Sunday, November 15, 2015

Two by Two

For the last of the holiday giveaways, I want to include two pairs of books: Mississippi Nights & 30 Days: A Devotional Memoir.

Only two winners this time, but don't worry; for those who comment, you will also win a small prize.

To be entered for the contest, read the small excerpt of 30 Days (a tribute to my Aunt Puddin (Mary Jane McGregory) who died in April 2010. This is a Christmas memory of my mother's that I wish to share. After reading, comment below and tell me a favorite memory of yours.

The Christmas I will Never Forget as told by Betty Sue Tutor (p.109)

"At some point in everybody's life, they get a gift that will last a lifetime--if not the gift, at least the memory. I received such a gift from my older sister, Puddin, when I was about fifteen years old.

Puddin and I fought over her dresses, shirts, skirts, pants, and shorts, but never shoes--I didn't care for shoes. 

I wore her clothes every chance I got, not because I didn't have any of my own, but simply because I could, because they fit, and because it was my way of showing the world that I did it. I finally caught up with her; now I was as big as she was.

There was one item of clothing that I knew she would never rip off of me, and that was a yellow dress. It was a golden yellow dress with a pleat down the front. Even though I didn't like the color yellow, I loved that dress. I liked they way it fit, liked the way it felt, and loved the way it made me feel when I wore it.

And wear it I did, every time it was washed. I would volunteer to iron it. Afterwards, I'd hang it in the closet behind everything else so I could find it first. I'd get up early the next morning, before Puddin did, and I'd put on that dress. She would get mad. She would call me names. She did everything she could to get me to leave her dress alone.

Then one December day I couldn't find the yellow dress. It didn't matter that it was short-sleeved. I would wear it spring, summer, fall or winter if it was clean. I wanted to wear it on the last day of school before Christmas break. I wanted to wear it on Christmas Day, but I couldn't find it anywhere. I even looked in Mama's closet.

I gave up. The last day of school came and went. Then Christmas Eve came, and I still couldn't find that dress. So on Christmas morning, instead of the dress that made me feel so good, I put on regular clothes.

We opened our gifts. We oohed and aahed over our presents and our surprises, over one another's presents and surprises, but there was one present left under the tree.

I wondered why I hadn't seen that rectangular box before, like the day before Christmas when I had shaken or squeezed every gift under the tree to see if I could figure out what they were. My first thought was that if I had known that present was under the tree I could have cut the tape and opened it, and no one would have known. I shrugged and waited for someone to open the present.

Then Puddin picked up the gift, handed it to me, and said, "Merry Christmas". I never figured she would give me a Christmas present unless she drew my name--I was that much of a brat.

Nervously, I unwrapped the box, not knowing what was going on. Was this her way of getting revenge? Was this her way of embarrassing me after all those years? I opened the box with everyone watching.

I looked down and there it was--the yellow dress; the yellow dress I searched the house for; the yellow dress that made me feel so good. I thanked her. I even hugged her neck. I hung it up in the closet and couldn't wait until school started again so I could wear that yellow dress.

She was as surprised as me. She thought I would get mad at her for giving me a "used" gift. I told her no. That was the best Christmas gift she could have given me.

I will always remember that yellow dress. I wore that dress in one of my school pictures. It was never passed down. I didn't outgrow it like the other dresses. I literally wore it out. Even though I haven't kept that dress, I have kept that memory.

It's a memory I've shared with my kids, and now I share with their kids. To Puddin it was a "used gift", but to me it was the best Christmas gift I got that year. To me it was the gift I will never forget."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

For My Followers & Friends!

For my followers and friends, a surprise gift for you.

#1 Quite simple: Pick either the ornament, snowman, tree, present, snowflake, or star; let me know in the comment section below, and leave your email address so I contact you where I should send the surprise gift. That simple!
#2  If you happen to not be one of the six commenters who chose a surprise gift, don't worry! Leave  a comment and your email and I'll contact you about something you may choose. :) 

It's the season of giving and I'm taking December off. :) So I'm giving away presents right Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas rolled in one. 

Thank you to those who commented. 
The giveaway is now over, but please stay connected for future giveaway posts. :)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Say no to The Box!

Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

I only post a blog on this site whenever I find something worthy to talk about. When it comes to posting about myself or my life, I hesitate because my life isn't that important nor interesting. Plus, I really don't like talking about me. Now books! I like to talk about books. Or movies! Especially the new Star Wars movie coming in December. Maybe even a few classics such as Hatari or The Scarlet Pimpernel. But when it comes to me: I don't like to talk about me. 

