Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Prayer request

I have no right to expect that anyone will see this post. But if anyone does, I have a prayer request. My dad goes in for surgery Friday morning--Jan 2. There's a tumor in his kidney that they highly suspect is cancer. They don't mess around with kidney cancer, so they're removing the entire kidney.

The good news is that the cancer is contained in the kidney, so once that's removed he doesn't have to undergo any other treatment. Our family has seen quite enough of that, thank you.

But my dad has always been kind of fond of having two kidneys, and this is a major operation--the incision will be huge. Please pray that the operation goes smoothly and that his recovery will be as quick and comfortable as possible.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I just don't know sometimes

A couple of weeks ago the phone rang. Brian answered and I listened to his side of the conversation to see if the call was for me.

"Who's calling? . . . Is she gonna want to talk to you?"

My interest was piqued. Who could it be?

"Does she even know you?"

Is it one of my AWANA girls and he's giving her a hard time?

"Wait a minute!" His voice hardened. "This isn't her new boyfriend, is it?"

My jaw dropped. "Who are you talking to?" I noted the slight edge of panic in my voice. Who in the world would he say something like that to?

He hung up and I demanded again, "Who was that?"

Brian just about split a gut. "Some guy wanted you to take a survey."

When I could stop laughing long enough I asked, "What did he say when you asked if he was my boyfriend?"

"He sounded a little scared. 'Oh, no, sir! It's nothing like that!' I doubt if he'll call here again."

Well, that's one way to deal with them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

He actually listens

Brian and I were watching a cheesy show recently. We have very few channels, so sometimes we're stuck with cheesy. Anyway, this character starts feeding the audience information while she's on the phone. Stuff like...

"I've missed you so much since you moved away two years ago... Well of course you couldn't help it if your dad's job relocated..."

And so on, until Brian said, "Nice backstory."

I just stared at him. He does listen after all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Interview: Sharon K. Souza

(I've been rescued by a pre-made interview.)

AN INTERVIEW WITH SHARON K. SOUZA

Author of Lying on Sunday


In your previous novel, Every Good & Perfect Gift, you address the tough issues of infertility and catastrophic illness. Again, in Lying on Sunday, you've tackled a tough subject, that being infidelity. Why do you choose such tough topics?

I like to write stories that speak to women on deep and personal levels. None of us gets through this life without being affected in some form by sadness, loss, a sense of failure over one issue or another, and having been failed. I think when we know we're not the only one going through these types of situation--and it's so easy to feel that you are alone--it gives us hope that we really can come through, not necessarily unscathed, but certainly stronger and more equipped to help others.

Do heavy topics equal a heavy reading experience?

Definitely not. I firmly believe that pleasure reading should first and foremost be entertaining. Time is a precious commodity. I hope that readers who choose to spend some of their precious hours in the pages of my books will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

So even though I tackle tough subjects, I infuse enough humor to keep those subjects from becoming an albatross around the reader's neck. Conversely, I love to read for pleasure, but I want to take something away from the experience.

What would you have readers take away from Lying on Sunday?

In one day, Abbie Torrington has the underpinnings of her world knocked out from under her. Everything she thinks she knows about her marriage turns out to be false. It leaves her reeling in the aftermath. Years ago, while dealing with health issues in my own life, a close friend gave me a Precious Moments figurine entitled "Light at the End of the Tunnel." In Lying on Sunday I want to show that even with issues as devastating as betrayal there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and for me that Light, of course, is Jesus.

Lying on Sunday deals with the betrayal of infidelity, but are there other forms of betrayal that the book might speak to?

Types of betrayal obviously vary, but the end results can be equally devastating. Any time a trust is broken between people in relationship, someone is going to be hurt. We can either allow those hurts to hinder us, or we can allow the Lord to use them as lessons to make us better and stronger. That brings to mind the old adage "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." Well, through her own devastating experience Abbie becomes a stronger, more independent person than she knew she could be.

Once again you've written a story with a strong and vital friendship that's central to the story. Was that coincidence or by design?

Absolutely by design. I'm all about relationships and so are my characters. Having gone through a period in my early adulthood without a close friend, I know how important friends are in our lives. In fact, I've recently reconnected with two friends from high school, one I hadn't seen in 25 years, and the other in over 30 years. But relationships between women, while vital, can be very complex. That's certainly true for Abbie. Besides her close friendship with Shawlie Bryson, she has a close relationship with one daughter and a challenging relationship with the other, mostly because of the very different emotional place these girls are in while dealing with the death of their father. Not only that, but Abbie has a strained relationship with her own mother for reasons she eventually discovers. I'm certain that women of each one of these generations will relate to one or the other of these characters, especially the woman caught in the middle, where she's both the daughter and the mother.

Truth is a theme you deal with extensively in Lying on Sunday. In a book that deals with betrayal, wouldn't forgiveness be a more fitting theme?

I believe forgiveness is the key to getting beyond the kind of hurt Abbie experiences - which doesn't necessarily equate to restored relationship. (In Abbie's case, of course, that's impossible anyway.) But the discovery of truth is a huge first step in the process. In any difficult situation we can choose to ignore the facts and try to keep life on an even keel. But there inevitably comes a day of reckoning. For Abbie to arrive at the desired destination, there are some unpleasant truths she must acknowledge and deal with. She's dogged by a scripture from John 8:32 that says the truth will set you free. Only she can decide whether or not she'll let it.

What is the most satisfying thing that comes out of your writing?

I love hearing from readers, especially those I don't know, who say my stories have touched them in one way or another, and most importantly, have helped them see more clearly how good and loving our Lord is.

What are you working on now, and does it continue in the style of Lying on Sunday and Every Good & Perfect Gift?

My work in progress, Unraveled, is another contemporary novel about a young woman who gives a year of her life to help teach children in Moldova, a small country in eastern Europe. While there she experiences a crisis of fath (the story ultimately deals with human trafficking). And yes, it continues in the style of my previous novels.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Naturally I love to hear from readers. You can email me through my website: http://www.sharonksouza.com. If you're in a book club and choose to read any of my books I'll send a complimentary book to the person who contacts me on behalf of their group. Then, after you read the book I'd love to participate in your group discussion, either by phone or in person if you're close enough for me to drive to.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Swamped

I'm terribly busy right now. With Awanas, critiques and life, I haven't had time to write book reviews, or anything else.

I'm sorry about the blog. I don't know when I'll have time to get back to it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Coming soon

I disappeared for a while again. I've got to stop doing that.

I'm working on book reviews right now. I finished reading another book in the meantime, so now I've got three to write. And I'm still trying to think of another way to use this blog.

So stay tuned. Some sort of content is coming. At the very least, a few book reviews soon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finding balance

Does anyone else have trouble finding balance in their lives? I have a personality type where it's sort of all or nothing. I have trouble focusing on more than one thing.

If I'm writing, I'm writing to the exclusion of all else. If the writing is going well, my hunger signals don't even get through to me. My house doesn't get cleaned, supper is a simple meal thrown together, or Brian cooks. I forget to read my Bible, etc. Because I'm writing.

If I get on a cleaning kick, that's all I want to do--clean and organize.

For the moment I have a new focus that's distracting me from all my work. In a way I'm on fire to write after the conference, but I haven't gotten to it yet. No writing or reviewing--I read two books that I have to write reviews for--and no blogging for a month, just my new obsession.

So if you have trouble balancing the various aspects of your life, but have found a way to balance, please give me some tips. I don't want advice from those of you who have always been able to find balance with no trouble. I don't want to hear from you, because I don't like you. *smile*

But if this is a problem you've overcome, please share.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gratitude, part 3

Forgive me for skipping yesterday. I’m simply not in the habit of blogging regularly anymore.


The rest of the conference. Wow. Great classes. I especially enjoyed John Olson’s continuing education class on writing the Big Idea. High concept, big characters, writing in the shadows. So much to absorb, I’ll have to read the notes over and over.


The other two classes that really stand out in my memory are Rachel Hauck’s and Susan May Warren’s. Probably because they made me laugh. But they had good tips, too.


I didn’t introduce myself to anyone on Friday and Saturday. My cold hit hard and I like to keep my germs to myself. It was hard to be social when I felt like I should be walking down the halls crying, “Unlcean! Unclean!”


Since I haven’t had a cold in probably 3 years, I kept asking God, why now? Maybe so I’d rest every once in a while instead of feeling like I had to attend every session.


My nose was so drippy Friday I’m sure anyone who happens to remember my face will remember me as the girl who was always blowing her nose. In fact, there might be photographic evidence of that.


My roommate gave me an antihistamine Friday night, and I slept great. Felt much better after that. Saturday and Sunday my cold was only a minor inconvenience. Even so, my assertiveness was gone.


