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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Is Wings of Glass a Memoir?

Gina Holmes is the founder of Novel Rocket. Her debut,Crossing Oceans, was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice, as well as being a CBA, ECPA, Amazon and PW Religion bestseller. Her sophomore novel,  Dry as Rain, released in 2011. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her family in southern Virginia. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit www.ginaholmes.comEmail Gina

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.~ Goethe

Frank Peretti said in an interview that readers can tell the journey he’s been on by the books he’s written. It took me years and several books to understand that the same was true for me.

After I’d written Crossing Oceans, I was often asked where the idea for the novel came from. The easy answer was true enough, I was laying on the couch one evening when a what-if situation popped into my mind: what if a woman was dying and had never told her child’s father that he had a daughter?

That was the truth, but it wasn’t the entire truth.

When I began on the journey to write novels, I had no clue how much of my own personality, hopes, failures, and more than anything, struggles, would reveal themselves in my fiction.

When I read novels by other authors, what they are dealing with in their personal lives is sometimes painfully clear. We can all think of writers whose novels all seem to have a recurring theme.

Best-selling author and editor, Karen Ball, wrote The Breaking Point based in part on her own marital struggles. She wrote this in her acknowledgments of that book:

“A wise friend and gifted writer, Robin Jones Gunn, once said that when we write the books that stem from our truest passion, we find ourselves ‘floating on a sea of reluctant transparency.’ That’s certainly true of this book.”

It wasn’t until long after I’d written Crossing Oceans that it dawned on me that my subconscious had been working out the death of my marriage and the mommy-guilt that followed knowing my children would forever be effected by the failings of their parents.

Like the cancer that Jenny was suffering, divorce was not my choice, but the consequences for my children had to be dealt with regardless. I did a tremendous amount of soul-searching and healing during the writing of that book.

Many who read the novel thought that I must have lost someone I loved to the disease because, to them, I portrayed the struggle so convincingly. The reason I could portray dying with so much emotion, was of course, because divorce feels very much like death and that’s something I knew a lot about.

But Crossing Oceans wasn’t my only cathartic book. If you’ve read Dry as Rain, you might assume I have either been an unfaithful wife, or have had an unfaithful spouse. My marriage did not end due to infidelity, (in case you’re wondering), but I know what it’s like to get far from God and need forgiveness. I also know what it feels like to be betrayed on the deepest level and have to find it in me to forgive the unforgivable.

My most revealing novel however, isn’t Crossing Oceans or Dry as Rain, it’s my latest release from Tyndale House, Wings of Glass. This novel deals with the subject of domestic abuse within a Christian marriage.

Liz Curtis Higgs read it for endorsement and here’s what she said:

“Gina Holmes pours her heart onto the page in Wings of Glass. . . . If you’ve ever suffered at the hands of someone whose idea of showing love is being abusive, you will find a kindred spirit in Penny Taylor. You’ll also find hope and a gentle but firm call to open your eyes to the truth. Wings of Glass is a powerful, can’t-put-down novel, so real that it reads like a memoir.”

Of course I love the quote, but what makes my stomach clench just a little is the last line . . . “so real that it reads like a memoir.”

And she wasn’t the only one who thought that. Rachel Hauck said, “I was swept away by Gina Holmes's memoir-like story of beauty rising from the ashes.”

The thing with writing first-person, more so than third, is that people assume the author is the main character. I was, after all, writing “I” did this and “I” did that.

I suppose if I had never been the victim of domestic abuse, the word “memoir” associated with my novel wouldn’t make my stomach cramp, but I have and so it does. My past is something that defined me for much of my young adult life. As I matured and God healed me, I chose to leave that past behind me and focus on the future and good things. That is until I felt the need to slash open my veins onto the pages of Wings of Glass.

I’m not Penny, the main character. I’m all of the characters in the book to some degree. I am both the abuser and the abused. The sinner and the saint. All of my ugliness, and triumphs are right there on the pages for friends, foes, and strangers to read. And although all of those terrible things didn’t happen to me the way they unfolded for Penny, many of them did in one form or another over the course of my life. That makes me feel terribly exposed, but it also makes me feel incredibly liberated.

