I’m Holding Back a Secret

Off and on, writers find themselves hiding little things. We have story ideas we don’t want to share until they make their way to paper. We hide our thoughts, not because we think someone will steal them, (at least we hope not,) but because they have not fully developed enough to make the idea feasible to others. We hide plots, characters, settings and dialogue for the same reason. When others ask to read our work, it’s not that we don’t want to share it, (okay, maybe we don’t,) it is mostly because we are afraid that it won’t be good enough yet to share.

We pour our souls into our words and when we toss out just a few of our unedited thoughts, those that receive our words may toss back critiques we are not ready for. We knew when we shared our incomplete work that the story might not be near ready for review, yet the clamoring of the requests become like gongs in our ears and we relent even though we know there is much to be done.

When the responses are either too sugary, “It was great!” you know the reviewer loves you, but has no understanding of where the story was headed yet and might not fully grasp the storyline from the few pages you have shared. If they read and then start tossing out names of famous authors they follow and what they did right, well, you know you’ve pretty well lost them as a reader.

So, when writers don’t want to share their work or seem to be putting you off, understand that the work may not be in shape enough for others to read. Be patient, as they want to be proud of their work before they let it go, even to friends and family.

I have one particular story I have been working on for the past several years. It is a short story, only 1600 words or so. I finally sent it out in May….

Be patient and stay tuned…..I’m holding back this secret…..

Menopause…God’s Mischief

I had a request to repost my article from a 2014 Book Fun Magazine column I did. I hope you will enjoy it!

MENOPAUSE…

GOD’S WAY OF SHOWING HIS HUMOR

I watch the beige woman across the terminal tugging at the neckline of her dull-colored turtleneck. She is focused on her Bible, a silent witness. Her face flushes and burns, like a match that has been struck on cement. The woman is about fifty-five with listless red hair and clothing the color of scorched grass. Everything about her seems to blend in with the crowd, except for the fact that she continues to tug and tug at the turtleneck until in one swift move she jumps from the seat, gathers her luggage and bolts toward the restroom. No one seems to notice her but me.

Curious, I follow her, entering the stall next to the one she occupies. As I skulk next to her, I can see she has torn everything from her body, as under the stall her clothes are piled on her bare feet. I hear her gulp deep breathes as though she is hyperventilating. I hear the toilet paper roll going around and around, and long strands of tissue being torn from the holder. Finally, more concerned than nosy, I ask, “Are you okay?”

Dead silence.

“I…I’m, okay. Hot flash. I should’ve never worn this thing,” she says. “You’d think I’d know by now. I hate getting old!”

I waste the next few minutes waiting for her to emerge, pretending to wash my hands, fluff my hair, and apply my lipstick. I have to lean in close to the mirror, as my readers are in my carry-on bag, and I don’t want to dig them out. All of a sudden, I see what looks like a six-inch hair protruding from my chin. I screw my face into a knot and quickly rummage through my bag for my spectacles. I put them on and look again, not believing that I have left the house, kissed my husband goodbye, checked in at the familiar United ticket counter where I encounter the same gate agents every other day, spent an hour at the Red Carpet Club, and gabbed with at least a half a dozen people, and no one has mentioned that I have a six-inch, black, pig tail looking hair protruding from the end of my face!

I pluck at it furiously, looking for other hairs that might be waiting to spring forth on my face. The woman emerges from the stall just in time to see my eyes bugging, and my head swinging side-to-side as though it’s on hinges. She gives me that knowing look. Her turtleneck is gone, replaced by a bright pink T-shirt. She drops the turtleneck in the trash, walks over to the mirror where she checks her own chin for hair. We exchange smiles, nod, both knowing that we are part of an ever-growing secret society. We are menopausal.

I can’t give the exact start date of my body change, as it springs on a woman like a hungry wolf. I only know it’s a part of life that’s been forced on me, one that I never asked for, nor wanted to receive. I was dieting. I was exercising. I followed all of the “beauty book” instructions so the change-of-life might linger longer outside my door. I knew it would arrive, “someday,” and that it would make plans for a long visit. But I saw “someday” as “just before I die,” not during my most vibrant hours!

I am in my early fifties and asleep the cold evening it arrives. I’m dreaming. All of a sudden, my skin feels like a roaring fire, and I burst into flames. I fling the blankets back and scream, “Hot! Hot!” My poor husband wakes up to see me drenched, and sweating, and is terrified to ask if he was involved in any way in the making of this fiasco. His face is fearful as he tries to comfort me from a distance.

