Announcing my first book, “River of Grace,” to be published this Fall!

River of Grace is available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

I am pleased to announce that my very first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times will be released this Fall, published by Ave Maria Press!

You can pre-order it now on Amazon.com.

A memoir with life application

River of Grace is a faith-based memoir (written from my Roman Catholic tradition) with life application exercises, offering true and hopeful stories of growth and transformation after hard losses.

amy belding brownAmy Belding Brown, author of Mr. Emerson’s Wife (see review) and Flight of the Sparrow (see review) writes:

“Susan Bailey’s powerful and beautifully-written book is much more than an insightful spiritual memoir. River of Grace is also a brilliant reflection on the connections between creativity and grace. Deeply grounded in a profound Christian faith, the author chronicles her personal experiences of loss and shows how they were transformed as she learned to accept and respond to new challenges. This wonderful book also includes a valuable assortment of exercises that will enrich your spiritual life and gently guide you to confront your own difficulties and deepen your relationship with God. Anyone who seeks to discern God’s purposes in life’s most challenging situations will find this book one to cherish.”

Seasons of loss

louisa loses lizzieJust about all of us can cite a time in our lives whether now or in the past, where we have lost something precious to us.

  • Perhaps it’s been the death of a parent or a child.
  • Or, you yourself are suffering through a long illness.
  • It could be a long stretch of unemployment causing financial difficulties, even the loss of your home.
  • Maybe you’ve lost a best friend due to a falling out.
  • Perhaps you’ve recently put down a beloved pet.

These are all serious losses that tear at us, causing grief or anxiety or anger. Where do we find the strength to pick up the pieces and carry on?

Could a serious loss signal a new life, even a transformed life?

This is what I write about in River of Grace, beginning with the loss of my parents and then my singing voice. Through the means of a kayak and my love for Louisa May Alcott, I believe that God led me on amazing, joy-filled and sometimes crazy adventure within his river of grace, leading up to this book and beyond.

Louisa May Alcott’s story, and my story

louisa may alcott for widgetLouisa’s life and writing played a central role in my journey from loss and grief to creative rebirth and a life transformed. In River of Grace you will find out how I came to find Louisa again, how she spoke to me through her life and works, and how I came to create the community known as Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.

Writing through the ages that offers comfort

Louisa May Alcott’s candid and heartfelt writing provided much consolation after I lost my mother to a long illness. This  beloved 19th-century author spoke to my own season of loss.

Reading through “Mommy’s” copies of Little Women, An Old-Fashioned Girl and Aunt Jo’s Scrap-bag drew me out of numbing grief and reunited me with the mother I called my best friend and confidant.

aunt jo's scrap-bag combined

Awakening the creative spirit

By immersing myself into all things Alcott, my long dormant creative life came to life again and led me to places I never would have dreamed possible.

Understanding for the first time what true creativity is, I show in this book how such creativity is for everyone, not just for those who possess certain talents.

Stories and tools

River of Grace is not just book of stories. I provide practical tools so that you too can go on your amazing adventure. These “Flow Lessons” appear throughout the book and will also be available on this website.

In the weeks to come, I will share quotes and stories from River of Grace. Please spread the word to everyone you know who has gone through a season of loss or is just looking to jump start their spiritual and creative lives.

Available in many formats

River of Grace will be available as a print book, e-book and audio book (through Audible.com and iTunes). Just this past week I started the process of recording the book. My thanks to producer extraordinaire Ron Zabrocki for his expertise (he produced several of my music CDs).

recording montage

Here is more on River of Grace:

Writing River of Grace and having it published by such a well-respected publisher is a dream come true. I would definitely classify it as a “crazy adventure!”

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesPlease share this post on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, through email with anyone whom you think would benefit from reading my book. Feel free to share the book cover. Your recommendation is the best way to get the word out.

I will let you know just as soon as it is available when you can order River of Grace. Signing up for my email list is the best way to be the first to know.

I can’t wait to share this book with you!

 

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Louisa Links of the Week (formerly known as Fun and Fascinating Links)

Lots of great links this week!

Through the month of May, the Concord Public Library is celebrating 160 years of Flower Fables, Louisa May Alcott’s first book. They will have displays (including the first edition of the book), children’s activities and a visit with “Louisa” herself in the form of Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. come and join in the fun!  Go to the Events page for more details.

Flower Fables, original printing 1855, from the Concord Free Public Library Special Collections; used with permission

Flower Fables, original printing 1855, from the Concord Free Public Library Special Collections; used with permission

On a wonderful site called “Stuff You Missed in History Class” is a podcast about Bronson Alcott and May Alcott Nieriker.

bronson and may

And here is a re-broadcast from the BBC about the life of Louisa. The program is called “Great Lives”, which asks a guest to choose their hero from history and then brings in an expert to talk about the person. Thanks to Hilary from England for this link.

