By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Month: August 2019

There Goes My Groove

Scene from Emperor's New Groove. I'm sorry but you've thrown off the emperor's groove.

I know I usually start with a quote from a children’s book or about writing or reading, but this one is from a children’s movie. That counts, right? Besides, this quote sums up my current life situation. Let me explain.

For the last several years my husband has worked two jobs, not including pastoring and teaching martial arts. This has been difficult on the family in many ways, but we’ve made it work. God recently opened up the opportunity for a new job which allowed him to quit his part-time position. Yay!

I’m thankful for this change. I’ve been praying for this change. I know it will open him up for more time with ministry and family. It will reduce his stress levels. It will allow him to do things around the house that have been neglected for far too long.

It’s been a while since he was home regularly at night, and a lot has changed. We have only one child still living at home. He is the one child we’ve never had to do extra running for, no practices and no volunteer hours. We joke that all you have to do is occasionally throw cheese crackers into his room to keep him happy. The stress of the previous years of running has dissipated as our empty nest grows closer.

Another major change is my writing. In the last few years, I’ve moved from struggling writer to, well, still struggling writer. But now I’m a struggling published writer. With two published books and a third due to release in June 2020, I’ve added a slew of new activities to my writing resume.

No longer do I simply write and research markets. I have to do those things, learn more of the craft of writing, grow my presence in front of my intended audience, learn marketing information and techniques I never cared about before, and take care of the business side of writing. It’s a tall order, especially when I just quit my full-time job as a receptionist to help provide at-home care for my grandmother with dementia.

I had gotten into a groove. I knew when I needed to write on my manuscript. I understood when that had to be put aside to finish the day’s blog post. Research, classes, and business development all had their places. I came home from my day job tired, but most nights, I could focus and get done what needed doing. Then came the change.

With my husband home, everything is different. He asks what’s for supper. He never did that before because he got home late enough that he didn’t eat. If I suggest leftovers, he asks me if it’s because I “have to write or just because”. Does it matter? But now supper is on my to-do list.

He’s home before I am in the evenings. I feel like I should be spending time with him. But if I do, I won’t get my writing or anything else writing related done. It’s a tricky situation without a clear answer. He’s not against me writing. He’s my biggest supporter. But I struggle with drawing that line now that he’s home.

Add to this the mental and emotional strain of caring for someone with dementia, and I find myself without motivation at the end of the day. Making dinner, spending time with the husband, and needing a mental break form a perfect cocktail of reasons to choose the living room sofa instead of the office chair each night.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to my current situation. Time? It’ll probably help. Long talks about what is expected with my husband? That would probably help too, though I know it’s not high on his list of things to do! Prayer? Always a great place to start. And so I ask you to pray with me. Pray God shows me how to handle this new stage in my writing life. Pray He helps me find my groove again so I can get back to doing this thing He’s put in my heart to do.

Cast of Characters

peppermint candy

Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope focus on the lives of two people, but the cast of supporting characters is large. From family members and friends to co-workers and customers, the list of people waltzing through the pages of my books is long. It has to be. You can’t tell a person’s story accurately without acknowledging the people they come in contact with. It’s these interactions that give readers insight into who our main characters are at their core.

While you may not need to name the guy at the movie theater who takes a ticket or the girl who hands your main character their sweet tea in the drive through, a short glimpse of some of the lesser seen characters adds depth and realism to the story. To discover a slice of a character’s past helps readers understand and relate to the main character on a deeper level.

In Faith’s Journey, Katie returns to the church from her childhood. In the pews she sees the people who play a part in her memories from attending as a child. Not every person is named, but a few snapshots let the reader have a more intimate view of Katie’s life growing up in a country church in southern Illinois.

Naming and writing the characters becomes a challenge at times. None of my characters are real. They are the products of my imagination, but there are times when real life has given inspiration. When naming my main character, I chose a name I love dearly, the name of my great-grandmother. Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan and I spent many days together when I was a little girl. She taught me to embroider, quilt, and a few other sewing related crafts. She told me stories of when she was a little girl. I loved my granny, and I wanted to name this character after her.

