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What do Writers Read? Pursuing Adventure — Summer 2017

31 May

One would expect writers to be on the cutting edge of the book scene, devouring best-sellers one after another. After all, reading got us into this mess. Not just reading, but reading good books. I sometimes wonder, would I be enamored with writing today if I’d tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or William Faulkner’s “As I lay Dying” while I was still a tweenager instead of reading everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Douglass Adams? I suspect not.

That isn’t to say those aren’t perfectly fine books. I confess, however, I’ve never managed to make it through either, which is a personal frustration as I’ve been told Ulysses is the greatest book ever written. How is it I cannot get past the first chapter then?

But I digress.

Over the past four years, or since I started writing for a living, I find I’m reading less and less. This is not good, as I was reminded last week repeatedly at a writers’ conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We need to read, to keep our imaginations lit, to stay abreast of changes in style and analyze what works and what doesn’t so our own writing stays fresh, and for myriad other reasons that would bore you to tears if I listed them. For this reason, I’ve established a summer/fall reading list to make sure I’m hip. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be these days.

I share this list with you with a caveat, one that also attempts to answer the question posed earlier. You won’t recognize many of these authors, but give ’em a shot. Writers don’t always read the latest and greatest best sellers. I’m learning that writers, by the nature of their networking and community, read books by friends who are writers. We help each other out, which is, more often than not, a good deal despite the time invested. However, not all writers should be, if you know what I mean, so sometimes I have to wade through some heartbreaking time-suckers. I will not recommend those books, as a service to you.

On the other hand, we also get to read some phenomenal books by lesser-known authors, some of whom are self-published but should be moved to the front of the line. I will announce those gems as I find them.

Without further ado: A Writer’s 2017 Summer Reading List
(Assuming you’ve already read Caged Sparrow, From the Remnants, and Breaking the Chains, of course)

NOVELS

toscaTosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir” – Okay, this was going to be on the list but the moment I started it I had to push through, so now it’s just a recommendation. I read this book in three days, it’s so good. For my Christian reader friends, DO NOT JUDGE this book by its gruesome cover. As a writer, I cannot load my brain with dark imagery and would normally have given it a wide berth. However, I’m so incredibly glad someone recommended this because it’s fantastic. I cannot say enough about the way this book has changed my thinking about good and evil. I’ve never considered what fallen angels might think about having no possibility of receiving forgiveness while watching us blind and foolish humans receive chance after chance. Tosca Lee’s descriptions are fantastic and quite believable, and will stay with me for quite some time. The ending felt a bit repetitious at first, but I get it now: We still don’t get it. Because of this book, I will add everything Tosca Lee has ever written to my reading list.

Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” – A small-town reporter and the local pastor notice some strange goings-on in their neighborhood.  Recommended by a friend and endorsed by Jerry Jenkins. That’s enough for me.

Connie Mann’s “Hidden Threat” – Just out and looking like a book I can get lost in. Connie is a boat captain from Florida I met at a conference a few years ago. I’ve read most of her books and can easily recommend them, especially last year’s “Tangled Lies.”

Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” – The story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France during WWII. Although not really into romance, I’m a sucker for a well-told behind-the-scenes war story.

annieMEMOIRS — Hey, I write ‘em, I gotta read ‘em, and frankly, I think memoirs are among the best reading out there—because truth is indeed stranger and much more interesting than fiction.

Paul Kalamithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” – the story of a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer. Recommended by a writer friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Annie B. Garman’s “Unexpected Grace: When Your Child is Born with Half a Heart” – I haven’t even started reading it and my tears are getting ready to flow. This was a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards so I know it will change me.

MYSTERY AND HUMOR – may as well get those in one package when you can, don’cha know?

Chelsea Field’s “Eat, Pray, Die mystery series. – I was just about to give up on humor and re-read an old favorite (Douglas Adams’ “Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – highly recommended) when I stumbled across these. The second book in the series is called “The Hunger Pains,” which screams “READ ME!” So I shall.

OTHER

There are many other books on my Round-to-it list, primarily writing books (apparently, I should read one a month so I’ll start with Steven James’ Troubleshooting Your Novel); Christian inspiration (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and classics  (“Les Misérables” – I know, I know, but I haven’t yet). I won’t list them all because I don’t want to overwhelm my mind . . . just tease it a bit. I promise to let you know if I find any of these time-investment worthy.

How about you? What’s on the top of your stack? I’m always ready to read something new.

Except “Ulysses.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.