Darkness hates light and by sharing our experiences even under the guise of fiction, we are able to minister to those who are travelling the path we’ve already come down. By exposing our own sins and secrets, we are able to understand and sympathize in a way those who haven’t gone through what we have can. More than that, we are allowing others to share their struggles and find healing and support.

I believe, really good fiction happens when we get emotionally naked—make ourselves known on a level our parents, spouses, children, best-friends…even ourselves… have not experienced. Sometimes when we delve into our souls, the blackness we find there can be disturbing. Sometimes our shovel clinks against the lid of an unopened treasure chest— but as novelists, it is our job to break that ground, come what may. It is only then that we can heal and help others heal, and say to the world, you are not alone. I’ve been there and I understand.

(Article reprinted from ACFW Journal


  1. Amen, sistah! The life is in the blood, spilled on the page. I know it's not a fair anaology to use this for fiction, but this is the outlet given to us to express the Love of Jesus. Therefore we give our all to create stories to resonate with the lost, the hurting, the needy, and those who can learn from the experiences of fictional characters that mirror themselves.

    It's so obvious that you write from the heart, G. And I have no doubt you could convey the realism even if you hadn't experienced some of it. However, that you have makes your stories plow deeper into the souls of readers. Keep 'em comin'. G.

  2. Thanks Nicole. That made my day. :)

  3. Wow what a great post Gina! I can so relate to everything you have said. I've been through a divorce. (It is very much like a death.) I've been through an abusive relationship. (I still don't know why I stayed in it as long as I did - well I do know but really can't share. It would admit weakness!) I can't wait to read Wings of Glass! I haven't read Dry As Rain yet but I have read Crossing Oceans. I don't ever remember sobbing so much!

    Judy B

  4. Thanks Judy. If it helps, I sobbed writing Crossing Oceans. I think I needed to at that point in my life. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  5. You are welcome Gina! I love how you tackle some very hard and painful life issues. Thanks for writing what you do. If your books help readers to heal, that is so worth it!

    Judy B

  6. Gina, your post hit me in the heart. I have a novel I know I'm supposed to write, but I never seem to have time to work on it. I see now that I'm afraid to. Not afraid of failure, after all, it's in the writing that we find success over procrastination.

    But I see now that it's the fear of transparency, of vulnerability. I'm very transparent in my speaking ministry, but that's somewhat controlled, only saying what I feel I can say to any specific group. But if I write it down, I have no control over who will see it. And that's scary.

    You've given me a lot to think about, Gina. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Vonda. I look forward to reading that novel one day and learning all your deep dark secrets. Wink! It is tough being transparent but that's definitely where greatness lives.

  7. Ah, yes, our blood, our tears, and the blood and tears of those we've held in our arms, of those who have extended a hand in desperation: these become the stories we write. Not all our stories, but certainly some. Your readers feel and weep and rejoice because you've taken them there, Gina.

    We bleed on the pages, praying that our words will be hope extended, if not retroactively, at least for someone new.

  8. Gina,

    This: "Darkness hates light and by sharing our experiences even under the guise of fiction, we are able to minister to those who are traveling the path we’ve already come down. By exposing our own sins and secrets, we are able to understand and sympathize in a way those who haven’t gone through what we have can. More than that, we are allowing others to share their struggles and find healing and support."

    I think this message should be stamped on every "issue-oriented" work of fiction. And if an author won't stand naked SOMEWHERE between the pages, then it's a missed opportunity for him or her to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the pain.

    I love this post - thank you for being exposed and vulnerable to us today.

  9. I think transparency is one of your greatest strengths as a writer, Gina. And I haven't read Wings of Glass yet, but I can't wait.

    I've learned in my nonfiction work (including memoir) that the more I can put my readers there in the heart, mind, and experiences of my subject, the more they'll want to keep turning the page.

    Writing naked: a good--albeit scary--thing.

  10. After I posted this, I read my daily "Writer's Almanac" from Garrison Keillor. It contained this quote I thought you might like: "People want biography. People want memoir. They want you to tell them that the story you're telling them is true. The thing I'm telling you is true, but it did not always happen to me." ~ Dorothy Allison

  11. Thanks for that, Marti. I LOVE that quote!

  12. Beautiful Post! Thanks for sharing this!


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