Monthly Archives: April 2014



An Interview with Festival Director Shelly LeMahieu Dunn

Am I correct in stating this is the 14th year of the conference?
The Festival started in 1990, albeit under a different name. It also didn’t happen in 1992 (I believe), but has happened every two years since then.

What brought you the most joy working on this year’s conference?
It’s often the small moments that bring us the most joy—a kind word spoken at the registration desk, a student volunteer eagerly assisting a technology-challenged attendee, a presenter expressing such joy at being able to talk about being both a writer and a Christian, an attendee receiving encouragement to continue writing, and on and on.

What surprised you the most about the conference this year?
Our greatest surprise, always, is simply that we’re able to pull it off. To make even just one Festival session happen requires not only a room and a speaker and a microphone, but an audience and a tech crew and a building services crew and a student host and a session introducer. Multiply that by over one hundred sessions, and it’s clear just how much the Festival depends on a large number of people doing their jobs exceptionally well. And we’re grateful for each one of them.

What was the most serendipitous experience?
I’m not sure we’ll know the answer to this question for a while. We know that the Festival facilitates the kinds of connections that lead to new projects and ideas and partnerships. The ripples will extend for some time, probably in directions that we can’t even fathom yet. So yes, I imagine that there were lots of serendipitous experiences happening all around us, and I hope we get to see the fruit of those experiences down the road.

What are you most proud of pertaining to this year’s conference.
I am always most proud of our group of student volunteers (or, as Anne Lamott calls them, “caseworkers”). They are forty-six of the most gracious, capable, hard-working, hospitable people on this campus, and we could not run the Festival without them.

Note from Paulette:
I sincerely thank Shelly LeMahieu Dunn for giving us an inside perspective of this engaging conference, and for her time and thoughtfulness. I know many of us look forward to the next Festival of Faith and Writing even as this one is wrapping up.



Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Doubleday (2013)
Genre: Novel, legal thriller
Hardcover edition: 447 pages
Source: Library copy

This time he does it by returning the reader to the setting and characters of his earlier novel, A Time To Kill, one of the most popular novels of our time. Jake Brigance is again in his courtroom in Clanton, Mississippi, this time to uphold the recent handwritten will of a man named Seth Hubbard, dead by his own hand. The characters, some familiar, some new, are as fascinating and carefully drawn as we expect from this author. He breathes life into his supporting characters, making each memorable in a unique way.

Grisham is master of the legal thriller. When a reader wants a good run of a read, he or she is likely to choose a book by John Grisham. Here are some reasons why.

1.He knows his territory. He has lived and worked in the small-town South. He’s practiced law and knows something of lawyers, law offices, and the laws of the land.

2.He creates memorable characters. These characters entertain the reader. Readers step right up and drink in every detail. Supporting characters sport unique characteristics more engaging than a new wardrobe.

3.Grisham writes about the search for justice. Everyone wants justice. It may mean different things to different people; still the quest for justice and any part the legal system plays in that quest is intriguing to many of us. Grisham does not shy away from the topics of race, power, politics or pollution.

4.He knows how to write clear, believable plots with plenty of strings. All strings are carefully braided into the story. Loose ends or wasted paragraphs are not in evidence.

5.His titles are terrific, especially in terms of luring the reader to pick up the book.

Sycamore Row has been on the bestseller lists for weeks. He’s a popular author and with good reason. His books are fun to read and thought-provoking enough so that one feels time reading was well-spent.

Do you have a favorite Grisham book? Tell us which one. If you’ve read his new one, tell us what you thought of it. Thanks for joining the conversation.



This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2013
Genre: Memoir, essays
Hardcover edition: 306 pages
Source: Personal Copy

These memorable essays allow the reader to feel like he or she is on a long walk with a new friend, learning to know something of her experiences and personality. Ann Patchett reveals those things from her life she wishes to reveal. But it is the telling that is extraordinary.

What does she share? She cares about people she loves: her grandmother, a nun who was once her teacher, a close friend, her husband and other family members. For many years she lives and loves with her beloved dog Rose. I could read her essay on writing at least once every few months. It’s titled “The Getaway Car.” Something of her relationship with the father she spent little time with as a child is poignantly revealed in the interesting story of her preparation to enter the Los Angeles Police Academy in “The Wall.” And there is more.

The book is readable and I flew through it enjoying every essay and seldom if ever stopping to take notes. I felt a connection with her when she told that her to-do list always has the task she likes least at the top of the list. Writing is its own list and comes first with a dedicated time period. Her Nashville bookstore Parnassus is a must-visit for me, though I don’t yet have it scheduled. It’s so much fun to hear the details and feel the emotions of the independent book business.

If you know Ann Patchett’s writing, or if you have never heard of her, I highly recommend this memoir about the art and craft of writing, her personal experiences and life stories. After reading her memoir, I want to read more of her books. I don’t want my walk with Ann Patchett to end.

Listed below are some of her titles, beginning with a must-read, followed by others in no particular order.

Bel Canto, fiction
State of Wonder, fiction
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, memoir
Run, fiction

And if you read and enjoy memoir, This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage is likely to be at the top of your list.

Comments are always welcomed.




Thank you readers for your fantastic response to the post : Do You Remember the First Book You Truly Loved? Here’s what you had to say.

Boxcar Children received the most mentions by a clear margin.
Charlotte’s Web and Winnie-The-Pooh tied for second place among responders.
Willie Mouse
The Secret Garden
Gone With the Wind
Big Red: The Story of a Champion Irish Setter
Katy Did
Anne of Green Gables
Misty of Chincoteaque
Stuart Little
The Little Colonel Series
When You and I Were Young

Click on replies at the top of the page and you can see readers’ comments. There were also many interesting and fun Facebook comments. Some of us dreamed of living in another world, as most readers do. One reader named a child after the favorite book, albeit with a different spelling. Some readers named multiple books, thinking of first one and then another. One reader referred to her “horse-crazy stage.” Many of us shared that time whether we admit it or not. Another reader spoke of reading “over and over and over again!” Another posted a long quote from Winnie the Pooh. I loved them all! This post was a lot of fun. Thanks so much.

It’s not too late to add your favorite via comments or Facebook. I’ll keep a running tab.



Maybe it was Winnie-The-Pooh, or Anne of Green Gables, Alice In Wonderland, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Bridge to Terabithia, Rifles for Watie, The Hobbit, Hunger Games?

It was a book you wanted to own. Maybe you wanted to take it from the library and hide it under your bed so it would always be with you. It was a book to hold against your chest, tightly, a book you could keep wherever you wanted, a book you could tuck under your pillow.

A book I remember loving early on, a book I read more than once over the course of a year was Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara the author of My Friend Flicka. I have seldom reread books at any time in my life, and certainly not way back then. But this one I read more than twice. Horses, teens and Wyoming, what a combination, or that’s what my teen self thought. I wasn’t able to own it. No one gave it to me for a gift.

Finally, a number of years ago I picked up a cheap copy at an antique sale. I felt a certain glee that finally it was mine. My Friend Flicka and the next book in the series, Thunderhead, are still in print. I believe Green Grass of Wyoming is only available used. I’ve always thought of Wyoming as a romantic place. It lives mostly in my imagination. I’ve never been able to spend much time there. I still enjoy reading about life in the western states and am a great fan of Wallace Stegner and others who write about the west.

Do you remember how you felt when you finished reading that book you loved so much? Perhaps you could not bear to let it go. Please tell us the title of a book you loved early in your reading life.


Comment here or use Facebook to share the title of one of the first books you truly loved. I’ll post the list. Thanks for sharing my bit of reading nostalgia. Let’s see if your much-loved book matches the loves of other readers out there in blogland.




Each of us is compelled to read and write for a variety of reasons. This was a general theme at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a unique experience to be on a campus full of readers and writers, to be in a place where reading and writing are at the heart of the experience. So readers and writers out there in blogland––that’s each of you in your own way–– here are some highlights. More information on each of these writers will be posted on upcoming pages of this blog.


I sat in the front row at an interview with Marilyn Nelson. Her poetry has sustained me as an educator, a person and a writer for a lot of years. She brings so much history and emotion to any reader, young, old, and in between. She talked of her experiences writing three of her books, she talked about the sonnet form and more.

See more about Marilyn Nelson on the Reading Page. Use the menu at the top of the page.


What could be more exciting than listening to the writer and co-producer of The Good Wife, one of the most popular shows on television? Luke Schelhaas is an Iowa native and a small college graduate. He talked of life in Hollywood and what he actually does all day as a writer on a top TV show. The process of writing for a TV show has its own cachet and its own nitty-gritty.

More about Luke Schelhaas on the Writing Page. Click on Writing in the menu at the top of the page.


The conference always holds at least one surprise. This time it was the outstanding talk by Pam Munoz Ryan. She writes for children and young adult readers. If only she could talk to readers and writers in every school in America. She has so much to say, and she says it in a gentle and entertaining way. Her books are well known to many of you, but somehow, I had not had the pleasure. Listening to her, I learned something about becoming and belonging. I expect to learn more as I read her work.

Our shared passion for encounters with language continues. We read and write to learn, and to find out what we need and want to learn. We take time to think about words and the power to use them to create something new. Hold onto your hats, the joyride is a whirl of questions, creations, laughter, and meditation. It ends in the fascination of finding a terrific new story, or rediscovering one you want to visit again.

Oh, and among others, I bought a beautiful paperback Penguin Classics edition of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, something I’ve been promising to do for a long time. It’s a book that won the Nobel Prize and has never been out of print since its birth in the 1920’s. How I first found this book, and how much I love it is a story for another time.




Nature photography by Jerry Lein

When you think of Florida, what pictures of the natural world fill your mind? Beaches, ocean, gulf waters, maybe swamps, sand scrub, cattle pastures? There is variety. Driving across the Panhandle to St. George Island, and later traveling north through the Apalachicola Forest as we head toward home, there are pine trees everywhere, or so it seems. Pines are an important part of Florida scenery in many parts of the state. They even crown the sand dunes on the eastern end of St. George Island. That lovely barrier island lives to the east of Apalachicola Bay. After a few days focusing on pines instead of ocean, I’m pinching my brain to remember the specific tall trio of the pine family I love to revisit.

Apalachicola Forest

Apalachicola Forest

The word loblolly sticks in my mind because it’s fun to say, but which tall tree is the loblolly and what are the other two? This year I left a favorite reference book, National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America at home. So I wait until I am home to examine pictures and think more about the tall pines of the southeast. The book was a gift from friends a number of years ago. It’s a handy reference for a novice or a forgetful nature-lover. I often travel with it. The book’s long narrow shape and colorful pictures make it easy to use. It contains much information. I wish I spent more time with it, but I do love to remind myself about the trio of southern pines.


The three pines are: longleaf pine, slash pine and loblolly pine. They grow in poor soil, but often achieve a height of over one hundred feet. The trunks stand straight. The needles of the longleaf pine are the longest of this type of tree, as one would expect from the name. This is the pine seen at dry sandy sites such as the St. George Island State Park. The loblolly pine is dense at the top and grows in wet areas. Loblollies are moist depressions and so the name of this pine. The slash pine is the one I remember best because the bark of the trunk is marked in a way that makes me think of the word “slash.” It is found in wet sandy flatwoods. This tree has a wide spreading crown that is distinctive against the blue Florida sky.

St. George Island

St. George Island

From the National Audubon Society Collection Nature series, titled North American Trees is another tree book I like to use. This book reminded me that these three trees are characteristic of the southeast. These trees present a kind of beauty that is hard to describe. I note their symmetry, strength and grace. They hold a promise: our earth will endure.


Do you have a reference book you wouldn’t want to be without? Tell us about it, share the title and when you use it. With this conversation about reference books, I must admit that the internet is an important resource. A book might not have a full picture of every kind of pine, but usually the internet can be counted on as a good picture source. The cliché is true. A picture is worth, well, it is helpful. Enjoy Jerry’s pictures of this trio of trees. Seems like the three together are easier to remember than which one features which characteristics?


Appalach Bookstore 2

Downtown Books and Purl: Great Books and Fine Yarn
67 Commerce Street
Apalachicola, Florida

Tucked into a spot on a side street in the small historic town of Apalachicola on the bay of the same name, this bookshop is a rare treat, and a favorite of mine for a good number of years. When I enter and make my way across the smooth, worn floorboards with tables and racks of books on every side, I feel like I’m coming home.


It’s a cozy place. Every way I turn are more books, always displayed in a way that makes them seem presented to me personally. The sections are varied. There are books of local interest, books by southern writers, books on history and geography, and always, favorite fiction and the latest novels. The lively selection of children’s books is not to be missed. Two shelves of cookbooks keeping me browsing even though family and friends are waiting. I find it hard to leave the enchanting spell of the books and the place.




There are baskets, magazines, artwork and more. All is to be enjoyed. And, all is for sale. Some time ago the owner took up knitting and soon the shop was sporting a charming back alcove filled with yarn. If you can take your eyes off the colorful yarns and other knitting accoutrements, you’ll notice the screen door leads out to a lovely garden. The weather has been brisk but the garden is preparing for spring flowers.


Most years I’m able to have a spring visit to this inviting shop. Dale Julian welcomes me, and when asked, she gives me some well-appreciated recommendations. We enjoy talking books. Almost always, I buy poetry here, but this year, it was not to be. I saw Janisse Ray’s latest book (I already own it and her book of poems, too) and Wendell Berry’s new Collected Poems, and more volumes of poetry by Mary Oliver, but opted for other genres this time.



And the new books on my reading pile are:

Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt by Marlena Spieler with photographs by Sheri Giblin. This tantalizing book has lots of information on cheeses, grilling, sources and many other things, along with gorgeous pictures and mouthwatering recipes. They look tasty and out-of-the-ordinary, and I can’t wait to try some of the surprising pairings.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. Her novel Bel Canto blew me away. Now she has written a memoir about the art and craft of writing, personal experiences and life stories.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. This book is an Edgar Award Winner and a mystery set in Luxembourg with a heroine who uncovers many secrets.

And I also purchased
Remembering Blue by Connie Mae Fowler. This novel is a gift for my hostess. It’s my favorite novel by this author. Fowler writes life in North Florida in a special way. Shrimp boats, Dog Island and more are part of this story. But it is the central characters that tugged at my heart strings. I hope she likes it half as much as I did.

In my eight or ten visits, I’ve always felt like Dale was very glad to see me. I love the books I find here (I saw about ten more books I’d like to own), and the peace I feel among the shelves and the books they hold. Please don’t miss this place if you visit this unique town on the Apalachicola River. Find out more about this one-of-a-kind bookstore and see some notable pictures by visiting the website. The Downtown Books and Purl fuzzy feeling will warm your heart and mind.




Guest blogger: Judith Dawson

It is glorious spring in the Napa, Carneros, and Sonoma valleys. Everything is green and flowers are blooming. With over a thousand wineries to choose from the array of food and drink is staggering (and so are some of the people). The vines are just beginning to sprout; the tourist season gets started in earnest in April.

We began our trip by flying into San Francisco where we rented a car big enough for six people and their luggage. We proceeded an hour north to Yountville where we stayed next door to the best bakery in the West. We had almond croissants for breakfast and unparalleled picnics from the bakery followed by excursions into Calistoga, St. Helena, and their wineries. Yountville is probably the most quaint and gentrified small town we have EVER visited. If you saw the movie Sideways you know that crowds of people flock to this area for food and wine. The restaurants couldn’t be better.

After a week of enjoying our friendships, food, and beautiful accommodations, we came home and wanted to cook! Over the years we have developed a Pepper Chicken Pasta that goes like this:

Pepper Chicken Pasta

Saute and soften two smallish or one big cooking onion in extra virgin olive oil. Add three big or six small cloves of garlic and a jalapeno (if you like spicy). Add enough sauteed chicken ( I buy cooked chicken from Costco and keep it in the freezer) for two servings and about one and a half bell peppers, large dice, of any color you like. Red and yellow are our favorites.

After all is sautéed, add some white wine to take it up a notch and serve over cooked lemon pappardelle from Trader Joes which is a staple at our house. We grate Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkle this generously over the Pepper Chicken Pasta and then top with roasted pine nuts. Reapply as desired. This is wonderful and simple. Very therapeutic.

Travel, food, and friendship make life very enjoyable. The art and architecture in the wineries is stupendous. Chateau St. Jean and Artesa were highlights but all had their own unique aspects. It was a trip that did not disappoint!