Friday, December 26, 2008

The Unseen: By T.L. Hines

"I always feel like somebody's watchin' meeeeeee..." Remember that 80's song?

Ever feel like you're being watched? The Unseen by T.L. Hines will make you think maybe you're not imagining things after all.

Lucas is a Peeping Tom--sort of. He lives on the fringes of society, in the shadows and nooks and crannies where no one's supposed to be. And then when HE is discovered, he's forced to make choices that rip his anonymity away forever. He's forced to deal with people face-to-face instead of watching from a distance and imagining what their lives are really like.

I won't spill the beans on this of course, but the thrill ride made me go from feeling sorry for Lucas (even though he sort of creeped me out a little at first). I wanted him to succeed until the end, when he is ready to sacrifice all--I wanted to stand up and cheer for him.

This book has bad guys, good guys, really bad guys, international intrigue, the ticking bomb, and a story that kept twisting around on itself until the end made me go--aha!! The Unseen says a lot about our voyeuristic yet detached society in a frightening way.

I was SO glad to read this over vacation, where I didn't HAVE to put it down right away, because I didn't want to.

As a writer, I really enjoyed this book, too. I want to say that we writers have a responsibility when reading someone else's book, to read it first for the pure enjoyment of the story and not critique the thing in our heads. It's not our place. This is a product bought by a publisher and produced for enjoyment and already printed. It's not our business to "fix" it in our minds. It's tempting, though, sometimes to do that when we writers read, and that's not a fair practice.

But as a writer, I was reading The Unseen and I thought,"Wow, I can see what he did here. That's so COOL! He definitely upped the suspense."

And I loved seeing how Lucas changed throughout the story. I couldn't help thinking that as I read.

One of those books that makes me say, "I wanna write like this when I grow up." This was the first book by TL Hines that I've read, and it won't be the last.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christian Bookworm Reviews 2008 Advent Calendar

2008 Advent Calendar Day 12 Lynette Sowell

Join me over at Christian Bookworm Reviews where I share a special Christmas memory. Plus, be sure to check out the other preceding days. I'm in excellent company with some fine authors.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Book Signing -- Killeen, TX

Quick news flash! If you're in the Killeen area, stop by Hastings on Saturday, December 6 between noon and 3 PM. I'll be signing A Suspicion of Strawberries and The Wiles of Watermelon. Hastings is at the corner of WS Young Drive and Business 190.

The Truth About You

I recently received a copy of Marcus Buckingham's latest release, The Truth About You. One of the reasons I chose this book is because I have an 18-year-old son who's a senior in high school, and we've had multiple go-rounds about what he's going to "do with his life" after high school. Part of his dilemma (I think) is the fact that he honestly doesn't know what his strengths are (besides video games and computers).

The pluses: Not only is this a short book, but it can be read in short sittings. If you're busy, you can set it down. Marcus's writing style is straightforward and clear. BUT this is also a book to make you think (see below).

It also comes with a short DVD that features Marcus talking about the principles of finding your strengths, what strengths and weaknesses are (as he defines them). The DVD serves as an introduction to the ideas in the book. This is ideal for those who enjoy multimedia--especially visual and auditory learners. The book is also meant to be hands-on. Included is a two-sided ReMemo pad. He clearly explains how to use this as well.

Marcus gives specific guidelines for how to find your strengths and narrow down your three best strengths. In theory, those are the strengths that should guide you into the job--into the career--that will give you the most satisfaction.

My son and I watched the 20-minute DVD and discussed the sections in the book dealing with discovering strengths. He's a video game and computer nut. We actually found a strength for him--He likes problem solving and strategy, finding solutions to win (video gaming). I never thought I'd find that strength for him in video gaming, but that makes sense.

We also talked about a class in school where he feels like he's at his best, as if time flies during class, and he looks forward to working--this is his computer animation class.

I think this book is an excellent starting point for helping someone discover what they're truly good at, their God-given strength. Although I wouldn't call this a "Christian" book, its principles brought to mind the talent/strength of Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell. He said, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." That to me is the feeling of a real strength.

Minuses:
The cover. While I liked the packaging--the DVD slides nicely into the pocket inside the front cover, and the ReMemo pad fits into its box inside the back cover--I didn't like the colors and font/graphics. I honestly would never have picked this up if I saw it in a store.

Also, I felt like this book was merely a starting point for discovering strengths. I would have liked to know more about what to do if a strength is something you're not "good" at, but you love. Should you abandon this effort? I was left with a few questions after going through this book with my son.

Overall impression: I think this book will help us and help him as he decides what's next after graduation. I'd rather him find his strengths now and learn to build on them, than get into a job he's miserable at, marking time and only looking forward to weekends.

You can check out a preview of the book here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Two Little Words

First of all, I must say--egads, it's December! Where did November go?

That's right. I had a book to finish. Anyway, that's done. Francesca and Alfred's story is with my editor. Watch for All That Glitters next fall from Heartsong Presents.

So. Two little words. They are very powerful when spoken sincerely. They mean nothing if used out of obligation.

This summer I wrote a blog post about not being afraid to say "I love you." After a friend's sudden death, I talked about those moments that pass quickly, and the people who pass through our lives as well.


Here's two more words to day: I'm sorry.

Back in high school, I took two years of Spanish, and I do remember how to say I'm sorry: lo siento. This literally means "I feel it."

How many conflicts and rifts exist between us all because no one spoke two simple words from their heart?

I'm sorry.
I feel it.
I feel the pain that I caused you, and it hurts me to know you hurt as well.
So I'm sorry.

Many times pride forces us to close our mouths and close our hearts and make excuses:
"They know I'm sorry."
"They know I didn't really mean it."
"They just need to get over it."
"You know how they are: just over-sensitive."

So we go on our merry way, assuming that the other person is fine, or will be fine in time. But we don't realize the hurt we cause does not always lose its sting as quickly as we think. We sometimes expect others to recognize our hurt and apologize immediately, but then we also expect any hurt we've inflicted to heal up just as fast.

I tell you what helps healing along: two little words. I'm sorry. Usually once those two words are out, the rest of it can flow and healing can come.

Christmas is about reconciliation. How about spreading that around?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What in the World is Chocolate Gravy?

Thanks, I'm glad you asked.

My dear sweet husband is a Southern boy through and through, and he likes to tell tales about his Grandma who would cook for her husband and all her boys. She'd get up at the crack of stupid every morning (I would have made a horrible farm wife. God in His infinite wisdom knew this.) She'd light the 8-burner cast iron stove to get breakfast goin' for all the Sowells before they started working in the fields. She'd fry up bacon, eggs, roll biscuits, and get the gravies cooking. You name it. She didn't have just white gravy seasoned with pepper for SOS. She'd also make chocolate gravy.

The first time CJ said, "Chocolate gravy," I stopped him.

