A Bit of Culture and a New Friend

Books are some of my dearest friends.

When I was a little girl, they introduced themselves to me on the way home from the library. I ran my fingers along their plastic-lined covers, inhaled the scent of the pages, and fell in love with first sentences.

Thursday night, it happened again.

(On the porch at Ivy Hall)

Mother and I attended a book signing and teaching time at Ivy Hall in Atlanta by Carol Wallace who wrote Leaving Van Gogh, a historical fiction based on the last two months of Vincent Van Gogh’s life.

Carol, writer-in-residence at SCAD Atlanta 2012 ,(Savannah College of Art and Design) is married to Rick Hamlin, our GUIDEPOSTS editor.

As Carol described Vincent Van Gogh’s years of mental illness, Mother and I glanced at each other.

Quite possibly, Vincent was bipolar, like my brother. Van Gogh was difficult to live with, painted obsessively, and never quite fit in.

Carol Wallace had my heart.

So did Vincent Van Gogh.

Before writing this novel, Carol considered weaving the story into a thriller. Then she went to the house where Van Gogh died and spent a few moments “alone with her heart.”

Sitting in his lonely bedroom, Carol knew she couldn’t write a thriller. Instead, she decided to lean into his difficult life and write from the compassionate point-of-view of Van Gogh’s personal physician, Dr. Gachet, who specialized in mental illness.

Mother called early Monday morning. She’d just finished reading Leaving Van Gogh.

“I didn’t think I had the intellect to appreciate it,” she said, “but I read every word. Holding it, the novel felt like satin, yet strong, but not too heavy. The pages turned like windblown leaves.”

“It’s a work of art,” I said. “And I’ve never liked historical fiction.”

“Me neither.”

“But Carol took me there,” I said. “Just think about her research. And what about the power of her nouns and verbs?”

“She describes Madame Chevalier’s walking as…’She stumped back into the house.’ Stumped! Isn’t that wonderful?” Mother said.

“Wonder if Carol wrote and rewrote? Or if she ever got frustrated?”

“She makes writing look like a tidy process,” Mother said. “The book is absolutely perfect. Just like Carol’s blue toenails. They matched her book cover, you know.”

“I didn’t notice, but what about her dialog! I underlined conversations all through the book. In pen,” I said, feeling a tad guilty.

“I wanted to underline, but it’s such a masterpiece I couldn’t mark in it. Not yet anyway.”

                                                                                 * * *

Leaving Van Gogh and even Van Gogh himself have become cherished friends of mine.

The magic happened the moment I began to care about him.

Do you make friends with books or characters in novels? 🙂 I sure hope I’m not the only one.





  1. Leigh Ann Shaw says:

    Yes! For example, Anne Lamott and I are very dear friends.
    I think it’s a very minor detail that she’s unaware of it.

  2. That is so wonderful that Carol Wallace was there for a book signing! I’m going to get her new book too! There’s nothing better we (writers) can do than to read a lot, and it broadens and stretches us to read genres we might not ordinarily read. I write historical fiction (for SAT tests) and it’s a lot of fun to write because you have such rich facts as a basis, but then you can let your imagination go a bit. I bet Carol had to do a ton of research for this book. Good for her for delving into such a fascinating topic, I can’t wait to read it!

    • I think you’ll love it, Peggy. I didn’t know you write historical fictions for SAT tests. How neat is that!


  3. I smiled reading this post, Julie. Books are powerful and really great author events spur me to strive for writing excellence. I want my words to burrow into readers’ hearts.

    • That’s the thing, Kellie. As soon as a book “burrows into my heart”….love how you put it….a friendship is formed! I know Mother of Pearl will do that for so many!!!

  4. You’ve made me want to read it, Julie!

  5. Brenda Greene says:

    Yep, Julie…I LOVE written words also! Even tho I fought against the electronic reading device my sweet hubby gave me for Christmas several years ago, I still pick up a “real” book for it’s feel, smell, and comfort.

    Last year I found book one of a series by a favorite writer at a local thrift shop. Quickly read it and at 10:00 p.m. one Sunday night downloaded the 2nd book in the series and kept reading….did that for the remaining three! The $.50 the first book cost ended up costing $32.00 to complete the series!! And yes, I even found myself praying for the families in the series. Woke early one morning with them on my mind and immediately started sending up a prayer for their situation…had to laugh out loud when I realized they were not real!!!