——————————

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. — Psalm 45:1

The Great Buts of Human Limitation

24 Apr

Who are you, deep down? What is it you really desire to do? What is it you’ve been putting off for years, despite the constant yearning? We all have dreams, hopes, a purpose . . .  but some of us are sitting on our buts and may never see them realized.

It seems the more I write, the more I hear from people who want to write. The more I write about peace and positive outlook, the more I hear from people craving peace and positive outlook. The more I write about jumping off the ledge to follow your dreams, the more I hear the word “but.”

But I’m too old. But I’m too young. But I’m too sick. But I’m too far in debt. But I don’t know where to start. But the kids…

I understand completely, because I’ve been there. I pined to write for 35 years, yet never stuck my head out past the margin of societal expectations. Despite having an active imagination and dreams of writing for a living, I believed the voices that said to leave my current job would be irresponsible, that making lots of money is more important than pretending to be a writer, that I might not be good enough to make it in the writing world.

But perhaps when I’m old enough to retire; but maybe if I could secure a solid offer for something first; but perhaps when the youngest graduates college…

Then, quite out of the blue, I do believe I heard the Lord tell me to get off my but(t) and start scribbling. I did, and although I wouldn’t call myself a financially successful author yet, I’m on my way and having a ball. I’m happier than I ever was when money was assured (although, depending on your spiritual foundation, one could argue that sufficient money has been assured and IS being provided, as we are not in need.)

As I walked through my neighborhood recently, I took specific notice of some trees that clearly do not conform to nature’s expectations, and it occurs to me that sometimes, despite our greatest yearnings, we make decisions based on the world’s expectations and let fears and past hurts keep us from what may be the true happiness we’re seeking, a happiness that comes from doing what we were meant to do with our lives.

So, the photos on this blog post will be larger than usual, because I want you to study them and search for your face amid the leaves.

stubborn treeThis first I call the Tree of Determination. You might say it’s a young tree with an old soul. This is a rebellious Eastern Redbud, which sports radiant purple (go figure) flowers every spring. This tree has clearly experienced a recent tragedy, yet refuses to go quietly into that good night. Notice how tall and full its new growth is. There’s nothing meek or hesitant going on here. This is how we were meant to be, alive and vibrant, pushing forward despite the negative buffeting of the world around us, and despite the passing of those who went before us. It’s okay, and quite healthy, to mourn those who are no longer with us, but we can also honor them by taking what they left behind and letting it nourish our growth.

The second is this Tree of Hope, quite possibly a Red Maple, but I’m not a tree expert so don’t write that down. When a fire stripped this pitiful thing bare last summer, I was sure someone was sharpening the axe. But the owners, who are clearly wiser than I am, burned treepruned back the branches and let it rest over the winter. This spring there is evidence of hope. It put up a small patch of growth this year, perhaps all it can muster, as if timidly testing the environment. I will track this tree’s progress over the next few years, and reblog someday with hopefully a fantastic fall display. The lesson I take from this tree is, sometimes we know where we want to go, but we’ve been burned too many times to stick our neck out there. In that case, it’s okay to go slow. Do only as much as you can right now, but move forward. Fires can and may happen, but the likelihood that they will keep happening and in the same place is not great. That picture in your mind of where you’re going? That’s your dream. Do something every day that brings you closer. Don’t give it up, even if the world mocks you or knocks you down (see picture #1). It’s YOUR dream and they can’t have it.

 

 

Finally, we have the No-longer Imprisoned Tree. I have no idea of its species, because I boxed treewas too focused on the roots of this tree to examine the leaves. Here’s a fully functioning, helpful tree. It’s tall, and straight, and even supports a swing. A giver. At one time, though, its roots were apparently boxed and tightly constrained. Sadly, the message here is one I see all too often. Many of us were once boxed and tightly constrained, but although we’ve been set free, we haven’t moved a muscle. We function, day after day, provide care and nurturing for others, but we keep our own selves confined. What’s keeping us from stretching those limbs and experiencing the freedom we’ve yearned for? Other voices? Reminders? For me it was fear of failure. Or more precisely, fear of success. I worried that if I succeeded with my first book, I’d have nothing else to say, and I’d be found out a fraud. The voice I listened to said anyone can write one book, but only a “real author” can keep the words coming. I still worry sometimes, but I know the dream is still in my heart so I’m striving to be a purple Redbud tree.