"Whoa, honey, back up. Chocolate gravy?" The imaginary flavor of chocolate and gravy made my stomach turn. "Ewww."

"Oh, Baby, if you've never had chocolate gravy on biscuits, you just don't know what you're missing."

Yes, I did. I thought it sounded tremendously weird. Hey, you can take a Yankee girl out of the North, but she's still a Yankee.

So a few years ago we ventured to Tennessee (where I ended up setting my mystery series) and I sat at my mother-in-law's table and to have my first bite of chocolate gravy smothered over hot buttermilk biscuits. I may have been a skeptic, but I was a polite skeptic. And I love chocolate.

With the first warm bite, a heavenly choir woke up on my tastebuds and sang. Oh, wow. I definitely brought the recipe home with me.

When I discovered the fictitious town of Greenburg, Tennessee, I knew my heroine needed to have a love of chocolate gravy, so the yummy treat made it into A Suspicion of Strawberries.

Here's the gen-you-wine recipe I brought home:

Chocolate Gravy

1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (approximately)

Combine all the above in a saucepan over medium heat. Don't walk away from it. Keep stirring until the mixture gets thick. Serve immediately over hot biscuits. Leftover gravy can be put in the fridge and eaten later as pudding. Yum!

Now I have this craving for chocolate. . .and biscuits. . .

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What I Learned From Fifth Graders

Today I spoke to five fifth grade classes at an elementary school in town. If there's anything that will make a writer think about why they write, and how they write, it's standing in front of a room of kids. I took a poll as I started each talk. Many of these kids loved reading, and some didn't. A few of them liked to write and a few of them struggled with the writing process. As a writer on deadline who prides herself on being a professional, their questions made me take a moment to take stock of my attitude and my work habits.


As I expected, the classes asked many of the same questions:

1. When did you start to write?

2. What do you do when you get stuck?

3. What was your favorite book to write?

4. Which book was your hardest to write?

5. How do you get started with a story?

6. How do you know when the story is over?


I found myself encouraging them as I realized they're at the age now where it's make it or break it. Will these children toss books aside as troublesome sources of dreary assignments? Will they give themselves the chance to be creative and experience the joy of story?


I told them about the importance of passion. Especially in fiction, write what you love. Writing is difficult enough that it's wrong to complicate the process by trying to force yourself into a niche.


We also talked about remembering the reader. Not only do we write because of passion, but we write because we want to give the reader a great read. It's supposed to be fun, entertaining, and we're sharing something with them that we hope they'll remember.


We talked about rewriting and doing the best we can. I told them I have good friends who read for me and tell me how I can make by books better.

One of the fun parts was talking about story structure, and the importance of problems for our character. We talked about finding the main conflict in the book Holes, and how once that main conflict was solved, the story was over. Causing problems for our character helps move stories out of those tight spots and keeps our readers interested. The kids saw some practical examples from what they'd recently read to help them as they write.

They asked some great questions of me and I left the school exhausted, but also with renewed focus on why I write, and what I need to remember as I write.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why I Love Book Sales




Twice a year, our town library has a used book sale to benefit the library. They cover all the tables of the alternative school's cafeteria with every kind of book imaginable (except the ones fit to be covered with discreet brown paper wrappers, I was told). And most of the time I try to remember to show up and support them. Now that I'm an author, I realize that all these books were once sold brand-new and the author received royalties on that sale. But what about now? They don't.


I also realized as I look at those rows and rows of books that I don't mind. Of course I'd like to sell a ton of books, but I also realize the value of free (or inexpensive) samples. There's a population of readers who aren't "cheap" people, but for whom buying books at full price is a luxury. Part of me can't begrudge them the experience of getting lost in a story.


And truly, what place did we get most of our reading done as kids--and then try to escape from? The library, where we can read for free.


Those free or cheap sample books can lead to future sales for those authors whose books covered the tables. I've got a stack of books I'll probably still be working on when the next sale comes in April.


The town library had me be their guest speaker in February for their volunteer appreciation dinner. Let me tell you, the library people make authors feel like rock stars. And I owe a lot of my writer's journey to them.

Anyone been to some good book sales lately?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My First Rodeo

I've lived in Texas for almost 17 years and I'd never been to a rodeo until Sunday. Well, I fixed that on Sunday when we went to the Heart of Texas Fair. We had a blast. Hannah enjoyed it until the calf roping started.



The calf above is fine. Really. He was roped and his feet tied, and he's lying there waiting until they undo his feet. Then he took off racing for his corral.



One of the cutest things we saw was the sheep riding for little kids. Children as young as 4, 5, and 6 years old would come out of a chute, riding on the back of a woolly little beast. A few fell off, and none got hurt (they all wore helmets).

After that we found some overpriced fair food. Fair as in food you buy at a fair, and fair-tasting from the place I bought food.
No deep thoughts today. I'm just wonderin' why it took me almost 17 years to get myself to a rodeo.
Why has it taken you so long to do something you've never done?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Flickers of Grief

Grief is a sneaky house guest.

When it first arrives, Grief is either anticipated or uninvited, but in either case, Grief brings a lot of loud friends with it--anger, regret, sorrow. I could go on.

For over a year now, Grief has lurked outside on the front porch. Then it moved in for a while, and seemed to move out as we "went on." This summer, Grief burst into our living room again. Finally, in September, it looked like Grief had packed its bags and decided to leave.

October 11 means one year since Eddie's gone. Everyone we lose leaves a hole that must be filled in. Sometimes we feel guilty for filling the hole. Or other times we ignore it and pretend there isn't a hole, and we stumble into it.

I can tell the change in the atmosphere. CJ's grief has somehow slipped through our back door and seated itself at the table. Even snagged a cup of coffee, of all the nerve. Mine has too, for him, and for what should have been and never was.

Even now, I look back and wish Eddie's story had read differently. But in the end, the liver cancer took him quickly. He and CJ had lost years because of the rift between them because of Eddie's alcoholism. No one wants to lose their little brother at 42.

So what now? Grief has flickered again. The fresh pain has made me wish for Eddie back, to be with CJ and make up for all that lost time. It's made me miss Carla anew and wish for one more chance to hear her laugh and for another chance to reach out to her. And she's only been gone four months. But what a four months.

What do we do when Grief flickers again? Let it have its say, and then allow it to leave. Eddie will never come through our front door and ask to borrow an extension cord (only to not return it). Carla's not going to call us (not that she had called in over a year and a half before her death, but that's a whole other story). We won't have a chance to rebuild relationships, fractured by human fear and frailty.

But God in His wisdom gives us time that heals. And it is our choice if we live in that land called "If Only." I won't let Grief talk me into moving there.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Special Delivery!



A special envelope arrived last Friday, and inside waited a delicious treasure sent from my mom. Maple sugar candy! (Thank you, thank you, Mom!!!) Ohmygoodness, if you've never had maple sugar candy, that means there's more for me. And I probably blew it by singing its praises here. When maple sugar candy arrives at our house, it's usually for Christmas. I ration the candy out and make each piece last. But as it melts in my mouth, I can't help but chew down on it, at least once.

