2006 In Review

As for us all, the end of the year affords a look back. In the span of twelve months, what challenges have I met and mastered? What has tripped me up? Where have I persevered? Where have I fallen short?

So many things come to mind as I consider 2006, but I’ll stick to writing for this venue. For the second year now, I set up a spreadsheet in January to track my writing productivity. I do it for two reasons: to keep myself accountable for actual writing time and to look back and realize (hopefully) that all the time snatched here and there added up to a measurable accomplishment. (I tweak the stats I keep each year to show this more accurately.)

And guess what? It continues to work. Not only did I revel in being able to log in numbers of words written, pages revised and critiqued, and books read, but as I entered the function equations to total my numbers for the year, I was shocked! Little does add up to a lot!

Given the circumstances of the year—my nephew’s heart surgery, selling and buying a house and moving—I felt some frustration at my lack of writing time. But feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality. In the midst of this crazy year, I wrote almost 7,000 more new words than last year! Add to that over 1500 pages rewritten or critiqued and 54 books read and I’d say I have nothing to be frustrated about!

Isn’t God good? Only He could have turned my offering of a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish into basket loads left over. I gave Him what I had, doing what He asked me to do, and He multiplied my effort above anything I could have imagined.

So tomorrow I’ll set up my spreadsheet for 2007, adding in new columns for research and pre-writing time spent—to keep myself accountable, but also so that at the end of next year I will again be able to see the grace of God in my life.


Another Christmas is relegated to memory. This one will not be forgotten for several reasons: for the stressful situations leading up to it, for it being our first in this house and the first with family nearby. It was the year of Dad’s big birthday bash—Celebration Station with all the kids and grandkids. He even played Laser Tag for the first time (the adults skunked the older kids.)

Today we are all a bit sluggish—watching movies, playing video games, trying to figure out all the electronic gadgets we got for Christmas, scarfing down leftovers. Down time is good. We can reflect on the past year and plan for the coming one.

But our respite won’t last long. Thursday we begin a two-day varsity basketball tournament. Tuesday is the first district game. Middle school basketball kicks into gear the next weekend with a tournament, too.

But basketball means school begins again. And when the kids return to classes, I can get back into my routine of writing. More on that later.

For now, I hope you and your family had a Christmas you will always remember.


A Request

If you are reading this, please stop and say a prayer for me. I am under an extreme amount of stress at the moment dealing with a family situation that roller-coasters up and down. I’m stretched to my limit. I’m begging the Lord for answers.

More after Christmas.

I hope.


Just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse (last week was an incredibly emotional week) . . .


I got rear-ended today.

The repair is estimated to take 2-3 weeks.

And I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping!


A Gift of Hope

I admit it. I’ve wondered if I have what it takes for this writing thing. I mean, did God really gift me in this area or am I like the kid trying out for every NBA team because he has a dream, not realizing he lacks the talent level?

This week I got two rejections. Nothing new. Rejections are a way of life in the writing business. But these two were different.

I’ve had nice rejections before—the kind that are polite and personally written rather than a form letter. But never have they been as bittersweet or as personal as these two. Both came from well-respected people in the CBA. Both highly complimented my writing. Both left the door wide open for future submissions to them. But in the end, both rejected me.

I followed up with one and received further, unsolicited encouragement to keep working, that my writing was at the publishable level, I just hadn’t hit the right story and the right time yet.

The Lord knew I needed to hear that. I needed those words from Him through another to sweep away the discouragement that has nagged at my heart. It showed me yet again the power of words, especially written words—words in a medium that can be reviewed again and again without elapsed time to skew them into more or less than they originally were.

Last Christmas, the Lord gave me a gift on the 23rd—an acceptance of a short story for publication. This year He gave me another, in the form of two rejections that infused me with hope.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about anyway? Baby Jesus in the manger, God in human form. He is our ultimate Hope.


An Early Resolution

Looking back over the last few posts, p.C. (pre-Christmas), I realized I’ve been a bit whiney lately. Yuck!

So here is my early resolution: NO MORE WHINING!!

My life is my life. So what if I can’t write as many hours a day as I would like? The fact of the matter is I still write consistently. And I ponder. While I drive kids I think through story lines, get to know characters. In snippets of quiet moments I jot down conversations that have drifted my way and situations I’ve observed. And I read—good books that will raise my standards and not-so-good books that exemplify how not to write—while I wait for ball games to begin or kids to pile in my car or a friend who is running late for lunch. (Sometimes even at a red light—but don’t tell!)

All of the above is writing work, even if it doesn’t net me a certain number new words every day. And until I have a deadline staring me in the face, I need to embrace the flexibility my writing affords.

So good-bye whiney writer. I’m leaving you in late 2006. This writer—one of the five bazillion other writers in the world—is moving forward, past whining to contentment.


My most favorite Christmas book is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. In my growing up years, we often spent Christmas vacation traveling to Colorado for a week of skiing. Reading this book aloud became one of our Christmas traditions. I would read, laughing and crying along with every one else.

Fast-forward thirty or so years. Last night I watched my daughter perform in the play "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." A group of high school students brought Beth and Alice and Mrs. Armstrong and the Herdmans to life before my eyes. My daughter was Gladys, the youngest, meanest Herdman who infuses the role of the Angel of the Lord in a traditional Christmas pageant with much enthusiasm. (That's her in the picture. She had a blast looking dirty and mean!) I laughed, I cried. I remembered just how wonderful this story is. I’m ready to pull the slim volume from my bookcase and relive it once again.

It’s a short book, one you can read aloud in an hour or so. If you haven’t read it, or haven’t read it in a long time, give yourself and your family a treat for the holidays and enjoy it together. I promise you won’t be disappointed!


Christmas Movies

One of our favorite holiday traditions is the watching of Christmas movies between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. It gets to be a bit challenging finding evenings with enough free time for a full length movie given that it is also basketball season for all three of my kids, but we always manage.

I have a collection of about 10 of our favorites. So far we’ve watched Elf and Holiday Inn. Okay, so you’re probably scratching your head and wondering about us right now. I mean, Will Ferrell and Bing Crosby? Who enjoys both? The answer: I do!

My definition of a good Christmas movie involves a couple of criteria. Number one: it has to have SOMETHING to do with the Christmas season. My boys question Holiday Inn on these grounds, but I think the song “White Christmas” and the fact that the movie begins on Christmas Eve and ends on the next New Year’s Eve, qualifies. Second, it must have a moment that makes me teary-eyed.

I’ve seen Elf several times, but the end always gets me. I always cry, in spite of Ed Asner as Santa Claus (or maybe because of!). And when Bing shows up on the Hollywood set and gets the girl with the song “White Christmas,” well, it’s hard to beat that.

Today I received the DVD version of one of my favorites: Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck. It goes in the unwatched stack of eclectic holiday movies including: Veggie Tales The Star of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated Dr. Seuss version), It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street (ONLY the Natalie Wood/Maureen O’Hara version, thank you), The Homecoming (the very first Waltons movie and a MUST for every writer), While You Were Sleeping, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and, of course, A Christmas Carol (the Alastair Sim version.)

So have a missed any Christmas-time tear-jerkers? What is your favorite Christmas movie? I hope you find time to watch it with you family—preferably with a sweet treat and a roaring fire.


The Advent of Christmas

I love Christmas. I love the decorations and the celebrations and buying gifts for all the people I love.

We try to make time for Christmas parades and charitable shopping as a family. I love the baking—which my daughter does so well. And the eating—which I do way too well. I love a crackling fire on a cold winter’s night, a Christmas movie or music playing, a hot drink in my hand.

I love traditions. Some of our traditions come from my family of origin. Things like the candy-tied-on countdown to Christmas calendars my kids use that are just like the one I used as a child and setting each child’s Santa gifts and stocking in a different part of the living room on Christmas morning.

Some come from my husband’s family. Like opening a gift on Christmas Eve.

Others are all our own. Like attending a Christmas Eve service and watching our store of Christmas movies through the month of December.

Most of all, I love watching those around me enjoy the sparkle and wonder and laughter that tends to abound in December. I love imaging the birth of my Savior on a starry night in a rude stable, Mary and Joseph trembling with awe and probably more than a little fear.

I even love waxing nostalgic about the past year as it wanes, remember the goodness of God in bringing us through times of trial as well as times of abundant blessing.

So my prayer for you—and for all of us—is that the wonder and joy of Christ’s birth be evident all season long. And that it would amaze us in new and surprising ways.


The Susans

I’ve read a lot of books over the past couple of months. Two were standouts. Both authored by women named Susan. Both of whom I met at ACFW this year.

