Saturday, July 7, 2012
Grace Unexpected by Gale Martin
About the Book:
Thirty-something Grace Savage has slogged through crummy jobs and dead-end relationships with men who would rather go bald than say “I do”. In search of respite from her current job, she visits Shaker Village in New Hampshire. Instead of renewal, she’s unnerved to learn that Shaker men and women lived and worked side by side in complete celibacy. When her longtime boyfriend dumps her instead of proposing, Grace avows the sexless Shaker ways. Resolved to stick to her new plan – dubbed the Shaker Plan – despite ovaries ticking like time bombs, she returns to her life in Pennsylvania. Almost immediately, she's juggling two eligible bachelors: Addison, a young beat reporter; and True, a venerable anthropology professor. Both men have ample charms and soul mate potential to test her newfound Shaker-style self-control, and Grace appears to be on the fast track to a marriage proposal… until secrets revealed deliver a death rattle to the Shaker Plan.
A Guest Post by Gale Martin
21st Century Road Trip Inspires Whopper of a Fish Tale
by Gale Martin
Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Donna. I’m happy to be here on “My Life. One Story at a Time”
because I also believe in the power of story. As Donna has shared with readers in this blog’s banner, “The world is shaped by two things – stories told and the memories they leave behind.”
While on a week-long road trip with my sister-in-law back in 2005, I visited Shaker Village at Canterbury, New Hampshire. It was the first and only time I visited this working museum dedicated to preserving the 200-year legacy of the Canterbury Shakers, a Quaker sect who danced and shook in worship. And it encouraged me to write a book-length story around it called GRACE UNEXPECTED. Not necessarily a book that they’d want to stock in the Shaker Museum Store right beside Cooking in the Shaker Spirit either. But a book that I’m hoping anyone who likes a fun, fast read will want to pick up.
First, let me explain that the Canterbury settlement is scenic and serene. There is beauty in order and ingenuity, and Shaker Village has both in spades; the book pays homage to that legacy. In fairness to the book’s central character Grace Savage, GRACE UNEXPECTED reflects her authentic experience at Shaker Village, which wasn’t necessarily my own. More like mine ratcheted up a few (hundred) degrees, refracted through the eyes of an attractive thirty-something with lots of living to do.
Why fish tales make good stories
There’s power in the idea of telling fish tales, where the fictional fish is much larger and scrappier than the minnow that actually landed on the itty-bitty hook. Basically, real life isn’t that thrilling for most people, not day-to-day anyway. Inherently, life isn’t the stuff of fiction (though I am sure you’ve met people who are ensnared in tiresome melodramas of their own making and perpetuation). Real life has to be tweaked and shaped until it becomes a story worth telling, until it is more like a fish tale.
That’s what is amazing about traveling: two people can visit the same place but wind up absorbing and then spinning completely different fish tales from it. For instance, in GRACE UNEXPECTED (launching July 16), the central character Grace Savage and her sister-in-law Rae Ann Savage have completely different takeaways from their visit to Shaker Village.
Experiences should land on different characters differently
Rae Ann, who is Southern (like someone else we know and love), is a person of deep faith. Raised a Southern Baptist, she is comfortable with order, propriety, and the idea that certain things have been invested with a sanctity that warrant respect. So, when she walks through the Shaker Dwelling House and views the remnants of their highly ordered religious culture, which was also monastic, she is more accepting of the strictures they endured. She is accustomed to following certain rules as an active member of a conservative church and can look past some of the privation she see. She’s come to Canterbury to experience learning, reflection, and renewal of the human spirit. Lo can behold, Rae Ann leaves renewed.
