Talking ’bout fear

One of my favorite songs is by Christian singer-songer Carolyn Arends. It’s called “Seize the Day.” The song was released in 2000 but continues to be one of my all-time favorites.

The lyrics for the first verse and chorus are:

I know a girl who was schooled in Manhattan/
She reads dusty books and learns phrases in Latin/
She is an author, or maybe a poet/
A genius, but it’s just this world doesn’t know it/
She works on her novel most everyday/
If you laugh she will say/
Seize the day, seize whatever you can/
‘Cause life slips away just like hourglass sand/
Seize the day, pray for grace from God’s hand/
Then nothing will stand in your way/
Seize the day

As you can guess, the song caught my attention because it talked about a writer. And at that time, I aspired to be one. To be that girl working on her novel every day, despite what anyone said or thought. To be that girl who was “seizing the day.”

Carpe diem, translated from the Latin means seize the day. The first time I heard that phrase was in the 1989 movie, “Dead Poets Society,” starring Robin Williams as the eccentric and off-the-wall teacher at a stuffy prep school. He encouraged his students to “make your lives extraordinary” and taught them the phrase carpe diem.

That always stuck with me, the idea of living a non-ordinary life.

One of my favorite Bible verses, and one of the first ones I memorized as an adult, is Ephesians 5:15-16:

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

The word “walk” refers to our way of life. And that word “circumspectly” means “watchful and discreet; cautious; prudent.” In other words, be careful about what you do, where you go, who you hang around with. Make wise decisions.

All of this is closely related to how I naturally tend to live my life. I am a cautious person, a non-risk-taker.

But my favorite phrase here is “redeeming the time.” The word “redeem” means to offset or counterbalance something bad with something good.

Because we live in an evil world, the followers of Christ should be the light in the darkness. The love of Christ in a world of hate. The good in a world of bad.

And to me, it’s also another way of saying “Carpe diem.” Seize the day. Make your life extraordinary.

I would love to say I do this every day, but the reality is that I don’t. I want to, but I’m afraid. I worry about making the wrong decisions. Going down the incorrect path. Making mistakes.

And that holds me back from a lot of “seizing the day.”
The last verse of the Carolyn Arends song says:
Well I know a man who’s been doing some thinking/
He’s as bitter and cold as the whiskey he’s drinking/
He’s talking ’bout fear, about chances not taken/
If you listen to him you can hear his heart breaking/

Did you catch that? Fear. Chances not taken.

That’s me so many times. I’m working on it. God is working on me about it. I’m not there yet, but I’m on the journey.

Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to “talk ’bout fear” on the Fear Warrior blog. I met the owner of this blog at last year’s ACFW conference. We chatted about our shared fears of … well, just about everything. And she invited me to write a guest post for her blog.

You can hop over to the Fear Warrior blog to read what I said about facing the fear of the deep unknown here. Please stop by, leave a comment, and share with others. I pray that the message God gave me to share will resonate with you as well!

What Are You Reading? May 10th

Lots and lots of writing advice says that to be great, writers need to do two things: write a lot and read a lot. Why? Because writing exercises your brain and your writing “muscles.” The more you do it, the better you get at it. And reading is how you learn and see what other authors do successfully.

They also say to read a lot of different books, across all genres. I’ve been reading a lot “outside” of my genre lately. I’ve read historical romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi/fantasy, and learned a lot from each. But, the last book I read was back in my own genre: romantic suspense.

I’ve enjoyed all the genres that I’ve read, but getting back to romantic suspense was like coming home, or visiting with an old friend – comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable.

The book I just finished was Drawing Fire, by Janice Cantore, book 1 in her Cold Case Justice series. It was a great read, with a fast-paced plot that kept me guessing until the end who the “bad guy” was. The characters were also interesting, realistic, and relatable. I’m actually starting on the second book in this series (Cold Case Justice) now.

I was interested in this author because Janice is a retired police officer herself, and I knew that would add authenticity to her stories. So much of what we see on television and read about in books is highly inaccurate for how an actual police department operates. I wanted to see how Janice handled the material and presented the characters.

