January 9, 2019 - K. Dawn Byrd
We're so happy to have Ann Marie Stewart will us today talking about her book Stars in the Grass. To learn more about Ann Marie and her book, read on!
Please tell us five random things we might not know about you. I won a Grammy, midwife to lambs in our flock, maiden name was 13 letters long, National Anthem soloist for Seattle Mariners, did a mini triathlon, won a Christy.
Why did you choose to write this book?
I first wrote a short story about what I most feared: losing a child, even though I wasn't married and didn't have any children. By writing my fears, it was as if I could keep it from happening.
What one thing about writing do you wish non-writers would understand? Don't correct periods and commas when first you read my drafts. See the big picture.
What is the toughest test you've faced as a writer?
Writing in unfamiliar time periods and places I've never been or cannot go to because of security issues.
What do you hope readers to take away from your novel?
Hope and humor. That no matter what they go through in life, there is hope and one day they will laugh again.
What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of, writing-related or not?
I love my kids. I can't take credit for them but I'm so absolutely PROUD of what they are studying: Middle East and Peace and Conflict Management, Nursing.
What do you do for fun when not writing?
Cheering on UVA Basketball, watching This is Us and Madame Secretary, waterskiing.
What are you working on now?
- a 30K word romantic holiday novella about a Capitol Christmas and a holiday bet gone awry.
- Out of the Water: A 90K word time slip novel about a young woman's search for her birth mother and how she unravels 5 generations of secrets
- Mama's Liebling: A Memoir about my grandparents' escape from Russia and why they had to leave a child behind.
Back cover blurb
Nine-year-old Abby McAndrews has just experienced her greatest loss, and in its wake, her family is unraveling with guilt, grief, and anger. Her father, Reverend McAndrews, cannot return to the pulpit because he has more questions than answers. Her older brother Matt’s actions speak louder than the words he needs to confess, as he acts out in dangerous ways. Her mother tries to hold her grieving family together, but when Abby’s dad refuses to move on, the family is at a crossroads.
Stars in the Grass, set in a small Midwestern town in 1970, is an uplifting novel that explores a family’s relationships and resiliency. Abby’s heartbreaking remembrances are balanced by humor and nostalgia as her family struggles with—and ultimately celebrates—life after loss.
Please give us the first page of the book.
I spent the better part of my childhood sitting on a pew in the balcony of Bethel Springs First Presbyterian Church, listening to my dad’s long vowels as he preached on predestination. Sandwiched between my older brother, Matt, and my little brother, Joel, I counted bald heads, doodled on church bulletins, and studied the stained-glass Jesus.
Reverend McAndrews was godlike and mysterious. Definitely not the same man who read to us from Dr. Seuss, ran through the sprinkler on steamy Ohio summer afternoons, or smiled as we played hide-and-go-seek in his Father’s House.
Though I can’t remember many of his three-point sermons, I have other good memories. One Sunday during a hymn, Matt and I sang loudly, changing the words to our liking, “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear,” and crossing our eyes for added effect. When we sat back down, I rested the hymnal on the railing and fanned myself by riffling through the pages. Then it happened. Ontoone of the fifty-one shining bald heads below, I dropped the hymnal.
It clapped to the floor, and then in the congregational hush, Mr. Ludema winced in surprised pain. I only looked down long enough to see necks craning up toward the balcony and then turning toward my father and then back to the balcony. Dad squinted to see Mrs. Ludema as she nursed her husband’s head and then looked up at the cause of the disruption. Me.
Dad stared at me for fifteen seconds. I know because I counted every one of them. I did not look away; instead I memorized his sandy thick hair fringed with gray streaks. I couldn’t see his eyes because the sun was reflecting on the lenses of his glasses. His mouth was closed, his thick jaw tense. The congregation waited for the Reverend McAndrews, and so did I. At last he said, with a nod to the balcony and a sigh, “And the Word has come down from on high.”
During responsive reading, his voice rose and fell so predictably, I was nearly lulled to sleep unless I pulled out a pencil to sketch the hills and valleys. “‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gooood,’” Reverend McAndrews read from Psalm 136. His voice grew louder and the pitch higher until the word Lord, where he paused and let it fall off to a low, soft, long, concluding gooood.We echoed, “‘For his steadfast love endures for ever.’” After repeating it twenty-six times, what I thought everlasting was the psalm itself.
I did not question the psalmist’s message until I was nine and Matt was fifteen and we crossed a crevasse of pain. It took struggling through that jagged blackness of doubt and fear for the girl in the balcony to finally consider the words, and to really connect with the man in the pulpit and the woman at the organ.
My mother looked just like Jackie Kennedy. I don’t know if our former First Lady could play the organ, but my mother could not, despite the expectations of the elders of
Ann Stewart, Christy Award Winner for Debut Novel 2017, and her husband Will raise two daughters and a flock of sheep on their Virginia farm where fireflies light up the sky on warm summer nights. Ann originated three of AMG’s Preparing My Heart books and writes a column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for the Country Register, contributes to Mentoring Moments and has written for Proverbs 31. Her background in drama and film bring her characters to life. When she’s not directing music or writing, she loves Madame Secretary, This is Us, and UVA Basketball.
Where else can readers find you online?
Any social media links:
Website: www.annmariestewart.com (see book trailer!)