All the more reason to order a burger

I’ve read about the bombings in Syria and a passenger dragged off a United Airlines flight, but I think the news story I read most recently that’s going to haunt me is this one about a decomposing bat inside a prepackaged salad.

Generally I like salads, but I have an almost irrational fear of bats so finding one in my salad would pretty much send me screaming like an imbecile to the bathroom to induce vomiting by whatever means necessary. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t need any help vomiting.

The thing that’s a little weird about the articles I’ve read about the incident seems to be the focus on rabies and not the dead bad. Like it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the rabies. Ummm….no. It’s bad regardless because there was a freakin’ dead bat in food that people were consuming at the time it was found.

(Shudder). Yeah, no more prepacked salads for me.

salad

When it comes to kids in restaurants, empathy should go both ways

I’d originally read this article a few months ago, then it popped up again last week in the “recommended stories” feature on another website. This is a first person account of a parent with small children out to eat at a busy restaurant. Another patron made a snarky remark about the children’s behavior and Mom escalated it with a snappy comeback.

While the account itself is not particularly unique, the comments that follow offer a window into a hugely polarizing issue: small children at dining establishments. I’m not talking about kids at fast food joints. No one expects much when dining there. I mean sit-down restaurants. Some higher end places have banned children because of bad behavior and that decision also has supporters and detractors.

I’ve been a food server, a parent and a restaurant patron trying to dine sans kids for a night so I can see points on each side. But these are the two questions I always come back to when I see child meltdowns during the dinner hour: are the parents actually doing anything about it? Are the parents trying to minimize the impact on other patrons while they deal with the situation?

Because I’ve been there. My two-year-old once decided he did not want to leave the ball pit at the play area at Burger King (that was when I was young and dumb and didn’t realize those things are absolute germ pits). He refused to come out and I had to go in after him — while I was pregnant and taking off my shoes was no guarantee I could get them back on. When I caught him, he howled. I had to wade out and get my shoes on. I tried to get his shoes on but gave up and decided to carry him. I was near tears and he certainly wasn’t happy. Another mom made a snarky remark to me and really, had I not been dealing with so much crap at that second I would have been tempted to punch her in the face. I mean kids are kids and I was clearly trying to get him out of this situation. Normally, I could tell him “five more minutes” and he’d leave the play area just fine. Today, well, he tested me. I could have caved and sat there another half hour but I had things to do and me being a pushover sent the wrong message. You’d think another mom would have my back, but sometimes we can be so judgmental about other people’s parenting.

So I get the mom’s defensiveness in the article. Kids aren’t robots who can be programmed to act exactly as we want.  But…

I’ve witnessed abysmal behavior under the guise of “kids will be kids.” I waited tables in college and I’ve seen kids allowed to pour syrup all over the table, play in a fire pit with an actual fire burning, race up and down the aisles while waiters are trying to carry their trays and have a tantrum while the parents ignore them. I’ve had my date night with my husband pretty much ruined when seated next to parents more interested in their smartphones than their kids. So I get the patron’s side, too. Was she rude? Yes, but while Mom didn’t think the kids were that bad, she may not have been the best judge of the situation given she was busy talking to their dinner guests.

Some of the comments targeted Mom for letting her kids play with an iPad as a distraction, but I disagree. As a mom who once carried a pad of paper and box of crayons in her purse at all times, I think having some distractions is a darn good idea. But I get the other side, too. At some point, kids do need to learn to sit and carry on a conversation, wait patiently for their food and generally function in society. That should be every parent’s goal. It’s easy to sanctimoniously judge another parents’ skills. But I’m willing to bet, if we’re honest, all of our kids at one time or another displayed not-so-great behavior. I’m willing to bet we ourselves have displayed some not-so-great behavior. My mom loves to tell those stories about me, by the way. Something involving me and a teddy bear when I was a toddler. So we should have each other’s back.

But don’t expect people to excuse bad behavior if you aren’t doing anything about it. I’m not speaking to this particular article because I wasn’t there — it’s just one side. But really, it’s not fair to expect other people to forgive your kids’ antics while you are playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. Courtesy goes both ways. If you want a little sympathy, you have to have some empathy for your fellow patrons who may have paid a babysitter to get their night of peace and quiet.