We had a gathering of Midwest authors Friday before supper, and I met Linda Rondeau. (I hope I spelled that right.) We made a connection, in part because one of her genres is sci-fi/fantasy, which I enjoy reading. And partly because the same editor likes our writing, but isn’t interested in the books we’ve written. She had an encouraging word for me every time I saw her, and she gave me a nice hug goodbye on Sunday.


I met one final person at breakfast on Sunday. Rachel Ingle. (I hope I’m remembering correctly. My memory has had nearly a week to get fuzzy.) We bonded over a love of raw milk, of all things. We’re both Minnesotans. We talked so much over breakfast, I ended up telling her about the deaths in my family, and she shared a personal loss that happened to her years ago. When I said goodbye to her, she said she’d be praying for me.


By the way, it was at that breakfast I decided I couldn't wait any longer to blow my nose. Right in the middle of the process, I saw a big flash. Sure enough, the conference photographer had the camera aimed in my direction. Sigh.


What I shared doesn’t do justice to the kindness of everyone I met. They are the reason I want to go back next year. Denver would mean flying and more expense, but I’ll wait and see if it’s God’s will for me.


My heartfelt thanks goes to anyone who had anything to do with the planning of the ACFW conference, and to all the volunteers. You helped make it an unforgettable experience.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Gratitude List, part 2

I'd like these posts much better with some pictures. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home.

After the agent panel Thursday, Carla Stewart introduced herself to me. She remembered my name from the Genesis contest last year. She said she'd seen my blog, and she complimented me on my critiquing skills. She was another person who made a point of saying hi to me whenever she saw me the rest of the time. We ended up at the same supper table that night. Carla was a Genesis finalist this year. In fact, she ended up winning the young adult category.

After supper, I finally had the chance to check in. (Don't worry, I'm not going through the whole conference this slowly. I just met most of the people the first day. And I have to tell this frazzled little story.)

A lovely young woman named Shella--I didn't catch her last name--checked in at the same time, so we got our luggage out of storage together. She only had one suitcase on wheels, whereas I--Mrs. Eclectic Luggage--had a small suitcase, a small duffel bag, and a garment bag. When Shella saw me awkwardly trying to manage the three pieces, she offered to carry my duffel since we were staying on the 8th floor. How sweet and selfless that was.

Okay, the fact that they sent us to separate elevators should have tipped me off. I just thought they were being courteous and getting us as close to our rooms as possible. Shella and I agreed to meet in the middle of the hall once we got our suitcases in our rooms.

I stashed my stuff and set off down the hall. And came to a dead end. Just a door that said "staircase." Went the other direction. Same thing.

Oh, why had I parted with that duffel bag? My snacks were in it (blood sugar issues), as well as all my toiletries. I needed that duffel!

Just then, Donna Alice Patton, whom I had never met, but I recognized her name, was coming out of her room. I asked her if the hallways connected in some way I couldn't see. She sweetly informed me that they were separate towers, and that she'd gone up the wrong elevator to start with. She told me where the other elevator was.

(Donna and I ended up connecting a few more times--ate a couple of meals together. She came in second in mystery/suspense in the Genesis. Hmm... seems I'm drawn to Genesis finalists.)

The editor panel was about to start, so I got in the elevator back down to the first floor. Found the other elevator, which needed a key swipe. My key didn't work, since I wasn't a guest in that tower. Back to the front desk, had my key re-swiped so it would work, and back up to the 8th floor, other tower.

Praise God I have a thing for numbers. I can glance at a number and hold it in my memory for days without trying. I had seen Shella's room number, so I went straight to her room and knocked. She hadn't left for the session yet. She had my duffel bag. All was right in the world.

Back into the elevator. Down to first floor. Other elevator. Up to 8th floor. Put the duffel in my room. Back in the elevator to the 2nd floor where the editor panel was probably already starting.

Did I mention I don't like elevators?

But after that ride, the elevator was a breeze for the rest of the conference. The editor panel was just starting when I reached the ballroom. I sat down and relaxed, having great peace of mind in knowing that I had my room, my sanctuary.

I'm also grateful for a good roommate, Candle. We were enough alike, and enough different that we got along great. I was with her enough that I heard a half dozen variations of, "Candle? What an interesting name. Is there a story behind it?" I wonder how many times she had to say, "My mom just wanted something different." But of course, I was just as guilty as everyone esle when I first heard her name.

The one damper on the conference is that when I went to bed the first night, my nose immediately plugged up. I thought I felt the beginnings of a cold that evening, but tried to deny it. With a stuffy, drippy nose, I hardly slept a wink. Not a great beginning to a conference I knew would be exhausting anyway.

Okay, I have just a few more people left to thank and a few more details to talk about. I should be able to wrap this up tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One missing piece...

I forgot one detail. In the story below it helps to know that not only could I not check in, but I wasn't listed on my roommate's reservation. Even though I knew she'd added me, and I trusted that, fear got the better of me. After all, I'd never met my roommate before, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get any room at all.

My writer's imagination immediately took hold, and I pictured myself begging from person to person. "Do you have room for one more?" That added to my emotional state.

My Gratitude List (ACFW Conference)

I've been duly chastised by Deb for not yet having a post about the conference.

I had a great time. I hope I'm able to go again next year. Not because of the classes, though they were great. Not because of making a few connections that might profit me. But because of the people.

I knew ACFW was full of great people. Nice, helpful. They answer questions on the email loop so fast it makes my head spin. But seeing them face to face, and having someone there for me anytime I needed them just blew me away.

This may take a few days to write, because I want to drop a few details about the conference along the way, but my focus is going to be a gratitude list. I want to thank all the people who made the conference a good experience for me, whether they know they affected me or not.

Christina Berry was the first person I saw. I arrived at noon and couldn't check in yet, so I went across the parking lot to a DQ to change out of my comfy travel clothes. When I came out of the restroom, I saw Christina. She seemed so happy to see me and gave me a big hug. Then throughout the conference, whenever she saw me she said hi and we talked a while. It was nice to feel like I had a friend there.

By the way, Christina won second place in her category in the Genesis contest. She submitted the first chapter of Undiscovered to me way back at the beginning of this blog. I take no credit in her success, however. The chapter was already stellar when it came to me. I didn't so much critique it as praise it.

Gloria Clover was waiting in line ahead of me to have her luggage stored. I have to explain my state of mind before she'll sound special.

I didn't want to store my luggage--I wanted to check in. I wanted to have my anchor, that place I could go to get away if I needed it. I had planned to check in, have my husband (who drove me) help me carry the luggage to my room. I'd give him a hug and kiss goodbye. I'd take a few minutes to change (instead of a DQ restroom) and relax before facing everyone. I'm such an introvert that the prospect of meeting people is a little overwhelming. I just wanted my room!

I don't know if that does enough to explain how I felt. Things were not going as I'd planned. So there I was, trying to say goodbye to my husband without tearing up. I knew it was stupid to be on the verge of tears--I can't really explain it. A quick peck and he left. I turned to find Gloria Clover smiling at me sympathetically. I'd never met her. She asked how I was doing. I figured it was obvious I was fighting tears, so I told her I was a little overwhelmed.

She let me hang out with her as we registered, then headed to the bookstore. I didn't really connect with her again after that, though I saw her across a room a couple of times. Having someone so friendly and understanding at my side for that first hour or so meant a lot to me.

Oh, it was at the bookstore that I met Deb Kinnard. She was the one and only person at the conference who said my name first. Everyone else, I had to look at their name tags, then introduce myself. But at the bookstore, I heard my name, looked up and there was Deb. We had a nice little talk and she was very encouraging.

Speaking of introducing myself, I surprised myself by being quite assertive that first day. I got to meet several people I wanted to meet. Patti Lacy--one of my first critique partners, Cindy Hickey, Camy Tang, Sharon Lavy, Megan DiMaria. I saw Richard Mabry in a class, but it wasn't a good time to say hi, and then I didn't get the chance.

And I'll finish today with Rachel Hauck. No personal connection made, but she led the worship team. She has a beautiful voice and she led with such feeling that it made our worship something truly special.

I've barely begun to talk about conference, so I'll continue tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

ACFW conference and other stuff


I can't believe the ACFW conference is in a month! So little time to prepare.

I've hardly written at all this summer. It just hasn't been a good summer for writing. I had to cancel my editor appointments because my WIP won't be ready to pitch. But there are always the informal meetings at meals and such where I can talk about my WIP.

So I should prepare a pitch of some kind. Be ready to talk about my project.

Business casual isn't my style. I have jeans and T-shirts, and then I have skirts and dresses for church. And since I don't want to wear skirts every day of the conference, I should buy a few items of clothing. I wouldn't be buying for the conference only. For one thing, I get called to do some office work once in a while. Second, I can wear them to church.

