And Ladies of the Club

I’m a sucker for a long book. I like knowing I will live with the characters for more than a few hours or a few days. But such books aren’t written very often anymore. Or if they are, their subject isn’t one that grabs my attention. So when my friend handed me an old, fat paperback and told me I’d love it, I didn’t hesitate to plunge in.

And love it I did! . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer was published 25 years ago. The funny thing is that I remember seeing it on the shelves of the bookstore I worked in while I was in college, and while the cover enticed me, for some reason, I never took it home.

This epic novel centers around two girlhood friends—Anne and Sally. It begins at their graduation from the Female Seminary in an Ohio town in 1868, when they are invited to become charter members of the Waynesboro Woman’s Club, a small group of women dedicated to continuing their intellectual pursuits while living within the bounds of their womanhood.

The book ends 1,433 pages later in 1932.

These characters really lived for me. By the end, I felt like they were my friends. I love authors that can make that happen! Another thing that struck me was the incredible historical detail in the book. I found myself wondering how in the world the author had done all that research! Then I looked her up on the Internet, only to discover that Helen Hooven Santmyer was herself born in 1895! She was into her late eighties when this book finally saw publication. So these were the stories of her mother’s generation—and of her own. She lived many of these things instead of just reading about them. And it shows.

I loved every aspect of this book—the political, social and religious climates of that day and region, the subtle changes that happen through this 65-year period, the relationships that grow and change, the ebb and flow of joys and sorrows that characterize every life.

If you love epic stories, if you love history, if you love stories of relationship, you will love this book. But beware! When you pick it up, you are in for a long haul. But if you are like me, that only heightens the appeal.


A Saturday Psalm

I will exalt You, my God the King;
I will praise Your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise You and extol Your name
for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
His greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend Your works to another;
they will tell of Your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
and I will meditate on Your wonderful works.
  ---Psalm 145:1-5


Code Blue by Richard Mabry

I met Dr. Richard Mabry in March of 2005. We were in the same Fiction Mentoring Clinic, under the tutelage of Gayle Roper, at the Mount Herman Christian Writers Conference. I discovered that Richard lived in the DFW metroplex, as I did, though we’d had to go to California to meet. An avid baseball fan and a retired doctor, I enjoyed critiquing his novel that dealt with both and visiting with both him and his lovely wife.

Five years later, I got to hold Richard’s first published novel in my hands! Code Blue came out recently and Richard graciously provided a copy for my enjoyment. And I did enjoy it! Not that I didn’t know Richard was a good writer. I’ve known that for a long time. But medical suspense isn’t what I read by choice. (Besides being a scaredy-cat, I finagled my way out of Biology in both high school and college!)

Yet I enjoyed his book. Good characters. An interesting plot. A satisfying ending. Enough medical terminology, but not blood and gore. Tension and suspense, but not terror and nightmares.

I can actually say I’m looking forward to reading the next one!



A Sunday Psalm

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him;
for HE knows how we are formed, He remembers we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him,
and His righteousness with their children's children--
with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.
    --Psalm 103:13-18


Take Me Out to the Ballgame

There are many good places for people watching. But few places afford such prolonged instances of people listening than a baseball game. Think about it. You sit in close proximity with many strangers for anywhere from three to four hours, with only occasional demands on your attention. Because even if you love it, you have to admit that baseball is a slow game. Sometimes very little happens. So people talk.

As a writer, I need times to people listen. It helps my dialogue writing, in tone, implication, word choices and cadence. It helps my characterizations, for there are so many different kinds of people and I can learn so much about them by the things that come out of their mouths. It can also help my plotting, for you can’t imagine some of the outrageous stories people relate to each other in the midst of a crowd of strangers.

For a multi-tasker like me, that makes a baseball game the perfect activity. I can be with my husband and kids doing something they enjoy. I can appreciate the action of the game. And in the lulls, I can listen to those around me and spin out situations and characters that might someday find their way into my stories, even if only in fragments.

So will this make you think twice the next time you have a conversation in the midst of a crowd? Writers’ ears are lurking everywhere! And for me, the ballpark scores a homerun on nearly every visit!


An Apple a Day

In my younger years, I loved apples. I’d use that nifty tool that cores and wedges an apple with one hard push, then I’d eat the wedges dipped in peanut butter. I’m not sure when that little habit fell by the wayside, but it did. Maybe it was when I had small children and didn’t even have time to use the wedge tool—or to eat the wedges before they turned brown! Or maybe I sacrificed my snack to the children. I can’t remember. But lately I’ve renewed my apple habit.