Mom went to The Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts to pick up the yummy treasure box for me. Better known as "The Big E," this New England fair runs for two weeks every September. Besides the fall foliage, The Big E was one of my favorite things about living in New England. Each New England state has its own permanent brick building--Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island--and they feature the best of their state. For me, the highlight of the Maine building was their ginormous baked potatoes, piled high with all the fixings. Yum. We'd go early when the gates opened, and end up at the Maine Building in time for lunch and get in line for a loaded baked potato. Then of course we'd go to Vermont for a delicious slice of apple pie garnished with a slab of cheddar cheese.
All throughout the two weeks, they'd have horse shows--we loved strolling through the show barns and seeing the gorgeous horses and beautiful ribbons they won. And who can forget the Farm-o-rama, watching the baby chicks hatch and petting the pigs (phew)? And every day, they had a parade down the main drag in front of the state buildings.
Thinking of The Big E makes me miss my sisters, and the fun times we shared when they were younger. I had my license and loved toting them around. My latest proposal involves three sisters, different from us, but sharing the same bond and having struggles of their own. It's set in Massachusetts, so I plan on having The Big E make a cameo in all its New England glory.
Amazing, what sweet memories a little box of sugar can hold.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts!

It's not Christmas--yet. But on August 1st, my husband and I enjoyed meeting author Cathy Messecar at Meet the Christian Authors night in The Woodlands, Texas. Cathy told us about her latest book coauthored with several of her friends. Here's a little chat about A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts:

A SCRAPBOOK OF CHRISTMAS FIRSTS

(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chat on Friday Night!

Well, I'm back from the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Minneapolis where I had a great time hanging out with old friends, meeting new ones, and learning, learning, learning. And eating too much dessert. I think I walked some of it off at the Mall Of America, but I'm not sure about that.

Anyway, this Friday night I'm a guest at the Dancing Word Writers Network for one of their author chats. You can join all of us here, and follow the DW links to the chat room.

I love attending author chats, and during my very early years of learning to write, one of my favorite activities was attending author chats. I learned so much by getting to ask questions, and by seeing what questions other writers asked, I realized I was alone in my quest for knowledge.

I suppose I should tell you the specifics. The chat is Friday night, September 26th, and it's 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. So please come! I have no idea what questions the wonderful chat moderator and owner of Dancing Word, Annie McDonald, is going to ask. But I do know we're going to have a great time! She's a fun lady and I'm thankful to her and others who host chats like this.

When I have a few moments, I'll also post some pictures from the conference.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Whew!


...Then
and
Now...



It looks like our favorite condo place in Port Aransas weathered Ike just fine. What they experienced wasn't as severe as Houston, or Galveston. We need to pray that the power is restored to those areas soon, and that stores will reopen and people will feel less stranded. Also, we need to pray for those who are fearful, frustrated, angry, or have suffered loss through this storm.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm A Guest...

Over at author Amber Miller's blog. A Fiction-Filled Life. So check it out. Amber interviews an author every week, and readers have a chance to win a book! Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mercy!

I've been thinking of mercy because of the blatant lack of it in the world. We are quick to pity and have compassion for those who deserve it, but what about those people who don't, or the ones who inconvenience us?

Think about the waitress who messes up your order. Y'all, she's probably not intentionally trying to ruin your day. Did you think for one moment that maybe her feet are killing her, or maybe her babysitter quit. Maybe she wishes she went to college, or maybe she's trying to finish college, and this is just a job until she finishes? Maybe she thinks you look self-righteous in your Sunday best. Christians are characteristically among the worst tippers to servers. We ought to honor servants. But while we trip over ourselves and make sure that we have a copy of our Sunday bulletin to get our 15% discount at the restaurant, we also leave our salvation in the car. We leave that grace and mercy so freely given to us, and snub our server and express our impatience with someone's who's just doing her job. Maybe our waitress did a lousy job. But does that excuse our lack of grace? Mercy says, "I know you're having a tough day. Here's a good tip. Be blessed."

Love is all about inconvenience. It is so, so easy to inconvenience ourselves for those we have warm fuzzies toward. What about someone who passes through your life and after an hour or so, you won't see them again? Are we showing Jesus, even for an hour? Maybe if enough Christians tipped better and acted more merciful when the service is less than stellar, someone's life could be changed. Big changes happen in small steps.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Mall of America, here we come!

One of the things that surprises me the most when talking to some readers, especially Christian readers, is how little they know about Christian fiction. I've heard things like:

"I'm not into that Left Behind stuff."
"I don't read syrupy sweet unrealistic blather."

Or worse, some readers don't know that Christian fiction even exists:

"I just wish there was some good, clean suspense fiction. I love ****, but I hate that on every page I have to mentally bleep out words."

(Disclaimer to above: I'm not saying there's no clean secular suspense fiction out there, but I've heard voracious readers lament its scarcity.)

And on and on it goes. Well, readers, GET READY! From September 18-21, the BEST organization in Christian publishing, American Christian Fiction Writers will gather in Minneapolis for their annual conference.

On Saturday, September 20th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. over 1oo--that's ONE HUNDRED--authors will be doing a book signing at the Mall of America (126, to be exact). I'd like to say it's the largest book signing in America at the largest mall in America, but I'm probably wrong about that. Here's a list of the authors participating:

Tamera Alexander
Jennifer AlLee
A.K. Arenz
Diane Ashley
Karen Ball
Janet Lee Barton
James Scott Bell
Joseph Bentz
Terri Blackstock
Robin Caroll
Patricia PacJac Carroll
Jeanie Smith Cash
Eleanor Clark
Debra Clopton
Gloria Clover
Brandilyn Collins
Mary Connealy
Lyn Cote
Kathryn Cushman
Margaret Daley
KM Daughters
Susan Page Davis
Mary Davis
Janet Dean
Megan DiMaria
Brandt Dodson
Lena Nelson Dooley
Cecelia Dowdy
Sharon Dunn
Wanda Dyson
Lynette Eason
Meredith Efken
Leanna Ellis
Sharon Ewell Foster
Miralee Ferrell
Tina Ann Forkner
Darlene Franklin
Jonathan Friesen
Rhonda Gibson
Terri Gillespie
Debby Giusti
Beth Goddard
Cathy Gohlke
Rene Gutteridge
Cathy Marie Hake
Rachel Hauck
Roxanne Henke
Cynthia Hickey
Patti Hill
Sharon Hinck
Joan Hochstetler
Steven Hunt
Angela Hunt
Denise Hunter
Annette Irby
Jennifer Johnson
Jenny B. Jones
Golden Keyes Parsons
Deb Kinnard
Julie Klassen
Kathleen Kovach
Harry Kraus
Patti Lacy
Maureen Lang
Jeanne Marie Leach
Tosca Lee
Julie Lessman
Michelle Levigne
Sherri L. Lewis
Elizabeth Ludwig
Christine Lynxwiler
Richard L. Mabry
Sharlene MacLaren
Gail Martin
Debby Mayne
Vickie McDonough
Andrew McGuire
Susan Meissner
Becky Melby
Dana Mentink
Amber Miller
Judith Miller
Sara Mills
Siri Mitchell
Nancy Moser
Janelle Mowery
Elizabeth Musser
Mark Mynheir
Jill Nelson
Mae Nunn
John Olson
Donita K. Paul
Trish Perry
Marta Perry
Allie Pleiter
Cara Putman
Deborah Raney
Sandra Robbins
Paul Robertson
John Robinson
Martha Rogers
Cynthia Ruchti
Gail Sattler
Kim Vogel Sawyer
Shelley Shephard Gray
Virginia Smith
Lynette Sowell
Candice Speare
Kathryn Springer
Denice Stewart
Sarah Anne Sumpolec
Michelle Sutton
Camy Tang
Donn Taylor
Janice Thompson
Cindy Thomson
Missy Tippens
Carrie Turansky
ML Tyndall
Amy Wallace
Susan May Warren
Linda Wichman
Beth Wiseman
Cheryl Wyatt
Kathleen Y'Barbo