My inspiration to keep moving forward, however, comes not from trees but from three women I greatly admire. My Tree of Determination friend is Erin Elizabeth Austin a writer friend who suffers from an often debilitating disease called Lupus. She refuses to let negative events of the world dictate how she will behave, and chooses to make every healthy minute of her life count by helping others and by blooming wildly. She has just released the 11th issue of “Broken but Priceless” magazine, an uplifting and encouraging magazine for people who have, or care for loved ones with, chronic illness. And in all this, she’s so danged funny, just like a purple Redbud tree.

Aimee Gross is my Tree of Hope. She’s a fellow blogger who suffers from mental illness and chronic depression, but she’s sticking her neck out there in hopes of reaching that one person who might be looking for help in this vast internet. Aimee has a physically demaanding day job, yet she writes to inspire others in her free time. Her main message is, you’re not alone. you can overcome, we can do this together.

And my Tree of No-longer Imprisoned? That would be Michele, a strong-willed, smart, big-hearted woman whose dreams are repeatedly squelched by buffeting storms. Some of the waves have even knocked her down at times, but she resolutely stands each time and braces for the next. What she can’t see, but her friends can, is that the waves are getting weaker, further apart, and the sea is ebbing. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when she realizes she can stretch out her limbs and take a step forward. Michele is not a writer (yet), but boy, does she have a story. I’ll keep you posted there as well.

So, a lot of words blogged today to ask, again, who are you deep-down, and what’s the next step in fulfilling your dream? I would love to hear your answers, unless there’s a “but” attached, because on this blog, we don’t sit on our buts.

—————————————————–

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

——————————————————

Book Signing Poster2Oh, two announcements! First, for those who live in the area, I will be co-sponsoring a book signing with Bea Fishback this Sunday (April 30), at Brew Republic Bierwerks in Woodbridge (near Wegman’s). If you can make it, please stop by between 1 and 3. Even if the idea of good books and fellowship doesn’t grab you, at least try the beer cheese pretzels or the crab dip—such a treat!

Breaking the Chains Cover_300 dpiAND, I’ve recently contributed two stories to the Lighthouse Bible Studies anthology “Breaking the Chains,” an uplifting place to start if anything in the blog above strikes a chord. This book addresses the spiritual attacks that keep us bound and believing things about ourselves that just ain’t true. If you want to take that first step forward, I’ll have books at the signing on Sunday, or you can order them here.

From the Peak of Round-to-it Mountain: Can’t I Just Sit Here and Enjoy the View?

6 Apr

Happy April!

I’ve missed you all so much. It’s hard to believe this page has been dormant more than three weeks, because it seems more like three months. I must admit, I approached this page with trepidation today, a little worried you may have found another blogger to spend your time with. I can’t say I blame you.

bootleg

Yep. I’m a trend setter! (In my defense, it looks a lot better when I stand…)

Do I start with an apology? An explanation?  A wild story about being imprisoned by the fashion police for wearing white ankle socks with short jeans? This last, sadly, could happen, as I keep my ankle socks closest to the front of the drawer (think lazy, pre-coffee dressing in the dark because it’s too early for major wattage) AND, all my jeans are too short, because longer ones tend to run wide, so I usually have to choose between the cinched trash bag look or the awkward strip of bare calf.

But no. My reason for ignoring my writing is much less dramatic, and much more pitiful than a prison stint in fashion jail.

You see, I’ve allowed busyness to rule my schedule rather than try to tame it with actual scheduling.

Why is this pitiful, you might ask? Well, because I’ve learned this particular lesson approximately seven thousand times now, and one might expect that at some point I would actually apply it to my lifestyle, but I can’t seem to get there.

From what I’ve learned, I apparently lack two critical talents required in the struggle to prevent busyness: a “no” button, and math skills. I love to help. I can help. I want to help. So, I tend to accept most requests for assistance. However, if I had an inkling as to how math really works, I might not so frequently accept a six-day project and pencil it in for Tuesday, or agree to a two-day edit when I’m leaving for the weekend.

Nor would I accept someone’s estimate that the piece they’re about to send me for editing is “not too long.” In my world, that phrase implies, say, an article explaining why, for the love of PETE, my no-longer-go-to dictionary has decided to change the definition of “literally” to include “figuratively.” (Not enough blank paper here to express my hidden emotions on that topic, so I’ll respectfully not approach the soap box.) However, I’m quickly learning that some folks think of “long” as the Oxford English Dictionary, and thereby, all other documents “short” by comparison. I’ve even annoyed people by not getting through their “short,” 150-page dissertation on the same day they sent it to me.

