Tuesday, June 26, 2018

How Growing Up Poor Made Me A Minimalist

Call it lack of awareness or naivete, but as a child I had no idea my family was poor. We had food on the table, clothes on our backs and plenty of love to go around so I never felt lacking. It didn't occur to me to question  wearing hand-me-down blouses or homemade dresses that my mother sewed for us. Coming from a large family, I just assumed these to be normal, practical things that most families did.

The fact that I was unaware of our socioeconomic status says more about my upbringing than it says about me. I loved the meals my parents prepared out of leftovers, stretching our Sunday pot roast well into mid-week. I felt lucky to inherit one of my older sisters coveted outfits. And sharing a bed with my younger sibling was much more of a comfort than a burden--save for those times she gouged me with a sharp toenail.

It wasn't until I was much older that I began to understand how challenging it must have been to feed seven children on a rural minister's income. I have faint memories of falling asleep in the back seat of our car when my mom drove thirty miles to pick up my dad from his second-shift job. He worked at a Brunswick factory where he'd sometimes bring home defective bowling pins for us to play with. We loved those wooden pins, painting faces on them and gluing yarn on the top for hair. According to family legend he once brought home bowling shoes for us to wear. I was too young to remember it, but I heard how my older sisters pitched a fit and refused to wear the shoes to school. My dad insisted they were the same as saddle shoes and his ungrateful daughters should be happy to have them. My teen sisters begged to differ and the shoes "went missing" after that.

When drawing the character of Reverend Carter in THIS I KNOW I drew from my own experience of growing up with a man who could squeeze 200 pennies out of a dollar. He accepted gifts of venison from church members and had it ground with pork suet so his kids wouldn't balk at the wild taste. He milked his clergy discount wherever and whenever he could, often embarrassing my mom. And he cut coupons like nobody's business, stuffing his suit pockets, his wallet, and the glove compartment of our Plymouth until the little door wouldn't stay shut.

One of my favorite scenes in THIS I KNOW is when Grace goes grocery shopping with her Daddy:

When our basket is nearly full, Daddy stops in the middle of the aisle and thumbs through his stack of coupons looking for ten cents off Charmin. When he finds it, he pulls three packages off the shelf and dumps them in the cart. He doesn’t squeeze them even a little bit. I glance over the list and draw a line through TP. Daddy never spells it out. Maybe he worries about dropping the list and somebody finding out Pastor Carter wipes his behind just like everybody else. Which is kind of funny since he spends more time in the bathroom than anyone else I know.

You'd think that growing up having less would make me want more as an adult, but the opposite is true. My dad taught me the value of love over needless things. I live in a 400 square foot granny unit. I drive a 16 year-old car. I shop at thrift stores. I recycle or re-purpose whenever possible. I cut my own hair. And I rarely buy anything I don't need. Unless. Unless I have a coupon. Or it's a really, really good deal. In which case I've been known to blow money on restaurants, spas, concerts and bookstores. Yesterday I bought a new story board at Office Max. I'd been using push-pins to tack my scenes onto a wall but they had white boards for half off retail.  I rationalized that the new dry-erase board would make writing the next book easier but the truth is I inherited the thrill of saving a buck from my dad. 

I'm not cheap--I tip well and happily pay for quality products and services. But I still love a good bargain. I subscribe to Bookbub, scour the internet for airfare deals and never pay rack rate for a hotel room. Which is why I want to acknowledge that $26 for a hardcover book is a bit steep for some of our budgets. I'm thrilled to share that my publisher is running a sale on THIS I KNOW for 90% off the cover price. My dad was frugal but he was also generous. If he were alive today I bet he'd buy every one of you a copy.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Faith of Our Fathers

"Faith of our fathers, we will love. Both friend and foe in all our strife." --Frederic William Faber, Catholic Hymn 1849

When I was a little girl I thought my father was infallible. He was, after all, the minister of our church and shepherd to more than one flock of parishioners. He was firm but kind. Strict but never mean. Compassionate but not a pushover. Well, usually not a pushover. 