    Yep….Love books and you writers that make them SO enjoyable! God bless your wonderful “pen” and heart you share so freely!

    • Ohhhh how I love your response, Brenda. I pray for characters too. 🙂 So glad to know I’m not the only one. I think we identify so closely, our heart just reaches out and forms a prayer.

      What series did you fall in love with? Sounds like maybe something I’d like too….

      Thank you so much, my friend. xoxo xoxo xoxo

      • Brenda Greene says:

        You are so welcome, dear friend!

        It was Karen Kingsbury’s Redemption series, (Redemption, Remember, Return, Rejoice, Reunion). Read all five in four weeks time! The Baxter family became “real” to me. Modern story line with strong Christian base, found encouragement for my daily walk as I “walked” through the life of the Baxter family! Actually it’s been a year ago now, April 24-May 26 (thanks to the reading journal I’ve kept for the past 15 years).

        • Ohhhh, yes! I’ve heard of this series. Don’t you just love it when book characters become real….real friends. :-). I love it that you keep a journal. I’ve done it for years too. It helps to go back and think, Oh, yes, Lord, You were faithful, even though I didn’t see it at the time.

          • Brenda Greene says:

            Ha, Julie, I actually have four “active” journals I write in!

            My gratitude journal is the one I’m most faithful to as I write in it every night before going to sleep at least three things from my day that I’m grateful for. When I’ve had a hard day, sometimes “bedtime!” is the only entry! However, I love to re-read my entries – a guaranteed “pick-me-up” when life is hard or ho-hum.

            I write in my “empty my heart” journal when overwhelmed with prayer concerns that I know need to be left with the Lord. (And yes, it’s wonderful to go back and read and record dates a particular prayer was answered or an update.)

            Another gratitude journal that was given to me by our youngest daughter when I retired after 30 years of full-time work. It has pertinent questions that prod me thinking spiritually – I love it, but only get around to that one a couple times a month.

            And last but not least, my reading journal where I list the books I’ve read by date completed, number of pages, book name and author…helps me keep up with how many books I read in a month/year. Also a resource I can return to if I can’t recall the name of a book or if I’ve read it previously.

            Whew…our daughters are gonna have a huge job when I’m gone. Think I’ll just tell them to set a match to ’em!

  6. When I first get a new book I pull it open to the middle, stick my nose inside, and smell the pages. Ahhh…..there’s something about it that captures my soul.

    Thanks for sharing Carol with us today.

    Hugs & love.

  7. Me too, B.J. I always, always sniff the pages!

    Hugs and love right back to you.

  8. Lynne Gentry says:

    Makes me want to read this book for sure.

  9. Julie, I want to read it too! I love historical fiction; in fact, that’s what I write. So neat that you and your mom were able to go to her book-signing!

    • Well, Marilyn, I’ve changed my mind. I feel very differently about historical fiction! I’m broadening my horizons. Nowwwwww I understand!!!!

  10. I love reading the conversation between you and your mom as you talk about the book. Sounds wonderful! I must get it! Thanks…

    • Thank you, Vonda. I have so much fun posting our real life conversations. (Kinda like dialog in a novel :-))….Thanks again for being such an encourager to soooooo many. His love shines through you.

  11. Brenda, I can’t find a way to reply right under your comment. I just gotta say, I’m so impressed with you. Four prayer journals!! And you keep up with them. Wow! I’ve got to work that into a blog somehow. Hope your weekend is wonderful. xoxo xoxo

  12. arie says:

    Lucia St. Clare Robson for great historical fiction…especially Tokaido Road and Sacajawea.

  13. Arie, I’m impressed!! Thanks for passing along your “great friends.” xoxo xoxo xoxo

    • arie says:

      Haha, Julie, are you impressed because you didn’t think I read? I am the girl who read everything printed…like even cereal boxes. As an adult I open books at random and read a few sentences and know whether I will love it or not. Happy last days of Spring!

      • I am SO impressed, Arie. 🙂 You did read it!

        Didn’t realize today’s the last day of spring. Celebrate it well, my friend! I know you will.

  14. I’m going to need to get this book ASAP! When you and MBWA love a book, I read it!
    Thank you for the head’s up…just waiting for porch time to be over this morning before I call…xoxo

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