A Carolina journey – for the author and characters
The Herald Sun
AUTHOR READING:WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St., Durham
“A Wedding Invitation” (Bethany House)
By Alice Wisler
BY DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN
DURHAM – Four years ago, Durham author Alice J. Wisler realized her aspirations with a book deal and her first novel, “Rain Song,” set in Mount Olive, N.C. Three more novels have followed, once a year – “How Sweet It Is,” set in the North Carolina mountains, “Hatteras Girl,” set on the coast, and now “A Wedding Invitation,” set partially in Winston-Salem. Wisler said she likes writing about North Carolina towns.
While working on “A Wedding Invitation,” she even held a contest for her fans to suggest character names. Lien’s and Carson’s names were both chosen by a Durham resident.With the first book, Wisler said, she was just so excited to be published. “Then as time goes on, there’s so much more to it. It’s not as though you’ve arrived,” she said. “You begin to see the long road ahead. You see others who’ve been continually published and learn from them. It’s not like you can rest – unless you’ve written ‘The Help.’ ”
Wisler has devoted fans, but even so, being an author isn’t quite the piece of cake one might assume.
Speaking of food, gathering at the table or in a kitchen is integral to building relationships in Wisler’s novels – and in most of our lives, too. The characters in “A Wedding Invitation” do much of their gathering in Aunt Dovie’s kitchen or in a Vietnamese restaurant.
At the center is Samantha, who lives in Northern Virginia and works at her mom’s ladies’ clothing store, but goes to Winston-Salem for a wedding it turns out she wasn’t actually invited to. She stays with her aunt, who takes in those who need some TLC. Samantha also reconnects with a man from her past. Seven years prior, in the mid-1980s, Samantha worked in a refugee camp in the Philippines for Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people displaced from the Vietnam War. Carson was the young man she longed for, but he had a girlfriend back home so kept her at a distance. Samantha never got over him. In Winston, she also reconnects with a teenage girl, Lien, from the refugee camp. Samantha gains a new perspective of Lien and herself.
Like a true North Carolinian would know, after first reference, Winston-Salem is just referred to as “Winston.” Samples of Wisler’s own experiences are used in the book, like teaching in a refugee camp. In one scene, Dovie brings butterflies to a cemetery for a Compassionate Friends butterfly release, and Wisler leaned on Compassionate Friends after the death of her young son.
The book’s title, “A Wedding Invitation,” came also to Wisler, meant for the previous person who lived there. Unlike Samantha, Wisler didn’t go to the wedding. But she kept the fancy invitation and always wondered about it. It was the seed for this story.
Wisler’s four novels have been classified as in the “inspirational” genre, and published by Bethany House. The characters’ spiritual life is part of their daily lives, too. They go to church. They pray. They talk about God to each other. They don’t try to drive home a specific religious message or guarantee a happy ending. “A Wedding Invitation” is about second chances. It’s also about accepting flaws and moving on.
She wrote her first novel without aiming at particular genre, but Bethany House picked it up right away as inspirational fiction. She thinks there are more authors now in that genre that write more realistic stories.“I try to put relationships with God in their lives, but not in your face,” Wisler said. “It’s not like a sermon or prayer meeting. Certainly I want Christian characters to be flawed.”
The books Wisler is working on now may or may not be deemed inspirational, and she wants to reach a broader readership – both those who already read her novels, plus those who have yet to discover her. She’ll begin to veer away from 20-something protagonists in contemporary romances. Future books will feature an Amish man who fled the life to the North Carolina mountains, and another about a bereaved mother traveling the country in an RV, who also makes memory quilts.
“I’m looking to see where my writing is leading me,” Wisler said.
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