People often ask me if Rev. Carter in THIS I KNOW is based upon my real-life dad. The answer is complicated. My dad was a rural preacher so of course I had lots of personal experience a lot to draw on when creating the character of Henry Carter. For example, I stole some of my dad's quirky habits like studying in the (only!) bathroom and using toilet paper as a bookmark for his Bible when one of his seven kids knocked on the door. And like Rev. Carter, my dad was eager to hand out religious tracts to anyone within reach of his fully-stocked pocket and use grocery coupons stored in the other one. But that's pretty much where Pastor Edwards leaves off and Rev. Carter begins.

One of my main goals in writing THIS I KNOW was to juxtapose a minister's devotion to his
belief system against a father's love for his child. Would he feel forced to choose one over the other? Or would he expand to encompass a belief that embraces the unknowable? Added to these questions was the increased challenge of a time period when children were expected to be seen but not heard. This concept felt like a perfect storm between righteousness and choosing what is morally right.

One of my favorite passages from THIS I KNOW demonstrates the dichotomy of a "man of God" struggling against his human ego.

Esther inhales sharply, startling Daddy and he drops his Bible. Everyone gasps because it’s a sacrilege to let the Word of God touch the floor, even worse than the American flag. When Daddy leans over to pick up his Bible, ink pens and tracts fall out of his shirt pocket, making even more of a mess. Several of the ladies stoop down to help him, like a flock of teacher’s pets clamoring for an A+. His face reddens from embarrassment or anger, I’m not sure which. Probably both.

My dad passed away 17 years ago at the age of 89. Today would have been his birthday. As Father's Day approaches, I can't help but wonder how he would respond to my book. As a man who had strong opinions about the afterlife I suppose he might take issue with young Grace communicating with her deceased twin. But I expect that as my dad, he'd be darn proud of me for writing a novel that seems to have struck a chord with readers from all walks of life. This, I know.


Have you heard? THIS I KNOW is Delilah Book Club Selection for June from America's most listened-to female radio host! Pop over to her page to read more of Delilah's discussion of why she chose to recommend my book to her 8 million listeners!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Home is Where Your Tribe Shows Up

Photo Credit: JackWy Photography
In his posthumous novel by the same title Thomas Wolfe famously proclaimed that you can't go home again because things change. People grow older and more cynical, the town itself expands into something other than how you remember it or contracts into itself due to economic shifts, and leavers are shunned as traitors to family and community. Especially if one of those leavers writes a book reflecting the author's nostalgic image of that community.

I'm here to say that not only can you go home again, it will welcome you with open arms, show up at your book events, stand in line for hugs, and delight in reminding you of a thing you did that you'd forgotten or might wish they'd forgotten. But mostly you will laugh, the kind of laugh that starts deep in the belly and hollows out a secret place where tears are stored. Memories collide; the reality of your mortality a mirror staring back at you in all their beautiful faces. 

Last month I traveled to West Michigan for my Midwestern book launch of THIS I KNOW. My biggest fear was not that folks wouldn't buy my book, but that nobody would show up. People are busy with kids and jobs and aging parents. Driving 30-60 minutes to see an author you knew from church or went to school with might not be a priority when there's a wedding to plan, upcoming graduation or work and family obligations. 

But show up they did. I signed books for those I sat next to in kindergarten in the 1960's, smoked my
first joint with in high school, waited tables together while raising our children, hung out at the beach with every summer, sold real estate for during the 80s, and a critique partner who remembered when THIS I KNOW was just a seed of an idea. There were friends, friends of friends, cousins, nieces and nephews, and people who'd merely heard about me through the grapevine--still the most reliable form of communication in the rural Midwest where decent cell and internet service are as scarce as designer handbags. 

Best of all my five siblings sat grinning from the front row at nearly every event, lined up much like when we scrunched together in that old wooden pew every week as our Dad went into overtime on his vigorous Sunday sermons. On one of those nights we enjoyed a slumber party, scattered around my eldest sister's cottage in our jammies, munching snacks and sharing stories from our current lives but mostly stirring up memories form our shared past.