All this to say, I’m sorry I’ve been away, but my days have been ridiculously filled, and some of my nights even worse. At one point I became so busy, I actually wrote “Wash Hair” on my schedule, fearing it wouldn’t get done otherwise.

Yet learning has occurred. Let me tell you four other tidbits of wisdom I’ve acquired in the past three weeks.

best yes

It’s on the floor beside the desk because this is “To Do” Stack Number Two.

First, I will never finish it all. I find it particularly funny that my copy of the book “The Best Yes,” by Lysa TerKeurst, which teaches us to make wise, purposeful decisions for our time, is buried under a pile of paperwork I’m trying to work my way through. That’s akin to being notified by the library that your book on time management is overdue. However, I can accomplish more than I thought I could in a day (not that I really want to know that, for obvious reasons).

Second, my family is fantastic. They gave me space when I needed it, and gallantly ignored the increasing clutter and dust bunny piles throughout the house (although the jury’s still out as to whether they even noticed those – he who sees must take up the broom and all…) My husband, in particular, showed great empathy and support, mostly by letting me vent and not trying to “fix” my mess. He, too, had some trying schedules during this time. I will from here forward carry with me the sweet memory of one night after a particularly exhausting day, when both my husband and I settled down well after 10 p.m., realizing neither of us had eaten. He quickly boiled some pasta and coated it in parmesan cheese, and we nibbled sleepily while we watched nothing on television, then fell asleep, head-to-head, bowls in hand.

Third, I love (and need) to write more than I knew. I may edit well, and I can appreciate that this is where my bread and butter lies, but when I go too long without writing, my world becomes bleak and I become bleaker still. Creating gives me energy. It’s the gift God gave me for His purposes, but I often treat it like a “nice-to-have” instead of an assignment. Besides, spending all my time on other people’s creations makes me feel like a kid stuck inside during recess. I’m vowing here and now to put my own oxygen mask on regularly, so I can better serve others.

Finally, I’ve learned, again, that this is not the way God designed me to be. While all the projects I worked on over the past month were good, and I believe have the potential to DO good, I must learn to say no. God made us because He delights in us, pure and simple. To me, that means he enjoys watching me, so why would I want to spend my time frantically scurrying from task to task when I could be delighting in Him back? There are tasks He has set in front of me, specifically for me to do. They are all sitting on that “Best Yes” pile, and I’ll bet I’d be much less frenzied working on any one of them.

By God’s math, one can travel farther by slowing down, accomplish more by doing less, and live more fully by choosing simplicity over abundance.

Now that’s some math even I can appreciate.

——-

You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. — Haggai 1:9

Grandpa’s Laugh

6 Mar

I met Jerry L. Fitzsimmons, Sr. under unusual circumstances. I’d been engaged to his son for less than a week and we’d been driving through Kansas on our way to McCook, Nebraska in our ’66 Mustang to meet his grandparents. From there, we planned to drive to Denver to meet his parents.

We never made it to McCook.

Instead, we hit black ice in Hayes, Kansas and my fiancé was hospitalized in a tiny clinic in nearby Colby. His parents arrived in Colby the next morning, just as young Jerry was being loaded into a plane for emergency transport . . . back to Denver.

So, I got to know my future in-laws by myself, on the drive to Denver. I ended up staying with them at their house for the remainder of my 30-day leave, visiting my fiancé at the hospital every day and bringing home reports for them at night. They visited their son when they could, but the day-to-day pressures of life and raising two small children at the time seemed to tug at their time.

I hit it off with Jerry, Sr. right away, not knowing the extent of his brokenness. His son had never expounded on the depths of the chasm between the two of them, only telling me they’d had a “rough time” in his teens. I called him Grandpa and Old Man from the start, long before we even knew if his son would survive, or if we would, indeed, marry and actually make him a grandpa.

During those 30 days, Grandpa and I bonded. I could make him laugh, and I enjoyed doing so, because his laugh was deep and booming. He never said “yes,” but instead said, “that’s exactly right,” which tickled my ear for some reason. We spent hours each night chatting and laughing. During those 30 days, I never saw him drink to excess. Nor did I see evidence of the bridges he’d burned between himself and his children, or the extent to which they’d continue to burn.

The choices Grandpa made over the next 10-15 years would pull him even further from his “first” family, as he and Grandma divorced. Over those years, my by-then husband still didn’t discuss the chasm, and we rarely seemed to have time to visit. Only recently have the wounds between them begun to heal.