Being grown up now, I’ve moved past peanut butter on my apples. And I’ve bypassed wedges as well. I still don’t like biting into an apple whole, so I core it then cut it into rings. I munch them plain. Or smeared with natural almond butter. Or Nutella. I cut them into smaller pieces and scatter them in a salad—a green salad or chicken salad. Sometimes I’ll even use them in place of a cracker with a packet of flavored tuna. (Herb and garlic or sweet and sour work best.)

Of course, my choice of apple has changed since long ago, as well. Now the somewhat-health-conscious me buys organic instead of regular. And my taste has moved to Gala instead of Red Delicious. But no matter the details, I can still feel good about an apple, whether part of a snack or a meal. And it is nice to rediscover something good that was once forgotten. 


The Young and the Older

Since I live with a lifelong baseball fan, we have been watching Stephen Strasburg’s debut as a pitcher in the major leagues. If you aren’t a sports fan, let me give you a recap. Strasburg is a 21-year-old pitcher who has had phenomenal stats in the minor leagues and was brought up last week to pitch for the Washington Nationals. And he did not disappoint. In his debut, he pitched 7 innings, struck out 14, and walked 0.

But what I love about his story is not that he came in and performed as expected. It is a much smaller piece of the puzzle—and it involves two of my favorite baseball players of all time.

When the Nationals brought up this young guy, they wanted to pair him with a veteran catcher. They chose 38-year-old Pudge Rodriguez. Pudge came to the big leagues in 1991, as a highly touted 19-year-old catcher for the Texas Rangers. Even now, with almost 20 years in the majors under his belt, I’m sure Pudge remembers very well the kind of pressure attached to one so young and talented. And I’m sure he also remembers the value of a veteran player paired with a rookie in the battery.

In 1991, the rookie Pudge caught the 44-year-old Nolan Ryan—who also threw a 14 strike out game that year! (Which, to me, is as amazing a feat as one pitched by a young guy.) Of course I can’t say for sure that Nolan Ryan, even indirectly, influenced some of the calm and maturity Pudge brings to Stasburg, but given the character of both those guys, I’d say it’s a safe bet.

And isn’t that cool? Young guys learning from those that have had longevity. And two players toward the end of their careers not threatened by the attention surrounding the up-and-coming.

But then the Bible tells us that this is the way it should be. The older realizing they still have something to give by telling the younger generation of the faithfulness of the Lord, by encouraging them as they begin their journey through life. The younger ones understanding and embracing the value in the experience of those who have lived longer on this earth. And it proves yet again that illustrations of the truths of God can come from even the most unlikely of places!


A Sunday Psalm

But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise You more and more.
My mouth will tell of Your righteousness, of Your salvation all day long,
though I know not its measure.
I will come and proclaim Your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim Your righteousness, Yours alone.
Since my youth, O God, You have taught me,
and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare Your power to the next generation, You might to all who are to come.
         --Psalm 71:14-18


LIfe in Defiance by Mary DeMuth

I always look forward to receiving my copy of Mary DeMuth’s latest book. But while her hard yet redemptive stories grip my heart, I find an even more personal joy in discovering how the book has changed and grown and deepened since my reading of the early manuscript.

Life in Defiance is no exception. If you are familiar with the previous two books in this trilogy, Daisy Chain (currently nominated for a Christy award) and A Slow Burn, you will know that each book is told from a different character’s point of view while keeping a continuous time line of events surrounding the disappearance and murder of Daisy Chance. In book one, the girl disappears. In book two, we discover she has indeed been murdered. In book three, the truth finally comes to light. But this book is about more than solving a mystery. It is about a character’s journey to understanding God and herself.

Ouisie Pepper’s tale will tear your heart out as you read. Now that is not generally what I look for in fiction (I’m really an escapist by nature!) but reading such a story, even if not on a regular basis, changes me. Through Ouisie’s words, I remember that people’s lives are not always what they seem to be on the outside. I realize that heartache and tragedy can be masked over to the general public. I understand that being a friend—one who boldly lives to love Jesus, however imperfectly—can often be the only lifeline a person has as they grasp at faith in difficult circumstances.