Thank you to every one of you who attended my events, arranged after-parties, put me up in their home, and drove me where I needed to go. A special gratitude to Barnes & Noble MuskegonBook Nook & Java Shop in Montague and The Bookman in Grand Haven for hosting me at your lovely bookstores. After one of my readings an employee handed me a Sharpie and asked me to sign their author wall. I only hesitated for a moment before writing, "You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you can't take Michigan out of the girl." Because Thomas Wolfe is wrong. You can go home again. And as we say here, you might should.


Have you heard? THIS I KNOW is Delilah Book Club Selection from America's most listened-to female radio host! Pop over to her page to read Delilah's review and why she chose to recommend my book to her 8 million listeners!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Five Things I Learned from My Mother

My mother at 41 and her 13-pound boy.
To say the last few weeks have been a thrilling roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. In the span of a month, my debut novel released, I moved, and my beloved 16-year-old dog Bella died. I sometimes wonder how we survive even one of these events without curling into a tangled ball of stress. But then I remember that for every lowdown low there is an incredible high. Our lives might feel out of control but it's possible to find balance even in the midst of complete chaos. You know how I know this? I learned it from my mom. This photo of her was taken shortly after the birth of her eighth child when she was 41. I realize he looks like a three-month-old baby but my brother David came into this world weighing a whopping 13 pounds. My mother quit babies after that one, but she didn't quit bringing forth life. 

Writers often compare launching a new book to giving birth. In my just-released novel THIS I KNOW young Grace Carter inherits her mother's deep intuition. As Mother's Day approaches I've been thinking about what traits my mother gifted me through her genes and by her example; qualities that have made me better equipped to navigate this life.

1. Laughter cures pretty much everything.

Laughing with Anna Unkovich
Although she suffered from debilitating degenerative disk disease, it's my mother's laugh, not her pain that I remember most clearly. She often shared jokes, ruining the punch line because she couldn't get through it without cracking herself up. The only thing I loved better than making my mom proud was making her laugh so hard she once peed herself while cooking lunch for my sisters and me. Being pregnant with 13-pound baby might have contributed to the bladder release but I happily took credit. I've carried my mom's voluptuous laugh with me into my own parenthood and beyond. When a neighbor moved away a few years ago she shared that the thing she'd miss most about living next door to me was hearing laughter resonating from my home almost every day. She said hearing me laugh made her less lonely. I hope she laughed with me. Or even at me. Because there's nothing like the chortles and howls of a good belly laugh to make you forget for a moment everything you want to cry about. Laughter takes you out of yourself and sends back a love note.

2. Human touch heals the soul.

My mother was one of the most affectionate people I've ever known. Severe back pain often prevented her from lifting or bending to hug us so she'd pull us close to pet our heads or massage our ears. When she ended up in traction, she'd often invite me to crawl in beside her on the bed where she lay in traction where we could snuggle and hold hands. I used to think she did this for me but looking back I realize she hungered for the healing properties of touch as much as I did. She died a few years before I started my 25-year career in as a massage therapist. What I wouldn't give to have been able to offer her a healing massage when she was hurting. I'm so thankful for her tenderness, for teaching me the power within our reach not only to heal others, but to heal ourselves.

3. Your circumstances don't define you. 

Just when her life seemed to peak, my mother was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The doctor gave her six months to live. Surrounded by all her children when the call came, she bawled into her hands for all of about fifteen minutes. By the end of the day she was calling the doctors liars; she hadn't come this far to accept their doom and gloom sentence. Over the next three years my mother LIVED her life. She endured chemo, radiation and platelet infusions. She researched and delved into alternative therapies, the most memorable being garlic. Everywhere garlic. She danced, she sang, she went to movies, she spent time with old friends and made new ones. Through it all she refused to give in. Of all the things my mother taught me I'm most grateful for learning what resilience looks like. Her strength has shadowed me through every hardship along a path littered with heartbreak and loss, including losing her.