Susan Meissner’s A Seahorse in the Thames was a lovely read. Its characters enthralled me with their depth and vulnerability. She drew me in from the first scene and never let go. I met Susan briefly at ACFW and she seemed to be as lovely a person as her words suggest. I’m looking forward to tracking down some of her other work.

Susan May Warren’s Sands of Time convinced me that I could like romantic suspense. It sat on the bottom of the stack of books I brought home from ACFW, and after reading several not so inspiring books, I reached for Sands of Time as I ran out the door for a road trip—not expecting much, especially the time to read it. But we hit traffic. And I’m so glad we did! Susan’s book was suspenseful and insightful. It gripped and held me. And I didn’t find myself editing it in my head! What a joy! I sat next to Susan at the awards banquet at ACFW. Delightful woman. Funny, kind, inspiring. The kind of person who could be a friend. I will definitely find more of her stories to cuddle up with this winter.

So do yourself a favor—consider trying a book by a Susan. Meissner or May Warren. Either will be a treat to remember.


My Thanks

For a daughter who is growing up,

For sons who stand for right,

For a husband who is in my court,

For my Lord and His sacrifice.

For friends who make life’s journey fun,

For family who always cares,

For writers who’ve encouraged me,

For dreams I’ve learned to dare.

For all these things I’m thankful,

These things make me glad

That I know the One to be thankful to—

The One who holds my life in His hand


It's a Season

Just a season. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Not the holiday season.

Or basketball season.

Not the flu season or the season of the year.

It’s a life season. Perhaps you know the one. It’s the all-of-my-kids-are-busy-and-none-of-them-can-drive season. I haven’t felt this discombobulated since all three were in the toddler-preschool years! I know part of my frustration is coming to an end soon—four months, to be exact, when we go from 15, 13, 12 to 16, 14, 12. But that doesn’t help me now.

Even moving closer to school, I feel like my days are spent running here, there, and everywhere. I keep reminding myself that when your kids are close in age, this happens. At least I’m not dragging a little one around while I do it!

The real problem is it cuts into my writing time. And I do know which is more important—so I drive. But I get restless inside after days of not writing. I feel jittery and anxious. Nothing a day with my characters wouldn’t fix, but when?

So I have high hopes for Thanksgiving week. No school. No sports practices. Amidst a doctor’s appointment on Monday, a birthday party on Monday/Tuesday, cooking for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, eating and visiting with family for Thanksgiving on Thursday, and a football playoff game on Saturday, maybe I can manage to put words on the page.

Or not.


Moaning and Groaning

I really didn’t mean to torture myself. I knew the week after my writing frenzy, I’d need to catch up on things like laundry and grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, etc. No writing allowed. So I did the next best thing—I picked up a writing book to read between times.

Big mistake.

NEVER read a writing book right after you’ve sent off a manuscript! I’ve moaned and groaned my way through Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel as the deficiencies of my sent story become clear. I found myself lamenting “if only.”

But alas, the deed is done. I must take a deep breath and begin work on another story, this time taking into account the things I’ve both learned and been reminded of as I read on writing. Every story gets stronger—at least that’s the goal. I want my final work to be eons above my first one.

It’s a more “normal” week at my house. Time to get back into routine. Time to pound out words on another story. Explore other characters. See what the Lord has for me to learn this time around—about writing, about myself, about Him.


In the Mail

I handed my baby to the postal worker this afternoon. I left it reluctantly, even though I feel better about this book than any other I’ve written thus far. In fact, I went back to my car and cried. I’ve never done that before. Usually when I send things off, I’m anxious, jittery. This time, however, thankfulness welled up in me. I cried because finishing this book has been a deeply spiritual experience.

Last Friday, my task seemed impossible—finish the revisions on this book to fulfill a request from an agent. I sent an e-mail to a group of friends and family that have been praying for my writing for a couple of years.

And guess what?

They prayed!

How do I know? I felt the result of their prayers. Strength and stamina that could have only come from the Lord flowed through me each new—always spent by evening, but renewed each morning. The story crystallized under my fingers. Although I wrote 6-9 hours a day, from last Saturday to yesterday, I also managed to feed my family, cheer at my sons’ last football game, be at a family birthday party, attend church and my weekly prayer group, and have lunch with a friend. No way I could have done all that (and been fairly nice to my family in the process) without the Lord doing it through me.

My faith grew this week. My realization that God has indeed gifted me in the area of writing grew as well. (Even in the hard work of it, I loved playing with words and spending time with my characters!) I drove away from the post office with overwhelming peace. Whatever happens with this book—or any of my writing—is completely in the hands of the Lord.

After all God has done this week, I believe that more than ever before.


Trial Run

I guess you could say I’m on a “trial run” this week. I’m finishing the revisions of my legal drama manuscript so I can put it in the mail. It’s the first time I’ve felt like a real deadline loomed over me. So this week is a test. Can I handle it? Can my family?

I have to admit, God has been abundantly gracious in giving me this particular week as a trial run. One child is out of town for three days. My sister fixed us dinner one night. It’s the last week of football so I don’t have kids from 8 am to 5 pm and the last game is Saturday instead of Tuesday.

I’m making much better progress than I expected, although I still have a ways to go. I know it is the result of so many people praying for me this week. (I owe you big time!) My dry eyes have endured four hour stretches of staring at the computer. The words have flowed. Plot points have crystallized.

And I’ve finally, after six years of trying to write consistently, hit on a schedule that works for me: three to four hours on, two hours off—preferably away from the house, then three to fours hours on, etc. Okay, so it probably wouldn’t work for weeks on end, but I know now that I can make that work in crunch time.

So think of me this week, hunkered down in my dining room, pages spread all over the table, the desk chair behind the table, typing away. I hope to come up for air by this weekend!


Belated Blog Birthday Bash

(Don’t you love alliteration?)

I can’t believe I missed my blog birthday! A year ago—October 5, 2005, to be exact—my blog entered the world.

I wondered if anyone would read it. I wondered if I would have anything to say.

Amazingly, I’ve found things to say. Even more amazingly, I’ve found readers in the most unusual places. I’ve found other writers who share their words with me while I share mine with them. I’ve found out that friends and family, unbeknownst to me, keep up with me here. Some of you I’ve met face-to-face. Some I hope to meet in the future.

And since so many of my friends, old and new, blog also, for this birthday, I’d like to give you all a present: I’m going to expand my links list to include all the blogs I frequent these days—albeit weekly now instead of daily, due to the growing list. So look for the expanded list by this weekend. Maybe your name will be on it. (Or maybe you need to tell me you’re here and I’ll start reading you, too.)

Thank you for encouraging me this year. I hope in some small way my words have encouraged you.

Happy birthday to my blog!

I love it that you meet me here.


To Move Forward or Stay Still?

I’ll admit it. I’m afraid.

It’s not like I haven’t been rejected before. Many times, in fact. But there is something about an agent’s rejection that hurts worse.

I know that doesn’t make much sense. After all, just because an agent wants to represent you doesn’t mean you will get published. Or at least, not anytime soon. But there’s this gut feeling I have that I won’t get published until I have an agent—someone out there schmoozing on my behalf, championing my work, getting it in front of publishers.

But I can’t get an agent until I actually sent query letters to them. And here’s where the fear has paralyzed me. There are three names swimming around in my head. Two I’ve met at conferences. One would be a completely cold query. In all three cases, I’ve procrastinated sending anything.


Am I afraid of more rejection by agents? It feels so much more personal from an agent. Or is it the opposite? Am I really afraid that I’m getting close, that one of these people will actually say the words “I want to represent you”? Am I more afraid of failure—or success?

The fact of the matter is that after over three years of sending out my work to be considered for contests and publication, I’m used to failure. I’m okay with it. It doesn’t devastate me like it did at first. It just seems par for the course. Sure, I’ve had some successes along the way with short stories and articles, and that has felt good. But I’m comfortable here.

What if my book is really at the publishable point? I’ve listened to so many published authors relate struggles with deadlines and edits and marketing and sales numbers that I don’t have a romantic view of publishing anymore. In fact in many ways, it terrifies me.

So what to do? Quit? Stay in my comfort zone? Or keep moving forward, in spite of my fear? If I’ve learned anything in my life over the past few years, it’s that God works in my weakness. He uses my fear to draw me to Him and to keep me humble. If He has truly called me to this—to writing—then I have no choice. I have to walk the road, in spite of my fear.

I have to move forward and trust the Lord who sees what lies around the bend.


Connectivity Issues

I can't use my DSL. Apparently my modem is defective. My 5-month-old modem. The helpful people at AT&T informed me it would be 5-7 business days before my new one will arrive. No possiblity of overnighting the thing. Not even if I paid for it. "It's in the system, ma'am. There's nothing we can do to speed it up." Now it's dial up or use someone else's. So I'm at my parents house right now.

