Here’s to New Adventures

My first draft of Book 8, tentatively titled “Tangled Web,” is done.

Whew.

This round of writing included a severe bout of writer’s block about two-thirds of the way through, which surprised me because I knew where the story was going. I just couldn’t figure out how to get there. I got stuck for weeks until I finally worked out the kinks and plowed through to the end. Now starts the editing process, and we’ll see where that takes us.

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May is particularly overwhelming this year, mostly with good things. Among those good things is the fact my oldest son is graduating from college on Saturday.

I don’t tend to be an overly sentimental person, but I’ve been thinking about my son and the changes that are soon to come as he finds a job and moves away. Being my firstborn, C was the one who made me a mom, and unfortunately for him, that meant he bore the brunt of my mistakes and insecurities and fears.

C was a happy baby who loved everyone. He’d go with whoever would play with him without a look back at me. He went through a short phase when he didn’t like men with deep voices but overcame that after a few weeks. He did a complete 180 by the time he was a toddler and thought any man who wore a cowboy hat was a great guy. He would have gladly walked off with a stranger at the store as long as the dude had a Stetson. That fact scared me to the point where I started having a recurring dream about him being kidnapped, and I kept having that dream well into his high school years.

But the flip side of his love for everyone else is that he never clung to me or needed me the way some kids do with their moms. He never had separation anxiety or ran to meet me or cried when I left (I did not realize what a gift that was until my younger son, J, was born, and I had a long stretch of time when I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself). As a young, insecure mom, that kind of stung a bit. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough mom if he found everyone else so much more fun to be with.

He’d happily go play at his grandmas’ houses, even overnight, and never decide he wanted to come home. But he did have one peculiar habit. When I dropped him off, he always asked me what I’d be doing while we were apart. Usually it was going to the store since shopping kidless has to be one of life’s great luxuries at that age. Sometimes it was cleaning the house. Or reading a book uninterrupted. Or watching something on TV that wasn’t Veggie Tales. (To this day, I can still recite long passages of Veggie Tales episodes and know all the words to ‘The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.’) He didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He just wanted to know.

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When he was three, my brother got married in Arizona, literally in the middle of nowhere. The plan was for me to go solo since the place we were staying would not accommodate young kids very well. I weaned J in time for my departure. Both he and C would stay with my in-laws on Friday while my husband took me to the airport, then went to work. They’d stay with Dad on Saturday, then pick me up from the airport on Sunday. I was stressed that J would be cranky while I was gone, given his history of mommy attachment and his recent weaning. It never occurred to me to worry about how C would handle my absence.

A few days before I was supposed to leave, C asked me what I’d be doing while I was gone. He couldn’t understand the concept of Arizona so I got out an atlas and showed him where Arizona was compared to Illinois. He seemed interested in the map so I pointed out where some other family members lived, too. All seemed fine. Until Friday when he completely melted down at my in-laws’ house because he wanted his mom. Arizona, I guess, was just too far away. (J, on the other hand, didn’t miss me at all).

I realized, then, that for C I was not the center of his universe, but I was his safety net. I was the person he trusted to be there when he needed me, allowing him the freedom to explore and go off on his own adventures.

As he grew up, that relationship never changed. And I hope he knows that it never will, even if his new adventures take him much farther away than Arizona.

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Let’s (not) talk about sex

A friend at work suggested a book to me a few months ago by an author I’d heard of but never read. This person reads a lot of the same mystery authors that I enjoy so when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I picked it up without reading the jacket. Prologue was good, but when I moved onto Chapter One, I started getting the feeling that there was more to this book than a whodunit. I read the jacket, then flipped through the pages to confirm what I’d feared. Impossibly beautiful heroine, aggressive alpha male love interest/protector, way too much graphic sex in this novel. So back to the library it went.

I’m sure there are lots of people who find these kinds of books entertaining or romantic or whatever. Personally, they just reinforce my frustration with the entertainment industry at the lack of understanding that sex does not equal romance.

I’m not opposed to a dose of romance with my mysteries. Heck, my own heroine has a love life. I just don’t like books where the end game is going to bed together and the male lead treats the heroine in a rapey/stalkerish manner, hitting every mark on the checklist for potential abusers, all in the name of love. It used to be romantic comedies were romantic. Now, it’s pretty darn hard to find anything like that on bookshelves or on the big or small screen. Now romance is 50 Shades and I just don’t get it.