4. It's okay to break the rules.

VaLoyce Edwards was a mother and preacher's wife but she was so much more than that. The only thing she loved more than singing was if you sang with her. She often performed in our churches and if I'm being honest. that was about the only time I paid attention. Her voice could make a Buckingham Palace guard cry. We didn't have much in the way of luxuries growing up in a home with seven children and two adults but we always had music. My mom listened to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson records on our hi-fi. Dancing wasn't allowed in our Southern Baptist home but it didn't stop her from swaying. She'd close her eyes and become a like a willow branch, moving with an unseen wind. Later on in life, she gave herself permission to go listen to bands at various venues. I never had the pleasure of tagging along with her but I'm told that once she let loose she burned up the floor. 

5. Never give up on your dreams.

I know this one sounds cliche but hear me out. In her late forties, my mother opted for a risky surgery, one that could have left her in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. The outcome of this decision changed her life. Freed from chronic back pain and the unfortunate side effects of pain medications, she enrolled in college and earned her degree in sociology. Immediately upon graduation she was hired by the university as a financial aid counselor, helping others to find ways to pursue their educational goals. Like my mother, I went back to school in my fifties. And also like her, I never gave up on my goal of writing books. I was 54 when LOST IN TRANSPLANTATION published and 59 when my debut novel THIS I KNOW released. I'll be 60 when my next book is out in June of 2019.

It's been almost three decades since my mother passed away, just shy of her 65th birthday. I know she would be so proud of me for writing a book but prouder still that I channeled her resilience, her laughter, her willingness to break the rules in writing this little story about a girl who longs to rescue her mother from the depths of darkness. Happy Mothers Day, Mom. I love you. This I Know.

What about you? What did you learn or inherit from your mom-person?


It's out!

My debut novel THIS I KNOW released on April 24 and I'm thrilled with the overwhelming support and positive feedback from so many people. It's available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Sam's Club or order from you Independent Bookstore. I'm headed to Michigan for a book tour May 12-20. If you happen to be within spitting distance, I hope you'll drop in and say hi.

Eldonna Edwards' Upcoming Book Events

Monday, April 9, 2018

Wading in The Wings

Living in the present moment is the recurring baptism of the soul, forever purifying every new day with a new you.” ― Alaric HutchinsonLIVING PEACE

Of all the days that stand out from my childhood, the times we gathered at Stony Lake for baptism services feel the most visceral. It was a big deal in our little church and nearly all of our small congregation attended. What I remember most clearly is my dad's sun-deprived white feet under rolled-up pant legs as he stood at the water's edge, holding his weathered Bible in one hand while he spoke. It didn't matter that the pages flapped in the summer breeze; he knew those words by heart, as did most of us.

I'm not Southern or Baptist but something deep and holy stuck to my bones from those annual gatherings at the lake. Two of my favorite  scenes in THIS I KNOW are a spirited community baptism that takes place at Cherry Lake and a much more personal one that occurs in a small backyard pond. To this day I much prefer baths to showers. One of the first
things I did when I bought my current home was to drop an antique claw foot bathtub in the yard under the trees. It is my sanctuary. Showers are for rinsing; the bath is more of a prayer, a purification of mind and spirit that transcends mere physical cleansing.

Waiting for my book to come out reminds me of those languid summer days wishing my dad would wrap up his long-winded sermon so I could watch him dunk people in the lake. As I count down the last several days to the long-awaited release date, I'm reminded of the words we used to sing as we gathered in the long shadows of those sandy Lake Michigan dunes. 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It's been two years since I gleefully signed a contract with my publisher for THIS I KNOW, a story about a young girl trying to navigate her kaleidoscopic understanding of Spirit, juxtaposed against her father's black-and-white image of God. My gratitude goes out to every single one of you who has cheered me on. Thank you to the many pre-release readers wrote to tell me how much you loved my little Grace Marie, shared my good news, and talked about my book to others. Today I truly can say that all is indeed well with my soul.

Please join me for my long-awaited Launch Party on Facebook!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tornado Weather

We take our place in the northeast corner of the basement, just like always. My heart thundering inside my chest seems almost as loud as the storm outside.