Granpa and the boys3

An old and rare photo of all my boys

In the years to follow, there were a few visits, stops during cross-country treks, “as long as we’re in the area,” but never specific trips to see him. And he came to see us in Virginia at least twice that I recall. All those visits were way too short. From those few moments spread out over 35 years, I must now draw all my memories of him. I already regret that I haven’t more, but we each chose, first through stubbornness and then through inaction, not to be closer. Because of that, his grandsons missed out on what could have been a sweet relationship. So did we.

Now, Grandpa’s laugh has been silenced. I’ll miss it tremendously, and will do everything in my power to remember the way it sounds, because it’s all I have.

Grudges and hurt feelings are tools that the world uses to keep us from enjoying love in its purest form, particularly among family. I think the greatest sadness to that truth is that restored relationships are often even more sweet than those with people we’ve loved freely all along, and so often we miss that. However, it takes tremendous courage to take that first step. While I’m glad, for my husband’s sake that he took that step, I will always mourn the years they lost.

I truly hope Grandpa left this world knowing that we do love him, that although we only understand a small bit of the battle he fought, we hold no grudge, and that, in our hearts, his booming laugh lives on.

Peace to you, Old Man. I pray you’ve found what you were searching for.

————–

 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32

Temporary Derailment: A Writer’s Nightmare

16 Feb

All is well now, although I have had to come to grips with a set-back of my own making. Here is an attempt at poetry to explain my absence. No more details needed…

Hard Drive Not Found

Hundreds of children, locked in the grains of a glimmering silver disk.

A plastic prison, inaccessible forever.

I brought them into the world, the scraps, the snippets, the draft chapters.

I toyed with them, entertained them, nurtured them.

Quotes, verses, hints, ideas, set aside to simmer.

Opening lines.

Inspiration.

All gone.

Think, think! I scream. There must be a way!

Capture them! Bring them back!

Character.

Aura.

Anything.

Finding only darkness.

And an awareness—they existed.

I used to ship the wee ones off to the mainland monthly.

I didn’t trust the airways, you see.

But I danced into the holiday season, a neglectful parent.

NaNoWriMo.

NoMo.

My children.

Do they ache for me the way I ache for them?

“I told you so,” said the world.
datanotfound

New Year, New Page, New Start

1 Jan

On this, the seventh day of Christmas, I received a most precious gift, as did you.

I stayed in bed this morning as long as I could, savoring the opening of it the way one unwraps a much-anticipated present—instead of tearing into the wrapping, I glided my metaphorical finger just under point where the paper overlaps and I nudged the tape until it released its hold.

Then I pulled back the wrap and lingered over the newness of it all, inhaling the scent of promise and potential.

It is here.

sunriseThe new year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean, with a freshness of clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud, and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.

In my heart, I’m staring in wonder at a book that contains 365 blank pages, and my heart can only smile.

Right now, the pages are unstained, unblemished in any way. I haven’t hurt anyone with my sarcasm all year. I haven’t said any words I cannot take back. I haven’t judged someone for being different. I haven’t broken a promise to a friend, or missed an opportunity to put aside my work to take a long walk with my husband.

At this moment, anything is possible.

In time, the pages will fill, some with heartache, others with joy and victory. I pray for more of the latter but understand it’s not my decision, just as I also know that, when the year ends, page after page will contain absolutely nothing—a chronicle of hours burned up on mindless tasks.

I resolve to turn the pages more purposefully this year. I pray I can record at the end of each day that I smiled more, laughed more, and loved more on that day’s page than on the one before it. I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

This year I will write a book, see more family, and meet new people. It’s going to be a blast.

How about you? What do you hope to put on your blank pages? Imagine the unimaginable with me, would you? Set your sights on the seemingly unattainable and laugh, because you can do it. Believe and make that first mark on the pristine page.

For no yearning is too big, no dream impossible on this, the first day.

—-

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

NaNoWriMo a No-Go…for now

17 Nov

I’m calling it A Hope Deferred because failure sounds so permanent.

More than two weeks into National Novel Writing Month have flown by with a whoosh, leaving me staring at my keyboard in puzzlement, wondering . . .

What the heck happened?

