First, here is a little bit about the book Lark and the Loon:
Ten-year-old Lark loved all his birthday gifts but the special stone from his grandfather is his favorite. Hidden away in his pocket, it suddenly heats up, catapulting Lark into a magical land of a sunset, or sunrise, (he wasn’t quite sure) and a stardust path leading to nowhere and everywhere.
Lonely little Lark soon meets a mimicking boy named Echo. Together they set off to see where the path will take them. As they travel, they encounter two more friends: a precocious little girl and a wise old talking loon. Hopping onto the loon’s back, the children are taken through the sunset/sunrise until they find themselves stuck inside a weeping willow. The only way out is a rickety-looking ladder climbing out of the darkness to a destination unknown.
Lark and his friends climb, reaching one level only to find yet another. They are led on a fantastical journey, a magical world of exploration, a journey that may or may not finally bring Lark back home.
Lark’s pathway, challenging his sense of the possible and the impossible, travels through life and death moments as he miraculously sees crucial family turning points through his mother’s eyes.
What WOW readers said:
"Lark and the Loon by Rhiannon Gelston is a magical realism story and is as fascinating as the cover anticipates. The story follows Lark, a 10-year-old boy, is in a magical world yet reliving experiences through his mother's eyes. We first meet Lark on his 10th birthday when he receives a gift from his Gramps – a small, smooth "lucky" stone. And, it is indeed lucky and magical as it transports him to a magical place.
"There are a number of lessons, tidbits of wisdom, and amazing perspectives sprinkled throughout the story. This story might be classified as magical realism, but it relates to the real world and real problems than you would ever think. It's full of raw emotion, insight, and adventure."
- Ashley Hubbard (and check out her blog post!)
"This book is something my teen kids and I can read and enjoy. It has a great story line and the author did a good job bringing out the feelings of each character. Relatable, inspiring and challenging, this book teaches every reader to reflect on what matters most in life. A nice gift to any parent or teenager."
- Rozelyn De Sagun
"This is such a wonderful, emotional, imaginative read. In some ways a journey of the soul, Lark and Loon will take you on an adventure that you won't soon forget as it tugs at your heartstrings one moment and makes you smile the next. Lark's connection with his mother is sweet, and adds depth to the story. A great story for readers from teens to the older generations. A must-read, especially in such a bleak year when we could all use a reminder of how powerful love is."
- Liliyana Shadowlyn
"I love memoirs and I also love books that are genre-pushing, so I jumped at the chance to read this genre-busting ‘mostly memoir’ with ‘elements of transcendental fiction.’ There were several things I loved about this book. One is all the life lessons contained in the book, such as 'live in the moment.' Especially relevant for today’s pandemic times is ‘this too shall pass.’ Another is the teachings about chakras, reiki, and spirituality. The third is the story about what happened to Lark’s younger sister Maisy, which I found riveting, even though I knew what the end result was. Interwoven into all this were several mysteries, such as who are Echo and Pru and Lark.
"The only bumps in the book were the sometimes lengthy sections of dialogue, which to me felt like information overload. Indeed I occasionally felt like Lark when he noted ‘This was a lot for a ten-year-old to grasp…’ It could be a lot for an adult to grasp too! However, this could be rectified by rereading the book, and actually could be considered a strength of the book. It is not simply a book that you read once and then toss aside, but one which you will learn something new each time you read it again.
I felt hopeful after reading this book, and I recommend it."
- Linda Schueler
"This book is extremely interesting. Although it is about a 10-year-old boy I think many kids that age would have trouble grasping some of the concepts. The story itself is moving and full of mystery and feeling. Lark is in a magical world yet reliving experiences through his mother's eyes. There is hardship and life lessons of living in the moment and weathering the storm. Throughout the book the reader struggles with Lark to figure out what is going on and with grasping the raw emotions and concepts. There are so many life lessons built into the story as well as ideas of relationships and how one fits into the world. There are messages about pulling oneself out of the pit of despair as well as celebrations and feeling connected with others. It is a powerful book and one that will require re-reading to get all that it has to offer."
- Carrie P. (and check out her blog post!)
"This is a modern day parable - a beautiful story of love with a life lesson intertwined. Whether you have children or not, this tale will resonate with you and you'll find Gelston's writing style to be delightful! This isn't the type of book you read just once either. You'll want to read it again and buy copies for your friends and family. My teen daughter is reading it now as the cover caught her eye and I assured her she'd thoroughly enjoy the story as well. Lark and Echo are the sweetest little travel companions. Lark's growing self awareness as the tale unfolds made me smile countless times as a parent. I would recommend this book and this author to others."
