12/31/2007

Twelve Mighty Orphans

I don’t often read non-fiction. When I do, my preference is either history or biography—both for pleasure and research for novels. Early in December, for my husband’s birthday, we gave him three books he asked for—1 biography, 1 history, 1 a combination of history and biography. Well, after he read the combo, he told me I needed to read it. So I did.

And what an enjoyable experience! Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent is the ultimate underdog sports story. Beginning in the depression and continuing into the days of WWII, Mr. Dent, an engaging sportswriter, tells the story of the underfunded (or should I say non-funded), undersized football program at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas. He interweaves the story of football with the biographies of key players. It is an engaging and fascinating read, both from biographical and historical standpoints. In fact, I learned much about the history of the city I grew up in from this book!

So if there is a sports fan or a history buff in your life and you’re wondering what a good read for them might be, try this one. I think they’ll be glad you did.

12/27/2007

The Last Week of December

I have a love/hate relationship with the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Let me set the stage for you. I love Christmas. I love the decorations and the presents and meditating on various facets of Jesus’s foray into our world to bring us life and hope. But, of course, being the Mom, most of the preparations fall to me. And after five weeks of parties and programs and shopping, I’m tired.

So what I want, in that week after Christmas, is to rest. To let everything go and just “be.” But then the other me raises her head—the organized me. I don’t get a frenzy to “clean out” in the spring time, like normal people. For me, that feeling always hits the week before a new year begins. I have this insatiable desire to begin the new year fresh, with closets organized and files weeded of old documents and everything in its place.

Somehow I wish I could have a “week after Christmas” to rest and a “week before the new year” to clean out and organize. But, alas, they are the same week. Some years the rest wins out. Other years I breathe a satisfied sigh when the last closet is straight and accessible. Which will win this year? Who knows. Considering that the next two days I’ll be at a basketball tournament, son and daughter both participating, it might be neither one!

12/21/2007

The Gift

I was reminded this week of a Christmas story I wanted to share with you. It is a story that began the Christmas I was 17 and, I thought, finished when I was 21. But several years ago when I needed to speak at a women’s retreat, the Lord brought the story to mind again and showed me a spiritual truth in it that I had not seen before. Now I’d like to share the whole story with you.

I always had a penchant for books. And really long books were my favorite. So digging around under the Christmas tree my senior year of high school, I found a book-shaped package with my name on it. I thrilled at the thickness of it. I wondered what it could be. I pondered day and night until curiosity got the best of me. One day when no one was around, I took my package into the bathroom and locked the door. Then I carefully unwrapped it. Heart pounding with excitement, I turned it over.

Jane Austen, the cover read, followed by what appeared to be several titles. Who in the world is that? (Yes, even in my AP English class we didn’t read her.) I had a vague sense that she had written things long ago. Disappointed, I re-wrapped the book and set it back under the tree.

Christmas morning, I unwrapped it and pretty much tossed it aside without another thought. Fast forward three years. I’m in college now, majoring in history, minoring in English. I take a class called The English Novel where I read Emma by Jane Austen. I’m hooked. I love this woman! Even then it takes a little while to connect her to the dust-gathering monstrosity of a book on my bookshelf. I pull it down. The book contains all of Austen’s works. I am amazed. I am thrilled. An unexpected gift that was already mine!

Many years later, the Lord brought this story to mind and I saw it in a whole new light. I realized that often we receive gifts from the Lord that puzzle us. We have little to no understanding of what to do with it, why it is important. We toss it aside, let it gather dust, until one day something triggers a memory of that gift and makes it suddenly relevant. And often, like my Jane Austen collection, not just relevant, but a treasure.

So as you unwrap your gifts this Christmas, remember that some gifts take time to appreciate. And remember that the gifts God gives to us are never without reason.

12/17/2007

A Christmas Luncheon and A Precursor of Days to Come




It’s been a C R A Z Y week and half! Sorry I’ve been silent.

Last Tuesday, Mary DeMuth, Leslie Wilson, and I hosted a table at the Friends of the Library Christmas luncheon. It was a table filled with—what else? Writers! Five other writers joined us for a yummy lunch and great conversation. Wish you could have been there!
I’ve had a fun few days hanging out with my youngest—my 13 year old. His brother and sister are off on a mission trip (more on that when they return) and it’s been fun to have him all to myself. It’s a little preview of what it will be like in just three and a half short years, when he is the only one left at home. And it’s been great. He’s been incredibly amiable and I think is reveling in our alone time as much as I am.

I’ve still got Christmas errands to run and writing to get done, but I promise you will hear more from me soon. Until then, take time to notice the sights and sounds of the season all around you and enter into the joyous celebration of the birth of our Savior.


12/09/2007

Tis the Season

The tree is up, the lights are on. It even turned cold outside—finally.

This is the week of Christmas frenzy before things settle a little into what I hope will be a fun, yet restful, family Christmas. I realize we haven’t many left like this. This year and next, then my daughter will be in college and I know how quickly things can change! My first Christmas after high school, I had a serious boyfriend. By the second Christmas in college, he was my fiancĂ©. By the third Christmas, I was married. So I take nothing for granted.

So this week I will help host a table of fellow writers at the Friends of the Library luncheon here in town, spend an evening with the lawyers and spouses from my husband’s new firm at the Christmas party, watch my niece perform the lead in a Christmas musical at school, travel to my son’s basketball game, get my two high schoolers and my husband off on a mission trip to the Texas-Mexico border, and drive kids from our school to two days of local mission opportunities.

From there, my calendar is blessedly empty—except for the orthodontist appointment where both my boys will get their braces! We plan to bake and watch Christmas movies and play games and look at Christmas lights. And I intend to cherish every minute of it.

12/06/2007

Freshman Year Football

This is the image I will remember from my son’s freshman year of football (he’s #32.) In our small school, all the football boys are on the varsity team, but, of course, some of the younger ones don’t play much, if at all.

So I watched my son on the sidelines. What I saw was an encourager—both to those coming off the field and those standing on the sidelines, like himself. He often grabbed the water bottles to hand to the boys on the field during a timeout or when they came off the field for a short rest.

His penchant for encouragement and helpfulness earned him the respect of many of the older boys, including the one he stands next to, a senior affectionately known as “Big E.”

It’s been a hard season in some ways: my son loves to play, not watch, and that got frustrating at times, and this team was slated to repeat as state champions, but they lost last weekend in the semi-finals to a team they’d demolished only a few weeks before.

But what I’ll remember most from this season is this image—my son, skinny and not overly tall, standing out there with the big boys.

12/02/2007

A Serial Christmas Story

A couple of months ago, several authors of historical fiction, both published and unpublished, came together (via the Internet) with the idea of writing a serial Christmas story that reflected both their love of historical fiction set in Europe and their faith.

I’m so pleased to announce that the first installment of this story is up at http://www.homebychristmas.blogspot.com/. The installments, 13 in all, will post every other day from now until Christmas. On the in-between days, the bio of the author of the upcoming installment will be posted.

So click on over. I guarantee that after just a couple of posts, you’ll be hooked into the story set in late Victorian England. My part posts December 5.

Happy Christmas reading!

11/26/2007

Leaving No Evidence


We spent Friday raking leaves. Last fall, our first in this house, we gathered 22 bags full from the front yard alone! This year, my teenaged boys, who grew up without mature trees that dropped their leaves, reveled in the piles.

But 23 bags later, a mystery. Friday, the bags surrounded our already full trash cans (no trash pick up on Thanksgiving Day). No problem. Trash Day would arrive on Monday and all would be well. Then Saturday I glanced out the breakfast room window. I couldn’t place it at first. The trash spot in the alley looked so—normal. Trash cans filled with black bags, waiting to be carried away. Nothing else.

Nothing else.

No 23 bags of leaves. Vanished. Gone.

Did someone take them? They must have. But we didn’t notice unusual noise in the alley at any time—and it would take a little while to load 23 bags. How did they know they all held leaves? Did they come searching for such things specifically—or did they watch us frolicking in the bright autumn sunlight, the crisp air stinging our hands as we worked and laughed and played?

It’s kind of spooky, if you ask me. 23 bags of leaves. The mystery still gnaws at me, probably always will. I’ll never know what happened to those bags. I’m sure someone took them on purpose, for some reason. I’ll have to make something up and use it in a novel someday!

11/24/2007

Cold and Wet

It’s 38 degrees outside—and dropping. A drizzly mist is falling. It’s the perfect day to sit in front of the fire, drink hot chocolate, listen to Christmas music or watch Christmas movies and decorate the house. And I’m . . .

NOT!

Oh, no. Today we are driving two hours to a high school football playoff game! I’m gathering long underwear, hand warmers, scarves, hats, gloves, boots—anything that might ward off the wet-cold of the day. And I so hate being cold!

But when your kids are there, so are you. I’m sure it will be fun. Ok, maybe FUN is too strong of a word, but it will provide “remember whens” for years to come. So while you are cozy inside your house today, think of me in the freezing rain, cheering for my team. And try not to laugh too hard.

11/19/2007

A Glimpse of the Future

We went to my cousin’s wedding this weekend. I love weddings, as most women do. But until now I’ve sat in pews thinking wistfully of my own wedding day, of how young and idealistic we were, how the years that stretched out before us are quickly flying by.