Not much, I’ll tell you that. I worked, as is evident by my blurry eyes and the onset of carpal tunnel. However, I worked on projects for others, and not myself. Somehow, the moment I committed my time to novel writing, nearly a year’s worth of “on-hold” commitments jumped out of the woodwork and into my email box. All worthy projects. Fulfilling work. Some even paying jobs. I like paying jobs.

nanomofail

The words are all in my head; I just have to write them down…

But none of which left time for novel writing. I tried, dutifully sitting down every morning and typing until the official start of my work day. I hoped to at least initiate some forward progress so that when the commitments ebbed I could catch up.

Word count? Again, not much. Let’s just say I stopped counting at 5,000 words.

My consolation: they’re good words, if I do say so myself. They’re only seeds right now, but they might grow to become part of something quite impressive. So far, I’ve crafted an opening scene, set up for twists and turns, established two solid characters and researched until I thought I’d burst from excess knowledge. Go ahead, ask me anything:

Can you unbuckle a seatbelt upside-down with your right hand? No. Can you suffer a concussion in a car accident, even when the air bag inflates? Yes. Does fog occur in Oklahoma? Yes. How many years does it take to become a doctor? 14 on average. How many artillery courses can a Marine go through at Fort Sill? Three. How does all this tie in? That’s for me to plot and you to find out.

If I ever finish writing the book, that is.

I’ve learned a lot though. First, because of all the research, writing fiction is harder than it looks. Many people have told me that, but I didn’t listen. Let’s just say I have a lot of experience filling out “official forms” and so believed writing fiction would come naturally. Anyway, I understand now that readers are willing to suspend belief to journey through the pages with me, but if the road takes them to that place of “not likely,” I’m going to lose them—roadside corn stands in February, hurricanes in Pittsburgh, a balanced budget in California—and they might not return. So, that slows me down a bit.

Second, writing fiction is a lot more fun than I expected. I’m holding a literary Gumby and I have the power to make him stand like a hero or I can split his legs into a heart shape over his head so he falls, quite awkwardly, into his soup. Bwa ha ha ha! It’s a scary responsibility—roller-coaster scary, not Cujo scary. Sometimes, just to mess with my characters, I’ll take one or two of them down a road they’d NEVER travel, just to see how long it takes before they stop, mid-sentence, and look at me with their hands on their hips and that unsportsmanlike “you-give-me-a-pink-holster-and-I’m-out-of-here” look. Geesh. As if I’d leave that in there. So, allowing my ADD side to play around slows me down some as well.

However, the primary tidbit of wisdom I’ve acquired is that I’m not going to make my goal. By the time I finish the side work in front of me, the Christmas season will be in full swing and I won’t be able to focus at all. So, rather than stuffing my work into a pity pantry and stomping off, I’ll just reiterate what I thought from the start: November is a silly month to write a novel. I’m hereby taking my novel-writing plan off the map of standard expectation and announcing that MY NaNoWriMo is January. Bring on the snow, lock me up, and send in a sandwich every few days–I’ll be fine.

To my fellow writers who are sticking it out, my hat is off to you. May your days be filled with inspiration and your fingers fly across the keyboard. Keep writing so I can live vicariously through your success until it’s my turn.

And my turn will come. Of this I’m certain.

——-

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9

NaNoWriMo: Will Words Escape Me?

1 Nov

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been
written yet, then you must write it.” —
Toni Morrison

November is National Novel Writing Month. I have no idea why, just go with me on this. Anyway, this is a writers’ challenge which suggests that if we commit to writing 1,667 words every day (11,660 per week), we’ll have written a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month.

That is not to say it will be a marketable novel, but certainly will form the framework for a novel that might become a decent read after we’ve edited it five or ten times.

Frankly, November is quite possibly the worst month to dedicate to such a writing feat. Aside from Veterans Day weekend, Thanksgiving week and all the prep that entails, and the looming leaf-raking weekend I won’t be able to dodge, I’m editing three projects, I’m on the hook to write two stories (and quite possibly four) this month, and I have family commitments out the wazoo—some of which I’m actually looking forward to.

I mean, why not February? My work load is nearly nil and I stay indoors the entire month of February.

Which is why, every November, when I feel that familiar tug to join the 300,000+ writers out there who are taking the pledge, I take one look at my over-filled plate defer the dream yet again. In some ways, I’m a lot like that young career-minded couple trying to decide when to have that baby…it’s never the perfect time.

Which is why, this year, I say NO!

To the deferment, that is.

I want in.

halloween-candy

The common denominator behind all my fantastic and awful ideas.

Because I don’t want to push the dream aside any more. I want to push myself instead. Many other reasons lie behind my decision to take on this challenge, some of which are a tad complicated. For one, there’s a giant bucket of leftover Halloween candy on the kitchen table, and I never make rational decisions when stuffed with chocolate.