The thing is, in this day and age, with our dependence on the Internet for business (my husband often works from home, as do I) and schools (grades, emailing teachers, homework updates, etc), you'd think the companies would understand that even a day without access is more than just inconvenient. You could miss something important! And of course we have delivery companies that span the globe in a matter of hours, but apparently AT&T refuses to use them--even if it means happier customers. The almighty dollar still reigns supreme in American corporations. And we all pay with our time.

I wish I could switch--take my business elsewhere--but with the hassle of the changeover and the fact that we have an entire package of services with them, I don't think it will happen. Instead, I'll spend the next few days fuming as I travel around in search of an internet connection, praying the UPS driver pulls up to my house sooner than expected.


Continuation on a Theme

Continuing on the theme of my previous post, writers as friends, I finished Wishing on Dandelions by Mary DeMuth last night. Unlike the others mentioned in my last post—authors who are friends in my mind, not in the sense of a mutually giving friendship—Mary is a true friend. A what’s-going-on-in-your-life friend. An I’ll-pray-for-you friend. A let’s-room-together-at-the-conference friend.

What a privilege to cheer a friend from obscurity to acclaimed publication, to know and understand her progress from conception of the story (non-fiction or fiction) to finished product—5 times! I find such joy in my friend Mary as a person. And that joy overflows into my friend Mary as a writer.

I read Wishing on Dandelions for the first time as it spilled from Mary’s head onto the page. The second time, I read the entire book in almost one sitting—just before she turned it in to the publisher.

This time, I held an actual book in my hands and savored the experience. The language still enthralled me. And the story moved me yet again.

Maranatha’s story continues from Watching the Tree Limbs, but now Maranatha is 17, on the cusp of womanhood, and still dealing with the pain of the past. But in spite of hard times, and fear of good times, she ultimately comes to realize that Jesus does love her, even though His love is sometimes of the “I want you to grow” kind.

To watch Maranatha struggle and change from the first page to the last reminds me that we all have “green ‘mater years,” as Mama Frankie says—years when we are not quite ripe yet, years when someone or some circumstance wants to pluck us before we are ready. But like Maranatha, we must come to an unshakeable faith in Jesus’s love. We must come to understand that our difficulties don’t prove God is against us, they re-emphasize His love for us. At a pivotal time in my own life, I felt the Lord say “I love you so much that I can’t let you remain where you are.” That same theme comes through loud and clear in Maranatha’s story.

Read it. You will laugh. You will cry. But most of all, you will come away encouraged that God is there, He is working, and His love for you overarches it all.


Authors as Friends

There is a coffee mug at Barnes and Noble that one of these days I’m going to buy. It says, “Choose an author as you would a friend.” I love that. In fact, it is the way I choose many of the contemporary authors I read.

It’s why I love going to conferences and meeting writers. Of course, the real issue is that I’m a cheapskate. I don’t want to pay $10, $15, $20 for a book and then hate it. So I wait. But even good reviews don’t push me over the edge the way connecting with an author does. Whether listening to their heart as they teach or connecting through actual conversation, when I find an author I enjoy as a person, I’m much more inclined to spend my money on their book. That’s why I bought my first Brandilyn Collins book a couple of years ago, even though I’m really not a suspense reader, and a Randy Ingermanson book, even though time travel isn’t my niche either. It was the same with Meredith Efken, Rene Gutteridge, Kristen Billerbeck, and others. When I read their books, it is like listening to a friend.

So I came home from the conference with a whole new group of friends for my bookcase. Susan Meissner, Deanna Gist, Susan May Warren, Deborah Gypanog. And each one is calling to me as a friend.


With Fear and Trembling

Pursuing your passion can be a scary thing.

The first writers conference I attended, I took my very first completed novel. It was historical in nature, though not a true romance in content. I had some good reaction—and some bad. Ultimately, the agent who requested it declined to represent me.

So I moved on. I wrote a women’s fiction with an element of suspense. It was a story I knew God put on my heart. It caused me to work through some of my own faith issues as I wrote. I went to another writers conference. Had good feedback, but ultimately, rejections.

Then my husband jumped in the picture. He asked me to write a legal drama. I did. By its merit, I became a Genesis finalist—but it didn’t go any further. I have a couple of requests for this, as well as the knowledge that it is a hot topic, therefore a greater possibility of interest. But while at the conference, I remembered my passion: historical fiction.

I have always loved history. I majored in it in college. I’ve always read that genre first—even sometimes before the classics, which I love. In middle school, I wanted to write historical Christian fiction. That was before Janette Oke. Before that market exploded.

So the question: do I pursue my passion or the market? Historicals abound. The competition for a few spots is fierce. If I found a different outlet, perhaps I could find success more quickly—but at what price?

So after a unbelievable turn of events where I actually have a request for my historical as a romance, I am rewriting, rekindling that passion that brought me to the place of pouring my life into words on a page.

I’m attempting to pursue my passion in spite of the fear that it will never amount to anything more than forgotten files on a languishing laptop.



If you write fiction and have never gone to an ACFW conference, you’ve missed a treat. It feels like spending the weekend with 400 of your closest friends. It feels like a fun family reunion.

I’ve been to Christian writing conferences before, but never to anything like this. The emphasis on your relationship with the Lord is paramount. Opportunities for worship and prayer abound. Editors and published writers alike were accessible and encouraging, their humility worn like a pair of old pajamas.

I came home mulling over many things. My writing schedule. My writing goals. My pursuit of craft. My pursuit of the Lord.

I also came home with new friends—real people attached to names I’ve seen on email loops or blogs as well as some that were new altogether.

I didn’t place in the Genesis contest. And you know what? It didn’t ruin my weekend. Although I was disappointed, I wasn’t devastated. It let me know I still have some work to do, still have a goal to shoot for.

I had good appointments and disappointing ones with editors and agents, but those didn’t color my weekend, either. God has really been doing something over the past year and half, because this weekend a rejection of my writing did not feel like a rejection of ME. Nor did an encouraging word send me soaring to unrealistic heights. And that is major improvement. I no longer need success to validate me.

My validation is in Jesus—and it never changes.


Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

. . . it’s off to conference I go—ACFW conference. And, of course, things whip into a frenzy of craziness before time to leave.

I’ve been feeling better about going—maybe because it’s my third conference and I’m beginning to know what to expect, what to focus on. And because I am a Genesis finalist, for the first time I don’t feel like an imposter at a writers conference!

But even with the confidence of being a Genesis finalist, I’m nervous. I wasn’t—until this week. Now the Saturday night awards ceremony looms before me. Will I smile and clap as other people’s names are called and my heart sinks into my shoes? Or will my dreams come true, my name be called, and my stomach churn at the thought of saying even one word in front of 400+ people?

In the long run, I know it doesn’t really matter. If and when the Lord wants my books published, they will get published—somehow. If He just wants to teach me things through the process of writing or if He just wants me to be friends with and pray for other writers, I’m okay with that. I have to be. I can’t make anything happen.

So I’m going this weekend with that thought overriding all the rest. I want to enjoy each moment, each relationship that God brings my way. And if, in the end, it leads to publication, I’ll be thrilled. If not, I’ll still be satisfied.


A Chat With Author Mary DeMuth

I’m so excited to kick off the blog tour for Mary DeMuth’s Wishing on Dandelions, which is available, for the first time, TODAY! Wishing on Dandelions is the sequel to Mary’s critically acclaimed first novel, Watching the Tree Limbs.

Set against the backdrop of a small Texas town, Maranatha maneuvers her seventeenth year still haunted by the sexual abuse of her childhood. But you’ll have to read Wishing on Dandelions to discover Maranatha’s story. We’re here today to talk to the author (and my friend), Mary DeMuth.

Me: Mary, this book deals with difficult subject matter: childhood sexual abuse and its residual affects. How did this book emerge?

Mary: My passion is to write about redemption through the avenue of story. I started the first book, Watching the Tree Limbs, in a flurry. In my mind I saw the streets of Burl and a girl who didn’t know where she came from. Because my personal story involves different instances of sexual abuse, I wanted to write a story that showed the reader how God could intersect an abuse-victim’s life and make a difference.

Me: So why another Maranatha novel?

Mary: Well, she kept talking to me, that persistent girl! I sold two books to NavPress, one being Watching the Tree Limbs and another yet-to-be-determined. I asked if they'd be willing to do another Maranatha, and they agreed. It's been my heart in these books to show the progression of difficulty and yet God's healing for a victim of childhood sexual abuse. So it made sense that I set the book when Maranatha is seventeen, that awkward time romance and love enter into the equation.