There are exceptions, of course. Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls” can make me swoon not because he’s rich or handsome or tough, but because he’s just a regular guy who’s committed to his gal. Committed to the point where he fixes things around Lorelai’s house, rushes her to the hospital when her dad is sick, offers a shoulder to cry on and throws a huge going away party for her daughter, all while they are not even dating. So what if he wears flannel all the time and is perpetually grumpy? He’s a solid, caring guy.

And let’s look at the love triangle in “The Hunger Games.” Not the movies, which kind of messed up the casting of Gale and Peeta. Gale in the books is a hot head who sometimes pressures Katniss about his feelings for her. He’s been her best friend, which is great, but sometimes he’s kind of a jerk. (Liam Hemsworth made him 100 times more likable in the movies, IMO.) Peeta, on the other hand, is always putting Katniss first, even at the cost of his own life. The flashback to him taking a beating as an 11-year-old to give a starving Katniss some bread is hauntingly beautiful in the books. When she is completely cast out and depressed at the end of Book 3, he joins her in District 12 to plant flowers in her sister’s memory. Sorry Josh Hutcherson, you weren’t a great choice in this role, but in the books, Peeta is the guy who’d I’d want to have my back.

Now I know my opinion isn’t universal here, hence the Team Gale versus Team Peeta thing, but I stand by my thoughts that Peeta is the better guy. Are either Luke or Peeta perfect? Of course not. That would be supremely boring if they were perfect love interests, but their commitment and kindness make them good characters for a little romance.

And when I say romance, I mean just that. Romance is not the same as sex. Nothing ruins a romantic movie or book for me more than an over-the-top sex scene. I get that sometimes sex is part of the story. That’s even true in the Bible – hello, David and Bathsheba. But I don’t want to know the blow-by-blow details. Just a fade to black is fine with me. It doesn’t add anything to the story; I feel like a voyeur watching someone through a hole in the wall. Seriously, I don’t get it.

Can any discussion of romance be complete without a “Pride and Prejudice” reference?

Works like “Pride and Prejudice” have stood the test of time because the romantic writing is just that good. But putting Jane Austen aside, one of the best love scenes I’ve ever seen came in a movie where I wouldn’t have expected it, “The Last Samurai.” I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and the move is kind of clichéd, but the scene were Taka dresses Nathan Algren before battle is just amazingly intimate without anything really happening. I was so stunned by the level of feeling between the two characters. No words are spoken. They share nothing more than just a light kiss. It definitely helped that the score during this scene was so beautiful, but really the eyes tell the whole story. It was so powerful that after the guys in my house went to bed, I re-watched the scene just to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

So there’s my rant for the day. Am I crazy to think this? I must be based on the romance novels I see on the shelves, and the movies that continue to get made. But I’d just rather see something that makes me swoon instead of feeling like I need a shower.

 

The reality of great expectations

I think the biggest trouble with going into a situation with expectations is the risk of being disappointed.

I started November with high hopes about Book 8 and things didn’t turn out as I planned. Last year, I knocked out about 30,000 words in the month; this year, I got to 18,000 (and because I’m an idiot, I forgot to post my final tally on Nov. 30 on the National Novel Writing Month website so technically I didn’t even reach that).

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Can I just say how much I love this movie?

Things went sideways on Nov. 1 – not necessarily for bad reasons but just life. I had applied for a new position at the University where I work. I had heard nothing for such a long period of time that I assumed I didn’t get the job. I was fine with that and was geared up to start writing Book 8 in earnest because while I like my job and it works extremely well for my family, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love being a full-time writer again.

But on Nov. 1, I found out that not only did I get the job but that my new boss had asked my former boss to allow me to start right away, with me still working a few hours at my old job each week to help with the transition. So things got crazy really fast and unfortunately my writing time suffered.