This is my first conference, so I'm not sure what else I should do to get ready. I have business cards. I have a roommate. I could ask the first-time attendee email loop, but do those of you who've been to a writer's conference have any gems for me?

In other news...

I've sold a good number of my brother's books. 225 out of 742. I sold one series of 87 books on eBay (it did pretty well--1.25 per book), held a yard sale (sold 67), and put out an email to ACFW on Friday. Okay, I still have a lot to sell, but 225 and counting isn't too shabby.

Tomorrow morning Brian and I leave for family camp. We'll be gone the rest of the week. I'm starting to relax just thinking about it. I really need this vacation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dealing with the dying

Growing up, illness was something that was hush-hush in my family. If a relative was seriously ill, my parents kept it from us kids. We overheard--or sensed--just enough to let our imaginations paint a much more dire picture than the reality. This probably reinforced my fear of illness and dying.

To give my otherwise wonderful parents credit, when something was known for a fact--like when my aunt was terminally ill with breast cancer, they let us know. But still all the other incidences of Something's Wrong and I Don't Know What shrouded sickness in mystery and fear.

Even without that, I think the fear of being around someone who's dying is a common one. What do you do? What do you say? How will they look? When my grandma's two sisters were in the hospital dying, I didn't go visit them. My excuse was that I wanted to remember them as they were, not see them wasting away.

My father-in-law Perry and my brother Keith were diagnosed with cancer within 3 months of each other. Perry had well over a year of remission. Keith was in treatment the entire time.

When Perry went to the hospital with his second-to-last bowel obstruction and required surgery, his two daughters from out East made plans to come. I asked my husband, "Why are they coming?" He thought I was criticizing, and answered accordingly. But really it was a plea I couldn't voice. "Please tell me he's not dying."

When another bowel blockage came too soon and there was nothing that could be done for him, the shock of knowing he was dying rocked me to the core. Lack of such a simple thing--functioning intestines--was going to kill him.

I was nervous on my first visit after he was sent home with hospice care. The old fear and all the questions about how to face someone who's dying surfaced. But Perry was so at peace with it-- and after the initial shock, the entire family was at peace with it--that he eased the fear of everyone around him. At least he eased my fear. He kept his sense of humor until very near the end and had us all laughing every time we saw him. Then he'd let his family know exactly how much we meant to him, and had us all crying.

But I came to realize being around a dying person isn't so bad. What do you say? Anything or nothing. Just being there to let them know you care is enough. Don't be afraid of tears--it's no bad thing to let the dying person know you'll miss them.

The day after Perry's funeral, my dad called to tell me that Keith's cancer had spread wildly. All his tumors had grown, and new tumors had formed on his spine. Believe me, I asked God why He couldn't give me a break after what I'd just been through.

After the chemo worked its way out of his system, Keith did okay for a while. I got the time to breathe that I so badly needed, even though it was in the back of my mind that Keith only had a matter of months. In early July we could see his decline. And finally we knew he only had a matter of days.

If I hadn't gone through Perry's dying, I might have stayed away. But I knew exactly what to expect and that I could handle it. The question of what to talk about was kind of moot. I couldn't get more than a sentence out before Keith would fall asleep.

The day before he died, I went to his room with my sister because we could hear that he was awake. I was all out of words, but I was genuinely happy to see him awake and alert. So I simply smiled at him. He was very weak at that point, but he managed to smile back. An achingly sweet smile that was just as genuine as mine. It let me know he was happy I was there.

Later that night, thinking of that smile was what caused me to break down in sobs--the night I told you about, when Brian simply held me. I'm glad I had that good cry. That was the worst of my grief right there. Because I knew I would never see Keith's smile again.

I was privileged to be there for Keith's last few breaths. Just my mom, my dad, and me. (My sister was on her way, but didn't make it in time. My brother was working out of town.)

I'm so glad I was there at the end.

It's not an easy thing to go through. And two funerals in four months is quite enough, thank you. But I'm not afraid anymore. I know that when I have to go through this again some day, I can. God's blessings and comfort have held me secure.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: The Other Side of Darkness

The Other Side of Darkness by Melody Carlson; Multnomah, September, 2008

Genre: General fiction


In her author’s note, Melody Carlson explains that in writing The Other Side of Darkness she wanted to explore the question of how a Christian can get lured into a pseudo-Christian cult.

Who didn’t watch, with interest, the news coverage in recent months of the raid on a certain compound? Although the events in this book don’t go as far as isolation in a compound, it’s a brilliant exploration of how a cult can start. How certain personality types—such as those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—are more vulnerable to the influence of cult leaders.

Synopsis:

Ruth is a mother of three whose husband’s apathy has forced her into the role of her family’s spiritual leader. She takes her position very seriously—a prayer warrior who spends hours on her knees doing battle against the demons for the souls of her young daughters. She can’t understand why quite a few people at New Life Church don’t like Pastor Glen. They seem to be plotting against him and spreading nasty rumors. To Ruth, he is a wonderful shepherd and the only one who knows the direction the church should be headed.

This story is told in first-person present tense, which gives immediacy to the events taking place. From the first paragraph, it’s clear that Ruth’s focus is wrong. And from there she only becomes more misguided.

Carlson did a wonderful job of putting her readers inside the head of someone with OCD. In fact, at times it was a hard place to be. The repetitive actions, the questioning of every decision—except for the decision she should be questioning. It’s plain to see why this personality type falls prey to manipulative authority figures more easily.

This book isn’t exactly for entertainment. The character is in constant struggle—with herself and with those she thinks are against her. It isn’t easy to watch her downward spiral. To see her making one bad decision after another and taking her daughters with her.

But it’s an important book. It shows how easily Christianity can slip off its tracks when the focus is taken off the Bible. When the words of people become more important than the Word of God. And when experience is given precedence over Scripture.

It’s a book I think everyone should read.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Book Review: Searching for Spice

Searching for Spice by Megan DiMaria; published by Tyndale, April 2008

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Linda has come to the unwelcome realization that her marriage is boring. With the demands of job and teenage children, the relationship has become stale and routine. Even in the early days of dating and newly wedded-ness, her husband barely had a notion of what romance was. He’s a practical man and seems content with the way things are.

Instead of resigning herself to this fact, Linda comes up with a plan of action to infuse romance into her marriage. Her first attempts win her nothing more than a puzzled husband, but after a while, her plan starts to succeed. And that’s when life conspires to test the strength of their bond.

The story is told in first-person present tense, chick-lit style. Actually, those who like their genres fine-tuned call this type of book Mom-lit. Which means humor is liberally—and in this case, skillfully—applied. Even though I always have a harder time adapting to books told in first-person present, the story pulled me in. I laughed and I cried.

The events in this book are so delightfully everyday—until suddenly they’re not. Linda’s goal is simple, but life, work and kids interfere with that goal. This could be any woman’s story. Linda’s desire for romance in her marriage is universal. Every woman married for any length of time should have no trouble relating to this book.

I’m going to make a broad generalization here, but I think a lot of men have trouble with the concept of romance. When they hear the word, it sounds like a chore. A secret formula that they have to get just right in order to make their wives happy. Can’t blame men—sometimes we women don’t know what we want when we think of romance. This book does a good job of showing that romance is simply thoughtfulness—and it’s not only the man’s responsibility.

Linda makes plenty of mistakes along the way, and so does Jerry. A refreshing dose of realism wrapped up in a well-crafted story. Entertaining, plus it made me ask myself, what can I do for my husband today?


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Books, books, books


Turns out my brother had 730-some books. I'd estimate that just over half are pictured above. So this project took longer to finish than I thought.

But now all the books are alphabetized, separated into genre, cataloged, and and in shallow little boxes ready for display at a book sale. I had to cut most of the boxes down to size myself for easy browsing.

My first try at selling these books will be a yard-sale type thing. I thought about going straight to selling them online somehow, but the question of how to go about it was a bit daunting. Plus I imagined myself living at the post office for several weeks. And how much more will people be willing to pay for paperbacks on top of shipping?

So selling locally first makes sense. I'll deal with the other problems after that. And yes, I know I can limit shipping to one day a week to save myself lots of trips. Still there's a lot to sort out.

I ended up with four general categories of books:

1. Sci-fi/fantasy (the majority by far)
2. Action/adventure (including the Destroyer Series, which is almost complete from #2-#99)
3. Mystery/suspense/thriller
4. Horror

The funeral expenses weren't quite covered, so I'm hoping my efforts will pay off and help cover the last of those costs. Anyone have any tips for selling books? Either at a yard sale or online? I welcome any suggestions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The service

Keith's funeral service was very nice. Our former pastor, who knew Keith all--or at least most--of his life, preached the sermon. My family is full of softies who wouldn't have been able to get up and talk during the service. So my dad wrote a few memories down (and I edited them for story and flow) for the pastor to read.