First draft down, so many revisions yet to go

Sorry I’ve been so bad about posting but I just finished my initial (and very rough) draft of Book 7, “Hidden in Darkness.” I didn’t expect to finish the draft so quickly because when I started I really didn’t know exactly where the plot was going. Usually I have a firm ending in mind and write to get there, but in this case, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Every time I thought about a blog post I wanted to write, I would get about two lines in and think “Oh, wait! I know what happens next!” and off I’d go with Book 7.

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So while I have serious editing to do, the fact that the story arc is coherent is a huge victory. Editing is not as fun as creating but it must be done (over and over) so that process starts in earnest next week. The good news from a blog perspective is that I can write posts as procrastination since, as I just said, creating is more fun than editing. 🙂

In the meantime, I realized I haven’t posted my playlists for “In the Presence of My Enemies” or “Extreme Measures.” So here they are:

“In the Presence of My Enemies”

“Hard Love” by Needtobreathe

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash

“Reckless Forgiver” by Jars of Clay

“Money and Fame” by Needtobreathe

“What Faith Can Do” by Kutless

“Difference Maker” by Needtobreathe

“Extreme Measures”

“Nothing Left to Lose” by Needtobreathe

“Closer” by Jars of Clay

“Brother” by Needtobreathe

“Come Back Home” by Kutless

“The Heart” by Needtobreathe

“Hero” by Kutless

And, just because I’m in the mood, here’s my playlist for the upcoming “Hidden in Darkness.”

“Hard Times” by Needtobreathe

“The Valley Song” by Jars of Clay

“Shelter” by Jars of Clay

“Be Here Long” by Needtobreathe

“You and Me” by Lifehouse

“Second Chances” by Needtobreathe

As I’m sure you noticed, all of my playlists are really heavy with music from the band Needtobreathe. If you haven’t checked out this band, I would strongly encourage it. They are Christians but eschew that label, preferring to let their music speak for itself. And it does. Not every song is about God, but all the songs come from their perspective as Christians. Love that.  Their worship songs are some of my all-time favorites.

As I work on the draft for “Hidden in Darkness,” I’ll post some excerpts here so you can get a taste of the story. Here’s a working synopsis for now:

Just days after confessing to a double homicide, the jailed killer asks to speak to reporter Emily O’Brien, offering an exclusive to the Winston Chronicle. But his promise to tell her the truth about what happened instead thrusts her into a nightmare of lies, deceptions and double crosses. Meanwhile, her personal life faces challenges of its own, forcing her to confront her fears of commitment and what that means for her future. As she moves closer to the truth about the murders, she finds she’s now a pawn in someone’s game and she’ll have to prove who is pulling the strings in order to stay alive.

book

Happy reading!

Not that I’m complaining…. (oh yeah, free stuff, too)

I like to think of myself as flexible. And in some ways I am, about what to have for dinner, what to watch on TV, what kind of car to drive. But sometimes, more times than I like to admit, I’m not. At all.

For the past four years, my husband’s job required him to work a lot of hours. Because we carpool, that meant I had to leave early and come home late since we live a half hour from the town where we work. At first, I balked. I mean, giving up extra sleep to do…nothing. That wasn’t really my idea of fair.

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But over time, I adjusted and, in fact, used that extra time before and after work to my advantage. I learned that early morning is the best time to go to Walmart. I started working out more. I read a lot of books. And after awhile, I found a spot I could sort of hide out and write for an hour each morning. It worked for me. I no longer whined when the alarm went off, but instead was ready to use that time for myself.

Almost three months ago, he got a new job and now our hours are more in sync. In theory, this sounded great. But in practice, well, it sucks. Now I miss those extra hours and my routine. He isn’t in a hurry to leave for work but darn it, I still want that hour in the morning to write. He’s ready to head home at the end of the day, but I’m still wanting to go to the gym. It’s required some compromise and I’m not happy with myself at times when I resent having to be more flexible. Especially when I should be happy for my husband that he’s not working so many hours.

During the month of December, between the hubby’s new job, two college kids facing final projects and final exams, gift buying and wrapping for the holidays, family during the holidays, cooking during the holidays, I got almost zero time to write. By the end of the month, I was discouraged. November was great. December was not. So I decided, January was time to make up new routines.