Whew! So what do these people write? Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Humor, Historical, Historical Romance, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult, Thriller. And I've probably left something out.

Join us! Bring your Christmas list! Bring your skeptics! I guarantee you there's something for everyone.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Wanna Win A PILE of Mysteries???

Check out the blog of my fellow mystery authors Cynthia Hickey and Nancy Mehl, Mainly Mystery Reviews. They have a neat book giveaway of 24--yep, count 'em, 24--of Heartsong Presents: Mysteries. You can find the contest info here. Oooh, I just looked at the questions. I hope everyone can locate the answer to #4, 'cause I'm not telling! :)
Having a lazy Labor Day today! Praising God that I grew up in the land of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." For me, that's never been shrinking back from work:
delivering newspapers,
radio station work (good afternoon, WOLC),
fast food (you want fries with that?),
bussing tables,
working in a jewelry store (fell in love with sparkly things),
working at a college (no, Dr. *** hasn't submitted his grades yet),
teaching second graders,
teaching GI's,
tutoring college students,
delivering phone books,
optician (yes, ma'am, those frames make you look glamorous),
hospital release of information officer,
making and decorating cakes (Duff, are you hiring?),
medical transcription (any MTs out there will love The Perils of Peaches),
Oh, and of course, writing!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ladies, Don't Get Lazy!

Shame on me, shame on you, shame on us if we don't vote and we don't care.

I recently came across an article, a little-known tidbit of American 20th Century history. The "Night of Terror" occurred on November 17, 1917, just one of the consequences for women in the suffrage movement wanting all women to be heard.

(AP Photo/Stephen Savoia)

If we sit home and make excuses, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul would wonder if their suffering and torture here in the United States had been worth it. They and other women were those Iron Jawed Angels who refused to give up.

Should we go back 100 years, when women were not given a voice, and not allowed to share an opinion: "Stay at home ladies. Mend clothing, cook meals, play the piano forte, raise children, but don't ever think about wanting to express your rights as full American citizens."

The women's suffrage movement was not against stay-at-home moms, so don't all the SAHM's be upset with me for thinking I don't believe domestic duties are beneath us. What I'm saying is that women, no matter what their career, have equal rights as citizens. We are capable of thinking and reasoning and, yes, even leading. And we can still mend clothing, cook meals, etc.

This election is historic in many ways. We have the rich and powerful running for office, as well as those from "regular" backgrounds. Laugh at McCain's foible about all his real estate, but I can guarantee you Sarah Palin knows about where she lives. Some might criticize the rich for being out of touch, but when a regular person stands at the brink of something big, those same critics demean the regular person's humble roots. Does being rich equal qualified yet clueless? Hmmm... Does being middle-class equal unqualified and clueless? Does that mean the middle-class are incapable of making decisions or leading?

What I liked about Sarah Palin were her words dealing with being a servant. Leaders are put in place by the intent of the people, to serve us. Ladies, those people are in office because we put them there. I like what she said about rooting out corruption at the highest levels in government. The bigger the organization, the more capacity it has for corruption to go unnoticed because of all the "busy" work. I think that happens no matter who is President, and whichever party holds the highest office.

I also liked her gracious words about the women who paved the way for her: Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton. Like them or not, it takes tough women who won't go away that make the idea of citizens' equality stick in our minds. We're reminded of possibilities, not obstacles.

This is a plug for us women to get off our duffs and start caring. Because if we don't care about what Lucy and Alice and other women like them strived to get us, will we care if rights ever get taken away? Our Constitution gives us rights, and it's up to us to be informed.

And by informed, I don't mean by reading and believing every anti-Obama or anti-McCain e-mail as gospel. (That's for another post one day.)

Ladies, let's must exercise our right to vote intelligently and prayerfully.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Last First Day

Last First Day

There he goes
walking out the door
time flew by
can't I have some more?
Senior year
how can it be true
yesterday
his life was brand new

A young man
where once was a child
tearfilled eyes
raw emotions not mild

Bittersweet
very last first day
all year long
last things celebrate

Thanking God
joy watching him grow
mother's heart
holds while letting go

~Chandra Lynn Smith, 8/27/08
You can check out more of her poetry at: ChandrasPlace
Like Chandra's son, my son had his last first day of school on Monday. I'm so proud of who he is and who he's becoming. Like all families, we definitely know each other's faults and areas we need to improve. But he's doing great.
This is why no post from me so far this week. Getting back into the school schedule, then my DSL was down nearly all day Monday. My company sent me a new work PC, and I had to get that back on line, plus work on making up my lost time from Monday. Life sort of snowballs!!
I could use a snowball or two--can you believe Labor Day weekend is coming? It's still in the 90s here in Texas. Whew.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Safety Net


Life is delicate. No matter how we think we can see what's coming around the corner, life can change faster than we blink.



This summer has been an up-and-down journey for me. God has a way of exposing fears in our lives. At least He does in mine!


Our overactive imaginations can paint horrible scenarios. Maybe it's the writer in me or the flair for the dramatic, but it happens. Sometimes my imagination races along. (Oh, if only I could find that brain setting to use when writer's block kicks in.)


I realized as my imagination kept up its journey, I was still trying to remain in control. Because, really, we want a backup plan, don't we? We'd like to have some assurance that although our world gets shaken to its foundation, there'll be that happy ending.


When all is well, do we find ourselves praying to God, "Don't let X happen to me." I found myself making a bargain. "Well, if X happens, then I would like Y to follow." I wanted a backup plan, a safety net. But what if Y doesn't follow?