“Honey, are you okay?”

I tell him to shut up. It’s just too hot for covers. He looks at me strangely, then flops backward again, lying like a flattened pancake under the extra stack of covers.

“Honey, turn on the fan,” his muffled voice says, trying to fix the situation.

“I don’t need the fan. I just need you to turn down the blessed furnace,” I retort.

“Honey, it’s set at 60. It’s only 22 degrees outside. I can’t turn it down any lower. ”

“60, my foot. You had to have changed it. It is not 60 degrees in here.”

“I’ll check. Can I get you something?” he says, padding off to the thermostat again. A bat, I think.

I wait until I am assured he has checked the thermostat another three times, open the window, and finally drop back onto the bed, worn from the experience. He moves closer to the opposite edge of the bed in some knowing fashion, clutching his pillow like he knows he’s going to die. By my hands.

This scene begins to reoccur sporadically. My husband asks if it might be wise for me to see a doctor. Maybe there is some medication that will help. The thought goes through my head that the medication would do him more good than me. I resist. My husband begins to ask more frequently, “When are you traveling again, dear?”

Other changes take place. I forget things. No, not where I live, or that I have a job, just little things. Like where are my keys? My purse? My car? Did I have a car? I feel the frustration building, but cannot control what is happening.

My clothes feel tighter. I have no energy one moment, and can run a marathon the next. Strangers offer advice. Magazines offer advice. Girlfriends offer advice. Doctors offer advice. My husband does not. He is unsure if I am the “new” wife or the “old” wife, and makes no move to help unless I can be identified. At times, I believe he is conspiring with this phenomenon. He eases in the door at night, listening for my moves. If I have music blaring, am cooking or writing, he shouts out, “I’m home, Honey” and we share wonderful evenings of bliss. If he hears silence, he sneaks back outside, climbs in his car and calls me from the neighbors.

He knows I am feeling like every piece of my womanhood is disappearing, shriveling up and blowing away like tumbleweed. He thinks I don’t know that he goes to the neighborhoods to cackle with the other men who are there for the same reason. Wives in menopause. He thinks he can wait me out. He prays he can.

All of a sudden, the moods smooth out. It might have been the day I traded all my turtlenecks for bright colored tops that gave me space to breathe. My chest falls lower now, anchoring on my waistline. It’s gone anyway, the waist I mean. It’s chased my hips clear to my thighs, which now lie like Goodyear’s tires just above my kneecaps. My kneecaps are dimpled with cottage cheese and haven’t seen the light of a candle, let alone the sun, in years. Everything about me is pure white. I can’t wear the color in public because small children point at me in the airport and scream, “Mommy, a ghost!” If I sit in the sun my complexion turns pasty and dry, sort of a Sonoma Desert sunrise, ruddy with a tint of red. I come to realize I am a cactus, dry, with protrusions that sprout without warning, then rot and drop off without reason.

I did not want this visitor, menopause. I’ve tried to block its entrance to my life with moisturizers, exercise, diets, and advice. But it came anyway, pockets full of trashy gifts and discouragement. I still resist, ingesting the vitamins that keep away the acceptance of this time of my life. I tell myself I’m not old. I’m not finished. I’ve got places to be and things to do!

Standing beside the beige woman in the rest room at the airport, I look at her one final time. She is brushing back glorious red hair strewn with threads of gray. Her cheeks are flushed. She is not young, but she is beautiful in the way that God’s wisdom gives beauty. We say goodbye and I watch her walk back to her chair noting how everyone seems to notice her confident walk, her smile.

I look once more in the mirror. I realize I like what I see. I’m changing for the good, and I’ve accomplished far more in my life than I ever set out to do, all because of God’s grace. I finally understand this unwanted visitor—menopause—arrives and I cannot send her away. I pray, thanking God for this season of my life, realizing it is yet another gift from His hands. I know he sees me plucking that stray hair on my chin and I am grateful He takes joy in laughing along with me. Another unexpected blessing!

Are Book Giveaways Worth It?

When a writer has a “giveaway” program, it seems as though it defeats the purpose of “selling” our work. We are actually giving away the product we slaved over for months or even years. Yet, I’ve learned a thing or two about todays’ new world of marketing that makes me understand the value of a giveaway. Giveaways promote sales.