Me: What made you choose East Texas as the setting for both novels?
Mary: The South fascinates me. I grew up in the Northwest. When my last child was born, my husband was transferred to East Texas to start a department in a hospital. Because I was a stay-at-home mom and home schooling, I didn’t have much else to do there except to observe small town southern culture. Because I didn’t grow up in that culture, my senses were heightened and I eventually began to really appreciate the differences.

Me: What is your favorite part about writing novels--initial draft, re-writing, marketing, etc.?

Mary: Definitely the initial draft. Writing it on the fly is intoxicating to me. I feel my head's about to explode with characters and plotting points, so as I sit at the computer, everything nearly vomits out onto the page-a true creative rush.

Me: 4. What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did?

Mary: That though I write edgy fiction, I'm not edgy or contentious.

Me: What do you want your reader to take away from Wishing on Dandelions?
Mary: That redemption of a broken life takes time. We’re all on a journey of healing. Sometimes it’s slow going, but if we can endure through the dark times, God will bring us to new places of growth. I want the images and characters to stay with a reader for a long time.

I love hearing the voice and ideas of the writer behind the stories. I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Mary DeMuth a little better. She is worth knowing. And her books are worth reading.


Field Trip

I went on my first “Writer’s Field Trip” today. My husband took me to the Federal Courthouse, where several scenes in my WIP are set. Being an attorney, he knows his way around there. He even called around to some judges’ offices, trying to find us a courtroom to see. Fortunately, we found a hearing in progress.

It was really fun to be in a place with an eye for a specific story. The building was different than I imagined, thus I’ll have to re-work a couple of scenes. But in many ways, the real thing lends itself to so many more possibilities than my visualization did.

I got to observe attorneys in a courtroom, too. That was interesting. And it made me understand my husband a little better. I recommend this exercise for anyone married to a lawyer!

However, the funniest part of the whole thing was the preparation. I asked my husband what I should wear. “Business attire,” he answered. Business attire? I work, most days, in shorts and a t-shirt or jeans and a t-shirt, depending on the season. But my most favorite working outfit is my pajamas. I get the most done on days I don’t take the time to put on clothes!

So anyway, between my job as a SAHM and a writer, I have no “business attire.” Thankfully, I did have one pair of slacks and a new pair of heels. I raided my mother’s closet (while she was out of town—thanks, Mom) and found a shirt and purse to go with them. It was close enough, although to have fit in with the attorney crowd, I apparently should have had a black or navy suit!

All in all, it was a great day. I’m looking forward to many more writing field trips—both for the experience of a new thing and for the creativity it inspires.


Writer Reunion

I love getting together with friends. And getting together with writer friends is an unusual treat. Three years ago, on my first trip to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, I met most of these wonderful ladies. A few more were added on the second trip. I didn’t get to go to Mount Hermon this year, but I’ll meet a few of these again at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference this month in Dallas.

But here’s how it happened. The flight from Dallas to San Jose contained several writers from as far away as three hours outside of Dallas. We met on the San Jose bound flight. We bonded on the three hour delay from San Jose to Dallas—twice. Yes, two years in a row we spent three hours yakking it up in the San Jose airport waiting for our flight to take off.

So this year, with one of our number home for a visit from France, we organized a reunion luncheon. It was great to re-connect. It was inspiring to hear about careers taking off, agents and contracts procured. We prayed for those having personal struggles. We laughed and ate—a lot.

Is there a group of people you’ve shared an experience with in the past? Call them all together again. Renew memories. Catch up on news. Enjoy the tapestry of relationships God has brought into your life.


818 Pages Later . . .

I did it. I slogged through Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I say “slogged” not because I didn’t enjoy the experience. I did. Thoroughly. But 800 pages of ANYTHING becomes a bit wearisome after awhile. (When the bookmark doesn’t seem to move after hours of page-turning, well, you get the idea.)

But I’ve experienced the euphoria before, and knew the pay-off would be worth it. I slogged through Les Miserables and War and Peace—the unabridged versions, mind you—on my own initiative. In all three cases, the story, the characters, the themes, the writing made it worthwhile. For a writer, missing these stories would have been like a world traveler missing the pyramids while in Egypt, Big Ben while in London.

Take, for example, these examples of imagery in Bleak House I might have missed:

“Thus, night at length with slow-retreating steps departs, and the lamplighter going his rounds like an executioner to a despotic king, strikes off the little heads of fire that have aspired to lessen the darkness.”

“In Lincolnshire, the Dedlocks of the past doze in their picture-frames, and the low wind murmurs through the long drawing-room as if they were breathing pretty regularly.”

See what I mean? Who would want to miss writing like that—let alone compelling stories and memorable characters?

What lengthy works of classic literature have you conquered? I’d love to know, because I intend to keep adding to my list.

But not until at least next year!


Closing the Deal

I’m about to run out the door to close on our old house. I’m still shocked. It all happened so quickly.

Two weeks ago, we had an offer on our house—with a difficult negotiation. We thought we were closing Sept. 14th, just in the nick of time for our IRS payment, due the 15th. Then, lo and behold, the closing was suddenly pushed up to today! Over two weeks early! We are elated, and in awe of our incredible God, who meets our needs.

And on top of it all, we had RAIN—yesterday and today. And for those of us in certain parts of Texas, that is truly a miracle. Our 100-degree-days streak was snapped and all our thirsty plants are soaking in the needed moisture.

It’s been a long summer, but in spite of all the difficulties, we’ve not only survived, we’ve grown. We’ve grown closer as a family. And I have grown, spiritually. I learned to pursue Jesus instead of the solutions to the circumstances and found Him more satisfying than ever before.

So to those of you out there in the midst of difficult and trying situations: Hang On! Pursue Jesus! He will reveal Himself in amazing ways.


One Toe Before the Big Splash

I’ve never been one of those people who can jump into a cold swimming pool. I have to ease in. First my toes, then my whole foot. Inch by inch I wade into the water, my body getting used to the temperature in small doses.

That’s why I love it when my kids start school on a Thursday. It eases us into the school routine. Kind of like that first swim of the season. For two days we’ve done the school schedule—the getting up and getting ready, the after school car pools and practices, the earlier bedtimes. Now we get the weekend to recover before we hit it full-force, dive in with a resounding splash.

Five days at a time.


Encouragement from the Ultimate Encourager

I’m in a Ladies Bible Study right now. It’s on encouragement. One of the things we’ve talked about is that God encourages us. Have you ever received specific encouragement from the Lord? I did. Just the other day.

Wednesday morning I woke up, still trying to shake the whole “fretting” thing. I asked the Lord to give me some encouragement from Him—today. Something concrete. Something only He would know would encourage me. Something only He could orchestrate.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do this coming school year is Meals on Wheels. I drove groups of students to do this during our “mission” days at school last year and loved it. In looking at my schedule, I figured that Fridays worked best for me. When I emailed my friend on Wednesday to find out the volunteer coordinator, she forwarded me an email she had received THAT MORNING looking for a driver on FRIDAYS!!! Talk about concrete encouragement. And quick, too.

So I’m signed up, ready to drive. Actually, my mother and I are splitting the route, each taking two Fridays a month. I’m thrilled to be able to serve others this way. But I’m even more thrilled at the answer to prayer, at the encouragement I received from Father God. Encouragement tailor-made for me.


Fret Not

The second half of Psalm 37:8 says, “Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.”

I’ve been fretting a lot lately. Fretting over my daughter’s unresolved health issues (and the new one that cropped up.) Fretting over my husband’s new position as President of our small school board. Fretting over finances. Fretting over my unsold house. Fretting over my work being considered by an agent.

Apparently this isn’t the first time I’ve drowned in a deluge of fret. The verse I quoted at the top had already been underlined in my Bible. So I guess this fretting business is a continual thing for me. Well, I don’t guess—I know.

So how do I stop fretting? I get frustrated when I read David’s admonitions to “wait for the Lord.” Hebrews 6:15 tells me that Abraham “patiently waited” and received his promise. But for me, to wait is to fret. I need practical, active combatants for this fretting. Otherwise, I’m doomed to evildoing.

So I’m going through the Psalms now, marking down the specific things that will keep fret far from me. Things like declaring His righteousness and His praise all day long (Ps. 35:28), delighting myself in the Lord (Ps. 37:4), setting the Lord continually before me (Ps. 16:8), giving thanks to Him and singing praises to His name (Ps. 18:49). And the list goes on. I’m eager to discover more practical ways to combat the fretfulness that so often overpowers me. Because above all else, I don’t want to indulge in an activity that leads to evildoing!