Grace, on the other hand, is a spiritual person but not a religious one. She has enjoyed many freedoms in her adult life, perhaps too many, having been fatherless in her teen years and raised with too much permissiveness. Nonetheless, her freedom has afforded her a wider breadth of life experience than Rae Ann, shaping her world view. When Grace encounters the ultra-ordered Shaker settlement, she is well, gob-smacked! Yes, she sees the rewards of the well-ordered life in the simple, functional crafts and furniture the Shakers made. Even in their inventions such as the clothespin. (She never realized a clothespin had to be invented in the first place.) But Grace is astounded that thousands of people would allow a religious cult to rein in their free will and trample on their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Characterizing experience on the page
By page 11 of GRACE UNEXPECTED, within minutes of stepping into the Dwelling House, Grace gets her first twinge of discomfort with her surroundings:
Our guide ushered fifteen of us up the landing and into a small room on the first floor. “The Shakers were actually Quakers who danced and shook in worship to purge the sins from their body. Since 1792, the Canterbury Shakers committed themselves to making a heaven on earth by practicing common ownership, pacifism, sexual equality, and celibacy.”
Celibacy leads to utopia? Who knew?
“By 1840, the Shakers numbered around 6,000 full members in eighteen major communities in eight states,” he said, “making them the most successful utopian society in America.”
How could a bunch of people who never had sex possibly know what they’re missing?
The guide was saying the Shaker population at Canterbury swelled between 1793 and 1837.
“Rae,” I whispered. “How do you swell the population in a celibate community?”
“Child adoption and converts. They must’ve corralled some nineteenth-century streetwalkers and said, ‘Go live with those Shakers, or you’re doing time in the clink.’”
Later Grace observes the women’s common sleeping area on the second floor. When she sees a half-dozen twin beds with white coverlets lined up against white-washed walls, she wonders how grown women could’ve lived like they’re bunking down at summer camp—for life—with absolutely no privacy. Someone in the tour group comments that all the small beds in a row look like a dollhouse while Grace’s reaction is that their sleeping area looks more like a nuthouse.
Grace’s over-the-top response is essential to the story. Without it, how can she have her resulting reckoning?
Humor as an authentic reaction to a life experience
I read widely—historical fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, mysteries, suspense. While not all the books I read are funny ones, I tend to view things through the lens of humor first. When someone makes a serious speech, I see funny mannerisms and gestures. When I visit a sober place like Shaker Village, things that are quite serious don’t always strike me in sober ways.
I’m not sure why this happens—probably a family of origin issue rearing its humorous head in adulthood. But many things are, on the surface, funny to me. However, I know enough about storytelling to know that things can’t be funny all the time. So Grace experiences heartache and loss, too, because juxtapositioning comedy and drama enhances the power of both in story and because I sometimes reprocess my reaction after I’ve had to a chance to consider it more deeply or temper it with other inputs.
I’m sure there are books that revere settlements like Shaker Village. GRACE UNEXPECTED, however, is not one of those books. Neither is it meant to be disrespectful. It’s just a fish tale based on one young woman’s authentic reaction to visiting her first Shaker compound and its profound effect on a life heretofore lived with few strictures.
Should you visit Shaker Village at Canterbury, with any luck, you may come away telling a completely different fish tale. And if you do, I hope you will share it with me, as I have shared Grace’s story with you.
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Gale Martin’s humorous backstage novel Don Juan in Hankey, PA was published by Booktrope Editions in 2011. She has a master of arts in creative writing from Wilkes University. She has worked in higher education marketing for ten years and lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rich source of inspiration for her writing. Her blog “Scrivengale” can be found on her website at http://galemartin.me.
An online book launch for GRACE UNEXPECTED is slated for July 16-20 at Gale Martin’s website: http://galemartin.squarespace.com/grace-unexpected/. Win one of 30 different ebooks from dozens of authors, copies of GRACE UNEXPECTED, or the grand prize—a big bag of paperback books by stopping in during that week and signing the guestbook.
In addition, there are a limited number of print review copies available and numerous ebooks for early readers on a first-come, first-served basis. Simply email galemartin (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com to request one.
You can find her at:
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/GaleMartinAuthor
Email: galemartin (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com
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Grace Unexpected can be purchased on Amazon: