Blog vs. book

As the date (4/5/2016!) approaches for the release of my book, A None’s Story, I thought it might be a good time to explain how the book differs from the blog that came first, One None Gets Some.

The most obvious difference is the title change. The new title was given to the manuscript by the publisher, who explained to me that the book needed an identity distinct from the blog. What she didn’t say is that the name of the blog–with its tongue-in-cheek use of the vernacular “gets some”–might be seen as lacking a certain gravitas befitting Columbia University Press. Who was I to argue with either of these points? Here was yet another opportunity to practice letting go of things over which I lack control.

The new title alludes to the blog, but also references a 1956 novel called A Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme. A New York Times best-seller in its day, Hulme’s book was later turned into a film starring Audrey Hepburn as the title character. Even though I wasn’t familiar with either the book or the movie when I started this project, I find the synchronicity between the two titles interesting—the play on words and themes. In that book—which is fiction, though based on a true story—a nun struggles with her faith-bound life given that her passion, nursing, is considered a secular endeavor. Should she leave the convent to pursue a career? Did it have to be one or the other? In my version, I struggle with that same topic in mirror image: feeling that I must maintain the strictly secular life I inherited despite the tug on my heart to step foot in the world of faith. If A Nun’s Story was a reflection of its time, I suppose A None’s Story is equally a reflection of ours.

Other than this, the differences are what one might expect when a serialized version of a story is turned into a single piece of writing. I had all these little patches and now I needed to make a quilt. I needed to pick the ones that would add to the cohesion of the larger version, and leave out the ones that didn’t. Sometimes this meant getting rid of patches on which I had worked really hard, but maybe their complicated embroidery detracted rather than added to the overall picture. Most of the patches, even if they seemed to belong, still needed some work. I had to fix frayed edges and pay more attention to the sorts of enhancements that would make them function better both individually and together. Luckily, I was given a small but dedicated team of professional tailors who spent a week or two with me in my sweatshop taking a close look at my patches under their magnifying glasses. They caught all sorts of goofs—typos, verb disagreements, spelling catastrophes, grammar disasters, and just plain awkward turns of phrase.

One of the main differences between the blog entries and the content of the book is in the structure of the story connecting the religious experiences I describe. In the book, I put more flesh on the bones, particularly at the beginning and at the end. I provide additional context for what motivated this journey, a fuller picture of my personal struggles and the ways in which, when I was living in Washington, D.C., the events of 9/11 shook me and influenced what would later become this book.

Also, parts of the ending are entirely new. I describe the experience of creating and maintaining the blog after my Op-Ed about my religious curiosity and project appeared in the Los Angeles Times and, subsequently, was picked up and reprinted in newspapers across the country. I fancied myself a courageous religious adventurer, but some people saw a potential convert. In the book, I explore people’s reactions to my project, the messages and items I was sent both online and via the mail, how unsettled and distraught I became for a time before I learned to embrace my truth.

Other than that, many of the experiences in the book are as they appear in the blog. Because of this, I debated whether to hide all or portions of the blog. It seemed strange to be charging money for a printed version of what is, in essence, available online. Even though I believe it is a more pleasurable experience to hold a book (I, for one, like to have the entire story in my hands, with pages to turn), it seemed a little counterintuitive to keep all my old posts available for anyone to read.

For a while I considered deleting the entire blog. Then I thought it would be best to keep some of the posts but hide a percentage of them—like every third one—so that the online story would be the Swiss cheese version—thereby both intriguing readers and forcing all interested parties into buying the book. I was congratulating myself on my diabolical marketing skills, when it occurred to me that the single most important argument for keeping the blog had nothing to do with what I had written. What made it essential and beautiful and important was the comments section: it’s what the readers wrote.

The stories, the reactions, the encouragement—the instances in which some readers tore into me or others for the opinions we expressed. How readers worked through differences, and more often than not, came to respect one another despite early tension. All of this created a story as significant, and in some instances more so, than my story.

So, I’m leaving everything as is because to hide any blog posts would be to hide their comment sections. The comments offer a small but poignant slice of cultural debate that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Far from being disposable, they are an essential companion piece to my book. In my eyes, every single comment is important. They were all part of this journey for me, expressed by a virtual group of congregants struggling for understanding and acceptance.

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8 thoughts on “Blog vs. book

  1. I don’t know if anyone who reads your book will actually come here and take the time to read all our comments. But I do think we commenters are part of the story. It’s like you were running the race and we were on the sidelines cheering and arguing and learning to live together. Sometimes I felt we were part of some loose unorganized “church of the miners”. I’m glad you’re keeping the blog as is.