This time, I had none of those thoughts. Instead, sitting next to my three teenagers, I realized how close I am to being mother of the bride or groom! I watched the parents, noticing their graciousness to their children and all the guests. I mentally took notes of service arrangements and reception ideas. Of course, all my husband could see was dollar signs!! (Thank goodness we only have one girl!)

But instead of depressing me, the thought encouraged me. One day in the not-too-distant future, my children will stand at the altar, young and wide-eyed, looking forward to the coming years with the one they love. The thought doesn’t sadden me, but it sobers me. It drives me again to my knees, praying that God will work in the hearts of each of my children so that they can bring into their marriages unselfish hearts toward their spouses and humble hearts toward the Lord.

11/11/2007

A Must-See: Bella

We saw an incredible movie this weekend. Bella is the story of a young woman who finds herself alone and pregnant and the man who risks his relationship with his brother to be her friend. It is a movie that celebrates life and love, family and friendship. It is real and emotionally powerful—and subtle.

Yes, subtle.

As I writer, I strive for this—to tell the story and let my audience connect the dots to discover the greater, overarching truths the story illustrates. The writer and director of this movie managed this superbly. They told a compelling story that drives home the sanctity of life without using any of the buzz words generally associated with such a theme.

But the subtlety of its theme isn’t the only reason I enjoyed this movie. Its excellence extended to every aspect of the film—the writing, the directing, the acting. Nothing second-rate or hokey about this film and frankly, you can’t say that about very many movies these days. Oh, and did I mention that there are no offensive scenes or language? Yet the feel of reality is all over this film. I assume it garnered the PG-13 rating because of the thematic elements.

This movie is the first offering from new production company Metanoia, whose mission statement declares they desire “to make movies that matter and have the potential to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.” I’m already looking forward to seeing what they come up with next!

11/08/2007

Creating is Messy

I was cleaning up the kitchen the other morning—yet again. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I can clean when I don’t have to cook, and even consider it the best end of the deal. But when my daughter cooks, she doesn’t give a thought to the mess she leaves behind. When she is finished, it looks like a Texas tornado has hit my kitchen.

So after piles of dishes, I was down to wiping the countertops (and the appliances, and the backsplash, and . . . you get the idea) and lamenting the mess that comes from her creations. As I swept crumbs into the trashcan, it hit me: creating is messy, whatever the medium. Painting. Sculpting. Cooking. Even writing. When I get in a writing frenzy of creation, papers and books are often strewn from room to room, linking them like beads on a necklace.

It helped, realizing that her mess is simply a by-product of her creative process. It makes it easier to clean up after her because I know how she feels. I understand the creative urge, the need to see in visible form what exists in your head and heart, the complete focus on the creation, the oblivion to everything else around you.

So cook on, my girl. I’m right behind you, soapy rag in hand.

11/05/2007

The Grocery Store Dilemma

I get lulled into complacency in the summer time. When I do my big monthly grocery shopping trip (stocking up on staples such as bread, cereal, and toiletries) I bring home bags piled high in the back of my car and then watch as they disappear up the stairs and into my kitchen. Sometimes I even have help unpacking the bags and putting the groceries away.

But once school starts I live with the inevitable dilemma: do I shop with the crowds on the weekends, when my kids are home to help unload, or do I shop in peace but carry all the bags myself. Every time I try one way, I swear the other is better. Today I shopped in peace, checked out in a reasonable amount of time, and then ended up making about ten trips up and down the stairs to the garage, arms sagging with bags. To top it off, I’ve had a nasty cold, so the effort quite wore me out! Then, after all that, I still had to unload the bags that now covered my kitchen table and the majority of my countertops.

I guess I should be grateful for the extra exercise, but I imagine the chocolate I ate to console myself canceled out any benefit from climbing the stairs. Oh, well. I guess it’s back to fighting the crowds. At least for next month.

10/30/2007

Pumpkin Pie

I can’t remember when I started the tradition, but somewhere in the past, it began. October 31 is the day I make the first pumpkin pie of the season. It isn’t just any pumpkin pie, mind you. It’s my grandmother’s recipe—more nutmeggy, more creamy than a traditional pumpkin pie. It’s something I can actually make, something that turns out the way it is supposed to every time.

And my family loves it. The five of us can polish off a whole pie in nothing flat.

So the season begins. I will make one or two pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, one or two for Christmas, and a few more here and there before Winter’s end. And all I know is I’d better keep to my exercise routine. Otherwise I’ll be round as a pumpkin by Spring!

10/26/2007

Saying No

I’m usually a person to whom “no” comes easily.

“Can you be the team mom?” No.
“Can you sub for this teacher?” No.
“Can you head up this committee?” N—well . . .

I was asked this week to head up a committee in an organization/ministry I used to be very involved with. I have to admit, I was flattered. It stopped the No before it left my lips.

“I’ll think about it, pray about it,” I told the caller.

I hung up the phone in wonder. Someone had remembered me. They thought I could head up this very important committee. No meetings, mind you. Just email and a few phone calls to make some decisions. I can do this, I told myself. And maybe this is what God wants me to do. After all, they did call me.

Two days later, after prayers coupled with busy days, I laughed at my own ridiculousness. I can’t do it! I can’t add one more responsibility in my life right now. If I do, it will detract from the things God has clearly called me to already—-namely, to be a wife, a mother, and a writer.

It was nice to be thought of, to be asked. But I must return to my familiar refrain: I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that.

10/23/2007

Ah, Fall

Fall is in the air, promising winter will come. I love the change from summer to winter, from winter to summer. It really isn’t about which season is my favorite, it’s about the fact that one will last for a while, we’ll wring every last drop from it, then it will fade into something different from what it was. So now I’m reveling in a return to jackets and crackling fires and the steam of a hot beverage warming my cold nose.

10/19/2007

Comfort Reading

Looking back at my calendar, I realize just how stressful my life has been since school began. Eight weeks and not one even remotely “normal” one among them! So it’s no wonder I’ve reverted to my “comfort books.” I picked up Little Town on the Prairie the other day. Now I’m on These Happy Golden Years. I think I’m up for an L.M. Montgomery binge next.

Even after reading Laura Ingalls Wilder so many times, I forget how much I enjoy her books. I pick up something new every time, because each time I read them, I’m at a different place in my life. (I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve read these books, but since I’ve had the set for over 30 years, my guess is at least 25 times each!)

This time I loved how Pa didn’t just notice Laura’s need for a bit of fun in her life of work and study (she was 14-15 then), he validated it by putting together the Friday night literary society meetings during the winter months. He wanted her to have fun in those precious years just before having to take on all the responsibility of a grown-up. And good thing he did! You have to wonder if Almanzo would have noticed her if the whole town hadn’t been together having such fun gatherings!

I always love, too, Mary and Laura’s discussion of the goodness of God and Laura’s observation that Mary knows His goodness in a very special way because of her blindness. And Ma’s advice, that I go back to time and time again, both in my own life and to pass along to my children. “You may be well prepared to teach school and still not be a schoolteacher,” Ma tells Laura, “but if you are not prepared, it’s certain that you won’t be.”

And two things I’ve pondered for the first time from this reading: what happened to the Boasts? What was their story before they met the Ingalls? What was there life like between their occasional appearances over the last two books? Also, was Eliza Jane still alive when these were published? Laura doesn’t pull any punches “cleaning up” her future sister-in-law’s shortcomings. Did Laura and Eliza Jane ever reconcile to the place where they could be civil to each other?

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my “comfort” reading in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, search out those books that impacted you as a child and re-read them. I think you’ll be amazed and the different things you see in them as an adult.

10/16/2007

Sandi Glahn


Today I’d like to introduce you to fellow writer Sandra Glahn.

Sandra Glahn, ThM, teaches in the media arts program at Dallas Theological Seminary, where she edits the award-winning magazine Kindred Spirit. The author of six books and co-author of seven others, she is pursuing a PhD in Aesthetic Studies (Arts and Humanities) at the University of Texas at Dallas . She recently released her first solo medical suspense novel, Informed Consent (Cook). She is the co-author of three other such novels, which include the Christy Award finalist, Lethal Harvest.

I recently read Sandi’s new release Informed Consent. While medical thrillers are not the genre I generally gravitate to, this story held my attention—so much so that I finished it in one day! But I’ll let Sandi tell you a little bit about the book.




What’s Informed Consent about?

Jeremy Cramer, the next Einstein of research, is a medical resident specializing in infectious diseases. While working on a way to revive water submersion victims, he makes surprising discoveries, while also living with massive guilt over incidental infections that occur (which he could have prevented). Even as his marriage teeters, his career continues to skyrocket. Then, with a few twists along the way, he finds everything he has fought for threatened by the most personal, most heart-wrenching, choices of all.
I love exploring bioethics, and this book allowed me to consider end-of-life issues, patient rights, a compassionate response to HIV-AIDS…lots of edutainment.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

The story had a thousand or more “what if” moments. I’m pursuing a PhD in Aesthetic Studies, and I worked on the setting, characters, a lot of the plot, as well as my narrative voice during three novel-writing classes taught by a novelist who writes fiction reviews for Publishers Weekly. And I got some great feedback from fellow students who don’t believe in Christ about ways to address faith issues more naturally. I also took a Dante class, which influenced my choice to give my characters five of the seven deadly sins. (I’m saving the other two for a future work.)