For another, I’m yearning to write something of my own. Although I absolutely love ghost writing, and I hope to go back to it at some point, I keep wondering what I could accomplish from scratch if I tried.  I am working on a serious, semi-factual book, but it requires tons of reading and research, and, at some point, interviews with family members. It’s so personal, though, that I consider it actual work, while NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun.

For another, there are people in my head just begging me to bring them to life. The racket they’re making up there keeps me awake at night. Well, that and the Halloween candy I keep snitching at bedtime. (Yes, I started in as soon as we purchased it—doesn’t everyone?)  For the most part, my head characters are patiently waiting their turn. But not Angus. I’ve had Angus, the truck driver, on hold for nearly a year. He’s up there right now, leaning on his horn, pulling the lollypop from his red-bearded face to howl (accompanyied by his border collie side-kick), “I ain’t gettin’ any younger here, lassie!” You see, Angus REALLY wants to me to help him get to know Katy, a single mom who works the customer service counter at the grocery store, but I keep letting the air out of his tires so he has to stay put. Alas, it’s still not his turn.

Instead, this November, a young Marine sergeant who has been languishing in a corner of my brain nursing a bottle of Coors gets to learn why his grandmother had to die in the tornado. Yes, I think I’d like to let him find out. Primarily because I’d like to know, too.

Finally, I’m making this commitment because the consequences of failure dawned on me the other day: What’s the worst that can happen? I might only finish half a novel by the month’s end? What a travesty that would be! Basically, there’s no way to lose here.

Am I worried? To be honest, I’m terrified. I’ve been talking about writing my own novel for many years. I feel as if this time I have no net beneath me. I cannot blame my success or failure on someone else’s lack of storytelling. It’s all me, baby.

And if I don’t have what it takes?

If my story has no point?

If it’s not entertaining?

If I can’t think of a satisfying ending?

So be it. I have to at least try. I take comfort in young Solomon’s plight after his father, King David, gave him the kingdom and with it, the responsibility to build God’s temple. Considering that this was a temple that even David, a man after God’s own heart, hadn’t been deemed qualified to build, it must have looked like a daunting task to Solomon, and it would be the first task of his new kingship, not something he could work up to. Solomon asked for wisdom and plowed forward. I shall do the same.

I will write you all a weekly update, and I promise to fess up if I miss the mark. Or all the marks. I don’t know whether 11,669 words a week are possible, considering I won’t be writing Tuesdays and Sundays. Now, I’m not a math whiz, but this brings my 1,667 daily goal to, um…divide this, carry that…well, um way more than 1,667 a day, but I’ll try.

Hold me to this, please. If you see me out and about (which you shouldn’t since I’ll be chained here), please ask me how it’s going. If nothing else, my urge to avoid your collective inquiries might keep me in my chair.

Right next to this annoying bowl of Halloween candy… which we will definitely have to refill soon.

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David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. –1 Chron 28:20

 

A Story is Born: From the Remnants Just Released

12 Sep

It’s official!

Today Cathy Schrader and I released “From the Remnants, A Story of Light and Hope.

bookcover

Click on Book Cover to Order! …And thank you. 🙂

It is the true story of Cathy’s journey from heart-shattering brokeness to a place of healing and purpose.

This book is for anyone whose faith in God has been tested by the sudden and unexplainable loss of a loved one. Although we all race through life understanding its inherent brevity, we sometimes take for granted the days we’re given to share with those we love. We choose our paths based on what we expect they hold for us. However, God, in his sovereign mercy, knowing infinitely more about our journey than we do ourselves, sometimes allows devastation in our lives by calling our loved one to Himself sooner than we could have predicted, turning those paths into dead-end roads, and thereby prompting that age-old question:

Why, God?

This book responds with the age-old answer:

We don’t know.

Because we’re not God.

However, sometimes, if we press forward through the anger and pain, and we resolve to retain our faith despite the apparent senselessness of it all, we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture—an aerial view, so to speak—of our lives and purpose through His eyes.

This vision may not, and probably won’t heal the scars of our suffering, but it’s not supposed to. Those scars brought us to the place we are, to a place of awareness that we are not the author of our own destiny, but that we can walk with the One who is. And when we walk with Him, we can know we’re on the course he intended for us to travel. Only then can we truly receive the joy and peace He has placed along the way.