Finally, two new episodes from The March Family Letters:

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Jo’s evolution as a creative, and as a woman

jo writing (norman rockwell)What did Jo March  mean when she said she wanted to create something “spendid?”

Perhaps gaining recognition for her writing. Maybe even being hailed as a great writer. Writing a book of artistic merit and universality that would stand the test of time.

Yet we find in Little Women that Jo’s goals would evolve from that solitary act of writing into a communal creation: a school for boys, founded in partnership with her new husband, Professor Bhaer. In the end, I believe she satisfied her desire to create something “splendid.”

Why caused her goals to change?

I’d like to offer my opinion and then I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s my theory.

A necessary act

joWriting was a legitimate and necessary creative activity for Jo. It helped her to release the tremendous energy inside of her that otherwise might have expressed itself in negative ways.  She had talent and much to share.

A practical way to help

Never happy to sit on the sidelines, Jo used her writing to help her family in practical ways as they coped with Mr. March’s absence along with poverty. Besides providing money, her stories entertained the others.

A means of retreat

Writing was a means of escape. Holed up in the garret, Jo could avoid dealing with growing up, something with which she was in open rebellion.

Meg and John get married; Father presides.

Meg and John get married; Father presides.

She fought vehemently against the idea of the family unit being changed with the addition of boyfriends/husbands (recalling her reaction to Meg and John, and her rejection of Laurie as a husband). As long as the immediate family remained intact, she could continue as she was. Womanhood was a frightening prospect as Jo feared it would restrain her spirit. She was like a wild colt refusing to be broken.

A means of verification

burning fireplaceWriting verified Jo as a person when nothing else would. When Amy destroyed Jo’s manuscript it was like Jo herself was burnt to a crisp in the fireplace. I believe Jo perceived Amy’s deed as an act of violence against her very self; therefore the depth of her rage was justified in her own mind, until it put Amy’s own life in peril. It was at this point that Jo’s creative energy (anger being a great force) posed a danger to herself and others.

A way to avoid the truth

Writing was an act that drew Jo into herself, far away from the real world into that safe place of fantasy which gave her consolation. Sometimes that withdrawal could be beneficial, particularly when her emotions were getting the better of her. But often that withdrawal was an escape from a reality she had to face–she could not remain a child forever.

The turning point

Coming to terms with the inevitable

Coming to terms with the inevitable

I believe the watershed moment for Jo was in her grief after she lost Beth.

Anyone who has grieved over someone knows that such a time can transform one’s life. Whether that transformation takes you forward in growth or leaves you behind, mired in the mud, is a singular choice.

A new idea of “splendid”

At first, willing to do anything to please the sister she so loved and admired, Jo agreed to Beth’s terms: to leave behind her old ambitions of doing something “splendid” to take on the more noble (and needed) task of caring for her parents. She soon found her promise hard to keep when faced with the prospect of living it out without the physical presence of her sister nearby as example:

“… something like despair came over her when she thought of spending all her life in that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures, and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier. ‘I can’t do i. I wasn’t meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break away and do something desperate if somebody doesn’t come and help me.’ she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and she fell into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when strong will have to yield to the inevitable.” (from Chapter 42 of Little Women)

A desire to be good

As Jo had lost herself in her writing, she had also been consumed with nursing Beth. Louisa May Alcott herself believed she had a call to nursing that was nearly as strong as her call to be a writer. It was what gave her the courage to become a Civil War nurse. I believe that in nursing Beth (or in Louisa’s case, Lizzie), Jo found a way to be truly virtuous–acting out of sacrificial love for her sister. As much as she desired to live out her creative life, Jo wished also to be good. It was Louisa’s wish too, ingrained in her from her earliest days.