But the elements in the plot designed to keep readers up at night came through a brainstorming session with medical doctor, William Cutrer, with whom I’ve coauthored three medical novels.

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

Dr. Nate Barlow. He’s imperfect, but he cares so much for his patients. And he’s a good friend. He has every reason to be arrogant, but he’s oblivious to his own greatness.

So if you are looking for a fast-paced read with lots of gut-wrenching emotion, find a copy of Sandi’s Informed Consent.

10/13/2007

10-20-30: Where Was I When?

Ok, so this is a fun variation on the “tag” thing:

10-20-30. My friend Mary began it, my friend Carla Steward tagged me. So here goes. What were you doing 10, 20, 30 years ago?

Ten Years Ago: I was living in Dallas, still mourning my best friend’s move to Rowlett. I had a 3, 4, and 6 year old at home. After coming home from a weekend retreat that fall, my husband told me that if God wanted us to move to Rowlett, he was willing. A few weeks later, the lot NEXT DOOR to my best friend was released for sale. We bought it and began building our house. Writing was a latent dream. All my energy was spent figuring out how to deal with my children.

Twenty Years Ago: I married in June and moved to Dallas where my husband started law school at SMU. We were young and in love and loving the freedom of our own apartment two blocks from campus. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in history with the goal of writing Christian historical novels.

Thirty Years Ago: I was living in Ft. Worth. I switched schools that year, beginning fifth grade at a Christian school which required me to wear dresses every day! Yuck! I was skinny, wore big glasses and had just had my hair cut in a Dorothy Hamill wedge. I devoured books and had just discovered that I loved to write, too.

So, to further Mary’s experiment into how far into the blogosphere we can reach, I’m tagging a few friends:

Richard
Rachelle
Katy
Angie

Post your answers to 10-20-30 and link back to Mary’s blog or leave a comment and let her know how you came to participate.

10/12/2007

Exercising My Non-Fiction Muscles

I finished and sent an 800-word non-fiction article last night. It is my first requested article from a query letter. (Let’s be clear here. NOT my first query letter!)

I’m not really a non-fiction girl, so this was definitely a challenge. My first draft came in at 1300 words! With the help of my critique group, I pared it down to 798 to met the requested length of 800 words. It felt so bare bones. (“Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday would say.) My example stories only received a few sentences instead of the paragraphs I had originally spun out.

But it was a good exercise, whether or not it gets accepted. I learned I CAN write non-fiction—at least I can when I have a good story idea and a request from an editor! I learned I CAN write sparingly but without losing the heart of the article. And I learned I CAN make time in my busy life to do what needs to be done.

I needed that encouragement in my writing life—even if this article never sees publication.

10/09/2007

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

Or, Life Lessons I Learned from Monday Night Football. (If you didn’t watch or read about last night’s Cowboys v. Bills game, you might not understand the following.)

1.It isn’t over ‘til it’s over—how many times did I almost turn off the game because, in my mind, it was a lost cause. And yet it wasn’t over until the last second ticked off the clock. Fortunately, the players knew that even if I didn’t.

2.Mistakes can be overcome—mistake after excruciating, humiliating mistake Tony Romo ran back onto the field and continued to lead his team. He didn’t cower from the task. He didn’t let his past mistakes affect his ability to keep trying. Each new down was just that—a new down.

3.Encouraging teammates are invaluable—as Tony endured his mistakes, not one of his teammates was seen yelling at him, or he at them. Several players and coaches went out of their way to say an encouraging word. And Tony didn’t blame his mistakes on others’ blunders, either. Oh how often we miss in our lives the blessing of being an encouraging “teammate” to someone having a hard time.

4.It doesn’t matter what the commentators say—the three men in the booth spent the entire evening talking up the significance of this win, even calling it the biggest upset of the season. Minute after minute they extolled the virtues of the Buffalo Bills. But it didn’t change the score in the end.

5.Even when you do things right, sometimes you still “lose”—in spite of so many “right” things, Buffalo lost the game. Yes, by one point. But it still goes in the “loss” column. And yet they played very well for a young team trying to rebuild. Good performances don’t always lead to desired outcomes. That is true in all of life.

6.Established confidence comes through in dire situations—Nick Folk’s confidence survived knowing he was kicking the game winning field goal from the longest point of his career on national TV as a rookie—and he had to do it twice! It wasn’t this situation that gave him confidence; the situation revealed the confidence already built inside of him. Every event in our lives can be a stepping stone for future success.


Ok, so I love football. I love watching human drama played out in front of me in the form of a game. And I especially love it when my Cowboys WIN!

10/08/2007

Did They Really Mean That?

Don’t you just love public signs that don’t really mean what they first imply? I found this one yesterday at the Cotton Bowl, site of the annual UT-OU football game.

It’s even funnier when seen with the sign on the other side of the steps.


Seriously, we had a great time at the State Fair indulging in our annual fried food binge. We watched part of the Waffle House Waffle Eat-Off. Those people are insane! After 2 minutes some had already eaten 12 waffles! We watched a cooking demonstration by the Executive chef at the Mansion on Turtle Creek—and even got to sample the dish afterwards. And we marveled at a sand castle of the Dallas skyline.

10/04/2007

The Lion King

I love theatre and movies—the visual creativity with which a story is told spurs me to expand my ideas of what words can do. We went to see The Lion King on stage last night. All I can say is WOW! I spent the evening with my mouth hanging open, marveling at the “out of the box” creativity required to bring the Disney animated film to stage in such a realistic way. The costuming and choreography are worth the price of admission!

I loved watching actors portray the emotions of a human being with the physical attributes of their animal characters. The music and scenery transported me to Africa to watch the story unfold. (I asked my daughter if it felt familiar to her. She said it made her want to get on a plane and go!) I even liked the plot expansions they did for the play—they weren’t contrived but actually brought a bit more logic and “believability” to the story.

When we left, I felt re-inspired, eager to try new ways of expression that will capture an audience just as the creators of The Lion King innovatively brought their story to life before my eyes.

10/02/2007

Competing at the State Fair



My sixteen-year-old daughter, who loves to cook and intends to pursue a culinary education after graduation, entered the State Fair of Texas Cheesecake Competition today. It was quite an interesting experience!

Cheesecakes were but one category of the entire “cheese” competition. We sat in the waiting area as judges tasted and wrote. We counted at least 15 cheesecakes. Hers went first. Not always a good thing in such a large field. But once we knew hers had been tasted, we relaxed and began to listen to the other contestants around us. Some of these people are hard core! I mean, they enter multiple competitions in the State Fair of Texas every year, many of them winning consistently. They all seemed to know each other, like a little sorority of which we were not a part. We listened, our eyes widening as they speculated on the winners of each category and of “Best in Show” for “Cheese.”

We said to one another that we shouldn’t get our hopes up. Honorable Mention would be a good thing. We plastered smiles on our faces and poised ourselves to clap for the winners.

“Third place in cheesecakes goes to . . .” The woman with the microphone faltered a bit. Then she announced my daughter’s name! Tears welled up in my eyes as the other women clapped for her and, I’m sure, wondered who she was. After all, this was her first ever competition! And she was quite a bit younger than all the other entrants.

We didn’t even hear the other names announced. We were too stunned, too excited. I know what it feels like to receive that kind of validation in the arena you feel God has gifted and called you to. It’s amazing.

So congratulations to my baby girl! I’m glad someone in this house knows how to cook!

9/29/2007

Homecoming Woes

There are things I hate about raising a girl. Date events are one of them. At a small school like ours, big events become REALLY big events. Everyone wants to be there. But what’s a girl to do when she doesn’t get asked? Especially if she doesn’t know many boys outside of that group and of those, several are in relationships?

I feel too deeply the hurt and humiliation of not having a date. My son, who is at the threshold of his first big event, has control of his own destiny. He asked a girl. She said yes. Even if she’d said no, he could have asked another one. Or not. It would have been his choice. My daughter, on the other hand, simply waits. And now most of the dates are taken. She is left wondering what to do, feeling left out of the big shebang. I remember all too well how it feels—and it hurts as badly as it did when I went through it myself. Except in my case, in a big high school, lots of people didn’t participate. In a high school of 40 or so students, getting left out is much harder.

I wish I could help her instead of just comfort her.

9/25/2007

Productivity Problems

Tuesday was quite productive, writing wise. Why is that a problem? Because when I’m being productive, it’s hard to stop. But I have to stop. I have to engage with my family. It’s my number one priority in the evenings. But I don’t want to give up the momentum I’ve found. I worry that the next day something will interfere. And it usually does. My productivity comes to a screeching halt, and I’m back to square one!

Who knows, maybe tomorrow will be different.

9/23/2007

My ACFW Conference

Whew! I’m finally home—and home for a while!

But I had a great time at the ACFW Conference this weekend. Here are some things I enjoyed:

•Participating in the skit at the opening session. (I was Deb Raney. I’ll post a picture soon.)