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And so far, it’s working. I’m back on track and carving out that writing time, along with getting to the gym. But it hasn’t been easy to start over. Routines are comfortable so when they are upended, it’s frustrating. But that’s life. I can go with it or complain about it, but in the end it’s best just to embrace the change.

On another subject, I’ve made my two most recent books free on Smashwords via the coupon codes below. Just go to http://www.smashwords.com to redeem them. The coupons are good through February 5, 2017. Feel free to share with a friend!

“In the Presence of My Enemies” – UP85X

“Extreme Measures” – CK68F

Happy Reading!

I’m baacckk!!

November and National Novel Writing Month is over and while I didn’t make it to 50,000 words, I was pleasantly surprised at how many words I did rack up: 31,555 to be exact. I’d hoped to make it at least halfway there so this more than qualified for meeting that goal.

I’d written some scenes prior to November, some of which didn’t make it into the novel, but lots of them did. With those added in, Book 7 is more than halfway done from a first draft point of view. A long way to go, yes, but I was happy with the momentum. Particularly when I had a few unplanned events – unexpected house guests over the Thanksgiving weekend, I’m looking at you – that meant I couldn’t really give my writing its due for a few vacation days when I had planned to lock myself in a room and just write. But family comes first so here we are.

What did I learn? The biggest thing would probably be how much time I waste on things like Sporcle, games on my tablet, Facebook, Netflix, and cat videos – also called procrastination. I have precious little time to write and in November I guarded it fiercely. It was amazing to see how much I could get done if I was more concerned with updating my word count than seeing if I could guess the lyrics to a TV theme song. I still had time for reading – vital to a writer. I managed to feed my family and no one had to wear dirty clothes to work or school. I stayed up a little later than usual, but still functioned at work without being a zombie. (Thank you coffee!) I voted in this disastrous election (either victory was a sad option in my opinion) and didn’t miss the political arguments that followed. And I watched the Cubs win the World Series. Just being consistent was the key.

One sad thing I did read while I was plotting along with my book was this 2010 Salon article that pretty much slammed writers attempting a novel during National Novel Writing Month. Apparently, it began making the Internet rounds again this year, which is how I found it on my news feed even if I preferred it stayed buried.

I have been a paid, professional writer myself and I understand the author’s points, that some novels won’t be good. We had startup newspapers in various forms pop up (then close) during my tenure with the “real” paper and I sometimes winced at the output produced and the unprofessional behavior I witnessed.

But inexperience shouldn’t dissuade people from trying. I mean, if I’d taken that approach, I never would have learned how to cook or how to drive a car or that I should never, ever attempt any crafting project. But even if I did decide to try some home décor project from Pinterest, who cares? I mean, my family might because they have to look at it, but no one else will care I slaved for hours for something that just wasn’t that good. People paint and write poetry and garden and knit. Not all of them are as good as others. But if it gives them pleasure, it’s a project worth pursuing. It sure beats the bars.

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http://www.smosh.com This is the relationship between me and Pinterest, by the way.

And who knows where talent is hidden? Think about garage bands – some musicians started there and made it big. It all depends on hard work, luck and perseverance. If we don’t start somewhere and work at it, we never know if we can make it. But even if we don’t, it’s okay to enjoy doing things just for the sake of doing them. While these agents mentioned in the Salon article may roll their eyes at some really bad novels (and yes, I’ve seen them for sale online in ebook form. Some days I wonder if mine is one of them.), there may be some hidden gems. It’s part of an agent’s job. They’re still getting paid either way. Deal with it.

And professionals should beware of being too sanctimonious. I’ve read plenty of books published by the Big 5 that have not just minor typos, but big plot holes, use of wrong names and barely-there effort. I’ve given up reading an author I used to read faithfully because the quality of work has gone so far downhill. And I won’t mention the name of the last book in a very popular series that was so bad, I now seriously dislike the whole series. But I don’t blame the author; that’s an editor’s job. And if professional publishers can’t pull off top quality, then it’s pretty dangerous to look down their noses at a newbie.

So if you want to write — write. If you want to dance — go take a class and perform at a recital. If you want to sing — form a band or join the church choir. If you want to design things — pick something on Pinterest and go for it. Who cares if it’s perfect or not. And more than likely, it will be better than you think. Things born out of enjoyment usually are.

Stay warm and happy reading!

‘Extreme Measures’ is live!