  2. Well said, homewithin! Sometimes we were not even so loosely organized, and we became a group onto ourselves in many ways. I am still enjoying and valuing the friendships I made along the way. And it was in the “living together” that many, including myself, learned the most. I could say that, for me, it precipitated some life changes that had been bubbling and brewing for years. I thank all of you for that! Gratitude abounds. Love to you on this day of honoring the heart’s wishes and desires! Merrill

  3. These blogs are a treasure within themselves. The more they developed the greater my kinship grew to everyone and their contribution. It is obvious from so many things I read in the press that there is a growing crowd of “Nones” in our country. The fact that your article in the Los Angeles Times sparked a country wide conversation is an indication of its need in today’s world. You are giving your gift and it is a wonderful one.

  4. Corinna—although I would have understood and supported your decision to block some of the content, I was happy to see you decided to leave it intact. Just as you, Homewithin, Merrill, and Frank said, some of the greatest value is in the comments. As someone who followed the blog since the L.A. Times article was published, I think anyone who reads the blog from start to finish can see a growing, changing, and wonderful relationship among you and the contributors. Just as your understanding and appreciation of faith grew during your journey, so did our understanding of each other, and what it means to be a person of faith. Yours was one of the few blogs that maintained an attitude of sharing rather than persuading, and one that was (almost) universally respectful of opposing points if view. If future readers get nothing else from the blog, I hope it’s that it is indeed possible to understand and appreciate people of different—or no—faith, in an atmosphere of love and respect.

    Rather than competing with one another, I’d like to think the book and the blog form a complete picture of your journey. It seems your book will include more personal history and background, while the blog can supply those who want to with the details of how people reacted to your comments and to each other. I’m looking forward to April 5 and seeing the finished portrait!

    • Tim C captures my feelings as well. I’ve no idea how I even stumbled upon your blog several years ago, but the honesty and the careful introspection and methodical filtering applied to all of these different-yet-coexisting belief systems really impressed me. I started forwarding your posts to my wife, and we had good conversations over them at the end of the day. The marketing conundrum you describe is a situation which probably must be addressed in our highly-interconnected day and age. However, I would say “no worries” to your concerns over those who would seek out the blog in lieu of buying your book; even though I’ve read all the blog posts, I’m planning on buying a copy of your book when published, and probably one or two for gifts to friends as well. Carry on your good work, and best regards.

  5. I agree with all of the above comments and sentiments. When your blog was in progress, I could not wait until the next entry was published. Seeing the various religions through the eyes of such an articulate and courageous none provided a unique, unbiased view of each faith.

    The discussion and debate among your readers added another whole dimension that clarified, expanded, compared, and challenged the beliefs of the various faiths. What a wonderful and unique experience your blog provided for us all! I’m glad that much of it has been documented in book form so that it can live on indefinitely.

  6. It is so interesting to read how you went from blog to book, putting the pieces together into a cohesive whole, especially considering the variety of faiths represented by the people in your blog. You were led by the Spirit during your search, as questions drove your deeper dig. What attracted me was your attitude of respect toward believers, even though you knew little about faith. That first article you wrote for the LA Times was a breath of fresh air–needed even more now, with people so unwilling to listen to one another. Your blog to book reminds me of C. S. Lewis, whose turn from atheism to Christianity was documented in his writings as well. He lived long before instant communication but his medium was radio. He took that show and his many questions and his experience/knowledge as a professor of literature at Oxford and wrote it into books.

    As for your Nun’s story, another story that comes to mind with a similar struggle between the separation of religious and personal life is The Sound of Music. Its heroine had so much more support from her church though. Faith should be a solid part of a person’s contribution to and in the world. How can a person’s faith and works be separated?

    I have to admit to being bummed when I read you feel the tug toward stepping into a life of faith but remain committed to the strictly secular life in which you were raised. We were all pulling for you, applauding you, loving your fresh discoveries. Don’t quit! There’s nothing more fulfilling than living by faith and knowing God (which you have done through this whole process by the way). A life of faith is vibrant and growing, for the one who seeks.

    One more comment. God has no grandchildren–only children. Be driven by your own decisions.

    Always your friend (who loves the God who raised Jesus from the dead!). Thanks for returning the friendship.

    Ginger

  7. Oh! This is like “old home week” for me. I have so many memories of you guys. Sorry, I’ve been busy with other projects, would glance at this but not take time to really focusly read. (No editor would allow that, but I like to play with words……) Reading this was reading friends. Never thought of myself as a companion to a book…but the shoe fits. Love you guys.
    I think I’ve shared before that this blog with a breath of life for me. While I’m a convinced Christian, your blog, Corinna, has helped me practice loving people who don’t see as I do….and to remind me that I don’t know everything.
    I too look forward to reading the book.
    Walt

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