Like my crazy imagination, our very real lives can be shaken and altered forever. So what then? If like Job, that which we fear most comes upon us? Where is our faith? I find it is easy to trust God when life runs smoothly with only occasional hiccups and bumps in the road.


We do have a safety net, and we don't hold onto it while we fall. I know I don't hold mine. You don't see the highwire walker making sure their net is secure while they're performing their routine. It's impossible. And the victim in the burning building must trust that when she leaps from the window, the firefighters will catch her.


We have one guarantee to start with: We are not alone.


The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8


Jesus said: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33


Now, I just need to keep reminding myself that and start using my overactive imagination for my books.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm A Guest

Today I'm posting over at my writing buddy Kaye Dacus' web site. For those of us who've gone to writers' conferences, I'm talking about dealing with conference nerves. Gulp. Check it out here.

And here's a sneak peek at my next book, The Wiles of Watermelon, releasing this fall through the Heartsong Presents: MYSTERIES! book club. I love it. The artist captured my dark and stormy night perfectly. Andromeda Hartley is a newlywed and now she has two murders to deal with. Her hubby, the longsuffering Ben, is rarin' to go about starting a family. Andi can barely find time to keep a kitten fed. And there's so much that can go wrong when raising children, no matter how hard you try to keep 'em on the straight and narrow. Look what happened to her beloved Aunt Jewel. Enough said about that right now.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

All That Glitters...Coming in 2009

News flash! I've received a contract for my first historical novel. All That Glitters is set during the Gilded Age in Newport, Rhode Island, and will be published by Heartsong Presents, the romance line of Barbour Publishing.

While I'm trying to get another proposal out the door--the first of a contemporary series--I'm also looking forward to making the story of Francesa Wallingford and Alfred Finley come to life.

The Gilded Age came about during America's era of industry. Long before the era of Donald Trump, giants named Vanderbilt and Astor became the new elite. In this age of opportunity, these families spent money and lived large like no one else had thus far in our country.
No matter what their station in life, young women had little choices then, and such a golden environment often transformed itself into a gilded cage.
Then for me came the magnificent what if that we writers love stumbling over: What if a young woman raised in her family's burgeoning wealth, grows tired and bored with the confining opulence? And what if a young woman's childhood friend returns, and he's the very man her mother doesn't want her to marry?
I don't have a release date for this book yet, but I expect it to be available to book club members in late 2009, and in the general market in 2010. Eventually All That Glitters will be offered in a compilation book set titled Rhode Island Brides along with two other novels written by Darlene Franklin and Tamela Hancock Murray.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Longing for Maine...






















I've lost count of how many consecutive days that it's hit 100 degrees or higher here in our area of Texas. Tuesday I spent some time in the pool at twilight, exercising in the tepid water and trying to vacuum it, too. Our local news station says that the utility commission is asking Texas residents to turn their air conditioning setting up to 80 degrees tomorrow between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., which is the hottest part of the day here.
And so my thoughts drift back to November, when we were in New England for my sister's wedding. After the wedding, my other sister took us on a day trip to Maine's southern coast. We visited the Nubble Light House, and froze. We walked the entire Marginal Way and froze. My cheeks were numb, my leather coat felt like paper. The wind chilled my ears. Oh, how glorious! Can't you see from the pictures how cold we were?
NOTE: Since I wrote this post, we received the leftovers from tropical storm Edouard. Which was only a little bit of rain, and it only got up to 91 today. But we had 11 straight days over 100 degrees! Whew.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Writer Fun!

Being a writer sounds like it can be glamorous. Book signings, photos, seeing your name in print, and maybe in lights. Those are the scant few moments produced by hours, and hours, and hours of writing, deleting, crying, praying, writing, deleting, writing, deleting, doubting, praying, writing...you get the idea.

We drove to Houston in my hubby's truck and the air conditioning quit working. Niiice for a 3-1/2 hour drive. And it's been over 100 degrees for I don't know how many days around here. Anyway, what little makeup I'd put on had melted. I kept sticking one of my arms out the open window so the air rushing by could cool my, um, underarms.

"Honey, I sure hope my deodorant doesn't give out," I told CJ on the way there. I'd tried to style my hair before we left town and ended up yanking everything up into a clip. We arrived in The Woodlands at my author friend Kathleen Y'Barbo's house, dumped off our suitcases, and primped (at least I did) before we headed to Rico's for an early supper. We had over a dozen writers and authors around the tables. Why is it we writers love to talk and eat so much?

So at dinner I met the lovely and sweet Dannelle Woody, a jewelry artist and author as well. The restaurant was noisy (we authors can be loud), and I kept thinking her name was JA-nelle all night...until I signed one of my books for her at the end of the book signing. (Sorry, Dannelle!!!) At least I figured that out before I signed the book!

During the book signing, I was seated between the sweet 'n sassy Martha Rogers, and author Cathy Messecar--I knew Cathy's name sounded familiar to me, and then I saw the assortment of her books. I realized I subscribe to her e-mail newsletter! So that was fun, putting another face and in-person personality with a name.

I also met new author Rene Morris. Her books aren't out yet, but I know she's excited to see them in print soon. She attended the book signing with one of my co-workers that I've only corresponded with by e-mail. Lots of fun to meet new friends and writers.

Book signings typically don't earn writers a lot of money. But it's fun, and important, to see the people who matter most as an author--our readers. I need to get over my shyness though. For some reason I sometimes feel as though I'm at a yard sale and people are trying to buy my "stuff!"

Friday, August 01, 2008

Don't Forget to Say I Love You...


I love pizza.

I love Saturday morning breakfast.

I love the full moon.

I love swimming at twilight.

I love my kitten.

I love my husband.

I love hearing the still small Voice.

One word and so many different meanings. Love is a word that can be cheapened and tossed around glibly. I don't love pizza like I love my husband.

So when I say, "I love you," what does that mean? Love you like pizza?

Sometimes our words don't mean much. I'm not posting to criticize our words. But it's easy to clap a friend on the back and say, "Love ya," and go on our way.

Check out 1 John 3:18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

(Irony: My next book proposal is based on verses 19 and 20, but that's for another post.)

We can say I love you by what we do. The people in our lives, I've discovered, pass through so quickly sometimes. The younger we are, we think that our current situation will last forever. But then you wake up one day, and months or even years have passed. And so people move along as well. Either they leave this life, or leave our lives and move away, or people get too busy and grow apart.

I think back to the times I've told a friend I loved them, or assumed they "just knew." Lately I've realized how it's more important to do simple acts of love, those unexpected little things that will show someone that I love them. Not just telling them "love ya," or figuring they already understood that.

What would mean something special to someone you love? A card or letter? An afternoon together? A cup of coffee, made just the way they like it? A verse you read, that you know they'd appreciate? A listening ear?

Deliberate demonstrations of love might make someone uncomfortable, though. When we acknowledge how truly important someone is to us, they may be embarrassed. But maybe it's exactly what they needed.