When I wrote my devotional 30 Days: A Devotional Memoir, it was actually very hard to impart with a portion of my life. There is nothing special about me. I haven't underwent anything new that other people have not endured. But I was led to write about it. But this post isn't about my book. For once, it will be about me.

Most importantly it will be about that "box"! The dreaded little box that people seem to want to put me in. And I say no to The Box!

I like to think outside the box. I like to be outside the box. Just the other day I did my own writing prompt, telling myself to "get outside the box", "go deeper, go further". And what did I discover?

I'm not the boxable person. 

I write because I love to write. And because I read all genres and many books in all genres, I find myself writing in different genres. Contemporary. Romance. Mystery. Fantasy. Science Fiction. Children's. Young Adult. Nonfiction. Even a thriller. Some are only ideas with notes attached. Some have a few chapters. And others I am working on as I speak (yes, my mind doesn't quit).

When asked who is my target audience, especially concerning the books I have printed and about to finish, I have to answer with: anyone who loves to read. Why? Because my readers span the slotted groups. They range in age, in race, in demographic, and in genre preference. Pretty cool I think. But then maybe these readers are readers who also said no to The Box. 

So when it comes to The Box, I fight the good fight and keep on, never giving up. There's a whole world to discover and I have only just begun my adventure. (Even hobbits can change the world.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Too Much on the Brain

I have this overflow valve in my brain, but sometimes it becomes clogged and a stockpile of ideas logjam the valve. When that happens it really does gum up the works and cause a stagnant production of words. 

For that reason, I have learned that trying to write 3 or 4 books at a time is counter-productive. Sluicing the words from the stockpile is not working. It slows my writing down to a basic sludge flow. No matter how much I love the stories I am writing and want to finish them, I must concentrate on one story at a time. Hence the Idea Journal (not only on Pinterest:Idea Board) that keeps track of what I'm thinking about writing and what I'm writing and what may be written and what genre to write.

I have three books complete with titles and characters newly recorded in my Idea Journal (Idea Board). [There are 20 story ideas recorded and I need to add more that are listed in a notebook.]

The story lines are still a small mystery. Like seeing through a hazy dawn, I can see the path to go down, but until I am ready to truly travel it the nuances are hidden from me. BUT, I have titles (to reiterate)!
Book 1: Diamonds That Shine
Book 2: In the Valley Low
Book 3: Rise with a Shout

Can anyone guess what sparked the birth of these titles?

As for what I am working on right now, sadly I couldn't stay with just one book. I do only work on one per day and at least, though, these two go hand-in-hand, so to speak. The smaller story is a follow-up to Mississippi Nights.

A Mississippi Summer will tell Poppy's coming-of-age story. Here's a blurb of sorts:

There's a reason why some flowers grow strong and wild.
Three years after her adoption, 15 year old Poppy has questions. Number one question: does life really have a purpose?
A new tragedy, an old addiction, and fledgling promise bring Poppy to the edge of a bitter storm. Her family is unraveling and faith is falling away.
Her only hope in surviving is trusting in a love, following a bold promise, and finding a lost faith. Somewhere along the way she will have to find the strength in order to save all she loves.

The second book is one that I've been sporadically working on for the last two years. I'm looking forward to sharing Scott and Angela's story with you. Here's a tentative blurb for Alabama Days:

Paramedic Scott Wilson believes he can chase death away, but when a young death shatters his spirit, he hides behind his work and his addiction.
Reporter Angela Mabry knows death can lurk behind many doors, proof from the suicide of her husband, Mike. 
When a prominent city official dies in a car wreck, Scott and Angela find themselves tangled in intrigue and deception. Together they find the Truth and that not all is what it seems.

Tell me what you think. And if you haven't already, follow this blog so that you won't miss any updates.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Prayer, Jabez, & My Dad

This post is more meaningful for me than any other that I wrote since I started blogging five years ago; but, this is one post that must be shared...even if in my fragmented telling.

In 2006 I lost my father, watched him died, and since then I placed the facade of healing and strength around me. I had to be there for my mother. I had to be there for my sister, for my brother, even for my sons who had just lost their father barely two months prior. But there was no one for me, and I didn't turn to God for that shoulder to lean upon, or to be held in His arms against his bosom, holding me and protecting me. I didn't do that. I pretended and eventually believed my own lie.