And her main character is, of course, a female officer. This was particularly interesting to me because my main character is also a female officer. I liked how Janice characterized her heroine, Detective Abby Hart – smart, dedicated, tough, willing to do the hard stuff to get the job done, but also tender, caring, and concerned about people.

This is how I see my main character, Samantha Evans, although the two characters are also very different. But it was helpful to see how Janice wrote Abby in both her professional and personal lives.

There is another similarity that I wanted to explore in Janice’s writing. This series and her Pacific Coast Justice Series have the same hero and heroine in all three books. The suspense plots are different in each book of the series, but the “romantic” storyline runs through all three books, rather than being tied up by the end of book 1.

This is how I’ve framed my Southern Secrets series as well, with Samantha Evans and Jake Stone as the main characters in the three books and the romantic thread running through the entire series.

Many of the romantic suspense series on the market now have different main characters for each of the books within a series. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. Often, readers like a “happily ever after” with all the loose ends tied up at the end of a book. Plus, readers don’t always get to read a series in order. But there are a number of the popular series that have the same characters throughout. I think it just depends on the story the author is telling and how the plots and characters weave together.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the other books in this series. Now, it’s your turn. What do you think about having different characters in a series or using the same ones? Do you prefer one over the other? Is there a series with the same characters that you’ve loved? Can you think of advantages and disadvantages of each? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below to join the conversation.

One Great Thing about Small Towns

My co-worker and I went to lunch today. There’s a great little place next door to our office building that we enjoy, but we haven’t been in a while. Today we decided to go there and get a salad.

We ordered and found a seat, and in just a few minutes, someone stopped by our table. It was my cousin. She also works in town, and we have lunch from time to time. This little deli place is one of our favorites. I had just commented to my co-worker that I hadn’t seen my cousin there in a while, and then there she was!

She was with a couple of her friends with whom we usually share lunch, and so the five of us moved to find a table where we could all sit together and chat. My cousin also pointed out a couple we knew who were sitting with another group on the other side of the restaurant. The man used to work with both my dad and my cousin’s dad (my dad’s brother).

Now, this may all seem very convoluted to you and hard to follow, but for me, this is a common occurrence. It’s actually pretty rare for me to go somewhere without seeing someone I know – either a relative or someone from past jobs, school, or church.

It’s a running joke between my co-workers and me that they can’t take me anywhere without seeing someone I know. But you know what? I love it! It’s one of my favorite things about living in a small town.

In my book, the main character, Samantha Evans, has grown up in Chicago. She comes to the small town of Gadden Valley, Georgia (a place I made up) and experiences the culture shock of everyone knowing everyone else, and their business! It takes her a while to get used to the variety of quirky but lovable characters that populate this small town.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I love people. They fascinate me. Their various personality traits, quirks, and habits are what make them unique – and what makes for great characters in novels! And everyone has a story that is uniquely theirs. It’s one of the wonderful things about how God created us. We are each an “original” – God has never made the same person twice. What an awesome Creator we have!

Another thing I love about seeing people I know is that it reminds me that I’m never alone. There’s always a friend or relative around somewhere. And that makes me feel loved and secure.

Yes, living in a small town has its downsides. But there’s something special about being a part of a community. Our Creator made each of us unique, but He also made us to connect – with each other and with Him. Living in a small town gives lots of opportunities to do that. It makes me think that is what Heaven will be like – together forever with our Creator and all of God’s saints.

Maybe small town living is, after all, a tiny glimpse of Heaven on Earth.

What Are You Reading? April 12th Edition

Last week, I attended my very first “online book launch party.” I’ve seen invitations for these through social media channels a number of times and even signed up to attend a few. But I never seemed to be online at the right time and missed them.

This time, all the “stars aligned,” and I was online and had time to attend. It was for a writer I had met at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last year. Her name is Pepper Basham, and she writes historical and contemporary romance.