I invite you to walk briefly along Cathy’s path, and to discover as she did, that God’s ways are not our ways, but when we trust him, they tend to be just a tad better…

Blessings and Happy Reading!

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Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:19-21

Teachers: Perpetual Sowers of an Unseen Harvest

6 Sep

Every September I get this colossal sense of wonder and gratitude regarding the men and women to whom we’ve entrusted the minds and dreams of our children. Where would we be without these wonderful people who can explain concepts to our children that, let’s face it, we don’t understand ourselves? Some of the concepts that elude me include the binary code, why Pluto isn’t a planet, and, if atoms are made up of 99.9% empty space, how can we touch things? And the greatest mystery of all: math.

Teachers Rock.

Have you stopped to think about this lately? They have the power to inspire, crush, see, ignore, challenge, nurture, and motivate our children, and they are the ones who actually teach our children what they need to know to make it to the next milestone and beyond. That’s a power we shouldn’t take lightly, but pray about and praise when we find the ones with that extra something. I’m excited to think that someone my son has just met may be the person he looks back on with gratitude, the one who first recognized his gift and planted those first seeds of encouragement that turned into a career.

Yes, that teacher will always be special, the way I still remember Mr. DeRobbio handing my essay back to me in the 9th grade and saying, “You might want to consider becoming a writer.” But he alone didn’t bring me to this place. It took years of passionate, patient, sorely overworked and underpaid teachers, each adding seeds of wisdom and encouragement to the pot to make a whole me. And behind the scenes were hundreds of administrators and support staff collecting data, answering phones, shelving books, fixing lunches, and mopping floors to ensure we had a healthy, safe, and nourishing environment for learning. (I’m married to a man we all call The Lunchroom Lady, so he gets props too!)

Consider the blog page you’re reading right now. The very fact that I can string 900 words together for you to and you can actually read a 900-word blog (I know, I know, you just look at the pictures, but you could if you wanted to) says we had some pretty good teachers. Mr. DeRobbio not only encouraged even my weirdest writing in high school (I’ve read some recently and wondered what he could possibly have been thinking), but he also introduced me to that beautiful creature: the short story, and he led me to write for the school paper. The rest is history.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’m able to set the words on the page thanks to ten months in Mrs. Mahoney’s Typing 101 class, where we sat in rows before our enormous gray Smith-Corona Super Sterlings chanting “A S D F Semi L K J!” (Sure, kids today can two-thumb the Gettysburg Address in the time it took me to slide the carriage return, but at least I know what the MR key does. . . did. . . whatever.)

And speaking of the Gettysburg Address, I wouldn’t have been able to slide that snarkism in there were it not for Mr. Delgado, my history teacher (whose funky wrap-around comb-over and snow-drift dandruff shoulders are hauntingly unforgettable). Mr. D managed to make the American Revolution and Civil War come alive for me, and give me an appreciation for back story, and his sense of humor taught me that writing needn’t be boring.

Even my math and science teachers contributed. (Strange, but I cannot remember the names of any of my math or science teachers. Is that a writer’s subliminal rebellion?) These people whose ways are alien to me taught other people enough about math and coding to hold this webpage together without duct tape, and enough about circuits, components, electricity, batteries, and that mysterious binary code to make computers, thereby eliminating the need for an MR key. They inspired the kinds of imaginations that made search engines work so you can find me, and some mystical network of tubing under the oceans that keeps the lines of communication humming, and don’t even get me started on touch-screen technology, because I’m already way over my head here. All of this so I can entertain you for ten minutes once a week and hopefully inspire you to read my books.

Seagul in the mist

They teach us to fly, but know not where we land…

Fascinating, don’t you think? But I’d like you to consider something else all those wonderful people have in common: Most teachers share your hopes and dreams for your children, yet never find out whether those dreams were realized. They’ve sown thousands of seeds over the years, and they may have set hundreds of young men and women on right paths, but how many of their former students ever report back?

I contacted Mr. DeRobbio back in 1993 when the Marine Corps named me Print Journalist of the Year, and I thanked him for making it possible. He was thrilled to learn that I not only wrote for a living but had achieved a measure of success, and he struck up a regular correspondence, even coming to Virginia to visit me once. When he passed away a few years ago, I could grieve without regretting that he never knew what his passion had produced in at least one of his students.

Is there a teacher in your past who deserves a thank-you note? I challenge you to get in touch if you still can, and congratulate that person on a job well done, because you turned out GREAT!

Even if it’s a math teacher.

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Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. –Deuteronomy 32:2