Finding consolation outside of writing

Where once writing provided the consolation, now the counsel of mother and father provided the comfort. Jo was learning to reach out to others rather than retreat into her fantasy world. While she had certainly confided in her parents before, it was more as a child looking for direction. Now she could confide in her parents as an equal, woman to woman, and woman to man:

“Then, sitting in Beth’s little chair close beside him, Jo told her troubles … she gave him entire confidence, he gave her the help she needed, and both found consolation in the act. For the time had come when could talk together not only as father and daughter, but as man and woman, able and glad to serve each other with mutual sympathy as well as  mutual love.” (Ibid)

Moving forward

Jo agreed to the process of the grief journey,  moving ahead rather than staying behind. She soon grew to find meaning in the mundane household tasks:

“Brooms and dish cloths never could be as distasteful as they once had been, for Beth had presided over both, and something of her housewifely spirit seemed to linger around the little mop and the old bush, never thrown away.” (Ibid)

The beginning of adulthood

In the process, a change took place within Jo, a capacity to long for love outside of her immediate family unit. It was the beginning of her maturing into an adult. Meg saw the potential, urging Jo to consider love:

“It’s just what you need to bring out the tender womanly half of your nature, Jo. You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernal, if one can only get at hit. Love will make you show your heart one day, and the rough burr will fall off.” (Ibid)

And indeed, grief would prove to be the tool that would pave the way for “Grief is the best opener” as Louisa writes in chapter 42.

Learning to be herself

Little Women October 12, 2004 Credit Photo ©Paul Kolnik NYCJo tried to justify that living for her parents and not for herself was the “something splendid” that she had desired, but in fact that “something” was missing. In denying herself and living as Beth would, Jo was not living the life to which she was called. The suppression of her creative energy depleted that which fueled her joy, which made life exciting and delicious. It took her mother urging her to write again, even if just to entertain the family, for Jo to find that energy again and bring it back to life. It eventually lead to real success for her as a writer.

Issuing an invitation

And in the end it would be a poem she had written about the four chests in the garret that would issue an invitation (unbeknown to her) to a certain professor to seek out the woman he loved. This time she was ready, having recognized the loneliness in her life:

“I’d like to try all kinds. It’s very curious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of natural affections, the more I seem to want. I’d no idea hearts could take in so many. Mine is so elastic, it never seems full now, and I used to be quite contented with my family. I don’t understand it.” (Ibid)

In this admission, Jo embraced adulthood, seeing beyond her tight family unit for the first time.

Lost or found?

jo and professor bhaerSome would argue that Jo in fact lost herself becoming a woman as she did not, in the end, become a writer. Instead, she marries her professor and founds a school for boys with him, using a gift from a most unexpected source–Aunt March’s Plumfield.

Was Jo’s evolution a sell-out by the author?

While it is well known that Louisa would have preferred keeping Jo single and writing, I do not get the sense that Jo was at all unhappy or feeling compromised with her decision to marry or to found the school. It is true that Louisa was compelled by her publisher and her fans to give Little Women a more conventional ending but the evolution of her fictional self from “wild colt” to mature woman felt natural to me. The creative energy Jo had once poured into writing could now be poured into making life better for unfortunate boys. Anyone who has been a teacher knows the creative fire burns bright within, expressing itself in so many ways.

Creativity and community

the boys at plumfieldJo had evolved from a solitary, strong-willed child who sought escape in her creativity (and who sometimes was controlled by its darker side), to a woman comfortable within a community, using her creativity to make life better for others. It is my belief that the giving away of what we have (and having it accepted gratefully by others) makes makes the creative act worthwhile and satisfying.

Jo March succeeded in her desire to create something “splendid.”

That’s my theory; what’s yours? Go for it!

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New feature: Fun and fascinating links of the week

I thought I’d share with you what I share almost daily on the Louisa May Alcott is My Passion Facebook page: favorite links of the week. I’ll do this every week so you too can join in the fun. I subscribed to Google Alerts for “Louisa May Alcott is My Passion” and you’d be surprised how many links come up on a daily basis! Our favorite author is alive and well!

Hand written dedication by Louisa May Alcott from a first edition copy of the novel Eight Cousins, 1875 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hand written dedication by Louisa May Alcott from a first edition copy of the novel Eight Cousins, 1875 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Try your hand at this quiz: Louisa May Alcott Quiz

2. Inspired by Little Women, this woman is setting a camp by the same name in Malaysia (go to the end of the article): We empower girls

3. Check out the honor bestowed on Alcott’s first success, Hospital Sketches.

louisa4. From the Washington Post: “Louisa May Alcott, a spinster hero for single women of all eras”

3. Here’s the latest episode of the March Family Letters:

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Remembering my mom with the words of Louisa May Alcott

Today (April 22, 2015) marks the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. But it’s not a sad day. Like Louisa, I have a firm belief in the hereafter. Like Christie Devon in Work, I too have seen “signs” that my mother is still very close to me (see previous post).

In those first weeks after my mother’s passing when I was too numb to cry I found Louisa. The one thing that broke through that wall of numbness was reading Louisa’s words in my mother’s copies of her books, personalized with her name plate.