Her latest book, “Just the Way You Are,” is what she has coined as “Britallachian,” which is a culture clash of British and Appalachian. Pepper is from the area of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. Appalachian culture is a thing all its own, if you’ve never experienced it. Part Southern gentility, part “redneck,” steeped in the rich history of this country with ancestry from Great Britain, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Appalachian families are colorful, proudly American, and fiercely protective of their own. I know, because this is MY family’s ancestry.

So when I heard a bit about Pepper’s new book, I wanted to be a part of her online book launch party. It was a lot of fun, once I got the hang of how it worked. They set up a Facebook event page, and all the attendees were “online” at the appointed time. They had a moderator who made posts about the book and invited the attendees to respond to questions and games related to the book. Having the moderator allowed Pepper to spend her time responding and engaging with her “guests.”

They had quotes from the book and showed some pictures of actors and famous places that inspired the characters and locations of the book. We even got to put together an online puzzle with a quote from the book. So much fun!

There were also giveaways for special prize packages, including gifts related to the book as well as signed copies of the book. The names were drawn at random from those who responded to the posts. And guess what? I won a prize! It’s on its way to me by mail soon. It wasn’t a copy of the book, though, but I was so intrigued by the things that were said about the book that I had to go buy my own electronic copy to put on my Kindle.

I started reading the book on Saturday morning, and I couldn’t put it down and finished it on Sunday evening. I haven’t read a book that quickly since Hunger Games!

The characters drew me into the story from the first lines. The heroine, Eisley Barrett (pronounced “Eyes-Lee”) is quirky and fun and oh, so relatable! A single mother of three, she comes with her own package of past hurts and insecurities. I related so well to her love of chocolate and imperfect body image. She was funny, open, honest, and just precious.

The hero, Wes Harrison was – as Eisley called him – Ghirardelli chocolate in human form. A true British dream boat, Wes was bitter and jaded by his past and his distrust of people. What better heroine to change his heart than someone as open and honest as Eisley! Their romance sizzled from the moment they met, and their love was so honest, pure, and sweet! “Swoony” was the word Pepper used, and she was right!

But it wasn’t just the “swoony” romance that kept my attention. A family ancestral mystery had me turning pages to find out what happened. And the spiritual truths woven through this enjoyable tale were so rich and deep, and eye-opening! I gained some insights about myself by seeing what Eisley and Wes were going through in their own spiritual lives.

And then there were the secondary characters – as I told my mom, “I KNOW these people!” They were so real and added so much to the story. And the humor had me literally laughing out loud!

All I can say is, “Thank you, Pepper Basham, for wrecking my weekend!” And quite possibly the rest of my life! Spending time in Eisley and Wes’s worlds has quite possibly ruined me for “ordinary life” forever.

Okay, your turn – what are you reading this week? Have you ever read a book that had characters who reminded you of people you knew in real life? What’s a character you’ve related to and why? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

 

What Are You Reading? March 22nd Edition

I had fun with my last “What are you reading?” post, so let’s do it again.

This week, I read a novella. In case you aren’t sure about the terminology, a “novella” is like a novel, but shorter. Novels are usually defined as being between 50,000-100,000 words. A novella is usually between 20,000-50,000 words. Novellas shouldn’t be confused with short stories, which are usually around 8,000 words. So, a novella is considerably longer than a short story and more just like a short novel.

The novella I read this week is “Six Little Sunflowers,” by author Gina Welborn (ironically, no relation, as far as I know!). I’d heard Gina’s name in my writing circles, and even last year at the ACFW national conference, a couple of people saw my name tag and asked me if I was Gina or related to her.

I’d recently become friends with her on Facebook, and one day, one of her posts caught my attention. It said, “A chambermaid’s Leap Year Day proposal takes a turn for the worse when the heroic fireman she asks says yes.”

My curiosity was piqued; I was intrigued. So I clicked on her link and checked it out. The descriptive paragraphs further explained the story, and it sounded really interesting, so I bought the book. And I went back to Facebook and let Gina know why I bought it – because of her marketing.