The first day of Spring is just around the corner. Here in California that usually means our jade-green Irish hills gradually turn the color of a lion's mane, but due to recent drought, it's probably going to be more like fading from olive to burnt toast. We're getting some rain this week but probably not enough to correct a full dry season. Hopefully we'll be spared another round of mudslides to the south.

I come from the Midwest, where precipitation happens all year long. The part when it turns white is mostly what propelled me toward the west coast. I'm not nostalgic about shoveling out of six-foot banks of snow, but I do miss how lightening sparked across a forever sky, followed by booming thunder that sometimes punctuated my dad's hellfire and brimstone sermons. When people ask why I set my first novel in Michigan they assume it's because I grew up there. That's partly why, but it's also because Michigan weather makes for a more interesting backdrop. Rain, thunderstorms, hail, blizzards, ice storms; and let's not forget when the air turns eerily still and the sky a sickly shade of yellow that we call tornado weather.

One of my favorite scenes to write in THIS I KNOW is when the family huddles in the basement of their home as a tornado passes overhead. Just recalling the hush of a sticky wind right before the warning sirens pierced my young ears sends me reeling backward in time. I can feel the humidity on my skin, smell the dank corner of our parsonage basement, feel the fear of my family as we waited for the all clear on our transistor radio.  

From chapter 16 of THIS I KNOW:

A huge crack of thunder booms above us, rattling the windows. Chastity scampers over to Mama and Daddy and I follow. The lights flicker on and off twice before the room goes completely dark. Above us our whole house shakes, the wind leaning it one way and then the house fighting its way back to center. Mama starts humming “A Shelter in the Time of Storm,” which is meant to comfort us but for some reason makes me even more scared. 

We don't experience tornadoes as a rule in California, but we do have earthquakes. Mother Nature usually gives you time to take shelter before a funnel cloud reaches for the ground but these tremors come without warning. The best we can do is strap furniture to the wall, keep glassware secured inside cabinets and pray we're not in the grocery store when it hits. 

What about you? How does Mother Nature earn your deepest fear and respect in your neighborhood?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I Only Know What I Don't Know

"I'm spooning my Other, my belly to his back..."
Lately I've been thinking a lot  about birthdays. Not just because I'll be completing another trip around the sun this month, but because I've witnessed so many people at the end of their journey. Having recently midwifed more than a few dear ones across the fragile veil of this life, I've realized just how similar these transitions are to birth; the labored breath, the physical pain, the emotional whiplash and at long last, the rush of love that overwhelms us.

Family legend says I was born in a hospital elevator between the labor room and the delivery theater, all ten-and-a-quarter pounds of me! I don't know if the story is true but I tend to believe it. Patience is not one of my most stellar virtues. On the other hand, I do enjoy my comforts and I'm just as apt to believe I was one of those hangers-on who waited long past my due date to leave the safety of my mother's womb. And to do so on my terms, not the will of my poor mother or the hospital staff.

While writing the opening prologue of THIS I KNOW, I tried to imagine the final moments  of unborn twins who communicate their last thoughts to one another right before birth. Do babies experience fear? Excitement? Sadness? Or is the whole experience just a lollapalooza of love during a newborn's entry into the outside world? Here's how my young protagonist Grace Carter describes her memory of a time before birth:

Folks don’t believe me when I tell them I remember being in the womb. They think it’s my wild imagination. “There goes Grace in her fantasy world,” they say. But I know what I know. The thing is, they could remember, too, if they wanted. Maybe they don’t because they’d be sorry they were ever born if they recalled the sweetest place they’ve ever been and how they had to leave it.

As I lean into the final bend of a new decade I'm more inclined to believe we don't know any more about what happens before life than what follows death. When people ask me what I think happens after we die, my answer is that I only know what I don't know. For now, I choose to be awed by the gift of another moment, another day, another candle on this sweet slice of life before me. Because every day is new birth. How will you celebrate that gift today?

Pssst! In celebration of my birthday, we're announcing a Goodreads giveaway for 20 print copies of THIS I KNOW beginning March 3. If you add the book to your Goodreads want-to-read-list you'll be reminded when the giveaway opens. Good luck!