I just saw the funniest thing in my "Hungry Girl" newsletter--the Octodog Frankfurter Converter. Frankly (pun intended!), this one’s a little frightening. But we just had to include it. This wacky device slices ordinary hot dogs into eight-legged sea creatures. Cook ‘em, and their little legs swirl around the body like tentacles. Decorate them with condiments and eat 'em, or put on a hot dog variety show for the neighbors! We can't wait to turn guilt-free dogs into various and sundry sea critters. Yippeee! Purchase ‘em online here.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I just saw the funniest thing in my "Hungry Girl" newsletter--the Octodog Frankfurter Converter. Frankly (pun intended!), this one’s a little frightening. But we just had to include it. This wacky device slices ordinary hot dogs into eight-legged sea creatures. Cook ‘em, and their little legs swirl around the body like tentacles. Decorate them with condiments and eat 'em, or put on a hot dog variety show for the neighbors! We can't wait to turn guilt-free dogs into various and sundry sea critters. Yippeee! Purchase ‘em online here.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Photo: The Hunt Family circa 1988, when my first book was published.
Accidental Poet asked for a list of my books that contain an adoption thread. I had to look over the complete list, but I think I've got them all:
THE ADOPTION OPTION nonfiction and out of print (so you'd have to find a used copy of this one!) but it's our adoption story. The first part of the tale, anyway.
LOVING SOMEONE ELSE'S CHILD. Also nonfiction and out of print, but expands to include foster parenting, aunts, uncles, grandparents and stepparents who step in to love other people's bio children.
THE STORY JAR. My novella, "The Yellow Sock" is also our story, only slightly fictionalized. I used my actual "waiting" journal to write it.
THE NOTE--adoption thread.
THE PEARL--adoption thread.
THE DEBT--adoption provides a major plot point.
THE SHADOW WOMEN--yep, Moses was adopted.
I think that's it. Since adoption has played such a large part in our family life, I suppose it's only natural that it should show up in my work, even when it's only a "thread."
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A couple of you have raised questions, and since I have nothing original to say this morning, I think I'll answer them.
Accidental Poet asked which book about adoption Doni read--LOL! Actually, I don't remember, and Doni has just told me she's read 32 of my books. Since several of them have adoption threads, I honestly don't remember which one initiated her initial email to me.
Brittanie asked: I bought a Christian Fiction book today at Barnes and Noble. It was a steeple hill book that was in short fat paperbook style for $4.99. Do authors get paid less when they downsize the book from trade size $13.00. Just wondering?
Yes, Brittanie, the less you pay for a book, the less the author earns from the sale of that book. Books that are sold for deep discounts (at Costco, Sam's Club, etc), often earn the author virtually nothing. When you buy a used book or a book from a remainder bin, the author often gets nothing at all. If you buy a book from Crossings or other book clubs, the author gets no royalties. (The book club pays a flat fee to the publisher, and some of that is applied to the author's royalty account.)
So how do authors make a living? It isn't easy. They have to sell lots and lots and lots of books through the regular avenues--bookstores.
Do we mind those bargain books and wholesale outlets? Not necessarily, because sometimes people will buy a bargain book, like it, and come back for more. Picking up a new reader is a good thing.
However--used book sales do not count as a "sale" at the publishing house, and if a book does not sell enough copies, it will go out of print. Gone. Hasta la vista, baby. And that's kind of sad.
Also sad is the fact that lots of independent bookstores (especially Christian bookstores) find it difficult to stay in business because everyone now (even Starbucks!) is selling books. So if you find an author you enjoy, think about where you buy your books. Where you buy makes a huge difference.
Monday, August 28, 2006
When we went to bed last night, we were in the dreaded "five day cone." When we woke up this morning, the cone had moved east, sparing us, but not sparing the central part of Florida.
No one can truly predict a hurricane's path--they are fickle things--but we'll be checking the hurricane web sites for the next few days.
Since I live in Florida, we don't pass a single summer through fall without thinking of hurricanes. A hurricane, in fact, plays a huge role in one of my upcoming novels, THE ELEVATOR.
I found this clever online simulation that illustrates the destructive force of a hurricane. Try it out, and then thank the Lord if you live miles from any beach.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
So yesterday I get a brief email from my friend, Jerry J. Here's the text:
From today’s Minneapolis StarTribune:
Film Tells Story of Jesus’ Birth through Mary’s Eyes
That would have been some feat.
I'm pretty sure they're talking about THE NATIVITY STORY. I love it!