Nowadays, authors are required to do most of their own marketing, even if they are published by a large, traditional publishing house. And most of that marketing takes place on their social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest – these are the billboards, flyers, and print ads of today.

Since I’ve worked in web/digital marketing as my “day job” for a number of years (let’s not count how many, okay?), I understand and appreciate the value of a well-placed piece of marketing copy. And that was it.

So, did the story live up to the tag line? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely! It was a quick read – I finished it in a couple of evenings. The characters were great, well-developed and well-rounded, even in the short amount of time I had to “meet” them. Their backstories were also well-developed, and Gina gave just enough of them to ground the characters and help the reader to understand them and the motivations for their behaviors. The hero/heroine had great give-and-take, and their dialogue had me laughing out loud.

The story was well-plotted and kept me guessing, surprising me with twists and turns. I loved the two main characters and rooted for them. They had great chemistry, and their romance was both believable and enjoyable.

The supporting characters were also well done, and I especially loved the scenes with the “little ol’ church ladies.” I could just picture them, and the whole tone reminded me of something from Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables (two of my all-time favorites).

Something really cool is that the author opened each chapter with a quote from an historical book – either from one about firefighting or one about social manners/etiquette. Each quote set the tone for the chapter and added a little something extra to the book. She also explains at the end of the book about the Leap Year Day proposal tradition and where it came from. I’d never heard of that, but what a neat idea to base a story around!

I’m not usually a huge fan of historical romances, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I saw on her Facebook page that she’s planning a sequel for this summer, so I’ll have to be sure to check that out.

Okay, your turn: what are you reading this week? What are the genres you are usually drawn to? What makes you pick up a story outside of that genre? Regarding marketing, what makes you pick up a story in the first place? Leave a comment below to join the discussion!

 

The Joy of Rediscovery

As part of my path to “balance” this year, I’ve been working on cleaning out and re-organizing my house. (remember my “Word for the Year” post?) It’s slow work, as I’m only able to do a little at a time due to time restrictions and other obligations. But it’s very rewarding.

Cleaning out an area, even if it’s just a small kitchen drawer, feels so good! Usually, if I just do one small area, I get energized and want to do more.

Last weekend, I cleaned out 2 boxes of stuff I was storing in my basement. Then I moved on to the kitchen. I was just going to do “one drawer,” but I ended up tackling the whole thing. Every drawer and cabinet and the pantry!

At the end, I had 4 bags of trash to take out. It felt GREAT!

Once the old stuff was cleaned out, I re-organized what I wanted to keep. Everything fit so nicely on the shelves and in the drawers. Those items had room to “breathe” with empty space around them, and I had some “room to grow” for new items I may need later.

I also found a few things I had either forgotten I had or lost all together.

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My “old” apron

One of those things is an old apron that once belonged to my grandmother and was later used by my mother. I “inherited” it during one of those times when my mom was cleaning out her own kitchen. Actually, I think I said something like, “Don’t get rid of that! It was Granny’s! I want it!”

I’m not usually the sentimental type. I can throw things out and never look back. But there are just a few things that tug on my heart strings, and that apron is one of them. I don’t really remember my grandmother wearing it because she passed away when I was young. But I do remember my mom wearing it and telling me how it had belonged to Granny.

Something about it conjures warm, happy memories for me. The smell of my mom’s kitchen when she was cooking homemade biscuits or peach cobbler or something good straight from her garden. Me, hanging around watching, maybe helping, but probably reading a book. Ha, ha!

But, it reminds me of being home, of feeling safe and warm, and loved. And happy.

The apron is worn out and faded. But whenever I come across it in my own kitchen drawer, I smile.

I don’t wear it much myself, mostly because I don’t cook very much. Which is another issue I’m working on.

A friend of mine has been shaming me into cooking again. Well, actually, I guess I’m shaming myself. It seems like whenever we talk, he’s always cooking something. And it always sounds so good, and healthy, and economical. And grown up.