So join me in a “fret out.” Leave the fret behind. Let’s journey together into holiness and righteousness and peace, leaving evildoing in its fretting form far behind.


Gratitude of a Humbled Heart

Another first draft completed. I’m amazed. From my teens into my early thirties, I couldn’t finish anything. Oh, a few short stories here and there, but nothing of any length. Now, in a span of six years, I’ve completed three novels. Three. And two of those in the past two years!

I started thinking back, marveling at such a turn-around in my writing. Yes, six years ago I enrolled in some writing classes. Three years ago I joined a writers group and a critique group. Two years ago I attended my first writers conference. While all of those contributed to how far my writing has come, I realized that another thread ran even deeper.

Six years ago, my relationship with the Lord began to deepen and mature. That, and only that, has caused the change. As I mature, I’ve discerned the Lord’s voice more clearly as to what to write and how to say it. I’ve gained a teachable spirit, both in regards to life and writing. I’ve grappled with keeping my priorities in line. And I’ve learned that the spiritual life requires discipline, which has translated to other areas of my life, as well.

So in my joy at completing yet another novel, I sat humbled, realizing the work the Lord has done. The work the Lord is doing. It started in my heart and extends through my words. He is continually shaping my vessel for His use.

And I am grateful.


A Turtle on a Highwire

I don’t do well talking about my writing. One reason: I don’t communicate well verbally. I mean, I do better when I WRITE something rather than say it. (Okay, if I write what I’m going to say, things are fine. But spontaneous speaking about my work or my life? Forget it!)

Things that stew and simmer in my heart come out more clearly when I write them down. But some of those things that come out need more of an audience than my journal. Not because I need an audience, but because God needs an audience. His work in my life needs to be on display, and not just through my actions.

But this little turtle, who likes to live life inside her protective shell, hesitates, unsure of the reception of others.

That’s why I love blogging. I can write about things important to me, things I think about, without having to look my audience in the eye. I guess you could call that a coward’s way out, but I see it as my safety net. Like a beginner on a highwire, I need to know something is beneath me as I inch forward, hundreds of feet above the air. That’s how I feel as I begin putting my writing into a public venue.

If, someday, the Lord sees fit to allow my words to see publication on a larger scale than they have until this point, I need to have had some practice living with my words out there. That, to me, is the beauty of blogging.

Now, no one may ever read my blog (although I know there are a few faithful followers of my ramblings), but whether my words are read or not, they are out there. And I’m learning to live with that.


Two Quickie Reviews

A couple of quick book reviews. (I know, they aren’t “hot off the presses” books, but I get a little behind in my reading!)

It’s been several years since I’d read anything by Angela Hunt, even though I’ve always enjoyed her books. I picked up The Novelist because it was an intriguing premise—and it was about a writer! What I didn’t count on was it moving me so profoundly. In this book, a successful novelist writes a very different book as she deals with a young adult child out of control. What happens to her over the course of the story is the truth of what happens to us as writers when we write, although the overall theme of the sovereignty of God will ring true even with those who have never put words on a page (at least without the threats of an English teacher hanging over them!)

Another utterly unexpected pleasure was Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth. This is a wonderfully refreshing story of a mother and a daughter, the dreaming of dreams and the death of dreams, of growing up and letting go. Wrapped in the beautiful Southern charm of Savannah, GA (a city, I must confess, I have always longed to see) this was a very enjoyable read. It’s fun and quirky and poignant and happy and sad and . . . well, read it and see for yourself.

Those are just two of my many reads this summer. I find that my writing and reading go hand in hand: when I read a lot, I end up writing a lot; when I am writing a lot, I am reading even more. And round and round and round it goes.

So what have you been reading? I’d love to know. My “to read” stack is tall and varied, but I’m always looking for something new to add to it.


A Life Well Lived

My grandmother went to be with the Lord on Wednesday. We were happy for her—she hasn’t been the same since breaking her hip eight weeks ago—but we will miss her all the same.

In thinking about her life and how it has intertwined with ours over the years, my brother and sisters and I came up with four things that we remember most about who she was.

  1. She was generous—with her money and her time. There was always a generous check on birthdays, graduations, weddings as well as money given to mission trips, the church, and various other Christian ministries such as Campus Crusade. And she made time for whoever would drop in to see her, even to the point of sitting on the floor and rolling a tennis ball back and forth with her small great-grandchildren.

  2. She enjoyed her family. When we sat down to meals, whether a full Thanksgiving spread or hamburgers and chips on paper plates, she always responded the same way: “It’s such a banquet.” I used to think she meant the food. Now I realize what she really meant was the company gathered around the table to eat it.

  3. She found joy in living. In talking with my parents and my other siblings, we all agreed—never did we hear a negative word come out of her mouth. And there was always a smile on her face. Even in these past few weeks, after the physical therapists prodded and twisted her she would smile and thank them, in spite of her pain.

  4. She left us a godly heritage. Both she and my grandfather were committed Christians who studied and loved God’s word and then lived it out. They impacted many lives outside our family as well. Their lives were not only a testimony and example to us but a heritage passed down to their children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

All in all, my grandmother’s life was a life well lived. We will miss her smiling face. But we know she is rejoicing with her Savior.


With Me, It's All or Nothing

I can hear the tangy, slightly off-key voice in my head, see the bright red lips purse around each word.

Ado Annie: “With me, it’s all or nothin’. It’s all or nothin’ with me.”

Actually she and Will sing that song to each other, but no matter, the sentiment is the same—and it describes me to a “T.”

I started writing again—I really did. But on days I had good BOC (bottom on chair) time, I got nothing else done. No boxes unpacked. Nothing put away. No nagging the children to keep things picked up in the house.

So the past three days I’ve written nothing.

Why? Because I’ve been unpacking boxes like a madwoman, determined to clear out the garage. Because I’m sick of burning the backs of my legs on the seats in my car which is parked in the driveway, in full sun. See what I mean? All or nothing. I started the boxes thinking I’d just work on them in the morning and write in the afternoon. No way. Doesn’t work.

In theory, I imagined I would use to summer days to write two to three hours then have the rest of the day continue unpacking and to generally keep my life together. In theory. Reality is: it’s all or nothin’ with me, baby.

So at least in recognizing this character trait (or flaw), I think I’ve come to at least a truce with myself. No more unrealistic goals of writing and getting other projects done. It’s an either/or proposition. Either I write that day, or I do other things that need to be done. I simply have to make sure that I have writing days at least three days a week.

I think I can do that.


Where's a Writer When You Need One?

In our move, we had to switch internet providers. That meant a switch in email addresses, too. I really thought the kids would be able to keep their old addresses for awhile (they can still send and receive), but I forgot one important part: the parental controls are still on and I can’t access the area to change them anymore! No biggie, except this means they can’t receive email on those accounts from anyone except the currently approved list.

So we set up new email addresses today. No problem for most of us—the same as the old with a new bit after the @. Four out of five—it’s the fifth one that’s giving us trouble.

You’d think, as a writer, I could come up with a nifty little line for my 13 year old son. His old address reflected his love of playing soccer. But now he’s quit soccer and is playing whatever sport his school offers for that season (football, then basketball, then baseball with the possibility of track, cross-country, tennis or golf thrown in). He doesn’t have any suggestions, and I’m drawing a blank as well.

So I face the reality. I’m title-challenged. My books and stories reflect it. My unimaginative email address reflects it. Now my son must bear the brunt of my insufficiency. *sigh* Perhaps one of these days I’ll learn to come up with a witty phrase that encapsulates a story or a person. But for now I’ll just brood over that email address until I come up with something workable. Perhaps one of my other children will show proficiency for this kind of thing.

I can only hope.


Back to the Writing Life

Today is July 1—my self-imposed deadline to quit obsessing over moving into my house and get back to writing. It was a needed break, really. Otherwise I’d have gone crazy. I had to focus on getting moved in. But now the rest of the boxes can wait, and my novel can’t. So by writing this today—on a Saturday, a day I usually get no writing done anyway—I begin my foray back into my other life, my writing life.

I’m giddy with anticipation. I get to become reacquainted with the characters in my current work-in-progress. I get to mull over new ideas, put new words to paper, make old words sing with inspiration, honing each scene, each paragraph, each sentence.

And yet, I worry. Do I have the discipline to make some headway during the lazy days of summer? These days filled with children’s requests for friends over and trips to the pool; days unencumbered by scheduled activities, bedtimes, or alarm clocks.

Over the years, I have learned to love summer. Used to, the unstructured time sent me reeling. Now, on Monday, I begin the search for a happy medium—to accomplish tasks, both passionate and practical, while reveling in the casual schedule that allows relationships to flourish.