- Crystal Otto
Lark and the Loon is available for purchase on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, and BookShop.org. You can also add this book to your reading list on GoodReads.com.
Rhiannon Gelston loves to lose herself in all things creative. She enjoys writing, painting, live music, traveling, sports, being outdoors, exploring, playing, spirituality, and energy work. She has a BA in English and a MS in Occupational Therapy with a pediatric focus. Rhiannon just had her first novel published. It is a memoir with a twist called, Lark and the Loon, available wherever books are sold. Rhiannon grew up on Spa Creek in downtown Annapolis. Home for Rhiannon will always be the sound of the halyards hitting the masts on a breezy day, a pile of crabs saturated in Old Bay, raft-ups with friends as kids cannonball off of the stern, and time with family and friends, in, on, and around the Chesapeake Bay. She lives in Annapolis with her husband, their five lovely and lively children, and their black lab, McNasby.
Connect with the author online:
--- Interview by Nicole Pyles
WOW: First of all, congratulations on your book! I love the unique genre you place this novel: autobiographical fiction. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means?
Rhiannon: Yes, I do feel like it is a rather unique genre to place Lark and the Loon. Honestly, if asked, in addition to autobiographical fiction, I often describe the book as mostly a memoir, but with some transcendental fiction woven throughout (a term which I made up but I do think captures it). For anyone that has read the book, you know that there are really a number of different genres at play throughout the novel. There is certainly a fantastical/fiction piece woven throughout, so that took calling it a straight up memoir off of the table. Amazon has classified it under fantasy but, to me, that does not capture what I feel is at the heart of the story and misses the essence of what it is really all about. I held myself strictly to the facts whenever writing the memoir/memory piece of the novel. Truthfully, I have actually had a bit of a hard time describing it to others in some ways because I feel like it is not a straightforward, binary kind of categorization. It really bends a variety of genres in a few different directions.
The book is memoir, it is spiritual, it is metaphysical, it has poetry, it is philosophical, and it is fantasy/fiction. I do need to become a little more eloquent and less long-winded when trying to describe it! Anyway, back to autobiographical fiction. When discussing the various genres with my publisher, she suggested autobiographical fiction. I was worried it sounded like an oxymoron but she assured me it was indeed a genre, based on fact but not bound by fact, and it seemed like the perfect solution to incorporating Lark’s journey in the willow tree with the real-life memories that he visits throughout the novel.
WOW: This genre is so new to me! I love it! What inspired you to write this novel?
Rhiannon: There were a number of different things that inspired me to write Lark and the Loon. The simple answer is I got a new computer for Christmas and my son was about to turn ten, my youngest was in kindergarten, and I felt like it was finally time to take the time to do something creative for myself. Life was still hectic but it was just an eye-opener that time was flying by and it was important to carve out some time to do something like this, hectic or not. I feel like my husband and I had such perspective from some of the things that we had been through and it, in some ways, changed the trajectory of our life. Perspective changes everything. So, I started out writing a book geared toward my children but within a couple of pages I decided that I wanted to write what I know and really re-visit some of the lessons at the core. That is when it quickly morphed into a memoir. Writing became such a therapeutic and cathartic endeavor that I started to think perhaps others, beyond our family, might benefit vicariously through the lessons that we learned.
I actually wasn’t intending to try and get it published initially. It really was such a visceral and almost spiritual experience writing about these memories, I think it was something that I just needed to do. Honestly, it almost took this process for me to fully follow my own advice in the novel, of not holding onto the fear and the awareness of the fragility of life in a way that stops one in their tracks, but rather take that knowledge and awareness and let it fuel your ability to live life fully, and live it out loud, soaking it all in, as much as possible.
WOW: That advice is what we all need to keep in mind! What was your revision process like?
Rhiannon: The revision process was rather lengthy. It is my first novel so I have nothing to compare it to but I do think the final manuscript, and how it has taken form, is quite different from the first and it took a pretty long time to get there.
It is kind of funny actually, because as I said, I was just kind of writing it for myself and for my kids, and to get some of these memories down on paper so that we never forget the lessons that we have learned, and the perspective gained. My son is about to turn fourteen in January, and I started writing it when he was still nine, almost ten. So, yeah, the revision process took a while.
The final revision process with them all at home due to Covid was quite challenging to say the least. My husband was also working from home and on occasion I just had to lock myself in our room and turn the teaching torch over to him.