•Making friends with lots of new people just for the sake of making friends! (I don’t think I exchanged business cards with ANYONE because I was too focused on them as a person, not a business contact!)

•A GREAT critique session with author Maureen Lang. She gave me some much needed encouragement and incentive to keep working on my current book.

•Overcoming a bit of my public speaking fears when I had to introduce the speaker in a large session.

•Spending down time with Mary DeMuth in our room at night processing the events of each day.

•Feeling comfortable in my “writer-skin,” feeling like I belonged, that I wasn’t an interloper, or a tag-along, that I didn’t have to justify labeling myself as a writer.

God met me there—not with contracts or requests for manuscripts, but with Himself. I met Him one-on-one in the worship times and in the prayer room and I met him in eyes and hearts of other writers.

It was very much worth every bit of money and every moment of time.

9/19/2007

To ACFW Conference I Go!

Sorry I’ve been so sporadic. Besides having to do the quick-trip-turn-around, yesterday I completed my first freelance editing job! I’m so excited! But it meant packing yet one more thing into an already busy week.

The ACFW Conference starts tomorrow, but I’ll be there tonight practicing for the skit we’re doing at the opening session. Did y’all know I’m an actress? (Okay, so you’ve probably been reading between the lines of my blog posts and have realized I can be quite the Drama Queen!) I haven’t acted on the stage in years and I’m jazzed about getting to do it again.

That’s it. Gotta run. I’ll give a report on how the conference went sometime on Monday!

9/14/2007

Frenzied Homecoming


Whew!

It’s harder than I thought to come home from a trip and get ready to leave again a week later. At least in my life it’s hard. The week home is filled with football games and getting cell phones fixed and leading Moms in Touch and driving a Meals on Wheels route and finishing and printing one sheets and. . . and . . . and!

But New York was great. We saw three musicals, ate at Bobby Flay’s restaurant, decided that Junior’s really does have the best cheesecake in New York, walked until our feet hurt, rode the subway, took lots of pictures, and generally enjoyed ourselves—while my poor husband worked! The Culinary Institute of America was so impressive. Like a real college—a great campus and dorms and lots of social activities. I could see her there. And riding the train to get there was a very fun experience, too.

Now my focus in on the ACFW Conference which begins on Thursday. No rest for the weary!

9/07/2007

Times Square, Here We Come!


It took me 33 years to get to New York City the first time. It was a great trip with my husband—one of the best at that point in our marriage—but I was still in a bad place in my spirit, still seeking the peace that had eluded me since our first baby had made her way into the world nine years earlier.

We returned this past February to celebrate my fortieth birthday. Our dream trip in so many ways. One to remember for a lifetime.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we’d be going back just a scant six months later!

Yes, we are off to the city that never sleeps once again, this time with 16-year-old daughter in tow. My husband has business to do in the city, so while he works, she and I will explore not only the city, but visit the Culinary Institute of America, 2 hours north. Yikes! Our first college visit! I don’t even know what questions to ask at culinary school!

So it will be an adventure of a very different sort this time around. I’m excited to experience New York again with my daughter, for I know our time together is short. Two years from now she’ll be at a college (or culinary school), all on her own. It won’t ever be quite the same after that. Not that I’m bemoaning her leaving. I love my kids, but I’ve always looked forward to having some of my time back in order to chase my own dreams. But I’m learning to cherish these moments, for they are fleeting.

We fly out Saturday morning and return Wednesday afternoon, so if you think of us, please pray our time together will be special.

9/03/2007

Eureka! Part 2

I know you’ve waited through the weekend with bated breath for Part 2 of this post! Ha!

Anyway, here’s my new plan. I’m counting on y’all to help me stick to it!

1)One week per month: turn off my internal editor and just write as many words as possible on my WIP.

2)The rest of the month: edit what I’ve written, evaluating it in terms of plot, characterization, emotional impact, scene structure, writing style—the whole shebang.

It’s a hybrid of seat-of-the-pants, planned writing, and write/edit. Hopefully this will allow me to let the story flow and yet make sure it is on track before I’ve written an entire book. It will also give me times to submerge myself in the story (the free writing) without worrying that my life will fly to pieces (its only a week) as well as time to evaluate where it has taken me (editing process), which I can do in the midst of keeping up with all the details of life.

Most writers seem to be bent one way or the other, but as in so many other areas of my life, I’m torn between two opposite sides of my personality. I’m a planner—and yet I’m not. I’m spontaneous—and yet I’m not. It’s always been one of my issues with books and music and movies, too. I fall into categories that don’t usually overlap! In other words, I’m a little bit country—and a little bit rock-n-roll (and classical and Broadway tunes and praise and worship.)

So that’s it, my hybrid writing process. Only time will tell if it really makes a difference!

8/30/2007

Eureka!

I had a Eureka! moment this week. Actually, I’ve had a few of those in the past couple of weeks. Some have been mundane (like, Eureka! If I fill and run the dishwasher before I go to bed at night I’m less stressed the next morning.) Most have been writing related. And after seven years of consistent wrestling with my writing, it’s about time!

You see, six years ago this November, I actually finished a novel. Well, almost a novel. 50,000 words, to be exact. Until then, I’d never finished much of anything—only a few of the creative writing assignments for school, because, after all, they received a grade! Then began the arduous task of editing, of adding and subtracting to make the novel what it should be. Then I began and finished another one. Then another one. Each one I approached with a little more knowledge and a little different method to my madness. But each one fell short of the mark in some aspect.

What do to? I’ve spent the first eight months of this year asking myself and the Lord this question. My understanding of craft has grown greatly, but I still wasn’t able to grasp how best to accomplish my goals of getting the stories in my head down on the page. So I’ve grappled in fits and starts. And then I hit Eureka euphoria.

You see, I’ve been listening to and reading about how other authors budget their time and approach this monumental task of telling a story with compelling characters and a page turning plot over the course of 80,000 or 90,000 words. And slowly, slowly, I’ve been meshing them all into the plan that works for me. Finally, I think, I’ve hit upon the plan that fits my lifestyle and my temperament, that combines planned and organic elements.

What is this revelation that is revolutionizing and energizing my writing? Well, like any good author, I’ll leave you hanging until next time . . .

8/23/2007

You can buy an autographed copy of Mary DeMuth's insightful book, Authentic Parenting in a Post-Modern Culture
by clicking on the link.

It's been a very busy week for me, but the kids are off to school today (woohoo!) so I should be around more consistently starting Monday!

8/20/2007

A Recommended Parenting Book


I don’t read parenting books. At least that’s what I decided after my first child never followed the prescribed patterns (child does X, parent does Y, child’s behavior changes). So I find it quite humorous that God connected me with two very wonderful writers who write—you guessed it—parenting books!

Today I’d like to tell you about Mary DeMuth’s latest non-fiction title (she writes fiction, too). Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007) is not your typical parenting book. Much like her first parenting book, Building the Christian Family You Never Had (Waterbrook, 2006), Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture isn’t a prescriptive parenting book. Instead of giving formulaic answers to specific situations, Mary insightfully and scripturally encourages us as parents to shift our thinking about how we are preparing our children to face the changing world.

Mary first encourages parents to deepen their own walk with Jesus. Only with His wisdom and strength can we ever hope to guide each child into our ultimate goal for them: to know the Lord on their own. This involves being real with our children, allowing them to see our failings, hear our apologies, and witness our changes. It also involves seeing our children as valuable not only for who they are but for how God uses them to teach us more about Him and more about the life of faith.

But Mary goes beyond looking at ourselves as parents. She encourages us to understand that we are called to come alongside our tweens and teens, conversing and coaching through the ups and downs of life, so that they learn not only to grab hold of their own faith and live it out, but also learn patterns of life that will help them navigate a postmodern society which values things like relationship and communication. By using creative, everyday things, we can ground our children in the truth of the Word of God and nurture their souls, preparing them to do the work God has for them in this broken world.

I recommend this book for any parent out there, but especially for those in or entering the tween and teen years, where so much grappling with how to walk out a relationship with Christ is done.


Be sure to check out the other blogs participating on the Authentic Parenting Tour this week. For a complete listing of the blogs participating in the six week tour, visit here.
Ane Mulligan
A Peek at My Bookshelf
Candle Blog
Declaring His Marvelous Work
Generation NeXT Parenting
GraceReign
Holy Experience
Hopeful Happenings
In the Dailies
Leap of Faith
Lift My Noise
Llama Momma
sprightly
Soul Scents
Spaghettipie
The View from Here
Write On Edge

8/13/2007

Two Movies

In a quite unusual turn of events, we saw TWO movies at the theatre this weekend. The contrast between the two was worlds beyond their settings (modern day NYC and the 19th century English countyside.)

I wanted so much to like No Reservations. I wanted it to become one of my new favorites, alongside the likes of You’ve Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping. It sounded so appealing—two chefs, one orphaned child. But, alas, it was not to be. There was just so little emotional pull. I still don’t know if it was the screenplay or the acting, but whatever it was, it didn’t move me to care enough about the characters. In fact, the storyline was much like a movie I liked—Raising Helen—which had tons of emotion. Besides the lack of pulling me in, the two main characters’ budding relationship flowered much too early, and too easily.