My new promise to myself: no more regrets, no more holding back, no more thinking, "Oh, they already know I love them."

Don't forget to say I love you...Love out loud.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In The Houston Area?

This is where I'll be Friday night! It's going to be great fun, and will benefit a great cause!






Authors in attendance include
Don M. Aycock
Linda & Steve Bauer
Allison Bottke
Terry Burns
Lena Nelson Dooley
Leanna Ellis
Dorothy Featherling
Marcia Gruver
Anita Higman
Charlotte Holt
Nancy Jo Jenkins
Eileen Key
Linda Kozar
Jeff LeJeune
Elizabeth Ludwig
Cathy Messecar
DiAnn Mills
Randi Morrow
Janelle Mowery
Kim O'Brien
Susan Titus Osborne
Allison Pittman
Karen Porter
Deb Raney
Jerry Rassamni
Deborah Rather
Martha Rogers
Carla Rossi
Lynette Sowell
Donn Taylor
Janice Thompson
Sharen Watson
Carol Weishampel
Brenda White
Nancy Williams
Kathleen Y'Barbo
Julie Johnston Zick

Monday, July 28, 2008

Money-saving Monday! Buying in Bulk?

I think we're going to take the plunge and get a Sam's membership. This past Thursday I was my friend Lisa's guest at our local Sam's Club that's about 30 miles away from us. Since I'm pretty familiar with the prices of items we usually buy, I was able to compare prices at Sam's. Overall, I think it's a toss-up. Some items--especially the brand-name multi-packs of products we usually buy--were more expensive. But then some of their frozen foods were a better deal than our local Wal-Mart, where we do the bulk of our grocery shopping. My one triumphant purchase on Thursday was a big honkin' glass jar of sea salt with its own grinder attached. It's a monster jar, and only cost $3.88. Much smaller containers at a regular store cost that much.

The important think to consider when buying bulk is realizing how much space you have to store items. Plus, will you use the products before they go bad (in the case of food)? Will it benefit you in the long run to NOT have to purchase these particular items as often?

Since we have our own business, CJ can buy us a Business membership for $35. Since it's a membership, Sam's also offers other benefits such as eye wear and travel discounts. We'll see if this membership benefits us or not. And I know CJ will enjoy ogling the HDTVs!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eternity in our hearts...

The writing world said good-bye to a shining light this week. Author Kristy Dykes went home ahead of us left here. While we're glad she's not suffering anymore, we grieve for those she left behind. That "blessed hope" we share must help carry us in the midst of pain. If you click on the link above, you'll read her husband Milton's account of her homegoing as he held her hand right until she stepped through Heaven's door. Have the tissues handy, pray for Milton and his family, and then go hug your loved ones and cherish all those ordinary moments that pass too quickly.

In the last ten months, loss and grief have circled around my family and friends, like two hungry sharks in the ocean. In September I watched a lively, vibrant friend leave this life after suffering a similar illness to Kristy. In October, I held my brother-in-law's hand as he stood next to Heaven's door and I had a glimpse inside before he left us two nights later. This spring I IM'ed and wept with another dear friend and author who lost her daughter. In June I heard the phone ring and then listened to someone tell me about a friend's untimely needless death, and just this month, I've cried on the phone with another good friend who's suddenly found himself alone in the world. And sometimes I feel unable to handle the smothering grief. I find myself running to the "Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief," asking Him to help us all, because I can't carry the pain of those I love.

Because how do we NOT sorrow like those who have no hope? Sorrow is pain. It forces us to rearrange our lives, knowing that the one we love has been shuffled to memory. In our human-ness and frailty, we want the ones we love to stay close, to never leave, to never part from us.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-14
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy], yet so that men cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be glad and to get and do good as long as they live; And also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor--it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it endures forever; nothing can be added to it nor anything taken from it. And God does it so that men will [reverently] fear Him [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is].

Eternity is planted in our hearts. Lots of us don't know that or think about it very much, but it's true. We have an innate longing for home. We have so much "busy work" on this planet, but when we find loss and grief circling us, it turns our hearts toward eternity. Eternity is what fills us with hope while we grieve and healing takes place.

So, Kristy, Carla, Jolene, Eddie, and Joanne, we'll see you--soon. Like Aslan says: "I call all times soon."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Money-Saving Tuesday (and more randomness)



Yes, I missed Monday. This week AND last week.

I met my deadline--a day early--and then we headed to the Texas Gulf Coast where we TRIED to save money by not spending too much. Found a great Thai cafe in Port Aransas called Thaiphoon of Texas. I accidentally walked into their back door and into their kitchen, got hollered at in Thai and English, and finally found the right door (hey, the restaurant was in a cottage, what can I say?). But I fell in love with their Corpus Christi roll, eight slices of rolled crawfish, crab meat, avocado rolled in rice and the 'seaweed stuff'. Very reasonable at $7.99 and just enough to make my tastebuds dance. You don't have to spend a lot of money going out to eat in a beach town.

One of the things we do when we go to the coast is spend a little bit more on a room where we can spread out, do our own food, and not have to eat out as much. I guess it's a tradeoff financially, but I'd go stir-crazy stuffed in a hotel room with kids for a week so for me paying more for a studio condo on the beach is worth it. We go here: http://www.casaonthebeach.com/. This year my hubby and I went on our own for the first time and left the kids home because they're working. We didn't spend as much $$ but it was bittersweet without them.

Anyway, I'm on to my next proposal and ironically enough, this one has fruit in the title, as do the next two books in the series. Am I getting stuck, or am I finally discovering a brand? Yet I love the ideas and I'm starting to love these new characters. We'll see how my editor likes these characters, too. And the titles were her suggestion. She's good at coming up with titles and she knows her market.

Hey, anyone following Nashville Star? Kinda interesting what people consider country music and not. Following a music dream sort of parallels following a writer's dream. It's a tough business to break into, but you stick around, show up, keep learning, you might just see things happen. What I like this year about the show is the mentoring aspect. Where would we be without mentors? I've been blessed to have a number of writing mentors in my life. I listen to them with the ears of a sponge (do sponges have ears?).

One final random note: I literally just got off the phone with my 51-year-old uncle, my dad's youngest brother. He called me just before midnight to say...HE'S GETTING MARRIED!!! For the first time. EVER. As my dad put it, I just saw a pig fly by the window. Who'd have thunk it? He and Nicole are eloping in September and then having a reception early next year. That way they can spend the money on entertaining and having a big bash, and enjoy time with all of us.

Time to start saving money for four round-trip plane tickets from Texas to Massachusetts. Woohoo!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Randomness

I'm cruising toward a deadline with a wonderful reward in sight. Four days and three nights at the beach. Yeah!

Often while working on a deadline, other ideas try to grab my attention. For example, I have a character buzzing around in my brain from something that happened recently.