Anyway, the initial manuscript was mostly based in the hospital and mostly about my daughter, Eliza’s (Maisy’s) illness and our experience with that and lessons learned. My mom was one of the only people besides my editor to read it in this early stage and, of course, she has a little more skin in the game, but she said she found it so stressful to read. I did have the piece of Lark traveling in the willow tree at this point but it was more minimal. With my editor’s suggestion, I took on the task of re-writing much of the book. I kept much of the hospital piece but decided to trickle in many other parts that I felt had impacted me in life, thus far. That is when I added in some more of the willow tree piece, the memories from Africa, the everyday things, such as the craziness of children’s sports, or the love one might receive from a dog. I think the journey back and forth really does allow the reader a little respite and time for reflection from some of the harder moments visited in the book.
Eventually, together with the guidance of my editors and my publisher, I was able to land on the Lark and the Loon as it stands today.
"When writing, put yourself out there, fully and completely. Don’t let fear get in your way."
WOW: Quite the process! What advice do you have for writers if they are working on their first novel?
Rhiannon: I kept my book on the down low while writing it, which in hindsight may not actually be the smartest when getting a book published but, oh well, it’s my first rodeo and it felt right. I did this for a couple of reasons, one being the unknown timeline for actual completion. It seemed to be taking me forever and I wasn’t sure about fielding questions of when it would be finished or how it was going. Even once I decided to explore publishers, I didn’t want it to sound like I wasn’t owning my role as a stay-at-home mom, like I wasn’t fulfilled or something, and had to state that I was “writing a book.” However, for anyone creative, you know that if you feel the call to create something, you risk a certain ‘inner-wilting’ if this call is not answered in some way, at some time.
I suppose if I am being totally honest, part of me was afraid as well, as the whole thing is very personal and left me very vulnerable. Like any artistic endeavor, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I sincerely hoped others could connect to it, but there was only one way to find out and that was to put myself fully out there. I also reminded myself of the intention behind why I wrote Lark and the Loon and even if my Instagram blew up with #weirdo, at least I was putting myself out there, trying to connect, as that is the whole premise of the book. I also worried it might sound kind of pretentious if I said I was writing a novel, like, who am I to write a novel? Even my editor, when going through things, pointed out that most successful memoirs are written by people that are already famous and that already have a big audience interested in what they have to say. I mean, I’m a stay-at-home mom from Annapolis writing a memoir in my 40s, so that was a little ‘come to Jesus’ moment for me, but I felt like I had a story to tell, so I did.
So, I guess my advice would be to just do it. I squeezed writing into the wee hours, in the very early mornings while it was still dark and quiet, and late in the evenings, long after everyone was tucked in for the night. When writing, put yourself out there, fully and completely. Don’t let fear get in your way. People are mostly kind. They will be excited for you and support you. Write from the heart with a true intention and it will connect you with someone out there on some level and that is a pretty special thing.
WOW: In an article written by your publisher, WiDo Publishing, you said that you hope this book might leave your readers a better person. What do you hope readers take away by reading your book?
Rhiannon: The book, in this moment in time, to me seems rather apropos. In Lark and the Loon, we made it through. Hope prevailed. Perhaps Lark and the Loon could provide a little hope to someone who needs it right now. In 2020, people have risen to the occasion, to help where they can, perhaps a silver lining of Covid, as it is an example of how people have had to get creative and think out-of-the-box on how we can be social distanced, yet still pull together as one. It has been both inspiring and heartbreaking seeing people navigate these times in the bravest of ways and it has just reaffirmed for me many of the lessons touched upon in Lark and the Loon. Lessons such as the importance of connecting with others, how angels surround us, and how emotions can be so mixed. 2020 has reminded us how we must try and keep things in perspective, and at the heart of it all, at the risk of sounding cliché, is kindness and love. People I know have lost loved ones as a direct result of Covid and as a secondary effect due to the challenges that Covid has presented. I suppose I want people to take away a desire to connect with others, to embrace the moments in life, both the big and the small, and to come away with perspective and an openness to gain the gifts and the lessons that life has for us. I hope it helps people recognize the beauty of the small moments in life and the lesson that, sometimes, if you look at it right, those small moments can also be the big moments. If the book ever does have the chance to hit a wide audience, or even if it just travels within small circles, my hope is that it will resonate with anyone who has ever loved someone with their whole heart.
"2020 has reminded us how we must try and keep things in perspective, and at the heart of it all, at the risk of sounding cliché, is kindness and love."