No Reservations could learn a bit from Becoming Jane. Becoming Jane is a charming film about Jane Austen before classic literature spilled from her pen. There was emotion. There was romance. There was the heat of a look that sends chills to my toes—something two kissing faces and a closed door couldn’t do in No Reservations. I’m sure much of this story was fictionalized, but it was based on Jane’s experiences which, in turn, colored her fiction. It was fun to watch characters which resembled those in her books and wonder how close they were in real life to the characters we cherish even now. And the best part? Watching it with my willing husband—one of only 2 men in the theatre!!

8/11/2007

Playing Editor

I’m playing editor these days. I’m trying to get my own first 25 pages polished to send in for a paid critique. I’m editing my friend Tamitha’s YA novel to send to an editor who asked to see it. And I’m editing my friend Mary's third novel, due soon at the publisher.

I enjoy editing. It makes me a better writer, and, in turn, a better editor! And in the case of editing other people’s work, I get to read some great stories in the process. I’m glad that the things I’ve learned about writing in the past 7 years can be put to use helping those on their first novel, like Tamitha, as well as veterans like Mary, with 5 published books under her belt and four more due at the publisher.

Whatever else the Lord has planned for my writing, I know this is one way I can be a blessing to the body of Christ and have a hand in getting His message out to those who need it.

8/06/2007

And the Countdown Begins . . .

Hey y’all!

I’m trying to get my daughter to do a post or two about her trip, but pinning down a sixteen-year-old can be like trying to corral the wind!

Anyway, I’m gearing up for school to start. And the countdown begins. Only two and half weeks left! Woohoo! We still have several appointments to keep before then, football two-a-days begin today, and of course school supplies are yet to be bought, but I’m already thinking schedules and blocking out my writing time for the school year. I’m limiting my school involvement this year in order to find more time to write, but that’s okay since I no longer have any kids in the elementary grades!!!

I thrive on routine, so I’m chomping at the bit for it to begin again. Routine and a quiet house. I’ve almost forgotten what they feel like.

8/01/2007

Home

I’m home.

That phrase took on new meaning for me Monday night. We’d been to visit family on the east coast for 10 days. It was, in many ways, a good trip. We celebrated my husband’s grandmother’s 80th birthday (12 great-grandchildren were in attendance). We visited with aunts and uncles and cousins as well as parents, grandmothers, a sister and brother-in-law, a nephew and a five-week-old niece. We went to the beach, the boardwalk, played mini golf. The kids fished. My husband and I read a lot.

But it wasn’t paradise by any stretch of the imagination. Sleeping conditions were less than ideal both in terms of space, comfortable beds, and temperature. For us Texans used to summering the heat with blasts of the AC, no AC proved a challenge, especially in 95% humidity! I confess, it made me grumpy in the end. Add to that being at the beach (in the same house) with thirteen people, including the newborn, a three-year-old, and a 92-year-old grandmother, all of whom we had to feed three times a day and things got a bit hairy. I like my space and I didn’t get much of it.

By the time we hit Baltimore for 24 hours of just our family before catching our flight home, we were exhausted and I just wanted to be in my own house. A rain delay at the airport meant that didn’t happen until nearly midnight on Monday. But as I lay in my own bed, I felt the grin on my face and I thanked the Lord that I was home.

That’s when it hit me. The joy of coming home.

I confess that I’ve never been one that “longs” for heaven. In my younger years, as I dealt with issues of rejection and unworthiness, I feared heaven, feared I wouldn’t be let in or, worse yet, would be tossed out. Later, as I truly understood the love of God and accepted as truth how He sees me now, heaven didn’t scare me, but I didn’t necessarily long for it, either. Monday night I understood.

This life is like our trip—we live with people we love, enjoying them, enduring them, surviving often less-than-ideal conditions, reveling in those occasional rapturous moments, but all the while knowing we can (and must) endure because it is only a short time until we will be where we belong, in a place that feels familiar and safe and comfortable and peaceful.

So our family is at home now. All together again. I’m happy but tired and swamped with things to catch up on. And I have a new inkling of the satisfaction that will come when I finish my sojourn on this earth and take up my citizenship in my true home—heaven.

(At least when I get there I won’t have to deal with mounds of laundry or mail—or an empty pantry!)

7/20/2007

She's Home!!

My daughter is home from Ghana with incredible stories to tell--and I'm sure those we're just the tip of the iceberg! I can't wait to hear more in the coming days. Thanks for praying!

Tagged for Reader and Writer Questions

My friend Richard tagged me on this writing-related questionnaire, so here goes:

1. What's the one book or writing project you haven't yet written but still hope to?

A novel loosely based on my grandmother’s experience (as a child) of the 1917 Influenza pandemic.

2. If you had one entire day in which to do nothing but read, what book would you start with?

Hmm. My “to read” bookshelf is full of fun and eclectic authors like Maeve Binchy, Lisa Samson, Susan Meissner, John Le Carre, Alexander McCall Smith, Daphne Du Maurier, Anne Perry, and others. And of course there are the classics that I love and the ones I still want to read. And a slew of YA books I would re-read and others I’d like to experience. And then there are the new titles I’m waiting for from some of my favorite authors. So to answer the question: it would depend on my mood for that day!

3. What was your first writing "instrument" (besides pen and paper)?

I went straight from paper and pen to a computer. My short typewriter phase only produced papers for my college classes.

4. What's your best guess as to how many books you read in a month?

I know this, because I keep a list! The average for a year is 5 a month. The most has been something like 10, usually in the summer.

5. What's your favorite writing "machine" you've ever owned?

I’m not sure I’ve had a “favorite.” All of my computers have been adequately functional.

6. Think historical fiction: what's your favorite time period in which to read? (And if you don't read historical fiction--shame on you.)

I never have just one! I love many of the “war” eras—Revolutionary, Civil, WWI, WWII. I also enjoy Regency and Victorian.

7. What's the one book you remember most clearly from your youth (childhood or teens)?

I hate these “one book” questions! My answer is the whole Little House on the Prairie set. I think I’ve read through them upwards of twenty times—and still re-read them every couple of years!

So now you know a little more about me as a reader and a writer. I’m supposed to tag other bloggers now, so Tina, Robin, and Heather, let’s hear your answers!

7/16/2007

Sporatic Summer

I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Instead, I’ve taken two boys for their physicals and back and forth to football practices and the golf course. I’ve attended parties at friends’ houses, meet another friend for lunch, had some meetings at my kids’ school, celebrated both my sisters’ birthdays, attended two monthly critique groups and spent about five hours on the phone with the new mail order pharmacy company trying to get my prescription refills (which still aren’t here but are promised for tomorrow!)

A little writing has been done in between times. And my boys and I have almost finished our 1000 piece puzzle for the summer.

My daughter comes home on Thursday. (I’ve missed her so much!) We leave Saturday for a visit with my in-laws—meeting our brand-new niece, celebrating my husband’s grandmother’s eightieth birthday, and hanging out at the beach with my sister-in-law’s family for a few days.

Needless to say, my blogging will be sporadic until August. Ah, but the routine of the school year is close at hand!

7/10/2007

A Tidbit from Ghana

Last year, one of the most life-changing events my daughter experienced on her trip to Ghana was participating in passing out Operation Christmas Child boxes. It was a secret desire of her heart, one only the Lord could have orchestrated. It was the highlight of her trip—and maybe her life to that point.

In an update email from this year’s trip, I learned that an 8 x 10 picture of her passing out the boxes hangs outside the office of the director of World Vision in this region of Ghana. Wow! What an incredible gift to her! To have such an experience that you have treasured in your heart and then to discover that it meant enough to others, too, to warrant their constant remembrance of you in a picture must have been a bit overwhelming. And it must have been, again, a confirmation of God’s love for her and His pleasure at her service in His name.

7/09/2007

Looking forward

I have to admit, I’m jealous. I’m reading all these fun blog posts of people who are at ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) this week. It’s like looking through the glass at a party all your friends were invited to and you weren’t.

Now, granted, I have no reason to go—I have no book published or contracted. And I know that only a couple of said people are really my friends—the majority I know of or read their blogs or their books or both.

Still, it sounds fun. And I hate to be left out of fun, especially when it includes books and writerly people.

Maybe someday.

For now, I’ll just anticipate all the fun I’ll have with old writer friends and new at the ACFW conference in September.

7/05/2007

Off to Ghana


My sixteen-year-old daughter leaves for Ghana, West Africa today. (She’s on the end of the front row, in the green shorts.) This will be her second trip. She is traveling with a group mostly from her school—four students (all will be juniors next year) and four adults. They will be gone from July 5-July 19.

If the Lord brings her to mind over the next couple of weeks, would you pray for her and the team she is with? They will be ministering in villages of an unreached people group and spending much of their time with the children of those villages. Please pray for seeds to be sown on good soil. They will also get to see the progress being made on a village church building that our school has raised the money to build.

This was a life-changing trip for her last year and I expect it will be so again. I’ll give you some highlights when she gets back.

7/03/2007

Rain, Rain Go Away

It’s almost sacrilegious to say this in Texas after the past two years of horrendous drought conditions, but I’m going to say it anyway:

I’m sick of rain!