How could I believe my own lie? I didn't look back. I ignored the pain. But pain has a way of festering, unknown deep down in the heart and soul. Eventually it will rise no matter how deep I buried it.

Last night I had a dream about my dad. Right now, once again financial situations have hit us and burdened my heart. Hunger, stress, illness, and all things that come with hardships are lurking near. And in my dream, I remember asking my dad if I could grab some from the treasure chest to help us. He smiled, his dimples deep in his cheeks, "Sure. Go ahead and grab what you want. That's what it's there for." I grinned and my husband and I raced up the hill to open the treasure chest. Although we had to make our way through some difficult obstacles and help a few little creatures (that part of the dream is a bit fuzzy), we eventually made it to the chest that was in the back of the room.

Then today I came across a post that mentioned Jabez. Years ago when the Prayer of Jabez was the rage, I ignored it. I don't do fads, in fact they irritate me. But I looked up the prayer that Jabez spoke: 
"Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested.

I read that and all I can think is that I'm not worthy of asking for anything. Why should I ask for money? Or a house? Or enough to keep us healthy and safe? 

And as soon as those words entered my head, I remembered my dad. I remembered his hand upon my head when I learned my husband died. I remembered his smile and the smell of automobile grease, sawdust, and drywall--smells that I associated with him, a carpenter. I remembered his laugh and his beautiful golden flecked green eyes. I remembered how much I loved him and still do. I remembered how much I miss him and wish for him to be here with me. I want and need my father.

That is when I realize (even as I type this) that I long for my father's love. He is not here anymore, but if I feel like this about my earthly father, then how do I feel about my heavenly Father?

I want His love! I want His hand upon my head and to tell me it will be okay. I want his arms to hold me and squeeze so tight that I have no doubt that I am loved, wanted, and protected. I want Him to show me that I am His precious daughter and what I wish, I will receive.

And what do I wish for? I wish for a home. I wish for a comfortable savings in the case of trouble. I wish for another child. I wish for a resurgence of faith and love within my heart.

If I add my requests in the same format of Jabez's, it would probably look like this:
"Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my home, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain." It wouldn't be much different from Jabez's. 

It took remembering my father and dreaming of him for me to realize that I need to remember my Father and look to Him. He has a treasure chest for me and it's for me to open, all I need to do is ask.

Please, Lord, may I open your treasure chest?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Prodigal and The Black Sheep

Many readers stated that they wanted to know more about me and what inspired me to write. Even a little history on how my stories came to be. As I become accustomed with this idea, I'm sure I will become better at relating more about me, my life, and my books, but to start....

There's a part of me that is the rebel, who does not conform to the world and blazes a different trail than most; and because of this, I have this affection for the stories of wayward sons or daughters, of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, for the rebel.

Like most people say, girls like the bad boys, but it isn't the bad as in evil, it's the good hiding behind the facade of bad. It's seeing deeper into the person and into their hearts, knowing and believing that there is a good person there.

The story of the prodigal son is well known. The younger son leaves and lives in the world, reveling in its pleasures until he is left with nothing but shame and guilt. He heads home, willing to be the lowly servant, not deserving of being his father's son. But his father welcomes him back with open arms, happy to have his son return home: "for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found". (Luke 15:11-32)

This is a story of unconditional love and forgiveness, a story that mimics God's love for us.

The prodigal son was the rebel, the black sheep. Even though he found redemption, he still had that nature in him to blaze his own way.

When I was little my mother introduced me to movies she watched when she was little and I saw on television the prodigal sons, the black sheep, the rebels portrayed by Steve McQueen, James Dean, David Cassidy, eventually watching Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, and a host of others. These characters represented lost souls or wandering souls. By watching them, I started wondering if I could write stories where the black sheep of the family found redemption.

And that became the start of Mississippi Nights. Who couldn't fall in love with David or Jeremy? David is the prodigal son, returning home, hiding his shame. Jeremy is the older brother, resentful of his younger brother's acceptance back into the family after being gone for so long and abandoning his faith. 

When this story first started out, I was only 14. I didn't know anything about life to be able to write, but I had an idea. Of course, the story was more secular in nature. But as I matured, as I lived and experienced life, the joys and heartaches, the story came back to me when I was 35. I revamped the characters and decided that David would be the central theme of the story; this black sheep of the family would be the key to reconciliation. 