Yes, questions about Daisy are finally answered. But in the end, that isn’t what satisfies. What satisfies is seeing a picture of God meeting us where we are, of Him wooing our hearts, of His all-sufficient grace.

Want to hear what others are saying about Life in Defiance? Click here for a list of blogs featuring the book this week!


Calendar Addiction

I used to think I simply had a penchant for calendars. Now I realize it’s an addiction.

Let me explain.

Currently, I keep a calendar on my computer (iCal), on my ipod touch (synced with iCal), and on my blackberry (also synced with iCal). I also have two magnetic weekly dry erase calendars on my fridge—the current week on the refrigerator door, the following week on the side, which are updated by hand from my iCal. All of these calendars are color-coded by family member.

But that isn’t all. Beside my chair in the corner of the living room sits my weekly, spiral-bound paper calendar. This isn’t color coded, but it is manually synced (i.e. written) with my computer calendar and the fridge calendar. It also functions as my “to do” list. Next to it is another small spiral bound blank book in which I designate one page per week to record my specific writing goals/tasks for that time period. Oh—and the monthly wall calendar in my laundry room marked with family birthdays. (This year’s calendar is compliments of Aunt Sheri, complete with the birthdays already marked!)

So you’d think that would be enough. I mean, how many calendars does one person (family) need? But last night as I was lying in bed and trying to figure out what writing I needed to get done this summer, I realized I needed a way to see this on a calendar. But I didn’t want to clutter up my other calendars. (I hate cluttered calendars!) And then I realized I already had the perfect solution!

On my iCal, I have a “family” calendar, which includes each person in my family with a different color code. I can view the calendar with the entire family or just check the box next to one person and view only their events. So I realized all I had to do was create a new calendar group for writing and color code my different kinds of tasks—blogging, drafting and revisions, editing for others, etc. On a normal day, these remain hidden by unchecking the writing box. But when I need to see and schedule things for writing, I simply click that calendar, unclick the family calendar and wa-la! All my writing “to dos” pop up on my computer (and my ipod!), categorized. When I finish a task for the week, I simply delete it!

At that moment, I realized my calendar addiction. I mean, how many people sit around thinking about their calendars—and get excited over discovering more ways to make them work!

My name is D’Ann Mateer, and I’m addicted to calendars.


A Saturday Psalm

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him?
And the son of man that You care for him?
    --Psalm 8:3-4



Not Ashamed

You who frequent my small corner of the blogosphere know that I love finding new nuggets of truth nestled in very familiar passages of Scripture. Yesterday I ran across another one.

I was reading through Hebrew 11. You know, the Faith chapter. How many hundreds of times have I read this, heard it preached, even memorized portions of it? But today it wasn’t the patriarchs and their feats of faith that caught my attention. It was a small phrase embedded in the middle of verse 16: Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.

Usually when we think of “ashamed” and our faith, we think of Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. We consider that we should not be ashamed of Him. Rarely do we contemplate that He might be ashamed for us to call Him our God.

Ouch! I don’t want the Lord to be ashamed that I call myself His child! So if I go back to Hebrews 11, how did the saints of old live lives that didn’t bring shame to their God? I think the answer lies at the conclusion of Hebrews 11:11: She considered Him faithful who had promised.

This verse refers specifically to Sarah, but I think it applies to the entire “hall of faith.” Their faith didn’t rest in a “happening,” a situation, a circumstance. Their faith remained though floods and barrenness and captivity and martyrdom, through miracles and victories and freedom because they believed in the faithfulness of their God.

That’s the kind of faith I want to have. Faith in the One who is always faithful. For while I might declare myself not ashamed of the gospel of my Lord, an even greater travesty would be for the Lord whose gospel it is to be ashamed of me.


The Dreaded Shopping Trip

School is officially over. Work (for those of my kids who have real jobs) has not officially begun. So this is our week of transition. For them, that means time with friends doing fun things. For me, it means grocery shopping.

I hate grocery shopping. Have I said that here before? It’s not just that it is the precursor to fixing dinner every evening, its also the time and money spent on things that will simply be consumed. I know it’s necessary, and I’ve honed my trips into as few as possible, arranging a big shopping day at the beginning of the month and then small trips to the store thereafter. But I still don’t like it.

The only good thing about this week’s trips: someone should be home to help me carry all the groceries in the house! And that, my friend, is one of the things I love about summer.