However, Katie McGowan is not my great-grandma. Katie’s choices, reactions, and personality in my books is nothing like the person I knew growing up. She looks nothing like my great-grandma. I’ve simply honored her with the same name.

I also knew a Cal growing up. I don’t believe the man I knew ever had the blessing of being a father in his life, but he was the type of man who would be a father to many who needed one. He isn’t the character in my book, but he’s the type of person I wanted in Katie’s life. Cal was the perfect name for Katie’s father who she adores.

Sometimes it’s a familiar action that makes it between the pages. Growing up, there was a couple I loved to sit with through Sunday services. My mother never minded as long as I was quiet. The man always had a peppermint in his pocket, and I always ended up with it. The memory is a sweet one that I’ve learned is similar to the experience of many who grew up in country churches. Though the character doesn’t return for any other scenes, I gave Katie a similar memory as she surveys the familiar faces in the pews upon her return to her home church.

One of my favorite characters to write was Gigi B. Readers can meet her in Grasping Hope and see her again in Relentless Love when it releases in June 2020. Of all of the characters I’ve written, she is the one most closely inspired by someone in my life. I have an adopted aunt, really my mom’s best friend I’ve been close to my whole life. She’s not nearly as old as Gigi B, and she doesn’t quite have Gigi B’s flair for the dramatic. But I’ve always seen her as stylish and funny and sassy and wise. It’s a unique combination that picked me up when I wrestled with my first broken heart as a teenager, and it was that type of person Katie needed in her life as well.

Gigi B’s life experiences and the words she speaks in my books are all her own. They aren’t life memories placed inside the pages of fiction. But who the character is to the ones she loves is a picture of who my aunt is to me and, I’m sure, other in her life.

By the Book: Creating a great cast of fictional characters adds realism and depth to a story. The characters in your own life do the same for you. They provide comforting memories for the future, encouragement for today, and, sometimes, even challenge us to grow in faith. Just as they are characters in your life, you are a character in theirs. Measure each day’s interactions using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to determine whether or not you’re allowing God’s love to flow through you to the characters He brings into your life.

What I’m Reading: An Aria for Nick

At the risk of sounding like I’ve become the president of the Hallee Bridgeman fan club, today’s review is for An Aria for Nick. (I’m not sure that’s a thing but wouldn’t it be great if your favorite Christian authors had fan clubs? Someone should look into that.) Other than Kristen Heitzmann, I don’t think I’ve reviewed any other author’s books as frequently, but I’m always looking for a good deal and a great story. Hallee’s books often fit both categories. Besides, I’ve reviewed books one and three in the series. It only makes sense that I should go back and take care of book two! Let’s take a look at An Aria for Nick.

Sometimes life doesn’t go like we planned. Events beyond our control seem to conspire against us, or our own choices land us in the middle of consequences we never imagined. Aria and Nick understand this better than most.

Aria’s love for Nick never got a chance thanks to Nick’s stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that a girl like Aria could be interested in a boy like him. He makes sure of it when he enlists in the military.

Aria is just as headstrong. She pursues friendship with Nick throughout their school years and through letters during his time in the military. Maybe one day, Nick will see how much she cares for him. Only that day doesn’t come. Instead, Aria is met with the news that the man she loves has been killed in the line of duty.

She’s lost her hope of love with Nick, but her losses keep coming. Aria’s dream of playing piano professionally are lost when her wrist is injured. The situation leaves her no choice. Aria must find and live a new dream. This new direction puts her in contact with brilliant scientists as she works to develop nuclear technology. It also puts her in the crosshairs of the enemy when she discovers a plot to use her technology in a terrorist attack on the United States.