It wasn't a logical progression in writing. Even I didn't know what they would do sometimes. I fell into my own story, threw in my own grief, spread across the pages my own joys and faith. Eventually I produced a story that brought two wayward brothers back together and showed that even though we, as Christians, will never be perfect, God will never leave us.

Even now, I still write about the lost soul or the wayward son. In my next novel, Scott no longer wants to believe. He's that wonderful and kind lost soul who grabs at your heart. Then there's Ethan, a younger brother in one of my series, brilliant, wild, and so much a rebel. He will drive you half mad, but his heart is so soft and warm. 

These will be my stories of redemption, reconciliation, and rebirth. These books will be the stories of the prodigals, the black sheep, and the rebels.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Omega Bell

There's a sound so haunting that it stays with you no matter how many years have passed and no matter if you've moved on.

It's the three rings of the Omega Bell as it peals across the air, a heart rending, yet beautiful sound.
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Service 2006
Photo by Daphne M. Webb (Daphne Self)

When firefighters rush to a scene, leaving bay doors open and a station empty, it is commonplace to worry and pray. Will they come home?

Pleas and prayers will shoot up to the heavens. The men, and nowadays women, fight to protect people and property. They lay their lives on the line so that others may live. They are beyond brave. Their courage pours from their hearts and souls. Historically, the toll of a bell summoned members to the station, signaled the beginning of a shift, notified departments of a call for help, and the bell is rung three times, indicating a call was completed and the unit had returned to the station.

Today it is used for a different reason. And I've experienced those haunting tones.

When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, after the eulogies, after the service, the bell is brought forth. A solemn quiet, pregnant with emotions barely kept in check, descends.  Hushed cries, trembling hands and chins, people clinging to each other for support await in anticipation.

One. My heart is torn.
Two. My sobs are barely quieted.
Three. My soul cries out.

Three rings of the Omega Bell, announcing that the fallen firefighter has arrived home.

Not many people will experience the loss of a firefighter. I lost a part of my soul that day. Even though I have now moved on and remarried, the memory of that bell reminds me that life is so precious and I'm to live it to the fullest every day, for God's glory.

Someday, the haunting sounds of the Omega Bell on earth will be the joyous sounds of an Omega Bell in heaven.

To find out more about the fallen heroes, go to, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. There you can learn more about Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters.

Strategies to Writing: Part 3

These last strategy points will be brief and practically self-explanatory.

--11. Cultivate an "obsession" with your novel.
         Never see it as a chore, but as an escape or as a "lover". For you fellow fantasy geeks, be Gollum with your "precious".
        Once writing becomes a chore, you loose interest and the novel will not resonate with the love you poured into it. It will read as a dry, cookie cutter novel.
        Your readers will pick up on this.

--12. Let God do in you what each book is supposed to do.
         If you write about the destruction of pride, then do not let pride take over you.
         Redemption? Love? Grace?
         If you write to better a person's life or uplift a soul, then make sure you allow God to lead you.

--13. Do not follow false deadlines.
         Unrealistic deadlines do an author no good. Expectations become accelerated.
         Set realistic goals and do not strive to be like others. Books differ per person. Be true to yourself, even if it seems as though you don't measure up. It's not other authors you need to worry about.

--14. Don't waste time on envy of other writers.
        This is, oh so, destructive!
        Your journey is not the same as another. Your road will always be different.
        Never compare yourself with another.
        Never strive to be like another.
        Be you!
        Write your book, at your pace, in your way.

--15. Listen to MUSIC!
        Music is the soul of words. The chords and arrangements weave a tapestry that inspires your mind.
        What kind of music?
        That depends on you.

This is the last of writing posts, at least for a while. Next week starts a brand new outlook for Pen, Paper, & a Keyboard. 

Leave your thoughts and/or comments. I enjoy reader feedback.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Strategies to Writing: Part 2

Continuing from last week's blog, I plan to address the next five strategies that have helped me in my writing. These are things I learned from conferences, editors, and other successful authors.

Remember these are not set in concrete rules nor are they the holy grail of writing. Basically these are suggestions and proven techniques that many authors find helpful.