This is how it works. You download a book for free. You read it and like it. You tweet about it. You Facebook it. You Instagram and Pinterest your thoughts. You post a review and tell your friends about it. By then, the giveaway is over. They buy it! The author becomes a best-seller! Wow! All of that from a free giveaway!

A promotional “giveaway” is a way to get readers to notice your work in the overcrowded world of published books. Overcrowding is a reality. Traditionally published books vie for attention alongside self-published books. Any writer, whether they have learned the craft of writing or not, can self-publish. Most, not all, self-published books are rarely well-written, nor do they display elements of understanding the craft of writing. When they are placed side-by-side with those who understand the elements of craft, they stand like lonely soldiers in a long gone war.

The sadness to this is that well-crafted books are often lost in the noise. The competition to be published is fierce. So what is a writer to do? Mark Twain says it well. “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay.” My addition to Twain’s quote would be…”and scream until someone notices you!”

So, I’m screaming! The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance is free for today and tomorrow in the first of two giveaways. Download it and if you like it, write a review, and use all social media avenues to tell your friends!

The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance is a simple story and a good family read for those who seek heartwarming tales. It centers around the surprise arrival of an old tin button box to the home of Emily Evans, a box of buttons that unlock memories of Emily’s youth. The read is quick and takes the reader on a wonderful journey where one man’s legacy to his granddaughter is passed on through the stories he told through buttons. Each button holds a memory and will take even the most cynical reader back to a time where actions mattered. Here’s the Book Trailer.

Enjoy the read. Share it with your friends. On this end, I’ll keep shamelessly promoting and watching the Amazon charts to see where you will take me.

In the end, I’m still going to write. I’m going to continue to hone my skills and learn how to enhance what I know about the craft of writing. Every manuscript I create will be better than the last and every story I tell will be more powerful than the one that preceded it. After all, the next “giveaway” might be my bestseller!

A Merry Little Christmas Gift!

From December 25 through December 29 you can download The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance FOR FREE!  Load up those new Kindles and enjoy this heart-warming story of one man’s legacy of faith as it is passed from generation-to-generation through something as simple as a button!

Merry Christmas!

Just in Time For Christmas!

Everyone likes a good Christmas read! With all of the new Kindles about to be given as gifts, why not let the first book being downloaded be The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance, FOR FREE from December 25-29? Give a gift of the heart to those you love!

Download the book, then make a comment here to be entered into a special giveaway!

Remember, December 25-29!

Merry Christmas!

Deciding on A Point-of-View

One of the things that hit me when I first went back to school for my M.F.A. was the true lack of knowledge I had about point-of-view when writing a story. I remember well our first professor, Michael Lennon, the very talented author who wrote Norman Mailer’s biography. We were standing in the cafeteria, me, nervously mingling with the other new students, he, engaging in conversation with another professor.

All of a sudden he turned to me and said, “Do you know what point-of-view in story is?” His white bushy eyebrows were furrowed into a question mark. I, in my usual deer-in-the-headlights fashion, stood open-mouthed, my gaping hole filled with a half-eaten slice of pizza, and blurted, “Huh?” He whirled back the other professor and said, “See? They, (meaning me,) don’t even know the basics.” The disgust in his voice washed over me like a crested wave. I shuffled away, head down, a long piece of mozzarella still clinging to the side of my mouth.

Fast forward to now. My third work has been recently published.  During these past few years, I’ve had to dissect point-of-view and structure to the point of ad-nauseum. But you know what? Professor Lennon was right. I didn’t know squat. I’d start writing a story with one point-of-view and then change the point-of-view without even realizing it.

Here’s an example.

Emily’s watched her mother move to the kitchen window. Maureen hated days like this, days when gray covered the sky like an unopened umbrella.

The story starts out with Emily’s point-of-view, but snaps into Maureen’s point-of-view. How do you know that? As the point-of-view character, Emily cannot know that Maureen hated the day unless her mother had used dialog telling her such. Everything thought must come from Emily’s point-of-view for the reader to understand the story. When the author changes point-of-view, they must use distinct triggers, so that the reader will understand the point-of-view has changed. The better use of the second sentence to keep it in Emily’s point-of-view should have been:

Emily’s watched her mother move to the kitchen window. She knew her mother hated days like this, days when gray covered the sky like an unopened umbrella.