Can I do it? Can I relax without frittering away valuable time? This is the only answer I know: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

So check back from time to time and see how I’m doing. Or better yet, use the nifty little email signup box to the right and get my new blog posts in your inbox.

And have a fabulous rest of the summer—it will be over before we know it!



I decided to take June off from writing. After all, with moving, sending my daughter on a mission trip to Ghana, and helping my parents and sister move, I knew I’d have little time. I have been diligent, even when I have wanted to hide in a closet with my laptop, my fingers itching to see words appear on my screen, my mind scraping at pieces of my work-in-progress, trying to remember details, see the next bend in the story. But I have been disciplined. I have resisted. I have rested, dadgumit!

Well, not rested exactly, but rested from writing, rested from the people in my head that clamor for me to tell their story. In the meantime my hands and feet have been busier than ever—moving boxes and furniture, organizing shelves, even wielding my power screwdriver to complete small projects! I drop into bed exhausted at night, but it’s a good exhaustion. It’s physical exhaustion more than mental (although that’s still there, too!) And it has shown me where I was lacking before—physical exercise.

I see now that some form of physical exertion in my day is no longer an option, but a necessity. I need it to think more clearly. I need it to sleep more deeply. So I’m revamping my daily routine come July, when my life kicks in again.

I guess that’s why I needed a vacation—of sorts. I just hope the combination of writing and exercise brings the excitement and energy I am envisioning!


Moving Mayhem

We own two houses. Sounds decadent, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s chaotic. And nightmarish. Half of our stuff is in one house, half in the other. Can you imagine making a 20 minute journey (each way, mind you) just to do laundry (which, by the way, I do at least every other day?)

My internet is up in the new house. All my books and writing files are still ensconced in the old. My favorite chair is here. My bed is there. And the list goes on.

I don’t know how much writing will get done in the next couple of weeks, but if the old house would sell, I don’t think I’d care. Three kids. Two houses. One husband. How much more can a girl handle?


Watching the Tree Limbs

I realized that I have been remiss in my book reviews because I feel so inept at them. However, an email from a friend this week let me know they come across better than I think. In fact, after reading one, she went out and bought the book! Therefore, I shall continue.

And I will begin with one very dear to my heart.

Mary DeMuth is my friend and critique partner. She is an encourager, a lover of Jesus, and a wonderful writer. After having a devotional (Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God) and a parenting book (Building the Christian Family You Never Had) published, the Lord blessed her early this year with the publication of her first love—fiction.

Watching the Tree Limbs is a haunting book about abandonment, abuse, and adoption in the family of God. In the early 1970s in rural East Texas, young Mara thinks her Aunt Elma is her aunt. After all, she lives with her, calls her “aunt,” and has the same last name. She knows her parents are dead, only one tiny memory of her mother remaining. Little does she realize the lies that have been woven together to create the fabric of her life.

When teenager General steals her innocence and requires her presence over and over again, Mara learns to keep secrets of her own. Aunt Elma’s death—which Mara views as General’s retribution over Mara forgetting their meeting time—signals the beginnings of unraveling the secrets of the past. Thrust into a strange home with a silent old man and a chatty housekeeper, Mara finds her place in the family of God and the freedom that comes from speaking the truth.

And, shhh—can you keep a secret? I’ve read the second book in this three book series and it’s even better than the first! So you’ll want to have read Watching the Tree Limbs before Wishing on Dandelions hits the shelves this fall!


FPK--The Rest of the Story

Frances Parkinson Keyes’ 655 page memoir began on the day of her marriage—near the turn of the century. As she described her life on a New England farm, I knew I’d hit a gold mine. What insight into real, everyday life nearly 100 years ago! Add to that the fact that her husband was elected governor of New Hampshire, then served as U.S. Senator from that state for many years and the record of her life read like a Who’s Who in my American History books! The historian in me loved her remembrances of famous people from her interaction with them.

From a writing standpoint, I discovered she started small, and out of financial necessity. Her articles ended up in Good Housekeeping, Delineator, and other magazines for years, writing about Washington life and politics, both national and international. She traveled around the world in a time when international travel was much more difficult. She wrote amidst problems with her health, raising three boys, traveling, and maintaining a grueling Washington social life. And like a gold thread glinting in the sunlight, her faith weaves through the pages of her life.

Frances died in 1970, before the pages recalling her life ended. She only managed to record her history through the early 1930s—just as her fiction began to be published and enjoyed.

Her son summed up the last 40 years of her life in three pages. I would have loved to read Frances’ own description of those years, but that would have made a hefty volume indeed!

I loved the insight into life in other eras. I loved the brushing up against historical figures and events. I loved the picture of her as a wife and mother as well as a writer. I loved the fact that she lived before she wrote those amazing novels, created those real characters. That is the key, I think. Characters should be crafted from real life—from what people really say and do, how they act and re-act. Then they ring true. Then they become our friends.

Frances Parkinson Keyes does that in her novels. But I’m so glad she put pen to paper late in her life to let us get to know her, as well.


FPK, Part Two

So I began to search for her name in my jaunts to used bookstores, seeking the elusive, out-of-print titles. I found some. Through the pages of these dusty novels I was transported to Ireland, Spain, France, New England, Washington D.C. But more importantly, I met people I will never forget.

That, for me, is the beauty to Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novels—her characters. They live and breathe. When they speak or act, it is exactly what you expect them to do, given how well you know them. They encounter difficulties. They struggle. They change. But it is their realness that strikes me. I would expect to meet them on the street someday.

Other writers create characters like this, too. But Frances’ span generations and nations and never falter in the beauty of their creation.

So I had accumulated and read several of her novels. Then we went on a weekend trip to Austin with some friends. A large used bookstore had moved to a new location. Its grand opening happened to be while we were there. We spent hours perusing the shelves for that great find. The store was as full of people as our arms were of books. We made our way toward the snaking checkout line, passing a non-fiction shelf on the way. I glanced over the titles as I passed. One spine caught my eye—navy blue with gold lettering. A very “libraryish” book. The title: All Flags Flying, Reminiscences by Frances Parkinson Keyes. In one swift motion it was off the shelf and in my hands—all 655 pages of it.

And in those pages I learned the rest of the story . . .


Frances Parkinson Keyes, part one

When I accompanied my husband on a business/pleasure weekend to New Orleans three years ago, I never imaged the buried treasure I would unearth. It came in the form of an author—one whose career spanned close to 70 years, but whose name was unfamiliar to me.

On a free afternoon, my husband and I wandered the French Quarter in search of interesting historical sites. We found a few—interesting, informative, but not soul-stirring. Then we ventured just past the main streets and came upon an antebellum-looking home with a pretty garden side yard. We walked to the front. A sign declared it the Beauregard-Keyes House and announced hourly tours. No one else was around. We ventured up the white steps to the front door.

The docent let us in and left us to wait the five minutes until the top of the hour in a front room. We saw pictures of General Beauregard from the Civil War and read the name Frances Parkinson Keyes. “Who’s that?” I whispered to my husband. He shrugged. No one else appeared and the gray-haired woman returned and introduced herself.

I remember little of the big house—the one that housed Confederate General Beauregard after the Civil War, the one with pictures and artifacts of his family of the time period surrounding the Civil War. What I remember most are the slave quarters behind the house—the ones that Frances Parkinson Keyes, a authoress from New England, claimed as her space during the winters of the 50s-70s. Artifacts from all over the world graced tables. The docent told us of Mrs. Keyes with glowing eyes, telling of her own adolescence in New Orleans, reading Mrs. Keyes’ novels set in that intriguing place. Entranced, a burning desire filled my heart to read something by this woman of such an interesting background, this author so obviously still adored by the elderly docent.

The tour ended in a gift shop, as many such tours do. But this was a gift shop with a twist—this was also a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. Here, many of Mrs. Keyes’ books had been gathered from dusty shelves and sweltering attics to be made available to a whole new generation of readers. My eyes sparkled as I read title after title from fading paper covers. I chose The Royal Box. We paid, thanked the woman and left.

Little did I know I was to discover between those pages an introduction to a woman I would have loved to call friend.


Giving Glory

      And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown,
      For my reward is giving glory to You.
                                  ---Keith Green, O Lord, You’re Beautiful

I love that verse of the song by Keith Green. It’s taken me a long time to understand that when I do well, my reward is to give glory to Him. He wants me to, I know. But that it is actually my reward, my joy to do so, is an idea that did not come naturally to me. I have always tended to brush away any accolades—after all, I didn’t want to fall into pride. But rejecting compliments is a false humility. The Lord is rewarding me, and I need to embrace it wholeheartedly.

