Today’s Wednesday Writer’s guest is Ann Marie Stewart. Ann will be telling us about the story behind the story of her Womens’ Literary Fiction novel Stars in the Grass. Welcome, Ann!
Sometimes not getting what we want can more fully prepare us for eventual success. After teaching for five years, I longed to have someone critique my writing instead of me critiquing my seventh graders’. Though I applied to the University of Michigan MA in Creative Writing, I was not accepted. However, I was accepted into Film and Television which also gave me the job teaching Public Speaking to undergraduates. Learning more about public speaking was an additional positive and took care of my tuition plus expenses. I called the two years at UM, “my all-expense paid vacation.”
Ironically, during that time, I took a variety of courses from the same UM writing teachers I would have if I had been accepted into the MA program. One of my favorites was Charlie Baxter who encouraged me to get my short story “Seeing from the Balcony” published.
Ten years later, I did just that, but as my first novel Stars in the Grass. With some background in film and television, I couldn’t wait to do a book trailer. I was thankful for the film and television experience. I could see the images and the motifs and hear the voiceover.
A filmmaker friend who had read the novel suggested I look at “The Tree of Life” movie trailer for ideas. We planned on making a book trailer, but thankfully, Barbour Publishing said they handle the book trailers. But did I want to send them my ideas? Gladly!
I sent selected text from the novel as voiceover and a collection of images to Barbour who turned it over to the filmmaker. I was STUNNED with the results. In 61 seconds, the book trailer captures the novel. The trailer now has 12,681 hits on YouTube. Do you have a minute to be #12,682? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xb0UPeCUxY.
Or you can find it on my website as well! http://www.annmariestewart.com
Stars in the Grass
By Ann Marie Stewart
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.
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. Onto one 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.
Want to read more? You can find Stars in the Grass at Amazon
About the Author:
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 (including Preparing My Heart for Advent) 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.
Social media links:
Website: http://www.annmariestewart.com/ see book trailer!