This pastor had visited Keith several and was impressed at the uncomplaining way Keith dealt with his illness. So the message had a personal touch in more than one way.

My mom picked both songs. The solo, "Finally home," which my husband sang, and the congregational song, "In Christ Alone (My Hope is Found)." I've loved the second song from the moment I first heard it. I didn't realize it was so appropriate for a funeral. Especially since Pastor Charlie's funeral sermons always include the salvation message. My voice was fairly strong until the last verse. The line "...no fear in death" choked me up and I gave up trying to sing after that. Look up the words and you'll see why.

Both at the funeral and at the visitation the night before, so many people hugged me. That much contact and love during such a hard time just filled me up. People don't always say the right things, but that's okay. Their eyes said it all before they could speak anyway. What I liked hearing most was a simple, "We're praying for you." The worst thing I heard--though I can laugh about it now--was, "Oh, sweetie. Oh, your dear brother is gone. You're going to miss him sooo much!" That started the tears! But I know this sweet lady meant well.

Keith himself would have laughed at that sort of "comfort" being given out. He had a great sense of humor and he was a good story teller. That's what I'll miss the most.

I was with him at the end. If you'll indulge me one more post about him, I'd like to write about that, and the incredible growth I had to go through over the past months to be willing to be there at the end.

After that, I'll probably go back into normal posts.

I have a big project to finish up first. Keith loved to read and was a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan. I've got about 500 books in my living room right now. I'm getting them alphabetized and cataloged so I can sell most of them. It's a project that's a bit overwhelming at times. But it's nice to have something to do that's connected with Keith.

Thanks for all the support you've shown.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another update

My brother went to be with the Lord yesterday afternoon.

We're grieving, of course, but so thankful he didn't have to linger in a body that was filled with pain.

The funeral is Friday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thanks, everyone

I'm touched to know how many of you are praying. Thank you for the comments.

My brother Keith is still hanging in there, but each day I see a difference. Yesterday he was barely responsive. I spent the day starting funeral plans with my parents and sister, and checking on my brother once in a while.

In the evening, my husband and I went to the Helmuth's for supper, then visited Perry's grave, which had only recently gotten it's headstone.

An emotionally charged day, to say the least. But I held back for the most part--other than getting teary-eyed a few times. As I was getting ready for bed, it was the first time I was alone all day. The tears started coming and I couldn't stop. My husband came and sat by me and held me until I cried myself out. I needed that!

In a few minutes I'm heading to my parents' again. I'll let you know when anything changes. That way, you can know how to pray specifically, like David said in the comments. Right now the family is praying--if it's God's will--that Keith won't linger too long in this current state.

Again, thanks. There's nothing like brothers and sisters in Christ--both near and far--coming along side for support. God bless you all.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Update

It looks like my brother, who's been struggling with cancer for three and a half years, is down to his final days.

I don't put much stock in human estimates of how much time a person has left. The nurse's estimate of one week left for my father-in-law turned into seven weeks. But I know that my brother doesn't have much time left at any rate. He's had hospice care at my parent's house for a while now.

I'd appreciate a quick prayer for my family if you don't mind--the Tinquists. My brother is in quite a bit of pain. And if that's what it's come down to, none of us want it to drag on for longer than it has to. Once again, we're putting it in God's hands.

The timing isn't great. My husband's sister and her family will arrive tomorrow and stay through Thursday. So I'll be a bit torn between the Helmuths and the Tinquists this week. I should be able to alternate my time between them. But again, prayer is appreciated.

And yes, I have a book review due. I finished Searching for Spice, and really enjoyed it. I might write the review today. It could be Monday. Or it could be... don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer Storm


We had an interesting storm last night. There were some amazing textures in the clouds. I wish I'd thought to grab the camera sooner. Every few minutes the sky looked completely different. As my husband was snapping this shot, our town's tornado siren went off. From the formation of those clouds, I wasn't surprised. I don't know if a tornado actually touched down anywhere.

Later we were awakened by a second storm. Marble-sized hail on a metal roof is an effective alarm.

And the lightening was amazing. I've never seen anything like it before. It was constant. I'm talking 2-3 flashes per second, every second. Maybe it's more common in other states, but I've never seen that type of strobe-light lightening.

Gotta love summer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: Unbridled Dreams

Unbridled Dreams by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Publisher: Bethany
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September, 2008

Eighteen-year-old Irma has been working for three years toward one goal—becoming part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She’s a trick rider determined to take the stage as “Liberty Belle.” Irma’s mother has other plans for her, including finishing school and a good husband to tame her cattle-roping daughter. Marriage is the last thing Irma wants, but when she meets Shep Sterling, King of the Cowboys and Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, she has a hard time remembering that.

This book has a charming premise. The very name William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill—brings up all sorts of romanticized ideas about the Wild West. I immediately understood Irma’s desire to be a part of the show.

I was prepared to really like the book, but I was disappointed. I’m used to writing that brings me close to a character’s thoughts and emotions. Whitson sticks to the externals for the most part. I didn’t get to know the characters deep down. I didn’t feel what they were feeling because the words stayed on the surface. I was kept at arm’s length instead of being immersed in the story—part of it.

The entire book was building toward one moment, and when that moment came, it was told in summary, as if it wasn’t important after all. Over and over again scenes that had momentum behind them, and should have played out moment by moment, were rushed and told in summary. Robbed of all emotion.

I’ve heard of sagging middles, but this book had a sagging end. Irma reaches her goal partway through the story, and I felt it floundered after that. When the main character no longer has a goal to work toward, there’s nothing to base a story on. The author threw a couple of situations at her characters, but they lacked the basic driving force to make them work. For the last several chapters I kept wondering why the story hadn’t ended already.

The book did have its charm, but all in all I felt it could have had a lot more spark and depth.


Okay, shaking that off. (I don't like giving bad reviews.)


What I'm reading next: Searching for Spice by Megan DiMaria. I've heard great things about this book and I can't wait to start it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

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My plans for the day involve all the traditional 4th of July stuff:

  • Grilling hamburgers at my parent's house
  • Swimming-- if the water is warm enough. (With our late, late spring, it hasn't been yet. Quick dip or floating on a mattress, yes. Actual swimming, no.)
  • And in the evening, heading out to the big lake on the pontoon boat to watch the fireworks. (Double the pleasure--seeing them in the sky and reflected in the water.)
I hope your day is as relaxing and fun as mine should be.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Book Review: Amber Morn

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Amber Morn, by Brandilyn Collins, Zondervan, 2008

Genre: Suspense

This is the fourth book in the Kanner Lake series. All the characters we’ve gotten to know and love through the first three books are taken hostage in the Java Joint by three desperate men. Enough said.

The entire book takes place in about six hours’ time. Which means there are no breaks in the action to speak of. Each chapter ends with a typical Brandilyn Collins hook, only she’s taken it up a few notches. The story starts off tense and the tension keeps mounting in each chapter. I’ve never read a book that’s been harder to put down.

Excellent suspense. Brandilyn Collins’ tagline is “Don’t forget to breathe…” with good reason. It’s never been more true than in this high-speed book. (I actually found myself pressing a loose fist to my mouth more than once.)

What shouldn’t work in a novel, Collins pulls off brilliantly. There were a dozen hostages inside the cafĂ©, and at some point the story is seen from each of their viewpoints. Throw in a few point-of-view characters on the law enforcement side of the hostage situation, and that’s a huge ensemble cast.

In the average book, this many characters would leave the reader feeling disconnected because they aren’t allowed to get close to a particular character’s emotions for very long. The reason it works in Amber Morn is that the readers already know who the characters are, and all the hostages are experiencing the same basic emotions. The officers on the other side are all focused on the same objective. Therefore, the reader never loses touch with the emotion of the book.

Collins did choose two characters to go back to more often than the others, which gave the story a stable structure. Spreading out the viewpoints the rest of the time made for a rounded story with no sagging middle. The perspective stayed fresh. The action and tension remained taut.

And it wouldn’t be a Brandilyn Collins book without that twist in the end. A truly unique book. The entire series has my highest recommendation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Creeping Blush

I recently noticed something in a lot of published books. That's not to say that it's a recent phenomenon, just that it's recently jumped out at me.

The creeping blush. The author will say something to the effect of, "A flush rose slowly from her neck."

It bothers me because it seems like a physical impossibility. Whenever I've blushed, it's been an instant heat in my cheeks. And when I've seen others blush, it's been the same thing. A split-second reddening of the face.

And it's not hack writers who are putting this in their books. I'm talking about authors who excel in craft. But there it is, the slow blush that starts in the neck and rises, flood-like, to the face. In that moment, the character of a book becomes a cartoon to me.