To make matters worse, I got a nasty cold that sucked up all my energy, probably from the stress of a new job. Then things just started to snowball until I finally had to let go of my expectations. I love writing but it’s not my first priority right now even though I wish sometimes that it could be. I worked when I could and am still plugging away. Because I had some of Book 8 already started before November, my total word count is still more than 30, 000 words so there’s that. And for some reason that I don’t understand but am not complaining about, I figured out what’s going to happen in Book 9. Random, I know, but I’ll take it.

So while I’m disappointed, I’m trying to find the positives. For one, last year I was so tired after November that I did almost no writing in December. But this year, I’m still cruising along to make up for lost time.

Once I get the first draft done for Book 8, I’ll be posting excerpts here on my blog and on my Facebook page so follow or like one of these if you want to receive updates. I still plan to put out Book 8 in 2018, and I still think that goal is doable.

I hope I don’t sound like a whiner; the new job will offer me some great opportunities. I’m glad being sick was just a cold and not something more serious. I have much to be thankful for, even when things don’t go the way I want. I’ll start posting again on my blog, including my random thoughts, if you care to read them. It’s good to be back!

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Book 7 is here!

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“Hidden in Darkness” has been uploaded! (breathe a sigh of relief)

It’s available now at Smashwords and will soon be live at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other online book sellers.

I’m super excited about this book because it’s the first time I started a novel with no idea how it was going to end. I’ve definitely changed my mind before mid-stream, but this time, I had no clue going in. I tend to think about my plots a lot before I actually start writing so this experience was unique.

I’m starting Book 8 tomorrow for National Novel Writing Month so I hope to have some excerpts to share in the near future. I already have some scenes plotted so I’m hoping to make lots of headway in November.

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Happy reading!

It’s almost NaNoWriMo time…and an update on Book 7

So here’s the situation.

Last week, I started what I hope to be the final round of edits for “Hidden in Darkness.”

I have a cover, even.

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(Though I’m still tweaking it so please don’t be shocked if I scrap it and go with something completely different.)

If all goes according to plan, I really want to upload this to Smashwords and Amazon no later than Oct. 31 because I plan on doing National Novel Writing Month in November. Don’t know what that is? Check it out here.

I was a first-timer last year, and it really helped me carve out “Hidden in Darkness.” Last November 1, I started with a few scenes and a basic premise. I knew an accused killer was going to ask to see Emily, but I had no idea what he did, why he did it or whether he was  guilty or innocent. By the end of the month, I had a real plot and new characters that were emphatically telling me what to do next, way more than I had expected.

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I’m in the same boat for Book 8 so I’d love a repeat of last year’s performance.

With that goal in mind, I’m going to tentatively plan to release “Hidden in Darkness” in October. But if my month gets sideways, the release date will get pushed back to December so I can properly work on Book 8 in November. Sorry to do that, but there was something about posting my word count online daily that really kept me on track. It’s the deadline thing.

But the good news is I can’t see the release date extending into 2018. It’s so close to being done. I’ve really enjoyed writing this book and can’t wait to get it into your hands so you can let me know what you think. I’ll post more updates as the month moves ahead. Thanks for reading!

Sticks and stones…yeah, that’s a lie. Name calling hurts

Last week, I was on a popular news site and noticed an article about a woman being shamed online for being too thin. Right next to an article about a woman being shamed online for being too fat.

Really?  I’m not sure why people think it’s OK to pass judgment on another person’s body. Most people know what they look like and have features they like and dislike about themselves. No one is saying “I had no idea that I had a muffin top! Thanks so much for telling me!” It’s not the same thing as nicely pointing out someone has spinach between their teeth.

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Those that are very thin may want that hourglass figure. Or maybe that person has an eating disorder or is sick and would love to gain some of that weight back. Having someone tell them real women have curves is insulting. What are they? Fake women?

For those of us with excess weight, we know we need to lose it and most of us want to drop a few pounds. Someone telling us we’re lazy and worthless because we don’t wear a size 2 isn’t going to suddenly inspire us to do better.

And just maybe the woman being shamed is happy just the way she is. Maybe she is at what she considers her ideal weight, and she felt great when she posted that picture with her kids at the beach. That snide remark probably ruined her day.