WOW: I believe it will! How has 2020 (and everything that has come with it) changed your writing, if at all?
Rhiannon: I think 2020 has impacted everything and everyone in so many ways, so, yes, it has definitely had an influence on my writing. The book was originally slotted to be released late March but after an editing glitch it ended up coming out late July. I honestly think it may have been a blessing in disguise, as when I think back to my state of mind when the pandemic was just hitting the US in March, I don’t think I would have been able to give my book much attention. Like many people in the world, all of a sudden I was helping homeschool my five children, worrying about our health, distanced from many that we love, financially challenged, and trying to figure out how to navigate this new world in which we were living. Honestly, I really wasn’t reading anything for pleasure at that moment of time and any time I had for writing, beyond the editing piece, seemed like too indulgent of a luxury. With everything we had and were going through related to Covid, the messages in the book seemed even more timely and on point. Especially with the parts of the book dealing with the illness that my daughter battled, being an awful respiratory disease, it seemed like something that might resonate with others during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, yes, Covid has affected my writing but I think when I really get back to it, it will again feed both my soul and my writing with the perspective gained from this pandemic. The release of this book during a pandemic has led to a slow trickle of a release rather than a large knock-your-socks off kind of launch. Lark and the Loon will rather slip your socks off slowly, but I feel like that is okay, that people can come to it in their own time and it will still hopefully be just as impactful and enjoyable.
In Annapolis, Maryland right now, we are not able to have inside gatherings of more than ten people. There have been no launch parties or readings or book signings. That’s okay though, hopefully, one day in the future we can do something like that. In the meantime, I do hope Lark and the Loon gets into the hands of anyone that might benefit from the journey and the message inside.
WOW: I like how you said that COVID will feed your soul and writing with the perspective you've gained. How has your work as an occupational therapist influenced your writing?
Rhiannon: My work as an occupational therapist has greatly influenced my writing in every way. There are some obvious influences in my writing, captured in Lark and the Loon, as I explore some of my experiences as an occupational therapist in South Africa. That is something that I had been meaning to write about for many years, as the experience was so unique. My training as an occupational therapist, in how we are taught to break down a task to its bare bones, and build it back up in an attainable way, how we are taught to see the whole person, the whole picture, yet also appreciate the individual parts that make up the essence of it all, that is the beauty of occupational therapy. I know my training as an OT has allowed me to see the gift presented in each new experience, whether it works out the way we think it will, or if it takes us in a whole different direction. It was actually my OT advisor, the head of the OT department where I got my master’s, that first taught me that there is no wasted experience, if we can gain a lesson from it. That really impacted me and the way I saw things, and the way I still see things today.
Occupational therapy is such a rewarding career. I enjoyed it because I always felt that, no matter what, I was always helping to make someone’s life a little bit better. At the heart of occupational therapy is using purposeful activity to help people live their own, unique, best life. That is a goal that I think each and every one of us has inside. My path towards becoming and being an occupational therapist has, and always will be, a part of who I am and how I view the world.
WOW: That's so inspiring! Your cover is absolutely gorgeous! Did you have any say in how this cover was designed?
Rhiannon: Why, thank you! Yes, that was actually very important to me, to have a say in what the cover looked like. I am a very visually inspired person and, must admit, have more often than not, grabbed a book to read because the cover drew me in. I love art and being inspired by art so the cover to me needed to be something that was visually captivating and also encompassed, to some extent, the story within the pages. The publisher’s cover artist sent me a sample of what they were thinking and it was, for me, a good launching point but not quite what I was looking for in a cover. The publisher recommended I go through and look at other covers of books that I found to be visually pleasing and send them along so that they could get an idea aesthetically of what I was looking for, and so I did. I found I was drawn to silhouettes and bright colors. The cover artist sent a sample very close to what it is now and with some slight tweaking, the cover was ready!
I really do feel that it captures the story line. It shows Lark, about to embark on a big adventure, so many colors and unknowns lie ahead, but it all comes together in this kaleidoscope of colors on this spectrum of life, with its highs and lows and everything in between. I liked that the tree was there on the cover, representing the willow tree in the story, and the colors of the rainbow, representative of the ascension of Lark through the chakra-like levels and the correlating experiences inside and out of the willow tree. It is also just a happy, colorful cover, that I think really pops and makes me smile.
So, yes, I had some influence and also think it is absolutely gorgeous but most of the credit must go to the cover artist at WiDo as he really captured everything I was looking for and the end result is just perfect!
WOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! Best of luck with your book!