Aria doesn’t know who to trust. When the man she loved comes back from the dead as the one entrusted to protect her and stop the attack, Aria’s world is turned upside down. Aria and Nick must work together and trust each other in order to prevent nuclear destruction. This is made more difficult as their insecurities and the hurts of the past wreak havoc in each personal interaction. Though the feelings they shared in the past are reawakened, Aria and Nick have to choose whether to embrace those feelings or ignore them without the assurance of what each choice will bring to their futures.

Nick and Aria aren’t that different from me and you. Sure, our one true love probably didn’t come back from the dead. And most of us are probably not brilliant nuclear scientists. But when you remove all the physical trappings of the story, you find a reality that speaks to each of us. We love to plan what our futures will look like. We’re encouraged to do it from the time we are young. Don’t believe me? Did you ever have to write a “what I want to be when I grow up” essay? Our childhood is all about preparing us for the future, and we are pushed earlier and earlier to decide how we want that future to look.

Sometimes that life doesn’t go like we think it should. Events beyond our control throw us off our path and onto other foreign ones. Choices we’ve made have consequences with far more impact than we imagined possible. Even in the times when we end up at our originally planned destination, a look at the path that brought us there shows a drastically different road to success than we dreamed we would take.

When we realize this, the temptation is strong to give in to fear, doubt, hurt, and anger. As believers, we have a different option. Trust. We can’t trust things will work out the way we want them to. We can’t trust that the hurt is finished. But we can trust that God is in control. He knew the path our life would take, the good and bad choices we would make, and the ending destination before we were even born. The Psalms tell us He had every one of our days written in His book before we’d even lived one of them.

He doesn’t promise to end all the bad or surprising things in our lives. We live in a decaying, sin-marred world. Horrible things happen. The unexpected happens. But God does promise that He will be beside us in each thing we face. He will give us strength and peace and hope. The hope is that whatever happens, He will make us more into His image as we go through it with Him leading the way.

Fear and doubt no longer color our decisions. Instead, we move forward in confidence knowing God is by our side no matter what the future holds.

Different Voices

“The baby owls thought (all owls think a lot) – ‘I think she’s gone hunting,’ said Sarah. ‘To get us our food!’ said Percy. ‘I want my mommy!’ said Bill.” – Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Mother Owl and Babies

 All parents of small children know there are some nights you dread story time. When your little angel asks you to read Elmo Blows His Nose (I made that title up, but you know they publish things like this all the time) or some other equally unimpressive and unimaginative story for the thousandth time, all you can do is suffer through. You remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child and instilling a life-long love of reading (at least that’s what the research says).

But there are those nights when the book really is a wonderful story and a joy to read. I always felt that way about Owl Babies. The premise is simple and taps into every young child’s need for family and security. The illustrations are dark and earthy, perfect for a story about owls in the woods. But what I really loved about reading Owl Babies to my children was the fun I got to have playing with voices.

Sarah, Percy, and Bill are siblings as unique as my own children. Each has a different personality and way of relating to the news of their missing mother. Sarah always sounds so grown up in my head. I give her a steady, logical tone. Percy jumps on whatever bandwagon of thought Sarah voices, only he is a little younger and more excitable. That always factors into the way I read his lines. Then there’s Bill. Poor little, nearly hysterical Bill. The baby of the owl family. Each consecutive “I want my mommy!” gets a little more desperate when I read his lines. And their differences each spoke to my children in different ways. Each child had an owl sibling they related to most because the author took time to make them unique.

They may be owls in a children’s book, but what made it a joy to read Owl Babies to my children is something we need to remember in our own writing. Each character has their own personality, their own sound. The rhythm and speed with which they speak is unique. Even the area they came from plays a part in how they sound. (I can’t help but think of the line from Sweet Home Alabama. You know the one. “Honey, just cause I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”) And a character’s actions before, during, and after they speak can highlight their differences even more.

It’s important to consider all of these things when writing dialog for a character. If something they say is out of their norm, it’s important to note the difference and give clues as to why it happened. Is the uneducated, poor serving girl trying to impress the rich, handsome duke? Her speech will be different when addressing him than when she is in the privacy of her own hovel.  Is the bear of a lawman dealing with a small, frightened child? He may lower himself to the child’s level and speak in softer, easier tones to coax the child into doing what is needed. But when he’s interrogating the culprit, he’s back to barking orders, red face and all.