Almost 11 inches in the month of July. Yesterday alone we had 3 inches in less than an hour, according to my parents’ rain gauge. I’m tired of gray, humid days. I’m tired of the kids being in the house all day. I’m tired of everything being wet, of our yard at jungle levels.

On occasion we see the sun, but it does little more than create a steam bath atmosphere. I never realized how much I took the sun in summer for granted, how much I depended on it for that happy summer feeling.

There is an upside, though. The temperature has rarely reached 90, let alone the customary 100s, so the electric bill has been a blessed bright spot (every pun intended!)

If you are in a rain-soaked state, I hope you dry out soon.

If you are in a place where you pray daily for rain to fall—-be careful what you pray for!

6/28/2007

Miss Potter

I’ve been wanting to see the movie Miss Potter. When it came out in the theater, it was in limited places for a short time and I didn’t make it. Now the DVD is out. We rented it tonight. And I wasn’t disappointed.

This charming film starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor tells the story of Beatrix Potter, the author of all those fabulous children’s books about Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-duck, and all the other animals who have adventures. It is funny and sad and poignant and joyful. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I loved the story of her writing and her publication. I loved her spunk. And the added bonus? A wonderful romance.

I think I’ll have to add this one to my personal collection.

6/27/2007

Twenty Years and Counting


Twenty years ago tonight I walked down the aisle a gangly twenty-year-old. I walked up the aisle a married woman. Back then, our prospects included three years of him in law school, me finishing my final two years of college. Beyond that, we had only dreams of what would be.

Now Jeff has a thriving law practice, I am consistently growing as a writer (my lifelong dream), and we have three great kids who are getting closer to embarking on their own journeys in life. We’ve waded through financial struggles, relationship issues, personal issues, and childrearing difficulties. It hasn’t been easy or perfect, but it’s been good. Good for us individually and good for us as one flesh.

We aren’t breaking the bank to celebrate tonight (we did that when we went to NYC for my 40th birthday this past February!), but we’ll have a nice dinner (with a gift card from Christmas!), we’ll see a play, and we’ll enjoy the love and friendship that has blossomed through twenty years together.

6/24/2007

My Writing Verse

I’ve always envied writers who have a verse that identifies them as a writer. I’ve even tried on some of the more popular “writing” verses for my own, but they never quite fit me. For awhile it really bothered me, as if I didn’t really have a calling since I didn’t have a verse. But gradually I got over it, knowing that the Lord has given and continues to give me in encouragement in walking this path.

Then today, in church, a man stood up and read two verses in Matthew 10. How is it that even when you’ve read the Bible all your life you continue to find verses you’d swear you’d never seen before! Anyway, he read verses 26 and 27, but he was really only talking about 26. I, on the other hand, couldn’t take my mind off verse 27. Here’s what it says (Jesus is speaking to his disciples before sending them out):

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops.”

The previous verse talks about things hidden being revealed. That was the point of the man’s talk. He asked if those verses made us feel free or fearful. My answer was fearful, but not because of v. 26. I’ve spent many years allowing God to reveal all the hidden ick in my heart. Whenever I find something new, it doesn’t scare me anymore to acknowledge that. I know the freedom there.

But the thought of telling in the light what He has spoken to me in the darkness, or shouting out what he’s whispered in my ear, THAT scares me! And yet, that so defines my fiction. Not that my stories are autobiographical by any means. But when it comes to core issues in the lives of my characters, I very often have at least a passing familiarity with those—in myself or in those close to me. Often, I have walked through the pain of bringing those issues to light and God has whispered His words in my ear, words that somehow find their way into my characters’ thoughts or dialogue or actions.

So now I have a writing verse, one that defines me, one that reminds me of the path He’s called me to walk, and one that feels tailor-made for me.

6/21/2007

Preparation for the Race

The Snowflake Method for designing novels by Randy Ingermanson. I’ve tried to use it for years. It never worked for me.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago I bought A Snowflake Analysis of the Novel: Gone with the Wind by Randy and his daughter Carolyn, who is an English lit major in her third year of college. Now I get it. Now I see I’d been making it more difficult than it was meant to be!

I studied the GWTW example (I’ve read the book several times, so it all made sense), then plunged in with my new novel idea. And guess what? I finished it!! The Snowflake, that is. But that means I have a roadmap for my plot, I’ve explored my characters inside and out, and I still have room for the process to grow organically as I write. And I found that I could tailor some of the snowflake method to how I write best. For instance, instead of character charts, as Randy suggests, or interviewing my characters, as other authors do, I snagged a tip from I can’t remember where and wrote my main characters’ autobiographies up until the time the story begins. That gave me the freedom to create as I went, plus it gave me not only the details about the characters I needed, but also their voice, which gives great insight into who they are.

I’m so excited. I feel like I’m in the starting gate, chomping at the bit to get in the race, just waiting for the gun to go off and the gate to open, freeing me to race down the straightaway. The gun goes off on Monday morning. I hope I make it to the finish line!

6/18/2007

A Contest on Mary's Blog

Does anyone out there want a copy of Watching the Tree Limbs and its sequel Wishing on Dandelions? Both are by my friend Mary DeMuth. Both are excellent. One is a Christy Award Finalist this year.

Here's the catch: she signed these books to celebrities and sent them off. They came back. So she's holding a contest to see who gets the books. You can find the details here.

Go ahead. Take a chance. You might win two wonderful novels you can take with you on that relaxing vacation you're going to take. Or read them at the pool while the kids swim. Or hide from the mayhem and escape to another time and place. What do you have to lose?

6/14/2007

Ruth Bell Graham

Ruth Bell Graham is rejoicing with Jesus today. It made me cry to read it.

When I was a young mother, struggling with a headstrong child and a husband working long hours, I discovered Mrs. Graham’s book of poetry. I pulled out the volume and read a few again today. They resonate with me now as they did back then. Her poems are so real, so full of the struggle of being a wife and a mother, a human being, and a child of God.

I’ll miss knowing she’s a fellow pilgrim on this earth. Her wisdom, her grace, her strength inspire me to press on toward the mark of the high calling of Christ. And isn’t that the way we’d all like our lives to count?

6/12/2007

Cleaning Up the Messes

Ah, summertime. It should conjure up thoughts of lazy days by the pool or watching movies in the heat of the day. Instead, it brings . . .

Dishes and laundry. Dishes and laundry.

How many times a day can I run the dishwasher and the washing machine? Today, it’s three each. Of course we fed eight people for dinner last night—on real dishes, including serving dishes. (My daughter is very into presentation.)

I have to keep reminding myself of the verse in Proverbs that, years ago, I heard applied to houses with children in them. I think it particularly applicable to summertime houses with kids in them!

Proverbs 14:4 Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox. (NASB) The NIV translation of the second half of this verse says “but from the strength of the ox comes an abundant harvest.” Having kids means messes and hard work, but it also means an abundant harvest for the kingdom of God—in our own lives, in their lives, and in the lives of those our families touch.

6/08/2007

The Hassles of Modernity

Nothing is easy anymore. Last week, I spent time on the phone and in the car trying to get my husband’s cell phone (w/pda) fixed or replaced. Since we pay for the full insurance every month, you’d think this would have been a simple matter.

Not!

I had to travel to the store designated for repairs (now 20 minutes away), only to be told I had to call a number and arrange for the replacement, only to be told I could have just been given a new phone at the store. I called the store back only to be told the people on the phone had given me the wrong information, so I should call them again. We finally got a new phone after three hours of hassle and a day in the mail.

Then we went to a hotel for the weekend. My husband had meetings there. I was going to write. I tried to hook up to the hotel internet to no avail. I followed the directions on the desk in the room, then I called the help number on those directions only to be told that they didn’t service that hotel any more. I finally got the new help number from the front desk and called again. This time I was told I needed a wireless bridge. I didn’t sound right, given that my laptop has a wireless card, but the woman insisted. So back to the front desk we went, only to be told they had no idea what a wireless bridge was. Back to the room, back on the phone. Someone finally figured out that my LAN setting was too fast for the connection after a frustrating hour. (I will say that the girl at the front desk felt so bad for all the trouble that she left me a snack basket in the room. That kind of customer service is all too rare these days.)

So today I call my new insurance company. My husband formed a new partnership as of June 1, thus the change. I have two mail order prescriptions and I need to get them changed over to the new mail order company. After fifteen minutes of automated voices asking me why I was calling, I got a real person only to be told they won’t transfer the prescriptions, they have to receive them new, which means I have to call and hassle each doctor’s office (my gp and my ophthalmologist) and make sure they fax in the newly written prescriptions. If they tell me I have to come to an office visit to get them, I think I’ll scream.

6/03/2007

Patience

I don’t have much of it, I admit. But I’ve been getting better, at least in my personal life. What I’ve come to understand in the past week or so, though, is I don’t have any patience in my writing life.

Putting the words of a novel on the page and then refining those words is a long process. Months. Sometimes years. But when I get an inkling of an idea or a character, I’m not patient enough to explore it, to roll it around in my head and on paper before I start writing. Thus, as I get deeper into the story, something invariably goes wrong.

