Right Place at the Right Time

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God's Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives
by Debbie Macomber
• Hardcover: 208 pages (also available for Kindle)
• Publisher: Howard Books (November 2, 2010)
• ISBN-10: 143910896X

It’s always fun to be anthologized. It means an author interested in a subject surveyed the available literature and found one’s offerings noteworthy. That kind of complement puts an extra zest into sitting down at the keyboard for one’s next efforts.

Debbie Macomber has had a career in fiction that proves the power of plodding. I heard her tell her own story at the Mount Hermon writer’s conference, where she was the keynote speaker in 2008. A dyslexic with only a high school education and toddlers to care for, she yearned to be a novelist. Macomber tells the story with humor, but what I took away concerned a tenacity that eventually paid off with over 150 novels published, and over 60 million copies sold. Within the industry, people also mention her stunning accomplishment in maintaining a mailing list with every person who ever expressed an interest in her writing (begun in a shoebox, before the advent of computers), and her use of that list for a steady output of thank-you notes and personal invitations anytime she would be appearing in an area or releasing a new book.

Macomber was fun to listen to, and some of her modules show up in this volume, one of her rare ventures into non-fiction. Of course, that’s not why I’m plugging her book on my blog. However, the explanation begins with that same 2008 conference at Mount Hermon. It's a right-place-at-the-right-time story about getting into an anthology of right-place-at-the-right-time stories. There, at a meal, I briefly met Janet Kobobel Grant, of the
Books and Such Literary Agency.

After the conference, I put the agency blog, Between the Lines, on my reader. The agency’s members rotate the duties and host one of the better daily conversations about writing and the publishing industry. Over these 30 months, I have joined in when the topic brought something to my mind.

A writer is only a writer if he or she writes. My problem is that teaching junior high school is an extreme sport. After running 7:30 to 3:00 on adrenalin, trying to stay one step ahead of 120 teens, the kids leave and I go brain-dead and drowsy. Sometimes in the evening I write tests or worksheets. I don’t have the oomph to work on my novel. But a couple times a week I might have the energy to craft one good paragraph and leave it somewhere on a blog.

So when I returned to Mount Hermon for this year’s Christian Writers’ Conference, I made a point of searching out the
Books and Such table at lunch the second day. Wendy Lawton was already seated and was asking people’s names. I gave her mine and her eyes dropped immediately to my name badge, “Oh,” she said, “I’ve been wanting to get in touch with you.”

For an unpublished author, that kind of opening line from a respected agent is about as good as it can get. But it got better. Wendy explained that she was working with Debbie Macomber on a book project and they wanted my permission to include an anecdote I had posted on their blog. It’s an account from my 2004 trip to China. I’d already reported a variation of it here, but it was a rich enough experience that it could be told from a dozen different angles, each supporting a different thesis. In this case, I offered it in response to comments Wendy had posted about literary pilgrimages.

The upshot is, this week’s mail brought a signed copy of Debbie Macomber’s new book,
God’s Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives. (I'm sure I've also made it onto her prodigious address list.) She asks the reader to look at those times in our lives when we were at the right place at the right time and to acknowledge that these weren’t coincidences. Some of this overlaps the keynote addresses she gave at Mount Hermon, other parts of it are new. Some of it is her own story. Some of it comes from others. And page 72 is all mine.

Before her career got off the ground, Macomber made a list of famous people she wanted to meet and began pecking away at it. However, as she began to actually meet some of these people she found herself disappointed. Up close, some of the famous turned out to be unimpressive or even unpleasant. That caused her to begin looking closer at the non-famous, the people all around her whom she had previously looked right past. Then she began to examine those "coincidental" moments that she had previously not focused on, and to gather similar experiences from others. From those examinations came this book.

Like any anthology, it can be read straight through, or in small doses. I’ll admit: I skimmed through until I found page 72. Now I’ve gone back and read some of the passages I skipped over, and others beyond. There’s some interesting stuff. It’s a book I can enjoy being a part of. I was at the right place at the right time, and I'm glad for it.


Sounds like a good one! I'll check it out.

Cooking Club said...
November 27, 2010 at 1:41 PM  

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