I have a feeling that authors write it because they've seen it in so many books they don't give it a thought. But maybe I'm wrong. So I want to know, have any of you ever seen a slow blush? Have any of you ever seen a blush starting in the neck?

I really want to know. Call it scientific curiosity.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Review: Only Uni


Only Uni by Camy Tang, Zondervan, 2008

Genre: Contemporary fiction/chick-lit

Man-crazy Trish Sakai hasn’t been living out her Christianity. Her temperamental artist ex-boyfriend was terrible for her, yet she finds him physically irresistible. He’s determined to win her back, and he has Grandma’s approval. Trish is one of the cousins who always wants to please Grandma, so this double attack is almost more than she can withstand. Her mom is in the hospital and Trish isn’t speaking to her dad. The latest slip in her backsliding journey has her three cousins mad at her.

Feeling alone in the world, Trish decides it’s time to get back with God. She makes three rules to follow based on 2 Corinthians: #1 don’t look at boys, #2 tell others about Christ, and #3 rely on God. She figures if she goes through the steps of becoming fully devoted to God, her heart will follow. Everyone she’s close to can see she’s setting herself up for failure, but Trish is determined to prove them wrong, and at the same time proving herself worthy of God’s forgiveness.

Rule #1 gives her the most trouble when the hunky Spencer Wong is assigned to her research team. He’s got dimples, for crying out loud. How’s she supposed to not look?

Camy Tang does it again. This second look at the wacky Sakai family was thoroughly enjoyable. The grandmother is just as determined and domineering as she was in book one.

Excellent spiritual thread. I could see from the start that Trish was going about things the wrong way with her three strict rules, which she attempted to follow out of a sense of obligation rather than love. But she truly meant well, so I was pulling for her. She couldn’t figure out how so much could keep going wrong in her life now that she was serving God.

Trish is much more of a people-pleaser than Lex, but the propensity for not filtering her words must be a family trait. Her hasty tongue leads to a series of mini-catastrophes—in true chick-lit style. I can’t wait to see what Camy dishes out next in the Sushi series.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tip #3: Character Goals

I talked briefly about goals earlier, but that was mostly as it related to an individual scene. The most important element in an overall plot is your character's goal. A character striving for something is what moves a story forward.

If your main character doesn't have a goal to go after, you don't have a story.

Most of you, hopefully, are saying Well, duh! But I've come across several manuscripts where the characters don't have any kind of goal. A goal has several functions.

1. Moves the story forward (as I already said). As your character moves closer to achieving her goal, or is distanced from the goal, that's story.

2. Wins reader sympathy. Everyone can identify with having goals. When we see a strong desire in a protagonist, it tweaks our sympathies. Forges a connection. Makes the character more real.

3. Makes for a satisfying ending. Most stories end with the protagonist reaching his/her goal. With no goal--nothing acheived, nothing realized--how can the ending of a book possibly be satisfying? There's no sense of accomplishment in the end. The story is simply over, as if the writer ran out of words.

I'm sure there are other functions, but I'm flying by the seat of my pants here. I recommend Brandilyn Collin's book Getting Into Character for an in-depth look at character goals, which she calls Desire.

Friday, June 13, 2008

First a word...

...about the review below.

As a member of ACFW, I was "acquainted" with Camy Tang before she got published. I put acquainted in quotes because she probably doesn't know who I am. Maybe my name is vaguely familiar to her. But through various resources, I've become very familiar with who Camy is.

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading her first book. I've been looking forward to it since I learned of her contract with Zondervan. It was worth the wait. It's a great book.

I usually skim or skip the acknowledgments page, but I read Camy's because I "know" her. I read the first name--ooh, I've heard good things about her. The second name--ah, I know who that is, too. And the third... My excitement grew with each name--I recognized almost every one in the sizable list. It pays to be a member of ACFW. I feel so connected. :o)

Review: Sushi for One?


Sushi for One? by Camy Tang, Zondervan, 2007

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

With her cousin’s wedding looming, Lex Sakai falls under the title she dreads: Oldest Single Female Cousin. The OSFC is her grandmother’s special project. She feels so strongly about getting all her granddaughters married off, she hands Lex an ultimatum. Find a boyfriend in four months or have her volleyball team’s funding cut.

Lex has plenty of reasons to avoid dating, but she can’t let her team down. Her grandmother starts throwing every eligible man in the Asian community her way, but Lex won’t settle for just anyone. She makes a list of biblical qualities she wants in a man. The trouble is, the only man she feels comfortable befriending doesn’t seem to have a single one of those qualities.

This is a wonderful book from a debut author. Camy Tang’s engaging voice—with the sassy ring of chick-lit—won me over immediately. And she went on to unfold a solid plot with many layers. We see Lex at church, at work, playing sports, and at family gatherings, and she’s got unique problems in each area. The humor had me laughing out loud. The more serious elements touched my heart. Lex felt like a friend from the early chapters and I can’t ask much more from a book.

I also enjoy when a story takes me outside of my experience. Sushi gave me a glimpse into the Asian community. I don’t know of any books out there with an Asian main character, much less an entire cast that’s Asian. If this book is any indication, it’s a community that’s close, loyal, steeped in tradition, and in the case of Lex’s family, loud and a bit crazy.

Lots of fun with a serious side. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tip #2: Scenes

In my work, I often run across a diabolical little story killer. What is it? A section of text all dressed up as a scene that really isn’t a scene.

It’s a section of dialog. Or an incident. Whatever it is, it doesn’t move the story forward. I get to the end of it and say, “What was that? Nothing happened.” I’ve come up with a title for tidbits of writing like that: What’s Happening in the Meantime.

The characters are about to do something that’s part of the story. But first, they sit down and talk about its significance. Or they have a little family time, which is no doubt meant to show how close and happy they are. The heroine’s sister is about to have surgery, so she sits down with the hero and talks about her fears.

“I’m really scared, John. My sister was all I had growing up.”

John reached for her hand. “I know, but it’s going to be all right.”

“What if it’s not all right? What will I do without my sister?”

“I’m here for you, Beth. I’ll get you through it. But you’re worrying for nothing.”

Beth is allowed to talk about her fears, but if that’s where the scene ends, what has it done for the story? Go straight to the story, and skip “In the meantime.” A conversation has to lead somewhere—to a decision, to a course of action. It can’t be there simply for the sake of characterization. Characterization comes out through the story, through the action a character is forced to take. You don’t need to set your story aside to take time for characterization. Keep the story moving.

Think of your story as a puzzle. Each scene has to be a piece of that puzzle. Don’t leave your reader studying the color and shape of a piece that doesn’t even belong. Your reader may not realize where the piece fits until later in the story, but it has to fit. If you can delete a scene without hurting your story, the scene wasn’t necessary.

It all comes down to your character’s goals. Others have done a good job of laying out the structure of a scene—Randy Ingermanson’s Writing the Perfect Scene, for example. So I won’t go into detail. Bottom line is, your main characters have to have an overall goal for the book, and each scene should either move them one step closer to that goal, or distance them even further through obstacles. Conflict.

The goal for individual scenes doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It can be as simple as wanting lunch. Someone else comes along to waylay your character, and you’ve got conflict. Hungry hero versus chatty Cathy.

A scene can be mostly dialog. In one of my stories, the first step toward my heroine’s goal is making friends so she has someone to show her the ropes. During a conversation, she learns what another character wants, and she offers a trade. Basically, nothing happens except for a conversation. But it gets my heroine one step closer to her goal.

On the other hand, before I had a clear idea of my heroine’s goals, that scene was just filler. Once I knew her goal, I tweaked it enough to make it a necessary scene.

Okay, all of that was pretty vague. Follow up questions anyone? Need to see examples?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book Review: The Edge of Recall


The Edge of Recall, by Kristen Heitzmann, Bethany House, July 2008


Tessa Young is a landscape architect who specializes in labyrinths. Something hidden in her past has forged a connection with them. They fascinate her by day and haunt her dreams by night. Her therapist tells her that if she stopped building labyrinths, the nightmares would also stop. But she’s compelled to find the meaning of her dreams, as well as the identity of the monster who stalks them.

The past creeps closer when she receives a job offer from Smith Chandler—an almost college flame. Six years previously they had a falling out that shattered their friendship and provided more fodder for her life-long therapist.

Tessa has searched for God her own way all her life. To some, a labyrinth is a prayer walk—a time for introspection and journeying toward God. Tessa has incorporated that belief into her life. God is a mystical being to her. But Smith sees God as a personal God—Father and savior—who could help heal the childhood trauma she denies. She’s intrigued by this notion, yet repulsed. Her own father abandoned her as a child, so the image of God as Father isn’t an inviting one.