I guess it’s kind of like starting to build a tower without first counting the cost. Oh I count the cost in terms of time and energy, but I don’t count other costs—like not being able to show something for a day or week’s “work.” I like concrete definitions of accomplishment. So many words written. So many pages edited. When I spend hours thinking, writing notes, sifting through ideas, I look back at the end of a day feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction. As if the “productivity police” are going to arrest me for lack of evidence.

I’ve realized this as I’ve read and studied the process of writing again. It is more than just having a story or situation in mind. I also have to have some idea where I’m going with it. As a SOTP (seat-of-the pants, a non-outliner) writer, I’ve disdained having a final destination for my characters.

But in The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman provided me a new perspective on destinations. “It is like putting your character on a train bound for California. If he decides to get off in Arizona, that’s fine. If it turns out he should settle there and never get back on the train, that’s fine, too. But he never could have known about Arizona if he hadn’t first gotten on that train for California—if he hadn’t had some destination in mind.”

In my impatience, I put my half-formed, blindfolded characters on a train to nowhere. Perhaps if I’d take a bit more planning time to figure out a destination, my characters will still surprise me by their detours in the spinning out of their stories. In fact, they probably will. If only I can hold back, think and plan and ponder until that right moment. Then, having counted the cost, hopefully the tower can be constructed with less effort and more enjoyment than ever before.

5/29/2007

A Shocking Lack of Story

It’s everywhere. Last night I watched part of “On the Lot” again with my daughter. The contestants’ assignment: make a 1 minute comedy. The ones that got the rave reviews were the ones that were not only good filmmakers, but good storytellers. Several had no story at all. None. The judges were quite severe on this flaw.

I wish those judges had been around for the making of Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I wasted 3 hours and $7 on a movie with no plot. Just familiar characters doing familiar things but without real goals or direction. I hated it.

But before I point fingers, I have to say it is a weak point in my own writing. Over the years I’ve learned some things. I can use active verbs and vivid words. I can show instead of tell. Characterization and dialogue are becoming easier. But my story—my plot—is often weak. So I’ve been studying this weekend. I pulled out all the writing books on my shelf and read and took notes on everything relating to story structure and plot.

One quote I found particularly encouraging came from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction. “It’s probable that your impulse to write has little to do with the desire or the skill to work out a plot. On the contrary, you want to write because you are sensitive. You have something to say that does not answer the question, What happened next? You share . . . a sense of the injustice, the absurdity, and the beauty of the world; and you want to register your protest, your laughter, and your affirmation. Yet readers still want to wonder what happened next, and unless you make them wonder, they will not turn the page. You must master plot, because no matter how profound or illuminating your vision of the world may be, you cannot convey it to those who do not read you.”

So I’m encouraged to learn to tell a story well, to make sure the plot is as strong as the other aspects of my writing. It’s something I’ll have to work at, but I believe it’s an attainable goal.

5/24/2007

The Pitch

I sat down with my daughter to watch the premier episode of “On the Lot” the other night. This is the new reality contest show for filmmakers. 12,000 people entered short films. 50 were chosen to go to Hollywood. Their first task: the pitch.

This fascinated me. Each contestant was given a log line (a generic plot for a movie.) They had 24 hours to come up with a pitch for a movie. In other words, come up with characters, a setting, a plot and convey the essence of the story in just a few minutes. This is not unlike pitching a novel to an editor. But while I’ve listened to people talk about how to pitch and I’ve practiced my pitches, it was infinitely helpful to watch someone make a pitch. To watch not only the one pitching, but the ones being pitched to.

Here’s what I gleaned:

Excitement on the part of the one pitching is paramount. When the one pitching is unsure of the viability of their storyline, so are the ones listening. Eye contact and poise are a must. Even a bad or mundane idea impresses when presented with confidence—without wringing of hands or a facial expression that seeks approval from the listener. The pitcher has to believe in his story before the pitchee will take it seriously.

Only a well-thought-out storyline comes across without confusion. When the one pitching the story is unsure of the plot points, the pitch rambles, often becoming convoluted. The one hearing the pitch becomes confused and uninterested. Vague plot points become quite apparent.

Imagination and creativity in a storyline must still maintain a semblance of reality. Don’t take it too over the top. In other words, a completely wacko twist to a story, instead of lending interest, makes the one hearing the pitch question the experience—and sometimes the sanity—of the one pitching!

After this round, 14 contestants were asked to leave—about ¼. I’m sure in real life, the pitch weeds out more than that, be it in film or literary endeavors.

Pitching is one of my weaknesses. Watching these brave souls succeed and fail on national television made me determine to work harder on my pitch before attending my next writing conference. After all, the pitch is an editor’s first inkling that you have a story to tell and that you can tell it well.

5/22/2007

Disappointing News

It’s official. I didn’t final in the 2007 Genesis Contest. I had such high hopes after last year, but, alas, I get the humbling experience of not doing as well this year as I did last year. I know this is not the end of the world, or even of my writing career. But it’s disappointing all the same.

It will be interesting to get back the judges’ comments. After I sent in the entry, I completely scrapped that beginning and started over. I like the new version so much better. Maybe this is just a confirmation that the first version wasn’t on the right track. Maybe it is an inkling that although I love to read historicals, perhaps I should write contemporary (last year I made the finals with a contemporary story.)

All I know is I’m a bit discouraged. But given a little while to process the information, I’m sure I’ll be fine. That tenacity that has been mine since the day I was born will rear its head and I’ll soldier on. After all, the Lord has only called me to write. The results of that are completely up to Him.

5/20/2007

Bad News Bears Make Good

My sixth grade son is playing his last season of sports outside of school. In order to get the boys at our school ready, my husband compiled first a basketball team, now a baseball team. These are boys with a ton of confidence but negligible ability. Oh, a few here and there can hold their own, but for the most part, it is a matter of imagining their athleticism as quite different from what it really is.

So in basketball, they lost every game—but they beat the first place team in round one of the end of season tournament. You’d have thought they’d taken the NBA trophy! They next game, they received a trouncing. Then they moved to on—to little league baseball.

Yesterday they played their seeding games for the end of season area-wide tournament. They won both games, scoring 11 runs in one game, 12 in the other. After the second game, my husband gathered his team and asked, “When did the aliens come in and replace the team that’s played for me all season?”

And it was true. While they did win a couple of games this season, they mostly looked like the Bad News Bears. Remember? They had some pitching, but little else? Their efforts in the field were simply a series of blunders? (I won’t compare the two coaches. Needless to say, my husband doesn’t resemble Walter Mattheau’s character in the least!)

So suddenly our team finds itself catapulted into the quarter-final game. Yes, they may lose today. They may lose badly. But they will arrive at the game with two incredible wins to remember.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will only feed their overactive 12-year-old egos.

5/16/2007

1664 words.

Not as good as yesterday, but still okay. At least I'm feeling good about the story.

5/14/2007

3639 words today!

The secret formula? A suddenly free day, a diet Dr. Pepper at 3pm, and my husband out of town on business!

5/13/2007

A Memorable Mother's Day

I’ve tried three times tonight to write a post. For one reason or another, I’ve deleted all my previous words. So here, in a few sentences, is an encapsulation of my Mother’s Day:

I ate too much Mexican food and laughed with my kids.

I watched as a major league baseball player originally from Japan stopped to sign autographs before the game. When time ran, short he made it clear (I’ve heard he doesn’t speak much English) with one word—kids—that he would finish with the kids that were in line. Adults were moved out of the way and the eyes of young boys (including my own) lighting up in appreciation made me cry.

I watched my two boys, among the older ones of those begging for pre-game autographs, notice two little boys standing behind them, both holding balls and pens. They scooted aside, brought the little ones up front, and the gracious player signed for them all. My boys are awesome!

As I poured a bowl of cereal for a light dinner, a bird swooped over my head and into my breakfast room! We finally got it shooed out the door after it ran into at least three windows looking for an escape route. How it got inside we’ll never know!

My daughter finished Les Miserables (abridged) for her honors English project. We discussed the book together, ending with her thanking me for helping her understand how to write a literary analysis of the book.

All in all, I’d say my Mother’s Day turned out to be one I’ll always remember.

5/10/2007

It's been quite a week. Way too much going on. I have to rein in my schedule somehow!

But today was productive (finally!) 2445 words. AND I revised a short story I'm considering submitting.

All in all, I'm pleased. Now if I can just get in more than one writing day a week! Yikes!

5/07/2007

Eight Random Things About Me

Two posts in one day! Have y’all fainted dead away yet?

I’ve seen other bloggers get “tagged” before. Now it’s my turn. My friend Mary tagged me in the 8 Random Facts game. Here are the rules.

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.4. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

So here are my 8 things:

1. I attended three different four-year colleges (2 in Texas, 1 in Pennsylvania) before graduating—a semester early, no less!

2.I attended Texas Girls State the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

3. My first car was a 1967 Mustang (a fact my daughter reminds me of—often.) I drove it for about four months until I was hit from behind and decided a big car was a good thing.

4. I never had any desire to go to Hawaii—until we got a chance to go to Maui five years ago. Now I can’t wait to go back!

