m gay and lived in New York City… and while I do not have HIV or AIDS, I know many that do (or did and are no longer with us). Some of the images stirred memories I haven’t thought of in a long time… particularly the pat on the back, where the bones became all too obvious and how suddenly this person of flesh and blood seemed so much smaller and so much more fragile.

    And thank you for your kind words. I believe that Ligonier is one of those places that once it enters your radar, will stay in it. You’ll see a clip from a movie or hear someone talk about “the Diamond” and you’ll know they’re not talking about a ring or precious jewel… they’re talking about a precious place a little like Mayberry… but with a Fort.

    Good luck with the book! I look forward to reading it one day!

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