This is a brilliant piece of storytelling. Kristen Heitzmann’s poetic descriptions jump off the page. Her plot takes as many turns as the labyrinths she depicts, and deep characterization adds realism. Smith is unmistakably British—not just in the words he uses, but in the cadence of his speech. That shows an attention to detail I can only admire.

Two elements captured my attention from the start: A wounded woman with a buried trauma in her past, who still manages to be strong, and the most unique villain I’ve seen outside of a fantasy novel. The richness of the story pulled me along to the end. A must read.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tip #1: Dialog

I have another book review ready to go, but I'm going to post it tomorrow.

For quite a while I've been toying with the idea of doing a series of writing tips. The problem was, when I sat down to do it my mind went blank. Now that I'm in the middle of a manuscript critique, problem areas are fresh in my mind. And they're something I've seen in almost every manuscript I've read. I'll start with dialog.

Too often I come across dialog that's stiff and unnatural. The characters aren't talking, they're reading from a script the author has given them. Or they're making small talk. Chit chat doesn't belong in a book any more than lots of long, profound speeches do.

How can you recognize stiff dialog?

Read it out loud. Does it sound like something an actual person might say? Or does it sound awkward in your ears? Copy and paste to fill up a page with only your hero's dialog. Do the same for your heroine. Does each character have a unique voice, or do they sound the same? If they sound the same, they probably both sound like you. There's a reason for that.

Why does stiff dialog happen?

The number one reason is that the writer doesn't know his characters well enough. I can picture him staring at a line of text on his screen and thinking, "What should she say next?" If you have to ask yourself that, either not enough is happening in your plot, or you don't know your character.

Get to know your characters inside and out. Even the secondary ones, to a lesser degree. Know what's happened to them in the past that's made them the way they are. Know their quirks and foibles and why they have those quirks and foibles.

When you know your characters that intimately, their dialog will flow. You'll have to make an effort to shut them up, not poke at them until they say something. They'll be the ones talking so you don't have to be off stage whispering their next line.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review: Deep in the Heart of Trouble.


Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist, releasing in June 2008 from Bethany House

(I never repeat the back cover copy. You can read it here. And check out the back cover for Courting Trouble while you're at it--I came closer to that one, but didn't do it justice, I'm afraid.)

God gives a clean slate, but what happens when past sins will affect someone else? That’s Essie’s dilemma. She lives with the fear that if she has to reveal her secret, people will see nothing but the ugly stain.

Deep in the Heart of Trouble takes us back to Texas in the early days of the oil industry. It’s now 1898. In the years that have passed, Essie has committed to living for Christ first and foremost. The growth that has taken place in her character is remarkable—both in her spiritual life and in her relationships with others. She’s wiser, more mature, and has a greater sense of purpose. But she’s still the same head-strong, bicycle-riding gal looking for adventure.

This two-book series is aptly named. Trouble follows Essie around. However, she’s in store for an entirely different brand of trouble than in the first book. She has her hands full running her bicycle club, managing her father’s oil company, and demanding respect from a new hire who’s trying to give her orders.

Almost the entire cast of characters returns. Mrs. Lockhart, with her love of slightly naughty romance novels, takes a bigger role. And we’re introduced to the new characters of Tony Morgan, disinherited oil man looking to start fresh and learn the business from the ground up, and the surly Deputy Howard.

While it technically could stand alone, I wouldn’t have wanted to read it without the deeper understanding the first book gives.

Full of fun, romance and lively characters, the plot moves forward at a pace that kept me turning the pages. With each new book, Deeanne Gist earns her place on my list of favorite authors. This book is much less sensual, for good reason. And I was pleasantly surprised by a touch of a mystery toward the end. A great follow-up to the first book.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Courting Trouble


Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist, Bethany House, 2007.

Texas, 1894. Essie is the town spinster. All her hopes and dreams revolve around having a husband and family. When she turns thirty and God still hasn’t provided a spouse, she decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands.

Since she doesn’t have feelings for any of the eligible men in town, she draws up a list of each man’s pros and cons, spreads the papers on her desk, closes her eyes, and points. Where her finger lands is the man she’ll pursue. And that’s the beginning of her troubles.

This is not your typical romance novel. It contains plenty of romance to make a reader’s heart thump, but it vastly deviates from the formula. The story takes so many twists and turns, I never knew what was coming next. I highly recommend this book.

There’s a good dose of humor injected into the story. I’d say more humor than her previous works, which is a fitting balance, as this book also deals with much more serious issues. I’ll let you discover what issues on your own.

Anyone who’s read Deeanne Gist knows she’s a master manipulator of her reader’s emotions. That ability especially shines in this book. With a few words she was able to soften me toward a character, then, with a snippet of dialog, harden my heart against that same character. This was artfully done to sweep me along with the ebb and flow of Essie’s emotions.

When Deeanne Gist describes a kiss, she makes the reader feel the kiss. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea—it might be a little too much passion for some. I was surprised by her first novel (A Bride Most Begrudging). She wrote scenes bursting with sexual tension. I thought, can a Christian novel do that? But she knows what to say and what to imply to paint a picture without crossing the line.

I personally prefer that to novels which pretend physical attraction doesn’t exist between a man and a woman. But there are audiences for both types. I only mention it because those who are new to this author should be aware that while this is a clean romance, it isn’t a tame one.

In the next post, the sequel to Courting Trouble.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A million miles away?

On a writing/book related note, I've written two book reviews this week that I'll post next week.

I don't mean to go so long without posting. I got out of the habit and now it's going to take conscious effort for me to post a few times a week. But that has nothing to do with this post's title.

I said I might post something about my father-in-law. His death was two months ago yesterday. The whole process was such a healing/grieving time that I haven't felt the need to work out his death through writing. But I do want to make a note of that very special time.

In the midst of it, a man requested a book review. I briefly explained why I didn't want to take on any extra obligations and he replied with his sympathies. He also reminded me that even though God might feel a million miles away, He was in fact right there with us.

God a million miles away? I can understand someone feeling that way. But in my case it was so opposite the truth that I just sat and stared at that sentence. It was a foreign concept.

I've never felt closer to God than I did around Perry's death bed. God was such a very real presence in our midst. The entire family was together. In the evenings we'd sit around and sing old hymns and choruses. My husband Brian, and sometimes his brother, would play guitar. The four-part harmonies filled the cramped living room.

The natural-born Helmuths are all gifted musically--a gift from both their parents--as are the sons-in-law. So the sounds they produced were beautiful. Perry had always loved the song "I've Never Been This Homesick Before," and it was more meaningful than ever. (If you aren't familiar with that song, try looking up the words.) "What a Day That Will Be," "I'll Fly Away." Many, many more. I never realized how many songs there are about longing to be with the Lord.

I usually sang along, but at times I just had to sit back and listen. Along with the harmonies filling my ears, the peace of God filled my heart. And I'm sure the hearts of everyone in the room.

It was a stressful time, but those peaceful evenings are the part I miss. Sure, we can have music when the family gets together in the future. But it will never be quite the same. We'll never recapture the feel of it because we were all sending our dad on ahead of us.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PhD 2

by Linda Glaz

CHAPTER TWO

Staring into the darkness, Rochelle rested against the side of the dumpster, trying to will herself back to reality.

Where am I? How long have I been here?

Peeking through the swollen slits of her eyes, she cautiously absorbed the immediate area. She stared through the darkness, her breath coming in painful gasps.

Rochelle crawled over broken glass shards and a crumpled burger bag that leaked mustard. The smell caused her to turn her head aside and vomit. [This could have more punch: “The smell twisted her gut. Her stomach heaved and she turned her head to vomit.” Something along those lines.] Hoisting her tender arm gingerly, she managed to wipe her mouth and then press[ed] her coat sleeve against her nose because of the horrific odor. She cried, “Oh God, oh God, oh God, please! Jesus . . . please help me!” Over and over she repeated the phrase until her breathing steadied with the familiar mantra. [Nice.]

At last, she yanked one item after another from her bulky purse until she discovered her cell phone at the bottom.

In the distance, from the direction of St. Phillip’s, she heard sirens and wondered, dazed, who else had been hurt.

[Personal opinion: I’d have her feel a surge of hope at hearing sirens. Were they heading for her? She listens, but they fade instead of getting louder. Then she chides herself—who could possibly know she was there? That would build more empathy for your character instead of simple wondering.]

After punching in numbers, Rochelle did not know the man who answered her call. She almost hung up hearing a stranger’s voice. Then, she recognized the regular locker room shouting and laughter before her boyfriend, Ed McGrath, came to the phone.

“Eddie. Come get me, please? Now!” Rochelle cried into the thin phone at her ear. Blood trickled over the edge of the receiver and onto her hand drop by drop. Without deliberate effort, she lifted her hand to her mouth, tasted the blood, and grew queasy all over again. [I’m a little confused here. Do you mean with deliberate effort? “Without” doesn’t create a clear picture. And do you mean she put a bloody hand to her mouth for the purpose of tasting her own blood? Why would she do that after she’s already thrown up? If that’s not what you meant, it’s how it reads to me.]