5. I majored in history because my freshman English professor gave me a C (and a low one, at that) in my first writing class my first semester of college. Now I’m working at writing as a career. Go figure!

6. I worked in the campus library to put my husband through the last half of law school.

7. Laundry is my favorite household chore. It wins by default, because it is the only one I’m good at!

8. I have never had a broken bone.

So who to tag? Mary tagged most of the bloggers I know and read. So let’s go with Robin, Tina, and Richard. Tag, you’re it!

Internet Oddities

Sorry I've been so erratic posting lately. My DSL has been on the fritz. I'll be cruising along, reading blogs, emailing, when VOILA! No connection. I huff a bit, walk into my office, and see the angry red light blinking next to "DSL" on my modem. I unplug it, plug it back in, and wait. Sometimes it connects, sometimes it doesn't.

But here's the really odd thing: when I call my service provider, it reconnects--almost instantly! The first time, it just seemed like a Murphy's law thing. The second time, I chalked it up to coincidence. But now half a dozen times we have dialed the number--dialed the number, mind you, not spoken with anyone--and BLIP, the DSL and Internet lights blaze green.

Weird.

5/03/2007

What I Was Made For

We’ve been hearing teaching on spiritual gifts at church for the past few weeks. It’s been really good. It got me thinking (yet again) about the gifts God has given me and am I using them.

I’ve always pondered this question. When I was younger, I took several different spiritual gifts inventories/tests. But trying to life my life by those answers didn’t bring a lot of fulfillment. In fact, it often brought frustration. I wonder if I answered some of those questions with how I wanted to feel about and respond to situations, not how I actually did. But things are coming clear now, perhaps because I’m older and I know myself better or because this teaching has been a bit less convoluted than previous ones.

I used to mistake my love of study as a teaching gift. But I don’t long to impart my knowledge to others in a teaching capacity. Instead, my study of the Word allows me to encourage others with Scripture. I used to think I had the gift of administration. But while I am somewhat organized, left to myself, things often fall apart. I’ve learned to be organized. I encourage others to work at discipline and organization in their own lives. But it isn’t inherent in my makeup as a person.

So now I see. In everything I do, my underlying motivation is encouragement of others. When I write, my heart’s desire is to encourage my reader to press on, to grow in their faith, to the do the right albeit hard thing, etc. In my friendships and my family relationships, it is natural for me to say “you can do it” or “you’re doing great, keep at it.”

And I feel fulfilled and at peace knowing that this is what God has made me to do.

Case in point: I am not a cook. It just isn’t in me. When we were first married (in 6 weeks it will be 20 years ago), I tried. But on a $20 a week grocery budget, mistakes cost too much. When my kids were little, my best friend (Lucy to my Ethel) convinced me we could cook once a month and freeze everything. We did. For a few years, we had decent meals. But it wasn’t really due to me. If I hadn’t had Robin in the kitchen with me, it would have been a disaster! Then that, too, fell by the wayside. So for the past few years its been a rotation of baked chicken, tacos, spaghetti, a roast in the crockpot—you get the idea. Nothing creative. Nothing exciting. I felt like such a failure as a woman, a wife, a mother.

This past year, my daughter has discovered a love of cooking. She is creative, artistic, patient. She loves the process and the finished product. She is discovering gifts of giving and hospitality where her food is concerned. And we’ve been eating great! But the best part? I feel so at peace. She is using the creativity and talent God has given her and while I’ve been available to help when needed, I mostly encourage her to keep trying when she occasionally fails and voice my amazement at her every culinary accomplishment. Suddenly, I don’t feel like a failure anymore!

It feels good to finally be beyond the need to have a more visible gift. It feels good to use my gift with my family and friends, which, in most cases, is using my gift to build up the church (in a universal sense.) And it feels good to know that day by day, as I sit in my house and write, that too is a manifestation of the gift God has woven into the fabric of my life.

5/02/2007

5/01/2007

1458 words

Not what I wanted, but considering that I was supposed to be at a middle school track meet all day (praise God for rain), it's better than nothing.

It just feels so good to get a little bit of time to wrestle with words and story.

4/28/2007

A Lesson in Waiting

I love football, but I’m not so into it that I would sit and watch the NFL draft show on ESPN.

Until now.

My husband and boys had it on. I got hooked watching the drama unfold around Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Good athlete. Strong leader. Cute guy.

He didn’t go first. Or second. Or third. Then they thought he’d go ninth. No dice. Now he’s waiting through teams that don’t need quarterbacks. Twenty-one picks have come and gone. Brady’s showed poise beyond his 22 years as he has talked to media amidst his disappointed expectations.

And it occurred to me how much this mirrors the literary world.

Hang with me, now. Teams are like publishing houses and agents, all looking to fill a specific need to fit their game plan. The college players are like a group of unpublished authors who have perfected their craft but haven’t made it to the big game yet. Each is talented, but each plays a different role, produces a certain genre, etc.

So often a very talented writer has to sit and wait while others receive contracts ahead of him, sometimes with no real explanation why that writer’s work wasn’t chosen.

While Brady Quinn waits, I can empathize just a bit. Not that I am to writing what he is to football. I have no illusions about that. But I can understand the disappointment of waiting, of not getting picked. That’s why I’m riveted to the show when normally it wouldn’t grab my attention.

I’ll watch until Quinn is drafted, until he smiles into the camera with a lucky team’s ball cap on his head and jersey in his hand.

And I’ll be thankful that no cameras watch my every move as I wait for the elusive call that finally propels me into the realm of a published author.

4/24/2007

A Bit of Poetry

I’m not a prolific poet. In fact, most of my poetry came out of the angst of my teenage years. But it’s been a bad last few days, a stressful couple of months, and the words refused to stay inside me.


A thousand little stings,
A thousand little slashes,
A thousand little pieces of my heart are torn
away.

A thousand words do nothing
To heal the broken places,
A thousand thoughts can haunt me to the breaking of the
day.

A thousand weighted burdens
Resting on my shoulders,
A thousand tears spilled wishing that they’d all just go
away.

A thousand moments needed
To lay upon Your bosom,
To receive Your balm of healing that will all my pain
allay.

4/22/2007

My Treasure Trove

I love library book sales. Larger cities have better book sales, but this weekend we went to the book sale for our local library in our small town and found a treasure trove!

We brought home close to 20 books. The total cost? $7.75. We gave them $10 for good measure. Here are a few of my golden nuggets:

Non-fiction: London’s Underworld This covers the history of the down-and-outers in London—prostitutes, pickpockets, forgers, counterfeiters, and the list goes on. What I love about this book is it is not just statistics or conjecture. Many places it gives first hand accounts by the people who lived it. A great book to have on hand for research!

Reference: Why Did They Name It . . .? Covers the history of several well-known products—from food to cars to cosmetics. Just the thing to add tidbits of historical trivia to a story.

Fiction: Mrs. Miniver The book is actually a collection of a series of newspaper articles about British daily life and the looming war, centered around the fictional character of Mrs. Miniver. Looks to be not only a fascinating read but a good resource if I ever want to do a WWII story.

Biography: Starling of the White House This book is the memoir (it’s an “as told to” book) of an obscure secret service man who worked for four U.S. Presidents, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. Since one of the stories I’m longing to write is set in WWI, I’m hoping to glean some insight into both daily life and political life during this time. I love delving into primary sources!

Of course, these are just the highlights of the two bags of books I brought home. After all, each book has a different story to tell, a reason why it drew me, a reason why I couldn’t let it go.

4/19/2007

God in the shuffle

I love the shuffle feature on my ipod Nano. I use it almost exclusively. I love never knowing what will pop up next—a song from my favorite musical, a praise and worship tune, a rock out “I love Jesus” song, a country ditty, a tear-jerker love ballad. And the list goes on.

But I often wonder if God Himself is in the shuffle. Take today. I was driving along (remember the dentist and bookstore thing?) praying for various people in my life, my ipod singing in the background, when one of my favorite Third Day songs hit the queue. “Keep on Shining” from their album Wherever You Are.

Have you listened to these lyrics? The second verse is the one I resonate with the most:

Having faith in the long run is easier said than done It's hard to live out in the light of day You're bruised and you're battered, your dreams have been shattered Your best laid plans scattered over the place Despite all your tendencies, God sees it differently Your struggle's a time to grow And you, you're a miracle, anything but typical It's time for the whole wide world to know

Keep on, keep on shinin' Wherever you may be Keep on, keep on shinin' For all the world to see

My eyes misted over (not always a good thing while you’re driving) as I saw not only myself in those words, but all the people I had in my prayers just moments before. The song came to an end. I sighed with a satisfied longing—satisfied that God sees my struggles and those of my friends and family and yet a longing to have His arms around me, giving me His strength to keep walking, to keep shining.

So it shuffled to the next song. An old Vineyard worship tune I’ve cried though many a time. This time was no different.

Lord who am I
Compared to Your glory, Oh Lord
Lord who am I
Compared to Your majesty

I am Your beloved Your creation
And You love me as I am
You have called me chosen for Your kingdom
Unashamed to call me Your own
I am Your beloved

I had to catch my breath, dry my face as I pulled into the parking lot and wondered yet again if God is in the shuffle.