She hadn't seen him in nearly five years, and one of the things that bothered her the most was that she couldn't remember the color of his eyes.

My daughter and I had an interesting chat tonight about why someone wouldn't remember the color of someone's eyes. Yes, this would have to be a friend. A good friend. How many of us have friends and we know the color of their eyes? Why wouldn't we remember the eye color of someone who's supposed to be a good friend, and we used to see them regularly? Maybe it's not important to us. Or, maybe it's something else...

"Maybe they're hiding something." Good point. So what could they be hiding? A bad secret? Or maybe a good secret.

"Maybe they really don't want the other person to see into their eyes. Because maybe they want to be more than a friend."

Ah-ha! So this poor woman, who can't remember the color of "his" eyes will have to wait her turn. Back to my daily word count.
Oh, and whose eyes are those? Try to guess!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Money-saving Monday!

Okay, I would like to say I've found some earth-shattering new way to save money. Not this week. I'm a firm believer in the fact that since groceries take the largest chunk of our budget (besides housing), we need to focus on trimming that budget to save money. A few dollars here and a few there add up faster than we realize. And watch those "free sample" tables. It's usually for a premade food product that is more expensive than it's worth, and they tempt you by giving you a bite. Cruise by enough display tables and you can add $15 to $20 to your food bill in one trip.


I've also been doing some thinking about the economy in general. I don't believe in being a Chicken Little, running around with a sign saying "the end is near" or anything. I think we need to watch the times and makes changes to our lifestyles. Let's face it. We Americans are too dependent on big-box stores delivering whatever we need. Who can forget the stories of immigrants going on their first trip to a large grocery store? I remember hearing stories like that, but now they make me pause.

We take so much for granted, that whatever we want will be at the store waiting for us. At a price we can afford. What if that changes? What if supply decreases and there's still the same demand for a particular product? Add gas prices to that, and prices go up, up, up. We need to start doing more for ourselves and being less dependent on those "big" stores to meet our needs. I'd rather buy from a local farmer's market and put money in the pockets of local farmers than buy into the big-box store lie: You must buy EVERYTHING from us because it's cheaper. Not necessarily.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Once Upon A Time...

in 1998 there was a semi-young woman. . .okay, a woman of 30. . .who had written a book. She knew other Christian writers existed, and even found some author web pages on the Internet. She had so many questions she wanted to ask them about writing. No one where she lived knew much about writing, unless they were a schoolteacher or a newspaper reporter. They couldn't help her. Sure, she had friends who liked to read as much as she did. But no novelists.

Then, she heard about a very tiny on-line e-mail list of writers. At first she wasn't sure about writing to strangers regularly, but figured it was better than no contact with writers at all. Through them, she heard of other writers. One of them was author Lynn Coleman, who hosted on-line chats. This opened up another avenue of learning.

Late in 1999, Lynn told some of the writers during one particular chat about a new group that she and a small group of other authors were forming, called American Christian Romance Writers. It was for those serious about pursuing the craft of fiction writing.

So this age 30ish writer said she would sign up, for sure! By that time, she'd written a second novel after the first one had been rejected (too similar to what was out there, she was told). But it was a positive rejection from one of the ACRW founding authors.

But it wasn't until 2005 that she received her first fiction contract. The rest of the story continues to be written.

Of course, yes, this was me. Until ACRW, now ACFW, my only contact with other writers was strictly on-line. The American Christian Fiction Writers conference has changed and morphed over the years to become THE premier fiction conference annually. For me, an old-timer, I get wistful for the old days. But what opportunities we have now! Amazing. So for that reason, I wouldn't go back to the old days.

NOTHING replaces the face-to-face contact with other writers. I can still remember walking into a Houston restaurant late in 2000 and seeing a table full of writers I'd only know from e-mails. I knew I had friends already. Since then, the only conference I've missed was 2006.

Lately I've been posting Money-Saving Monday tips. But today, I'm talking about investing.

I realize money is tighter for some. Gas costs more, food costs more, and unless you've gotten an awesome raise you've had to do some budget shifting.

I won't tell you to spend money you don't have or to go into debt to attend the conference. That would be irresponsible of me. But I can tell you this: every career requires investment. If you haven't saved money up for the conference yet, maybe it's too late for you to decide to go this year. And that's okay. I'll get to that later (see below). Back to investments.

Going to the ACFW conference showed me that I was serious about making writing a career. It's part-time, but most writers aren't the primary breadwinner in their family. I have a full-time job and consider myself doubly employed.

Going to the ACFW conference showed me I wanted to be a professional. Yes, I've had tearful moments, and times that I wish I could take back, but in spite of myself, I'm showing up with my game face on to learn and grow.

Going to the ACFW conference gives me the face-to-face time I need. I've met lifetime friends who are an IM or an e-mail away. While I do get nervous in certain social situations (I so wish I didn't!), I'd like to think I'm getting better and being less self-conscious.

Going to the ACFW conference gives me a glimpse of Heaven. We wear no denominational labels, and we sing the same song for our Creator in His Presence. You can't beat that!

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MONEY-SAVING MONDAY AND THE 2009 ACFW CONFERENCE

Okay, so what if you know you can't go for 2008, that the money isn't there right now? Let's do our Money-Saving and crunch some numbers. Give or take a hundred bucks, totalling the conference fee, hotel, and transportation can run you about $1100. Since I have no idea how much or where the 2009 conference will be, this is an estimate.

WHERE can you find that $1100 in time for next year? Let's start now. Registration has just opened for the 2008 conference and you can sign up until August. So for 2009, you've got a year to save.

Do you go to McDonald's on the way to work in the morning to pick up breakfast, say twice a week? Put that $6 in a jar every week, and after 52 weeks you'll have $312 dollars.

Do you buy a 12-pack of soda/cola/pop every week? Put that $3 in a jar once a week instead of buying the soda, and you'll have $156 dollars after 52 weeks.

Do you bring the kids for haircuts every two months? Get a set of clippers if you're brave, and learn to trim hair yourself. For two kids at $25 (we're talking Procuts here, the cheapo kid cut) every 2 months, and that adds up to $150.

See, we're already over halfway to that $1100, just by cutting out McDonald's breakfast twice a week, one 12-pack of soda/cola/pop, and picking up a new skill by trimming your kids' hair (2 kids).

Get creative, and look at your lifestyle. What are you buying that you don't need to buy, even if it's $3 or $5 a week? What are you paying someone else to do that you can do yourself?--save that money and pay yourself to go to the conference. Remember, this is an investment. It ain't Wall Street, but you'll definitely see a payoff in time. There are no shortcuts, no matter what anyone tells you.

Lastly, why not clear your house of clutter, have a yard sale, and reward yourself by putting the money in a conference fund? -- and I'll see YOU in 2009!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still Called Today


I lost a good friend earlier this month, but I didn't find out until nearly three weeks after her death. Her mother called on Saturday night, and I knew immediately that something had happened. People who live 5000 miles away and normally don't call...ever...well, when the phone rings and it's them, you know it can't be good news.