--6. Write yourself a note at the end of your writing for the day. This will indicate what you would have done (written) next if you had continued.
       --Tell what would come next
       --Use outlines, post-it notes, margin remarks, or notes jotted in a notebook
       Ex: snippets of dialogue
              brief descriptions

--7. Read as much as you can. It will improve your writing. Try to branch your reading into genres you don't write. The more you read, the more ideas will flow.

--8. Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. This, I understand, is particularly hard to do when you are in the shower.
       One good way, and a technique I use, is to keep an idea journal. The social media site, Pintrest (clink on link to see how I use it), can be beneficial in finding and organizing ideas, character representations, and settings for a book.

--9. Ignore the market.
       While you write, ignore that market and the business side of writing. Push it aside. Your writing time is for writing--not worrying or researching platforms, brands, marketing tips and trends, and comparable titles.

--10. Pay attention to the market.
         What?, you say.
          Yes. Write your novel, but ignore the market as you write. After you are through writing, take on the role of paying attention to the market.
          Know the realities, but do not dwell upon it. Read recommended books about marketing. Learn and compare your options.

Next week I will conclude with the last five strategy techniques.

What techniques have you found beneficial?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Strategies to Writing: Part 1

Any blog or article that talks about how to become a more productive writer or how to write a breakthrough novel has one flaw: it doesn't work for everyone. No matter how much an article or blog is lauded as the "one", it is never the "key" or the holy grail of writing.

So what does work? Discipline.

I'm going to chart 14 discipline strategies that help me--if and when I obey them. It is determination and self-control that makes a writer more productive.

--1. Make yourself sit at the computer (or notebook), even when nothing happens. Don't sit there with the idea of writing a novel. Just write: one scene, one chapter, even one page. Start in short spurts, but follow these rules: 
No email.
No internet.
No phone.
No getting up.
This is your time.

--2. Play with ideas before you begin the actual writing. Juggle scenes or write scenes from different points of view. Rearrange the plot. Sketch out those future scenes that's been in your mind lately. Basically play around with your baby before you start working.

--3. Start writing at the point you left off. This is the part of the project where you have the best idea and feel most confident.

Also, don't worry too much about content. Write the shell, and then add the filling later. 

--4. Set reasonable goals and stick to them. Determine the number of pages or the amount of hours that you will write. Start off low then gradually increase.

Use your first 15 to 20 minutes to play around with your story and ideas. (see advice #2)

Here's an example I use:
During homeschooling lessons I give myself 1 hour to write or 3 to 5 pages a day, which ever comes first. I don't worry about word count. I utilize the time or amount of pages. At first I play with my ideas of scenes. I shuffle post-it notes. I chart what my characters may do. Sometimes I even jot down notes on conversations they have before I start to write. The first 15 minutes for me are to focus my brain on my story.

Dean Koontz said it best: "Some days, those hours will leave me with 2000 words; other days with 200."

--5. Write to discover!

You don't wait until you already know what it is that you want to say and then start writing. You write to discover your ideas. You write your way through difficulties. You don't think your way through.

Readers read to discover. Your best writing comes when you write to discover.

Next week I will give 5 more strategies to increase your writing time and quality. The more you utilize these points, the more disciplined your writing becomes.

So keep writing and keep discovering.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Too Good to be Kept

When you think of stories, what do you think about? What do stories mean to you?

Think of the Bible stories: how do they impact you as a reader? The Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, David and Goliath, Ruth and Naomi--these stories whet our appetites and arouse our curiosity to the point that we are compelled to share. Stories are like secrets, too good to be kept.

It is the similarity of the stories to our lives that bind us into an universal family of readers. They help us to remember that past history, glory, shame, love, etc. They communicate in a language we all understand. Stories are the bridge between reality and dreams.

Good stories evoke our imagination and provoke our hearts by providing an escape, and an escape is good. We all want to get away from life's tyranny, loneliness, feeling unwanted, love, hurts, and so forth. We all need subliminal affirmation and escape, and novels are the addictive drug.

Beyond escapism, stories can promote healing. Look at the story of Saul of Tarsus. Even the stories of Jesus and Peter can bring about hours of conversation, but most importantly these stories show healing and forgiveness.

Go beyond healing and forgiveness, and stories can offer hope and morality. This is the "me" generation. By writing a novel that includes biblical and real-life stories we hook the reader. Giving ourselves to God's gain and be willing to tell the story, the Holy Spirit is released.

A story written for God's glory will hold the reader accountable like nothing else will. And a great story written for God's glory will become the secret that cannot be kept.