So I am here today to claim my reward—to give great glory to Our God for His wonderful works. You see, not long ago I was wondering if this whole writing thing was something I’d made up, something I wanted, not necessarily what the Lord wanted for me. But last week He told me—no, He shouted to me. Loud and clear. “I’m in this, dear one. Keep at it.” How do I know that’s what He said? Because He used the judges of a major contest to say it. Actually, they said “Your entry in the Genesis contest is a finalist in its category.” But it amounted to the same thing.

So I am working again—frantically preparing my first ever book proposal, with my first ever serious deadline. And it feels so good. It feels good to know I’ve grown as a writer. It feels good to know that His hand was with me as I wrote.

So I am giving glory to You, Lord. They are Your characters. It’s Your story. I could never have come up with these things on my own. And You have gifted me and taught me how to put its words on paper.

And I am reveling in being able to glorify You through the process.


In My Weakness

I went to my once a month writers group last night—and that was a mistake. It made me depressed, wistful, longing for the days I so recently took for granted, days in which I wrote for the majority of the time my kids were at school. It made my heart hurt and my stomach knot to hear one woman’s wonderful recounting of a recent conference where she made good contacts and had good responses to her work.

I want that again. I want to be in that place of fulfillment. Not publication, necessarily, but fulfillment, satisfaction in the doing of what I was made to do, the act of glorifying God through the sliver of His creativity He endowed to me.

So I came home last night with fingers aching. And yet I can’t do midnight writing. My eyes refuse to hold my contacts without extreme pain for more than 17 or so hours and I can’t see with my outdated, coke-bottle glasses. At least not unless something is up in my face. So I wrote longhand, ideas for a one sheet, although I still struggling with how that is the same or different from a project sheet. I summarized my three “finished” novels (is anything ever REALLY finished?), as well as my two most crystallized ideas for new works. It felt good to do a little something and yet it again made me sad, made me want to run away for a week—even two—and do just what I want to do.

But somehow I don’t think that’s what God intended with His gift. Somehow He intended me to use it in the midst of life, to show not only His creativity but His strength manifested through my weakness. Can I step back, acknowledge my frailty, my exhaustion, and yet walk forward by His power?

I don’t know yet. Right now I just feel weak.

So I packed three boxes, cleaned out my car, and hurled this question into cyberspace, a question I’m sure five bazillion other writers in the course of time have asked. Did they get an answer? They must have. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many books.


Real Me and Writer Me

Sometimes I feel like two different people as I maneuver through life. One is the human person who laughs and cries, who loves and hurts. I’ve been this person a lot lately. We’ve been in crisis at my house. My tiny, six-week-old nephew had open heart surgery. My best friend moved from the house next door. My own house is for sale—with few showings. And I want desperately to move to the city where my kids attend school and do all their activities.

And in the midst of all this humanness—in the midst of all the crisis and emotion—I find another person popping up. The writer person. The writer person is a fascinating creature. In the midst of one recent crisis, I found the writer in me analyzing my reactions, applying them to a character in one of my stories. This is how ____ would feel; this is how she would react. The writer in me noted emotions, physical movements and manifestations, even listened to the words coming out of my own mouth. It’s a strange feeling, that—to be in a situation and yet be detached from it. But as students of human nature, writers have that tendency.

I found myself last week noting how it felt to be in a hospital, watching doctors, nurses, other patients and their families. Tonight, I found myself staring at the empty house next door, reliving the years of next-door-neighboring as well as exploring the pain of separation. I don’t do it to be masochistic. In fact, when the writer person in me takes over, there is little pain.

It isn’t conjured up, this writer person in me. I don’t have to stop and say to myself “Hey, I should take note of this.” It just happens. The writer person wrests itself away from the wrung out, emotional me, takes over of its own volition. After all, the student of human nature never stops learning—even from itself.


Proud Parent

I watched my daughter perform on stage this weekend. For the first time. As a freshman, she won the part of Bloody Mary in her school’s production of South Pacific.

And she was great!

I sat and cried as she made the audience laugh with her antics and her “Tonkanese” accent and then SANG her songs, even after prolonged protestations to her teacher that she couldn’t sing.

I hooted and hollered at the curtain call, tears thick in my throat again. I jumped over seats trying to reach her as she came off stage, but was crowded out by others seeking to congratulate her as well. I didn’t know she could really pull it off. She didn’t know if she could really pull it off. But she did. And I was so proud.

Later that night, I wondered if God feels anything like I did. I watched my child stretch to reach a goal and then succeed, watched her work through discouragement and nay-sayers, tiredness and busyness, to attain a certain level of performance. Is that the way it is when I—a child of God—write? Does He cheer me on, eager for me to succeed? Encouraging me to keep working? Leading the ovations when everything comes together and the creative gift He has given me is played out on a stage bigger than my immediate family and close friends? More importantly, is that the way God feels when I live? When I react to people and situations in a way that glorifies Him?

I think so. I think we feel proud as parents because God made us to feel that way. He made us to understand in some tiny form what He feels for us.

I am so proud of my daughter. And I’m so thankful that God used this time to remind me that He is a my proud parent as well—in what I do, but even more importantly, in who I am while I am doing it.


Ah, My Old Friend

I’m a little old for a security blanket, so when life throws multiple stresses my way I reach for my security books instead.

Like comfort foods, there are some books which soothe the inner voices screaming at me that my life is out of control. So in the midst of house-selling and teenagers and school plays and multiple sports and drivers ed, I have reached once again for the familiarity of plots and words and characters I have known and loved over and over again.

I could have pulled one of many books from my shelves—Gone With The Wind, Train To Estelline, Up a Road Slowly, On the Shores of Silver Lake through These Happy Golden Years, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, Christy—you get the picture. Each of these is an old friend. I know the words so well I skim across them like a boat on a glassy lake. The characters have become close friends. And like a daily-driven road, instinct anticipates every twist and turn of the plot with ease, laying to rest the stress of my already chaotic life.

This is not escape reading, mind you. This is familiarity that breeds security and peace. These are my comfort books, employed when I reach the tipping point between coping and insanity. And I am there.

So I picked up one of my dearest friends last night—Anne of Green Gables. I intend to read her all the way through, from lonely 11-year-old to mother and grandmother. I need the impetuous young Anne, the giddy-in-love Anne, and the sorrow-tinged newlywed Anne. But most of all, at this moment, I need grown up Anne—dealing with a husband and teenagers emerging into young adults. I need a picture of life that is tinged with reality, but calm by virtue of intimacy.

Do you have any security books—books you can pick up and revisit like old friends when life becomes chaotic? I’d love to hear yours. You never know when something new will rise to the status of comfort after a read or two.


Tech savvy

I pride myself on having learned a few things about technology. I’ve had to. My husband is content to let someone else figure out all those details, they just frustrate him. So I have learned.

In November, I bought a new laptop. In January, I began having sound issues. Sometimes I would have sound, sometimes not. Now I am a music writer. No, I don’t write music, I write well with music playing in the background. So no sound on the laptop was a bad thing for me. I lived with it, off and on, for almost six weeks. But this week I decided I’d had enough; I was going to get this fixed.

I walked into the retail store where I bought it and declared my intention to leave my baby with them to fix. They stared at me blankly. Call the manufacturer first, it’s been less than a year. They gave me the number. I took it, forced myself to smile at them, and walked out the door huffing. I knew I’d go home and spend a good hour—at the very least—on the phone with tech support. I really didn’t have time for this.

I got home, gathered laptop and telephones around me (I never have a fully charged cordless phone), and dialed. Very quickly I was speaking with a live person. Amazing. Of course he asked for all the vital stats first. Then he declared that this computer hadn’t been registered; we’d have to do that first. Fine, I said. It took all of two minutes. Then we began on the problem.

I tried to tell him up front that I’d checked everything, but we had to start at the beginning anyway.

“Please click on the sound icon and check the volume settings.”

“They are ALL turned up.”

“And the mute box is not checked?”

I rolled my eyes. “No.” I knew that much. I’d told him so. I was ready to get to the hard stuff.

“Now look at the front of the laptop, near the headphone jack.”

I tipped the laptop up.

“Huh, there’s a little dial thing there.”

“That’s a volume control as well.”

“You’re kidding.” I ran my thumb along the small wheel and opened itunes. Low and behold, I heard music, loud.

I guess I kept spinning that wheel without realizing it, turning the volume up and down and off. I was glad he couldn’t see me blush over the phone.

“It works,” I told him.

“Are you sure,” he asked.

“I’m sure.”

Once again the Proverbs prove true—pride goes before a fall. Next time I’ll claim my stupidity right up front.