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No matter what our weight issues are, it’s no one’s business. It’s not right for me to comment on a person’s body any more than it is right to tell someone they are a loser if they smoke. Or stereotype someone because of the way they dress. Or make a judgment about them because they have crooked teeth. We all have our issues, some more visible than others. Those issues shouldn’t prevent us from posting our vacation pictures online out of fear that someone will make a derogatory remark.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that every online retailer courts reviews or if it’s the anonymity of the internet, but more and more, people feel like expressing their every thought and opinion publicly is their right. Even if those words are hurtful. We’re all human and have not-so-nice thoughts. Maybe I see a coworker’s Facebook post and think that the dress she chose for a party isn’t doing her any favors. But there is a huge difference between thinking it and publicly saying that online. All of us with manners know that would hurt her feelings and embarrass her so we’d keep our thoughts to ourselves. But too often, thinking about other people’s feelings goes out the window when commenting online, particularly when the comment is directed at a stranger and there really is no fallout for behaving like an ass.

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I’m often appalled by the viciousness I’ve seen online when it comes to people’s – especially women’s – weight. It’s like carrying extra weight is a deep character flaw on par with kicking puppies and selling drugs to little kids. Or being skinny means you’re a witch. But I wonder, is every woman in the commenter’s life in tip-top physical condition? If the commenter’s mother or daughter was overweight or underweight would he/she want her subjected to that kind of abuse? I’m thinking no.

Can we please start looking at others as human beings and treat them accordingly? Can we agree that a person’s appearance is not the measure of that person’s worth? I’ve met people in all shapes and sizes that are kind and loving. I’ve been treated poorly by people who are drop dead gorgeous as well as by those who aren’t. We all have to learn to live with our exterior flaws or work hard to change what we can; but thankfully, that doesn’t determine how we look on the inside. In that area, we have total control. That’s a choice that we make every day when we decide how to treat one another.

Don’t judge a book … or the person reading the book

The thread started innocently enough.

I was on a popular book site, in a Christian group, following a thread about reading secular authors. The original poster was looking for ideas for secular authors that were readable without being offensive. I bit because while I have a few Christian authors I love, I read a lot of secular fiction, too. And it’s tough finding authors that don’t use the f-word every other sentence or throw in graphic sex scenes. But, it can also be hard to find Christian authors that I can relate to. Some are so saccharine that I can’t handle it. I know that’s not nice, probably a character flaw. But that’s me.

It wasn’t long, however, before the thread degenerated into judging, snarking about what people were reading that wasn’t “Christian” enough. I had initially thrown out my two recommendations – Harlan Coben and John Grisham – but by the time I returned to the thread to look for suggested authors, no one was suggesting. A hostile few had taken over and were judging. One woman proudly detailed that she had flamed a fellow churchgoer on the churchgoer’s personal Facebook page for reading the “50 Shades” series, questioning her salvation. I was appalled — not by the “50 Shades” reader but by the poster.

Sorry…couldn’t resist a little jab.

I personally would never read that series – first, because it’s not my thing but second, because I don’t think God would want me to. But I don’t think it’s up to me to question a person’s faith by what they choose to read, especially not publicly. I can’t imagine how the churchgoer felt being attacked online, in front of her other friends and acquaintances. I doubt she felt convicted. Probably embarrassed. I’m sure she was mostly offended.

One of my favorite Bible passages is in Romans 14 when Paul pretty much tells us to mind our own business when it comes to other Christians and their walks. It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to worry about what others were doing; I just had to focus on what God was teaching me. I’ve started books and been convicted. I’ve shut off TV programs or movies that are disturbing. I know when God is telling me to stay away from a bad situation. Sometimes I don’t listen – behaving like I did when I was 11 and watched “Poltergeist” at my friend’s house when my mom said I couldn’t – but I usually end up with consequences later. Yes, nightmares. Or setting a bad example for my kids. Or just that feeling of disconnect that comes with not obeying God.

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As a church, we need to get out of God’s way and quit judging so much. It’s not helping. Unless you know that you know that you know that God gave you a word to share with someone, keep your mouth shut. And if you do have a word, share it privately. Public flaming does way more harm than good.

The older I’ve become, the more I realize I don’t know all that much, certainly not enough to judge someone else without walking in their shoes. And normally when I falter and fall back to my judgmental nature, I’m usually eating crow not long after. It doesn’t taste good.