When authors take the time to understand their character’s way of speaking and interacting with the world around them, the reader gets a more well-rounded, relatable character. It works whether that character is a person or a baby owl. By leaving the cookie cutters behind and letting each character be their own person, we give our readers more to relate to in our story. The more they relate, the more the pages will turn, and the more the messages of our stories will be heard.

By the Book: It’s important to remember God gifted each of us with unique personalities, interests, and experiences. Sometimes it’s hard, but try to take time to appreciate these differences I the people you interact with each day. When it’s especially hard, make it a practice to think about the difference you are having trouble with and turn it around. When could that trait come in handy? What situation might benefit from having that personality type? Thank God for His foresight to make us each uniquely suited for the purpose He has for us.  

What I’m Reading: Just the Way You Are

I’m from small town southern Illinois. Though Carbondale has Southern Illinois University to make it more recognizable, the small village of Makanda can only boast of being one of the places where the 2017 eclipse could be seen for the longest amount of time and for Vulture Fest. Yes, Vulture Fest. No, I’ve never been. Though that’s really not surprising. Makanda is actually very large in area, and as most residents do, I end up in Carbondale more often than the tiny strip of eclectic stores making up Makanda’s business district.

Being from a small, rural town surrounded by other small, rural towns has its advantages. It also has drawbacks. One of these is the country drawl prevalent in the area. It’s not a pretty southern drawl or the twang of the southwest. It’s less refined. Hick is the term most often used.

As a kid I fought that way of speaking. I worked hard to make sure my pronunciation and vocabulary were not filled with the southern Illinois vernacular. I thought I was doing a great job, until I went to summer camp in Peoria, Illinois. Peoria is about 4 hours north of where I live. Kids came from all over Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and other states for camp.

Imagine my surprise when all the work I’d done to distance myself from the southern Illinois sound was repeatedly met with, “Are you from the south?” Every northerner I met decided I was not just from the south, but from the deep south. Over and over I explained I was not from Mississippi or Alabama or any other southern state. I was from Illinois just like most of them. So much for my efforts to conceal my vocal heritage.

Adulthood has brought perspective. I’m more appreciative of the benefits of small town life, and the downsides don’t bother me as much. (I admit I still cringe when I hear myself say “fer” instead of for, but I’m working on it!) I love where I grew up, bad grammar and all. I try to bring that to my writing (the love, not the bad grammar!). That same attitude is part of the reason I enjoyed Pepper Basham’s Just the Way You Are.

Eisley Barrett grew up in the Appalachian region, but the story starts with a trip to England to find answers to a family mystery. In addition to meeting wonderful new friends,Eisley has a real life adventure on her quest to find answers her dying uncle needs to finish the book he’s writing.

Though initially drawn to her due to a cynical nature that insists Eisley is a gold digger out to take his family fortune or ruin their good name, Wes Harrison finds he’s drawn to her for other reasons as well. As their friendship progresses, Wes enjoys the opportunity to solve the mystery with Eisley.

As their relationship progresses, it’s time for Eisley to return home. She and Wes have enough emotional baggage from the past to make the distance between England and Virginia seem like child’s play. This baggage comes back to wreak havoc on their relationship and threatens to tear them apart.

This is the first book by Pepper Basham I’ve read. She does a wonderful job of telling an entertaining story. The differences in how Eisley and Wes were raised and currently live are explored and alternately provide helpings of drama and comedy for the reader.

Respect for both ways of life are easily seen. Pros and cons of each are laid out for the reader to enjoy. In the end, it’s a great reminder that our differences can bring us together or tear us apart. It’s all in how we want to look at them.

By the Book: We’re all different. Think of someone you’ve had trouble working or ministering with and pray for God to show you how to celebrate your differences to make the job/ministry stronger.

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