And I look over at my frozen, microwavable burrito and feel like a cop out.

I CAN cook, I say, I just DON’T.

Truth is, I used to cook. And I was pretty good at it. But life got busy, and I “didn’t have time” for bothersome things like cooking. Why bother when I could just nuke something, open a can of something, run through the drive-thru window somewhere? And there are still days when that is really all I can manage.

But I think there’s something to be said for cooking a meal. Taking the time to plan it out, buying the ingredients, putting everything together. The way it fills the kitchen and the house with delicious smells. Even the mess and the clean up is good, in a way. It forces me to slow down. Take time AWAY from things like social media, the computer, the television.

I’m up, moving around, working with my hands. It’s soothing, cathartic. Normal.

Before there were microwaves, electric stoves, and take out – food was WORK! Our ancestors had to hunt and kill their food, grow it in their gardens, and go through the process to bring food to the table.

And it was good for them.

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My “famous” spinach lasagna

Tonight I made spinach lasagna. This is a recipe I’ve had for years and made many times. It’s a lot of work, but it always turns out well. I figured, if I’m going to start cooking again, I should probably start with a “sure thing.” Once I get back in the habit, I will try some new recipes. For now, an old standby will do.

So, I tied my grandma’s apron around my waist and cooked! And you know what? I really enjoyed myself! It’s amazing what you can discover, or rediscover, when you slow down, clean out, and find those hidden treasures.

Now, it’s your turn. What is something you used to do that you’ve stopped doing? Why did you stop? What would it take for you to start again? What kind of joy could you get from rediscovering something? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

What are you reading?

I’d like to start something new today. How about a recurring feature called “What are you reading?” I know many of you are avid readers, and I’d like to start a discussion around that.

There are so many great books out there (and so little time to read them all, right?). How about we share them with others?

I’ll start.

I just finished reading a great book by author K.M. Weiland called Dreamlander. I’ve actually had this book on my Kindle for a couple of years now. It was one of the first books I ever bought in electronic form.

I started reading it a while back and then never finished. Now, that has nothing to do with the quality of the book. I’ll get to that in a minute. But, it’s taken me a while to get used to reading a book on my tablet.

You just can’t beat REAL books. I love the feel of an actual book in my hands. The smell of it, the texture of the pages.

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Some of the books on my bookshelf

Reading in electronic format is different. You can bookmark a page in an e-book, but it’s not the same as putting my little bookmark in a real book. I can’t hold it up and see how much I’ve read and how much is left. There is a “page counter” thing at the bottom of the screen, but somehow it’s not the same.

And I can’t flip back over to an earlier section to check something I may have missed or forgotten in the e-book format. (Or skip ahead to make sure the hero/heroine makes it through the latest crisis!)

So, yeah, I prefer to read an actual book, but once I got into this story, I didn’t mind as much.

Dreamlander would be categorized as a fantasy novel. Think along the lines of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, with strange creatures, glorious castles, and epic battles.

The tag line for this book is something like, “What if our dreams are real?” Basically, the story is about Chris, who goes to sleep in our world, and wakes up in a different world, the land of Lael, where he is a chosen one called The Gifted.

Chris thinks he has completely lost his mind, but he soon finds himself caught up in a battle of good versus evil, where he may be the only one who can save both the dream world and his own world.

The plot is well done, with plenty of twists and turns that kept me turning pages (or clicking the little “next page” button, as if were). The characters are well-developed, interesting, and relatable. I found myself wondering about them during my day and itching to get back home and into their world to find out what was going to happen next.

I don’t know about you, but when a character comes to mind when I’m not reading the book, I think of that as great writing. The character has gotten under my skin, into my soul – and that is a very good thing.

I certainly feel that way about the characters I write, and I hope that my readers will feel that connection with them as well.

I really enjoyed this book and plan to read more by this author. Now … to figure out what to read next!

What about you? What are YOU reading? Are there certain genres you like reading more than others? What do you love best about your favorite books? What things really pull you into a story? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.