Is this really happening?

“Where are you, Chell? What’s going on?”

“Please, Ed. Help me. I’ve been in some kind of accident.” She struggled for the right words. [This will be more effective like this: “Please, Ed. Help me. I’ve been …” She struggled for the right words. “…in some kind of accident.”]

“Rochelle, what is going on? Where are you!” he shouted. [Dialog tags like “shouted” aren’t necessary. Well, if they are necessary, you haven’t written your dialog properly (but you have). Plus, he’s repeating the same things he asked her before. Try, “What? Where are you?”]

“I feel sick. Please get help. I’m,” she surveyed her surroundings, her judgment blurred by the overwhelming nausea, “next to a huge metal dumpsters past Nino’s.” She sobbed uncontrollably for a moment and then cried, “For the love of God! Help me!”

[Overwhelming nausea, uncontrollable sobbing, and her cry of “For the love of God!” all contribute to an overly dramatic paragraph. Those techniques aren’t the way to get emotion across. Also, her judgment blurred doesn’t sound right. People seldom know when their own judgment has been impaired. But I know what you mean—she was having a hard time judging her surroundings. Rewrite the paragraph to something like this:

“Please get help. I’m…” She surveyed her surroundings. “…next to a dumpster past Nino’s.” For several moments all she could do was cling to the phone and sob. “Please, just come get me!”]

To pack the right kind of emotional punch in this scene, she could have a nagging fear that her attacker might return, maybe try to steady her shaking hands enough to work her phone.

* * *

Hidden behind the corner of the dumpster, Kyle examined her from the shadows and ridiculed a god who would allow her to rot like this. Though his first thought should have been escape, he paused long enough to delight in her misery. Her dark hair had loosened more and blood caused soft curls to mat against her head.

Kyle stumbled away with her leather glove dangling from the pocket of his Army jacket.

You know me now, don’t you, Princess?

You know me reaaaal good.

Cursing the cold in his fingers, he hauled out half a poorly rolled joint and lit the end with an old Zippo lighter engraved with “Born to Raise Hell” on the side. As he strolled away he hummed a tune reminiscent of an AC/DC album his mother used to play late at night when she entertained. After each puff and each step, he considered himself more in command, more in charge of his life.

Princess got just what she asked for. You want to give people like me a guilt trip every time you open your stupid mouth on the radio?[All that was over a guilt trip? You need something more compelling here. Or just skip his rationale in this scene.] You dirty little witch. You got just what you deserved.

He stopped a couple steps outside St. Andrews on Barrymore Street kitty corner from Nino’s. The lights were off; the building appeared locked up tight for the night. And Kyle smirked.

Will you look at that? Nobody’s home. I think God just may be on vacation. Well, I appreciate it O’ Mighty One. Thou dideth me a big favor tonight. Stay on vacation, You hear?

A loud clanging noise and Kyle spun around glaring toward the alley. The kid at Nino’s with more garbage, he supposed. He longed for a final glimpse of Rochelle spread on the ground bloodied and sobbing, but the fantasy was not meant to be. He had to make tracks.

Just keep your pious opinions to yourself from now on, Princess. Stay put in your little ivory tower. Your opinions don’t matter out here in the real world. Nobody wants ‘em. Nobody cares.

With his head bowed into his hands to drag on what was left of the joint, he breathed deeply and stepped blindly into the street. Before he could react, he heard the screeching wheels of a city bus.

* * *

Blaring sirens resounded through the air while Rochelle fought to regain consciousness once again. She felt herself being lifted. The sound of doors closing. The sirens again.

Forcing her eyes open, she caught a glimpse of Ed, still outfitted in his red and white team jersey, clutching her hand to his lips. Is he praying? Why? A stranger inserted a needle into the back of her hand. What is he doing? She winced at the pain. Noticing blood smeared on Ed’s jersey, she wanted to ask him if he’d been hurt in the game. Words would not come.

Finally she tried, “Ed, why is there blood all over you?” Her voice sounded faraway and remarkably calm. Ed didn’t answer her. Rochelle tried to recall the events of the evening, but her mind felt as if it were shutting down. Drugged.

Oh, why can’t I remember?

Then, she closed her eyes and allowed the gentle feeling to wash over her. She floated for how long, she wasn’t sure.

“We’re almost there, Chell. The MedVac’s making great time.”

His words drifted in and out and Rochelle’s mind whirled into a battleground of questions, able to hear but not to answer. Why were they in a MedVac? Maybe Ed was going to tell her. “Don’t worry, Chelley. We’re getting you to the hospital. You’re doing fine.”

Why should I worry?

“They’ll take care of you. We’re just a few minutes from St. Phillips.”

Why am I going to a hospital?

“I promise you’ll be okay,” he said. “You have to be okay.” Then, he grabbed her hand and kissed her fingers over and over.

Of course, I’m okay. Why is everyone acting so funny?

Little by little she started to remember as Ed’s tears dripped onto her cheeks and her hands. Just when they arrived at the hospital, she fought through the fog in her mind and clutched at him, screaming, “Oh, God. No!”

The scene is fine for the most part. But it would be better with even subtle little changes. Her thoughts annoyed me for some reason. Forgive me, but I’m going to edit it to show you the difference:

Blaring sirens resounded through the air while Rochelle fought to regain consciousness. She felt herself being lifted. The sound of doors closing. The sirens again.

Forcing her eyes open, she caught a glimpse of Ed, still outfitted in his red and white team jersey, clutching her hand to his lips. A stranger inserted a needle into the back of her hand and she winced at the pain.

Ed’s jersey was smeared with blood. Had he been hurt in the game? “Ed, why is there blood all over you?” Her voice sounded faraway and remarkably calm. Ed didn’t answer and her mind felt as if it were shutting down. Drugged.

She closed her eyes and allowed the gentle feeling to wash over her. How long she floated, she wasn’t sure.

“We’re almost there, Chell. The MedVac’s making great time.” His words drifted in and out.

Rochelle’s mind whirled into a battleground of questions she was unable to ask. Why were they in a MedVac? Why was Ed crying and praying?

“Don’t worry, Chelley. We’re getting you to the hospital. You’re doing fine.”

Why should she worry?

“I promise you’ll be okay. You have to be okay.” He grabbed her hand and kissed her fingers over and over. His tears dripped onto her hands.

The fog in her mind lifted a little. One after the other, images flooded her mind. Her attacker’s face. His cruel eyes. His eager hands reaching for her.

Dear God, please tell me it didn’t happen.

But she knew God couldn’t make such any such reassurances. She clutched at Eddie. “No!”

Monday, May 5, 2008

PhD

By Linda Glaz

(red = could be deleted, blue = my comments/additions)

PROLOGUE

A snip and a cry.

“Welcome to the world, Stacy McGrath.” His father whispered. Fifteen minutes later, ignoring the disarray of the room, John placed a sweet-smelling, swaddled baby in his wife’s arms. His heart skipped [at her blissful expression]. Her expression pleased him so.

Donna sighed. “Look at him. His fingers. His toes. He’s absolutely perfect.”

John kissed the tip of her nose and slipped a hand around his son’s fuzzy head. Twisting to face Dr. Reinholdt, he chuckled, anticipating the obstetrician’s answer. “All parents think their babies are perfect, don’t they?”

“Yes, John. But in your son’s case, he is. Look at those eyes. So bright and clear. Ah, yes, he is as perfect a specimen as I have ever seen.”

“Specimen?” John laughed.

CHAPTER ONE

Kyle Finley fixed his eyes on Rochelle LeMieux, a Christian talk show host. He hated her more than anyone else in the world. Ignoring the unusual cold that seeped through his threadbare jacket, he drew his hands from the pockets.

As the light turned from red to green and she stepped into the street, he watched her approach from his post at the corner. Black ice covered much of the road. And her boots, which he could tell were purchased for fashion rather than practicality, were going to be her undoing. Although he was almost close enough to reach out and catch her, he remembered why he was there and let her slip.

[He hated her more than anyone else in the world. Intellectually, that tells me everything. Now I have the head knowledge that he hates her. But I’d rather feel his hatred.

Kyle Finley fixed his eyes on Rochelle LeMieux, Christian talk show host. He felt his lip curl. Hypocrite. Striding across the street in her I’m-a-slave-to-fashion stiletto boots. Heedless of the black ice in front of her. Idiot.

Doesn’t that give you a feeling he’s not too fond of her? Also, you never actually show her slipping. I was wondering if she actually fell, or if he was still anticipating it.]