My friend died violently, needlessly. And when she moved away nearly three years ago, I had no idea it would be the last time I'd see her on this earth.

Living in a military area, we have a double-edged sword of friendship. People move into the area from all parts of the country. The hard part is saying goodbye, especially to the ones who become like family. All the while you're friends, you try not to think ahead to the time when Uncle Sam tells them to move. Usually that's about three years, sometimes more or less.

One of the things I remember about her was her musical laugh. How she loved to laugh. I can still hear her, "Oh, Sister Lynette!" when I said something funny or off-the-wall, and she'd go off into giggles. Sometimes I'd say something crazy just to crack her up. She was Hawaiian, short and round and bubbly, and beautiful. She loved children of all ages, and her son was the pride of her heart. When we first met him at barely 4 years old, he'd already memorized more Scripture than a lot of adults. Whenever we had an event at church, she was there pitching in and giving a hand. And she loved our youth. She wrote two plays, which the kids loved performing. And our kids loved her.

Her home was creatively decorated, clean, and full of love. Not perfect. Oh, no. The last four years or so were a struggle for her on some fronts, and I know she battled her demons. I wish I'd known how deep her battle was, to let her know that I would be there for her, and pray for her. We spent some great times together, her family and mine. We saw each other at our best, and at our worst. But we always forgave.

She was one of the greatest supporters of my writing, before I even had a single acceptance letter. One Christmas, I gave her a printed out copy of my still unpublished historical novel, and you'd think I'd given her gold.

I remember one night, shortly after her husband returned from a year-long tour in Iraq, they came for dinner and stayed very late. We sat there for hours, and he just shared about what he'd seen and experienced and his frustration with the slow process of helping an institutionalized people learn to govern themselves, and keep everyone safe. Later, with tears in her eyes, she told me the night they visited with us was good for him. "He really needed that," she said. I know she did love him, and was fiercely proud of him, no matter what.

Then about six months before they were transferred away, her husband brought his mother with Alzheimer's to live with them.

And gradually, our friendship changed. I feel like they left us before they moved away. When someone pulls away, what can you do? I wasn't sure at the time. But I was worried. They had so much to deal with, and I felt like they were cutting themselves off from all of us. Thinking back now, I wish I'd made more of an effort to keep in touch.

After they moved, we had her cell phone number, and that was it. (I didn't even know what town they lived in until I read the news articles about her death.) I knew she was going through a lot with a new home, a new town, trying to find a new church, and dealing with an ailing relative in the house full-time, plus a growing boy. One time when my husband called, she was "really busy." She had no time. And then we'd leave messages on voice mail every once in a while. Finally, the number didn't work anymore.

The last time we heard from them was Christmas day 2006. We got home from church to hear a message from the three of them bellowing into the answering machine, " Melikalikimaka! Merry Christmas! We love you guys! Happy Hanukkah!' And that was it.

Why this long story? Because there are some rifts that are worth trying to mend. There are some gaps worth closing. Don't put it off. For the longest time, I'd wondered how they were since that Christmas Day phone call. I probably could have found her mother's phone number or asked another church friend if they had any numbers. We could have tracked them down. But we didn't. And I regret all that I never said. Especially when a month ago they were heavy on our hearts, and we had no idea why.

It reminds me of the Steven Curtis Chapman song, Still Called Today...

"But while it's still called today, won't somebody make it right
Before the day slips into night and the moments waste away
While it is still called today, we've got to say the words
That are longing to be heard 'cause tomorrow may be too late
Go on and say what you need to say while it is still called today."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Money-saving Monday!

Every little bit adds up. A few dollars here, a few there. Just like when we were kids and our parents tried to get us to SAVE MONEY and not spend it. For some reason, it was easier just to spend what we had.

Here's my little tips for the week.

Saving gas: Combine your trips. Try not to make trips to the store for just one thing. Keep a note pad by the fridge to have a shopping list in progress all the time. The busier I am, the more I forget we're on the LAST ROLL OF TP (cue dramatic music). And so I jump into the car to head to the store for one thing.

Learn to read labels: Just because it's bulk, doesn't mean it's less expensive. Just because it's the store brand, doesn't mean it's the better deal. Take a moment and read the unit price on the shelf. Bring your calculator if you're bad at math. I know. I can hear it now: "But I've got ten screaming kids and 100 items on my list. Do you expect me to do this for every item?" Of course not! But we creatures of habit like to buy the same things all the time. Once you start keeping track of what items usually cost, you'll notice if a price goes up and down. For example, Wesson cooking oil was less expensive than the Great Value brand, so I purchased Wesson. Then Great Value must have figured this out, and the price of Wesson went up, and Great Value went down.

Learn to consider value, not just the price: Just because the chicken is 99 cents a pound, if it's not boneless, you're paying for bones you'll throw away. I don't care how cheap the meat is, if I'm paying for something I'm throwing away, that's not a good value for me when feeding a family. If you can't afford boneless, skinless chicken breasts, try the boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They are less expensive, and not that much "fattier" than the white meat.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Op At Wal-Mart


The teenager deep within me is reeling from the injustice.
WalMart is now selling Op. Can you believe it?
I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a rinky-dink town not quite thirty minutes from the beach. I grew up in a loving family where dad provided and mom did neat things for me, like sewing some of my clothes. I even had a cute bikini wayyyyy back when I was 8 or 9 that mom made. Powder blue and white seersucker material. I loved it. The very last time I wore one.
I've digressed, of course. When I became a teenager, even in that rinky-dink town we had a fashion hierarchy. And anyone who was anyone wore Op.
I loved Op. Op T-shirts, Op shorts, Op bathing suits. And oh, how I envied the "other" kids who wore Op. But could I buy Op? Ha!
The one "boutique" store in town, Scher's, mocked me every time we drove by. The Op mecca taunted me with what I could not buy. One day, I had enough to buy an Op wallet. But who'd see a wallet of tan corduroy with brown trim? I just knew when I took it out of my purse to pay for something, everyone would know I couldn't afford the clothes.
Then finally, somehow, I saved up enough money to buy my own pair of Op shorts.
I still remember them. A cobalt blue corduroy, short-shorts (no, not too short or I'd never be let out of the house). They had front cargo pockets and the embroidered white "Op" logo on one of the pockets. And they were mine, on sale for less than twenty bucks.
I wore them until they wore out.
Fast forward over twenty-five years later, and here comes WAL MART selling Op. In my town back then, that would have been like Ames or KMart selling Op. It wouldn't have happened. So this is why WalMart selling Op is such a coup.
Sigh. Now I have the budget where I could buy myself Op. But the body I had back then is gone, or at least hidden. Sigh.
And I'm about five hours from the nearest REAL beach.
I console myself with the thought of: Corduroy at the beach being cool? What were we thinking??