There was Little Women with a copyright of 1911.

little women combined

There was An Old-Fashioned Girl from the 1920’s with the most exquisite color plates.

an old fashioned girl combined

There was Aunt Jo’s Scrap-bag, Volume 6 with my favorite of Louisa’s short stories, “The Dolls’ Journey from Minnesota to Maine.”

aunt jo's scrap-bag combined

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

My mother at eighteen, just before entering Wellesley College in 1938

Now, five years later with many wonderful books read and much writing done, I think of my mother with heartfelt love and and a few tears,  knowing that somehow her spirit guided me to Louisa, along with the beloved Friend that lives inside of me.

Happy anniversary, Mommy.

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Thoughts on Little Women the second time around–seeing Jo in a new light

I have just finished my second reading of Little Women. Both times I have listened to the free audio book on Librivox.com. The first time around wasn’t too bad until I got into the crux of Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer in chapter 46. The reader unfortunately had such a loud and grating voice that it totally ruined that chapter for me.

A dramatic reading

This time around I found a dramatic reading of the book which was done almost to perfection. The narrator (who also took on the role of Jo) was superior in every way. All the main parts were done well although it took awhile to accept Laurie’s voice.

Never fails to please

It is amazing how much this book yields in multiple readings! It’s a different book each time. But then you long-time fans know that already, don’t you? For some of you, it’s a yearly habit. I can certainly see why.

Changing view of Jo—her rite of passage

WinonaJoMarchThe first time I read Little Women I was put off by Jo and favored Amy. Jo was frankly rude, obnoxious and self-absorbed at times (part of being a teenager) and because I had spent so much time with her real life counterpart, Jo seemed a shadow of Louisa.

From this second reading I have a much better sense of Jo. Her rite of passage from the awkward teenager who never wanted to grow up to the mature and more sober woman of twenty-five moved me. Louisa did an outstanding job of tracing Jo’s journey to maturity and revealing some of herself in the process. Her grief over the loss of Beth and how she carried on in the aftermath transformed her heart, making it ready to love someone beyond her immediate family.

A perfect match

jo marchMany readers see her capitulating to marriage but I don’t see it that way. I still maintain that Professor Bhaer was the perfect match for her (and I’ve often entertained the idea that he was Louisa’s ideal for a husband who for her, did not exist in real life). Jo grew to be a better writer for having grown within herself, writing from that true place in her heart. (Oh, and by the way, Jo mentioned a few times that Laurie disapproved of her writing).

A quiet revolution

jo and professor bhaerShe and Fritz lived the companionate marriage that Louisa dreamed of and wrote about in Work A Story of Experience. Jo and Fritz shared everything, from meaningful work to family life. This in and of itself was a quiet revolution, illustrating a marriage between equals. I had missed the fact in my first reading that Jo actually was the one to plant the first kiss! Loved that. How like our Jo!

Ever present spiritual guide

jo and bethLittle Women began to shed light on a burning question I have entertained since I got interested in Elizabeth Alcott. Louisa often mentioned that her late sister Lizzie was her “spiritual guide” but she never detailed any of that in her journals or letters. I wondered then how that idea manifested itself in her life. Of course her books provide the answer. From chapter 40 on when Beth dies, I began see how real life Lizzie influenced her older sister. And I intend to go over those chapters carefully (especially 40 and 42) to find out more.

A treasure trove

little women in the garretThere is so much treasure to unearth between the lines of this book. And many universal themes, themes that do apply to today if you work at it a little bit. Thank goodness for places like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House where the spirit of Little Women is kept alive for generations to come.

Speaking to you and me

little women 190I am late to Little Women, very late. Most of you are probably saying, “Of course! Duh!” This book has spoken to you throughout your lives. In my late fifties, it is now speaking to me.

That’s the mark of a true classic. Little Women is no mere “children’s” book. It’s a book for every age.

Your thoughts?

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Remember this painting of The Wayside where the Little Women actually grew up? Artist Joyce Pyka sends us an update

You may recall an artist’s rendition of The Wayside, originally named Hillside by Bronson Alcott after the home was purchased with Abba Alcott’s inheritance.

Although Orchard House is the physical setting for Little Women, artist Joyce Pyka, like many of us Alcott fans, knows that many of the childhood stories of the girls took place at Hillside.

Pyka has been revealing her envisioning of The Wayside with Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Laurie in various stages:

Little Women 10 26 2014 fixed by Joyce Pyka

dog

detail laurie

Here’s the latest version:

640-wayside clearer 3 31 2015

Pyka reports that the painting should be done by summer and yes, prints will be available for sale. Sign me up!

Here are previous blog posts on the painting.

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