Biology and Me

God certainly has a sense of humor.

I am currently working on a book with my husband. But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that the main issue in the book is scientific in nature—more specifically, it deals with biology.

I never took biology. Not in high school. Not in college. The closest I came was Life Science in 7th grade. I got a C and vowed never to take such a horrible class again. And I didn’t. With some tall talking, I convinced my high school guidance counselor that General Science and Chemistry credits would be better for me than G.S. and Biology. As a history major in college, I needed only a semester of science. What did I choose? Physics. (Football Physics with Packard, to be exact. You Baylor grads will know what I mean!)

I have done everything possible to avoid the scientific world. I’d rather delve into historical problems or wade through convoluted literature than learn specifics about the world around us. God made it and it works—that’s all I’ve wanted and needed to know. I should have known that to skirt the issue all these years was too good to be true.

So here I am, 20 years after high school graduation, muddling my way through 7th grade Life Science with my son, 9th grade Biology with my daughter, and a novel with Biological facts and theories at its heart. As much as I’ve tried to worm my way around dealing with the facts (my husband is the researcher and expert on this one), I’ve come to the point where I realize I need to know something. I’ve put it off, avoided the reality. Then yesterday at church a man handed us a DVD explaining the whole thing. Out of the blue. Well, not out of the blue totally, but without a clue as to the fact that we are writing this book. He just knew my husband had an interest in such things and wanted to share what he’d found.

So God is good. I get to watch a video instead of read humorless books on theories of the origins of life. I never imagined I’d be glad for a video filled with biological facts.

See what I mean? God has a sense of humor.



Discipline. I hate the word, don’t you? And I REALLY hate Hebrews 12:11: All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

I always think of discipline, first, as punishment. And yet as I look at the word, it is really the broader definition that applies: training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. I often forget that God allows disciplines in my life to train me for improvement, not to punish me for breaking the rules.
So why is discipline on my mind? Because I realize that this selling-the-house thing is disciplining me in a way I haven’t wanted before. For the past three weeks, my house has been straight and (mostly) clean. That means my household chores are caught up. When I am at home, things are in such a state that I can actually sit down and write without feeling guilty. Without wondering if we have enough clean cereal bowls to last one more day. Without the stress of walking through the living room and cringing at the sight of “stuff” left out where it doesn’t belong. Without the mountain of laundry on Sunday night in order to have clean clothes for school Monday morning.
It isn’t fun, this keeping up with the chores, but I can see myself (and I hope my kids) being trained by it. I have learned that when my house is not in disarray, I can write more effectively, less stressfully (but obviously with more adverbs! () My training continues. When this house finally sells and we find a new one—one that will cut my daily commutes to school and school activities in half—I want to continue to walk in this new-found discipline in my house. And when that peaceful fruit of righteousness finally comes, I know my writing will flow from new depths—depths unable to be plunged without the pain of discipline.


A Year Down Yonder

I love reading Young Adult novels. They are usually less stressful to me than novels geared for adults and now—in the midst of trying to keep my house clean to show—I am in need of less stressful reading! So I picked a book from my daughter’s shelf—a book I gave her, a book she hasn’t read yet.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck was a delightful read. In chapter 1, I thought I knew where the story was going, but Mr. Peck turned my expectations upside down.
It is 1937 and Mary Alice Dowdel’s father is out of work and her brother is planting trees out west with the WPA. Fifteen-year-old Mary Alice, a city girl from Chicago, goes to live with her grandmother in a tiny rural town. Mary Alice’s expectations are turned upside down, along with the reader’s, as she learns more about her grandmother than one week summer visits ever revealed.

The story was engaging; the writing excellent. I am looking forward to seeking out more of Mr. Peck’s work.


Book Recommendation

If anyone out there reads this blog at all, you may have noticed on my “Currently Reading” list that I have been reading (gasp!) a NON-FICTION title. (Well, two, actually, but we’ll get to the other when I finish it—all 600ish pages.)

You may not be a first generation Christian, but chances are you know someone who is. Whether you realize it or not, they very likely struggle with issues of insecurity in their parenting—insecurity over their past, their unsaved relatives, their fear of not “doing it right.”

Building the Christian Family You Never Had by Mary DeMuth was released January 24th of this year. Mary, a fiction writer at heart, does not claim to be a parenting expert. In fact, this book is less about the nuts and bolts of parenting than it is about allowing the Lord to redeem your past and then moving forward in light of your relationship with Him.

A first-generation Christian herself, Mary speaks specifically to those who were raised in homes where Christ was not revered, glorified, or sometimes even acknowledged. With her own story woven into the words of encouragement, the conversational style reads like having coffee with a friend who has and is walking the obstacle-filled road of trying to raise Christian children without any practical understanding of what that looks like. The picture she paints within these pages are of a woman who parents from weakness and humility, running to Jesus with her hurts and insecurities and failures.

Mary’s exhortations are backed up by scripture as well as experience. And even though this book is geared toward “pioneer parents,” that is, first generation Christians who are now parents themselves, the truths she tells can apply to anyone on the journey of parenting.


In My Element

Ahhh. That’s my contented sigh you hear. For the first time in weeks I’ve had a morning at home with little else to do but write. My house is cleaner and straighter than every before, waiting for the first potential buyers to walk through the door. So I have nothing else clamoring for my attention except my characters.

They’ve been frozen in time for so long now that it took a while to get them warmed up again. But after they moved their stiff limbs, spoke with stiff mouths, things began to flow. I have missed them. Missed their quirks, their meanness and their kindness. I’ve missed knowing what happens to them, visiting with them each day, recording the events of their lives.

So my satisfied “Ahhh” comes after a morning of becoming reacquainted with old friends—and old enemies. Of transcribing the movie in my head. Of pouring out their lives on a page. Of releasing all the bottled up words in my head, letting them slip from my brain through my fingers and onto my computer screen. I am energized, enthused. And I am in my element once again.


The Worst Room

I’ve been cleaning out rooms and closets, getting our house ready to sell. When I set upon the daunting task of the upstairs, I had to work myself up to the worst room. I began with my middle son—neat, practical. The baby boy followed—a bit of a messy, more of a pack rat (I never imaged he could accumulate so much stuff in just eleven years!) I shuddered as I entered the teenaged daughter’s room, with its closet piled waist deep. But even that, I managed.

Then I hit my study. It’s a time consuming thing to sort through stacks and stacks of paper. Blank paper. Labels. Printed words. Handwritten words.

How do you let go of something you’ve written, even if it’s been slashed by a red pen? I have a hard time doing that. I need some time before I can let go. For some things, the time had come and without a thought I could toss them away—things like others’ comments on my first novel, the one that has morphed through three re-writes and is currently undergoing a fourth. Other things, like comments on my second novel, were still too fresh, too raw to toss aside. I labeled the box and set it in the pile to go to storage, reams of paper with words that I hope to someday revise, make into something better than they are now.

I sorted and stacked, relived and recycled, until four boxes ended up in storage, one more remaining nearby for the time being. When I finished, I had a tidy room and closet and  a sense of accomplishment. Not only had I completed my task, but I realized the sheer volume of work I have created over the past three years, work I never imagined I was capable of actually finishing.

So the worst is over. Just a few more days of fixing things up and sign will rise in our yard. Then I get to look for a new house, one closer to my kids’ school. One that will hopefully restore some sanity to our lives and provided more time for me to write. One with a new study—fresh and clean—ready to receive the old and inspire the new.


Evaluating 2005

I spent yesterday creating a spreadsheet to chart my writing productivity in 2005. Last year, I logged my writing tasks on a calendar beside my favorite chair. Yesterday, I plugged that mostly accurate information (including word counts for each new piece created) into the spreadsheet, inserted the SUM function and presto—my word count for the entire year.

58,501. A pittance. A spit in the wind.

Now, granted, I spent seven months revising one novel, so that doesn’t get counted in the word count total (in fact for this year I added a new column—number of pages of revision or critique so the volume is more tangible.) But considering that my first novel was 50,000 words written in less than a month, you can see why 58,500 in a year was less than noteworthy.

On the other hand, it was quite a successful year all around. I came out around $50 in the black (not counting the cost of a writing conference). I sold two pieces and had two others published without payment. I sent tons more queries and contest entries than past years. And I critiqued two entire novels for friends.

This year my goal is to fill in more of the blank spaces on my spreadsheet, to write even little bits, such as this blog, on a more consistent basis. My plate this year is full of house selling and house hunting and moving, kids’ sporting events, library volunteer hours, friendships, and family. But maybe with more demands on my time, I’ll actually get more done.

At least now I have a tangible tool to hold me accountable!