So last night, I uploaded “Extreme Measures,” which is now available at Amazon and at Smashwords. Soon it will be live at Barnes & Noble, Apple and other e-book outlets.

Extreme Measures

Big sigh of relief — and anxiety … I hope you like it!

But here’s the deal. Up until this point, I’ve been publishing drafts of books I’ve worked on over the years. Some books were in better shape than others, which is why “In the Presence of my Enemies” took forever to get together. I have three more books in mind for Emily and I am pretty much starting Book 7 from square one.

So.

Since it’s November and this is my reality, I’m going to try National Novel Writing Month to jump-start the book. This is pretty scary for me because once I have a deadline, I’m committed and the anxiety starts. And in this case, it’s a side project, not work, so there are other things that have to take priority, like making sure my kids aren’t recycling their socks from the hamper and having healthy meals in the fridge so no one is zapping cups of EasyMac for supper. Yes, they know cooking basics and how to do laundry but I have a hard time giving my writing time precedence over their studying for a calculus test. Ultimately, I do want them to graduate, then move out of the house someday.

But I’m going to give it a try. The worst that can happen is I fail epically. But any words I can give to the novel are more than I have right now, right? While normally the goal is 50,000 words, I’ll be happy if I crank out some text every day in November. I will try to post my progress here, as I probably won’t be posting much else. And stay tuned for excerpts from Book 7 once I feel they are of quality to post.

And, on a final note, the Cubs are still alive in a World Series! Emily would be so thrilled. So in her honor, I’m posting this:

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It’s almost here!

I am thhisss close to finishing “Extreme Measures,” Book 6 in the Emily O’Brien series. I had hoped to have it done sooner, but you know, life. It happens. Anyway, I’m hoping to upload it by early November, barring any clown invasion to northeast Missouri, creating mass chaos.

Extreme Measures

So on that note, and as thanks for all your patience, here is an excerpt from the book:

Craig looked surprised when I showed up on his doorstep ten minutes later. “Hey. I thought you had a game tonight.”

“I did. We won.”

“Then why do you look like you’ve been crying?” Then he studied my disheveled clothing. “Or fighting. Did someone hit you?”

“Yeah. It was hardly a tap. But I bit my lip.”

“Someone hit you! What is going on?”

“Holly is missing.”

“Who’s Holly?”

“A girl from the paper. The one I told you about the other day.” I told him what happened.

“Emily, no offense, but that was not the best way to handle it.”

I scowled. I hated when he was right. “We need to find her.”

“Okay, let’s back up. You have not one shred of evidence that he did anything, right?”

My scowl deepened. “No.”

“And until you showed up the mom wasn’t worried?”

“That’s because she doesn’t pay any attention to her own kid.”

“Why don’t we go to the police station in the morning?”

“Not now?”

His expression softened and he offered to drive. When we got there, I asked for the lieutenant on duty. Mitch Duncan came out to meet us in the lobby. “Emily?”

“Hey.”

I knew most of the guys on the force now that I was on the crime beat. Mitch was an okay guy, professional but a little cocky. He was young to be at this level in his career already, and I guessed he had a bit of an ego about it. But he’d always been a pretty reliable source.

He ushered us back to his desk. We took a seat.

“What’s going on?”

“Someone I know is missing.”

I outlined what happened with Holly missing lunch, then my not-so-pleasant visit with her mom, though I omitted the part about grabbing Donny and him smacking me. The fact that he’d hit me confirmed he was a creep, but the fact I’d been asking for it was not my finest moment. I also told him what Holly had said about her mom’s boyfriend.

“So you think this Donny guy might have done something to her?”

“I don’t know but he would have been the last one to see her.”

Duncan sat back in his seat. “Technically, she isn’t considered missing yet. I mean, she’s twenty-one so she can come and go as she pleases. And she doesn’t have to tell Mom where she’s going.”

“But…”

“Hang on,” he said, lifting his hand. “I do think it would be worth stopping by to talk to both of them. Do you know this Donny guy’s last name?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll need to get that, too. Run a background check. But more than likely, Emily, she’s going to turn up.”

“I hope so.”

“I’ll call you if I hear anything. And you do the same, okay?”

I nodded. “Thanks.”

Craig and I walked out of the police station. My nerves were fried and I felt like I’d had too much coffee on an empty stomach.

“You okay?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah. Thanks for going with me.”