Brushing at her coat with muddy gloves she said, “And where’s my knight in shining armor when I need one?”

Knight? You think you know people so well, Princess. [His thought doesn’t match what she just said. The fact that she’d like a knight to rescue her says nothing about how she thinks of other people. Knight? You think you’re a princess? would fit better.]

He blew warmth into his cupped hands.

Who are you to sit on your throne behind a microphone and judge me? [Again, you need a logical thought flow. Something needs to trigger a particular thought—why is he feeling judged at that particular moment?]

Every thought rushing through his mind served to anger him further, but he kept his eyes on his prey. [Show his thoughts getting angrier, then this sentence won’t be necessary at all.] He inched closer. She was already entering the dark alley behind Krestons’ Klothing Closet and Nino’s Italian restaurant. Kyle had observed her taking the shortcut many times as he waited patiently in the shadows, devising his plan.

You don’t know what it is to be me, Your Highness. To be so poor. So alone. [To me, that makes your villain sound a little too pathetic.]

You’ve got it all. The little princess. Kyle started to shudder now; his hands trembled, his lip and eye twitched. To prevent the screams in his throat from escaping, he jammed his knuckles against his mouth. Blood bathed his chin while he pressed against the wall of Tiny Tots and Kids. There, he watched her draw near the restaurant.

Did your father come home everyday? Was your life in the castle cozy? Was your family content? Did you ever notice not everyone’s life was so hunky motherlovin’ dory as Mommy and Daddy held hands and tucked you into your little beddy-by at night? You smiled and they smiled. You laughed and they laughed. And not one of you ever turned your thoughts to the thousands of kids outside the castle walls who were freezing-so-bad-and-so-hungry-and-so-scared!

He knew he had to calm down. Had to control his emotions. Slowly, slowly, Kyle leaned forward, breathing against his numb fingers. A loud crash! brought him back. She stopped. He stopped. He couldn’t believe what he saw as she stretched over boxes of scattered garbage to help a young boy get to his feet.

[You can avoid “he knew” by saying, “He took a deep breath to regain control of his emotions. Skip the exclamation point in the middle of a sentence. And I’m not fond of “he couldn’t believe what he saw” type sentences. Just show it.]

“Are you all right?” she asked, loud enough so Kyle heard every word. [Not necessary. We’re in his head, so obviously he’s hearing it.]

“Yeah. Thanks, lady,” replied the boy. He appeared to be no more than twelve or thirteen.

From Kyle’s vantage point at the back of Krestons’, he could see Rochelle’s face twisted into what? Concern? No way, he thought. She only cares about herself.

“Would you like some help with this mess? I really don’t mind.” Rochelle offered her hand.

“Shoot, no. My dad would have my head on a platter if he thought I didn’t clean up after myself. But thanks.”

Goody Two Shoes to the rescue. Imposter!

[What’s your purpose for this part? To show the readers she’s really a good person after all? Don’t be afraid of someone seeing your main character in a negative light. This is the villain’s POV after all. It’s bound to be skewed. So if that exchange doesn’t make Kyle pause to reconsider what kind of person she is, or if it doesn’t put his plan in jeopardy (a witness, will he be seen?), then it’s not necessary.]

Kyle waited for the boy to finish jamming spoiled food and lettuce leaves into the metal container before he caught up with her again. He nearly choked on the smell when he passed the garbage cans, remembering all the times his mother had kicked him in the butt and called him “nothing but trash”.

Did your mother love you?

His eyes misted over. A cough spasm’d out of his chest while the lump in his throat threatened to choke him.

Well, did she, Princess?

Thick, heavy clouds reminded him that more snow was on its way. Hurry up! He wiped his runny nose on a sleeve, coughed, and hawked up a thick glob of mucus. After spitting, he sucked back another deep breath and willed the lump in his throat away. Willed his anger to replace the feeling of hopelessness which lived with him, his constant companion.

Or did she come to despise you? Hate your guts. Wish you were dead. No. I don’t think so, Princess. I don’t think you know as much about me as you believe you do. You don’t have a clue what it’s like to be me.

That’s right, Princess. The perfect family.

As quickly as they had misted over, he felt his eyes go dry like sand. A cold, hard determination, which would have struck fear in the darkest soul, filled his gut like nourishing manna.

For a split second he glanced over his shoulder to make certain the boy had returned to the restaurant.

You’re only going to get what you asked for every time you opened your mouth and spewed out your hateful opinions about me and people like me. People like me. People . . . like . . . me.

Rochelle’s footsteps grew fainter. After the briefest moment of hesitation, Kyle strode from the back entrance where he had lingered out of sight. She would be moving about ten feet past him, he thought. Near enough for him to overpower her. With meticulous accuracy, Tiny Tots closed at seven every night and switched off each light before locking up the daycare center; Kyle counted on their consistency.

Fifteen feet beyond Tiny Tots, parallel to the deserted alley, loomed a large gray dumpster and just beyond the dumpster, an exposed grass lot where kids from the day care center often played tag and duck, duck goose. The noisy Italian restaurant remained the only site which might provide witnesses. But the boy was gone and the supper crowd created a howling ruckus from seven to nine in Nino’s. Not a soul would hear her cries.

Rochelle could not be more than ten feet from him, when she turned. “Is someone there? Hello?”

Kyle ducked behind the Tiny Tots climbing wall and it excited him to think she sensed his presence. Did she fear what might be hiding in the dark or was she looking for the boy? He had to slap a hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh. To think she didn’t have any idea what was going to happen to her. He stole a glimpse of her as she quickened her steps, but he was faster.

Then, a light scent of musk floated back to Kyle as he grew closer. Three more feet and he grabbed for her hair, but Rochelle jerked free and ran without ever looking back. Kyle stared as the heel of her boot snapped and she tumbled to the ground. He wasted no time but ran to her side. “Did you see that guy? Must be a crack head. Are you all right, Miss?”

“Yes. Thank you so much,” she said and he helped her to her feet. But he could hear the fear in her voice. She knew.

[You were building momentum, but spoiled the tension with his “Are you all right?” ploy.]

“Rochelle, don’t make a sound or I’ll kill you.” He spoke through pursed lips and his fingers tangled into the curly softness of her hair.

Her wide blue eyes, darting back and forth, told him everything he wanted to know. No one was coming to help her and she knew it. “Are you happy now, Princess? You asked for this.”

I used to be happy. Just like the perfect family you’re always preaching about on your talk show. Church on Sunday, Dad home from the base every night playing games, tucking me in. Perfect. You got it? The perfect American family. One dad, one mom, and a kid. A kid who believed his life would never change.

Then, as she twisted against his hands, he summoned up memories with clarity about how life had been following his father’s death. Kyle had been an unwilling participant in his mother’s nightmare world of alcohol and strange men.

[We only need just enough of his background to show his motivation. It doesn’t seem like he’d dwell on it when he’s finally acting out his plan.]

With one hand digging into her shoulder and the other across her mouth, he looked again to be sure no one was watching. He wanted the freedom to enjoy every last minute.

“Do you know what it’s like to have a parade of ‘uncles’ moving through your front door like a turnstile, Princess? No. You don’t have a clue, do you? Makes it hard to believe God’s watching over you, doesn’t it?” He thrilled to her struggling against his grasp, but afforded her no chance to respond. He hauled her behind the dumpster, where a brown, furry something with bulging eyes scuttled over her legs and into the night with racecar speed.

At the same time, Kyle’s hand slipped from her mouth and she cried out, “Help me, someone. God, help me. Why are you doing this?” Only then did he deliver the first blow with his fist. Her head was driven against the frozen ground.

“God? Where’s God now, Princess?” [It would be more effective for this to trigger his thoughts about God watching over him. “God? Why should he watch over you when he didn’t watch over me? Do you know what it’s like…”] Without waiting to consider whether she would pass out or attempt an answer, he tugged her face closer; his breath the only air moving. Her left eye had already swelled shut, a thin line of blood streaming from the cut outside her eyelid. Bringing her head to within an inch of his own, he inhaled deeply of her perfume. His tongue flicked out, snaking to the nape of her neck just below her right earlobe, and he was pleased when he was rewarded with a terrified moan. [The fact that you mention it as a reward implies that he was pleased.]

Kyle listened and smirked. She muttered a plea to God one last time before he jerked her back and glared into her one good eye, now blinking wildly.

“Answer to your prayer, Princess.” He laughed and slugged her again and again until he could tell she had no fight left. [Seems excessive. It doesn’t appear to me that she was fighting back at all after she initially tried to get away. What’s coming is her punishment, and he’d want her conscious for it.]

Then, he whispered in her ear, “The court jester’s here. Let the party begin.”

[The end of the chapter fizzles for me. For best dramatic effect, I’d cut the scene after the icky neck licking.]