Hello again, Friends! The last two weeks have been crazy-busy, as I’ve been out on the Minnesota leg of my book tour for ROAM. It’s been exhausting, exhilarating and so much fun! A huge thank you to everyone who has braved the hazardous roads that have plagued every single one of my book signings to date! I can’t thank y’all enough! Also thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy of ROAM, or recommended it to a friend, or shared links on so social media or emails! I can’t thank y’all enough for your kindness!
Two things I’d like to talk about today: Book Reviews and what I’m doing in my Presentations.
Thank you to everyone who has read ROAM. I am especially grateful for the reviews so many of you have left on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other review platforms. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your leaving feedback behind. To those who haven’t yet, please let me assure you that I’m thrilled with every review — even if your response to ROAM was luke-warm and the review reflects that. You see, it’s feedback from readers that allows me to grow as a writer and perfect my craft. So even bad reviews are helpful, even if they do sting. The negative reviews I’ve received so far (and yes, there are a few) have helped me make immediate changes from the advance copies to the final print copies for issues I didn’t realize I had, as well as make me aware that my intent doesn’t always t translate to the reader. So please — if you’ve read ROAM, consider leaving a review.
I wanted to talk for a minute about the presentations I’ve been giving at schools and libraries. You see, ROAM is very personal to me because it was inspired by a woman whose work I admired, and who is no longer with us anymore. She was a woman dedicated to leaving behind a better world and, now with her gone, part of my goal is to help pick up some of those pieces for her since she no longer can.
These last two weeks have been a hectic schedule of school presentations, sometimes as many as five or six per day. In each presentation, I talk about the inspiration for ROAM — the “soup kitchen” I visited that inspired the characters — and the woman (Mrs. Linda Curtis) who worked so hard to make those in the most destitute of situations feel respected and worthy.
When I met Mrs. Curtis, she said something very profound to me. It was,”Brokenness comes from being separated or isolated from society.” Through the Saturday Noon Meals, which she coordinated every week for more than twenty years, Mrs. Curtis attempted to begin healing some of the brokenness in our community that often leads to homelessness. You see, we all can make a difference in our daily lives, and it’s not the grand gestures that matter, but those tiny micro-connections we make on a daily basis that can change the lives of others.
How did Mrs. Curtis do this? By treating each of her guests — regardless of circumstances — with respect and kindness. Greeting them each week with a smile and a meal served restaurant-style on real table cloths with real dishes, silverware, glassware and even a flower arrangement in the center of every table, it was her goal to give her guests a couple of hours once a week of feeling “normal.”
It’s those who are isolated the most that need to feel “normal,” and this is something we can each achieve every day in even the tiniest contacts with those around us. How? Through kindness.
Hold the door open for the person behind you.
Smile when you make eye contact with a stranger.
Offer a simple helping hand when you see someone struggle.
These are all things we can do every single day to make a connection with those around us and pass along kindness. You see, how we treat others determines (1) how they feel about themselves, (2) how they expect to be treated, (3) how they treat others, and (4) how they treat the world around them.
We’ve all heard of the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” right? For those unfamiliar, it’s where a person behaves in the manner he/she believes he’s expected to behave. If you treat someone as though he’s scum of the earth, then that person will behave like that…because that’s all that’s expected of him/her. But if you treat every person with kindness, you will inspire a feeling of confidence and worthiness. And that person will pass it along to the next person until it becomes a domino effect.
No, you don’t always see the difference immediately. That person may not return your kindness in the way you feel he should, but enough repeated kindnesses — especially by different people — becomes contagious.
One of the many times I visited Mrs. Curtis’s soup kitchen, I met a family who were regular guests. One week, I brought with my new blankets and warm hats donated by my Mother-in-Law. Mrs. Curtis asked me to take this family back to her storage area to select hats and blankets for themselves. The youngest of the family was a boy, about age 8. Holding 2 hats in his hands, he just couldn’t decided between them. I suggested he might take both of them, but was immediately mortified when his father spoke up and told him no. Turning to me he explained, “We only take what we need. Because, for as hard as we have it, someone else has it worse.”
Whether he realized it or not, he was passing on the kindness he received each week from Mrs. Curtis and her volunteers. She had welcome his family warmly and treated them with respect he’d likely been denied for some time, so the only way he could give back was by returning that respect — by not being a “jerk” and taking more than they needed. That moment was life-altering for me and it was the final catalyst that made me sit down and tell the story you find in ROAM.
Maya Angelou brilliantly said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
None of us is perfect, and I’ve absolutely left damage in my wake for words and actions I didn’t realize were harmful at the time. And to those people, I would give anything to retract those thoughtless words or actions and give my most profound apologies. But sometimes you can’t do that, either because you can’t find that person or because that person isn’t in a place in their lives to accept an apology no matter how sincere. But what you can do is move forward and try to make a positive impact on the next person. And that’s what I hope readers will get out of ROAM; the importance of empathy and forgiveness. The importance of understanding the world through the lens of another person, and allowing ourselves to forgive others for the harm they’ve done us.
Last night I watched (and rewatched again this morning) the 2015 Disney Adaptation of Cinderella, and — though I’ve been saying that ROAM was like a cross between The Pursuit of Happyness and Cinderella — I didn’t realize how spot-on that comparison actually was. You see, Cinderella’s mother tells her before her death, “Be kind and have courage.” Such profound advice, and it goes hand-in-hand with the advice I give all of my students during my presentations, and would give to all of those who read ROAM.
“Be kind and have courage, and all will be well.”
Are you a teacher or know one who might be interested in a classroom or school-wide presentation?
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Seventeen-year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha but, thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave behind what little they had for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager-fitting in at school, dreaming of a boyfriend, college and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.
Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they’re sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.
As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her new friends let her down like the ones back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?
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