Readers’ responses to my books are treasures! Positive comments are encouraging, and if they’re well-written they’re likely to wind up on my Website or promotional pieces. Negative comments probably won’t be used for publicity (though I’m fixin’ to put some in my blog right now!), but I am happy to receive them for they help me grow as a writer. Four seminary professors have provided feedback, both positive and negative. Here are some of their comments and how they helped me.
The earliest of these appraisals came just in the nick of time from Laurence Hull Stookey, Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological. Dr. Stookey had been described to me as the guru of liturgy and worship in the United Methodist Church. One of his books, Calendar, Christ’s Time for the Church, was a great resource as I wrote Sunday by Sunday I; in fact, I quoted it at the beginning of the book. I had placed a courtesy call to him at the seminary to thank him for his book and tell him about the quotation and was surprised when he came on the line. We had a friendly conversation and when he said that my book sounded interesting, I summoned all the Lutheran chutzpah I had in me and asked if he might have time to review the manuscript and consider writing an endorsement. He said yes! I was elated. Important information: At that point, the title of the book was Sabbath by Sabbath. So, Stookey’s fabulous, affirming blurb arrived pretty much at press time. In a note he said, “Thank you for a good book. I would be even happier if it were called…Sunday by Sunday. The Seventh-day Adventists are right at one point which many of our Protestant Reformer forebears got wrong. ‘Sabbath’ means seventh and refers always to Saturday. Its appropriation by Christians creates great confusion.” I had lived with Sabbath by Sabbath for several years and liked the music of the words, but I immediately went online and discovered that there was, indeed, a war raging in Christendom over the use of the term “Sabbath.” Not wanting to get in the middle of that war, I emailed my graphic designer at 10 o’clock that night to re-do the cover, using the title Sunday by Sunday. Whew. I still feel “saved by the bell” with that critique!
Ginger Barfield, currently Academic Dean at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS), was on the faculty there in New Testament when she wrote the foreword for S by S I. Her foreword artfully provided many reader hooks. I especially appreciated her saying to the reader–more often than not a church person–“You will find something in this book that resonates within you.” She did, however, surprise me when she described the main character’s family as dysfunctional. Hmm. I decided that dimension might give the work a special appeal, since it seems fashionable these days to admit to a certain level of dysfunction in our families. (Realistic, too, I suppose.) And her comment also encouraged me to monitor closely the level of kooky and/or unhealthy interactions in Rose’s family and weave that dynamic effectively into the narrative. I am satisfied that the quality of the subsequent books has been strengthened by her input.
Another LTSS professor, Charles Sigel, Emeritus Professor of New Testament studies, provided me two full sheets of feedback after reading the first book; I treasure his thoughts. He started with the positive, and here is an excerpt: “I marvel at the number of situations you have been able to create and the number of issues on which you touch as Rose moves through the church year. The foibles, frailties, fractures and frivolities of life in a local congregation are an [other] area where I believe you have captured the essence of what ‘church’ (I mean REAL CHURCH) is all about.” But then, he said that, while he was moved at first by emotional scenes, the amount of weeping, crying, and gnashing of teeth became excessive. He used the word lugubrious. Upon reflection, I agreed with him. You can bet that human activity of this type is moderated in books two and three, and therefore, when someone is distraught, I hope, the scene is more effective. He also noted that I had identified ‘anawim’ as a Greek word when it is Hebrew. Don’t worry, he advised graciously; Rose is a laywoman who wouldn’t be expected to get such things right—but I sure wish I had. For all your counsel, many thanks, Charlie Sigel!
Lastly, is a response from Carl Ficken, also Emeritus Professor of Theology and Culture at LTSS and a Ph. D. in American Literature as well. He has read both books. I am deeply gratified that he “enjoyed them, appreciated the connections with the lectionary, the introduction to a faithful ‘church lady,’ and the thoughtful reflection on so many dimensions of life.” He thinks that I “have invented a new genre: part journal, part fictional narrative, part spiritual discipline, part theological and Biblical interpretation.” Perhaps that “new genre” element is the reason I’ve not yet been successful in finding a publisher or agent, for the Sunday by Sunday series does not fit neatly into a category. In my on-going survey of church fiction, I’ve not found anything quite like it. Thank you for that insight, Carl Ficken, which I choose to see as a compliment, if not an advantage.
More reader feedback is posted at http://www.sundaybysunday.com/