See, even being blonde, I finally got it!

American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference

What a joy to be a part of the ACFW family! The conference here in St. Louis is filled with aspiring writers and encouraging editors, agents and publishers all here to glorify God! I’m finding myself encouraging others more than anything else, which makes for a great time! Happening at the same time is the Joyce Meyers Convention, so the entire downtown area is filled with people who love the Lord! I even had the chance to give one of her staff a copy of Run, River Currents, as Joyce ministers about her abusive life.

From the moment I arrived it was as though God had a plan for everything. I have been a part of a giving attitude in every restaurant, every store and every coffee shop within a 10 block radius. I hear workers saying to each other that they have never been treated so kindly, tipped so graciously or listened to so intently as these few days. My own maid cried when I handed her a few extra dollars and a book of faith I picked up here. I hadn’t seen her need until then. I was just reacting to the gratefulness I was feeling.

Writers do make a difference, but more than that, people of faith make a difference when we allow God to shine through our actions. I know I am learning techniques and craft here, but the real lessons are coming from the heart.

Go on out today and be a blessing to someone in any little way you can. You never know where God will take your kindness.

P.S. Don’t forget you have until October 12 to sign up for my Goodreads Giveaway of The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance! A “button” bracelet will be included for one lucky winner!

Who Has Influenced You Along Your Writing Road?

A long time ago, in a far away place…. okay, so it was ten or so years ago in Washington, D.C. I attended a writers retreat, Algonkian Conferences, put on by a man called Michael Neff. I arrived at Dulles Airport after dark and took a cab to the cabin  located in a state park not far from D.C. For a moment, I thought the cab driver was taking me somewhere to kill me, as I had no idea as to where I was going. We wound our way through tall pines with no other humans in sight. I found myself praying out loud. He didn’t kill me, but over the next couple of days, I wondered if it would have been less painful than my insecurities during that retreat. Ten students, both male and female, shared two five bedroom cabins along the edge of the Potomac River. It was lovely and we were all hopeful that our writing would be grandly praised. We spent a full week there, writing, critiquing, and string meals. The first day or two, Michael Neff listened to our works, gave us homework and explained the difficult road that might lie ahead, as many writers give up after a retreat, or worse yet,  just don’t show up to their desks to write. He pushed us to limits we didn’t know we had. His sharing of his professional information and resources,  helped us band together.  He supported us with such zeal it made me feel like we could take on a dissident country. Every day we swore we were going to work harder to make him proud. The next day, armed with new work, we’d read, listen to his wisdom and revise the work for the next day.He’d push us again, stretching us to go beyond the limits we had arrived with. Though we loved him dearly, we’d sometimes giggle at the idea of setting him afloat down the Potomac tied to a donut raft. It took us the entire week to realize the enormous value of what he was teaching us. We didn’t know anything! We were cocky, over confident and just too green to realize we didn’t know what we didn’t know! Many weeks later, Neff’s wisdom sunk in. I came to realize that Michael Neff was the first of many mentors to give me good, sound advice, advice that moved me step-by-step to where I am today. A year later, because of Michael Neff,  I attended and pitched a book at a New York Pitch Conference. It was a book I hadn’t even written! With my pitch, I got a manuscript request from two publishers for a book that didn’t even exist! What I learned from the conference and from Michael, was how far I yet had to go. From there, I began to focus on the craft of writing, obtaining my M.F.A. Shortly after graduation, my first novel was published and I haven’t looked back. In July, Vox Dei, a  Christian imprint of Booktrope Publishing released my third novel, The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance.

Today, I just wrote THE END on my first mystery, all because I took the first step at Michael Neff’s Algonkin Retreat! For that, I will be ever grateful to Michael Neff. He made an enormous difference in my writing career!

It is funny how people come and go in your life, influencing you without you even understanding the effect they have had. I don’t know why this hit me today, but it did. It also caused me to reflect on those who have had a spiritual influence on me, as well. My grandfather, John Lovean, my brothers, Kent and Milton and my older sister, Sue have been influencers in both my private and public lives. Thanks to all of you for making me see beyond what this life has brought me here on earth. You led me to the gift of eternal life. For more information on Michael Neff’s New York Pitch Conference see http://algonkianconferences.com/index.htm