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Several years ago, someone once told me (through the friend of a friend of a friend) that Michael W. Smith said he liked my book The Truth Teller. I was thrilled.
Well, though that story may be hearsay, I liked Michael W. Smith's movie. :-)
The Second Chance seems very CBA centered--i.e., geared to a believing audience--but it has real heart and it made me tear up several times. A very realistic look at mega churches (shoot, I practically ATTEND the church featured in the movie) as compared to ministry-where-the-people are.
Smith did a good job in his role, but didn't get to flex a lot of acting chops (I think that's a mixed metaphor.) But the real thrill for me was seeing Lisa Anderson in the role of "Pastor Jake's" wife. I recognized her voice immediately and her face in the next instant--she plays Peyton MacGruder in the short version of "The Note" and I hear she's also been signed to star in the feature film . . . . which, Lord willing, should begin filming this fall. I really like her.
The only quibble I had with the film is that Ethan, Smith's character, is engaged to be married to a saintly woman who never exhibits a single flaw. I don't mind her perfection--what struck me as unlikely is the fact that a forty-something year old man is getting married for the first time? I know it happens, but it doesn't happen often. I'd have given him a perfect wife and left it at that.
What? Of course there are perfect pastor's wives! My husband has one.
Friday, August 25, 2006
I first met Doni Brinkman a few years ago, via email. She'd read one of my books with an adoption theme, and she wrote to tell me that she enjoyed the book because she was an adoptive mother.
You may not have seen it, but Doni responded to my stem cell post of a few days ago. You see, Doni's first son was a "snowflake baby"--an adopted embryo. Tanner is now five years old, happy and healthy, and enjoying life in the Brinkman family with his little brother, Ty.
This is the link to the Brinkman family home page. Please visit, spend some time on their excellent and very informative site. The Brinkmans have investigated all sorts of reproductive technologies, and I think you can learn a lot by reading their story. It's worth visiting their home page just to see Don's beautiful photos of her family--she is such a great photographer!
And you'll get to see their adorable sons. :-) Thank you, Jim and Doni, for sharing your story with the world!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
And God is good! Now I can write a column on this topic and it will be timely!
BTW, I'm blogging over at the Charis Connection today, too. Stop by if you like.
My first Tampa Tribune column appeared in Wednesday's paper. Here's a link..
Just a brief note today because it's 7:32 p.m. on Wednesday and I'm still working . . .
Thank you for all your comments, particularly yours, Doni and Lisa. You know, the more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that churches and adoption agencies should become involved in the adoption of frozen embroys. I understand that there's a seven-year lifespan for these babies on ice, and we would truly be practicing what we preach if we treated these preborn children as the babies they are.
What better way to show the world that embryonic stem cell research is the taking of innocent human life, created in God's image? Let them see these cells nine months later in the arms of an adoptive mother! They are NOT property!
I think I might do my next community column on this issue . . . my first one appeared in Wednesday's Tampa Tribune (8/23) . . . if it shows up online, I'll provide a link. Lisa, if you have documentation for the fact that no fetal experimentation has yet been successful, I could sure use a citation. In any case, I'll start researching.
Thank you, my friends! Together, we lift our voices!
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In most properly-structured novels, at about 1/4 of the way in, the "inciting incident" occurs. Here's mine, from the WIP, FAIRLAWN.
Friday morning brings a touch of rain—enough to snarl the interstates with fender benders and keep the heat at bay. For once, I’m grateful that I don’t have to drive into the District. I make sure the boys are bathed and fed, then pull on a pair of shorts and an old tee shirt.
Today I will do something to help Mother. I need to show my appreciation in some tangible way.
I’m outside weeding the flower bed when Mom opens the front door and extends the cordless phone. “Some lawyer is looking for Jennifer Graham. That’d be you.”
I wipe my muddy hands on my shorts before taking the phone. “Did he give his name?”
Mom, still in her housecoat, retreats behind the screen door. “I didn’t catch his name. And don’t forget to deadhead the geraniums.”
I breathe deeply and hold the phone at my waist. In the last six months I’ve had more dealings with lawyers than I’ve had in ten years of political work. I thought I was finished with lawyers . . . so what is Thomas up to now?
I blow out a breath and bring the phone to my ear. “Jennifer Graham.”
“Mrs. Graham, this is Daniel Silva, of Lawson, Bridges, and Silva in Mt. Dora. How are you this fine day?”
The question catches me off guard because I’ve never heard of Lawson, Bridges, Silva, or Mt. Dora. If Thomas has thought of some other asset he wants to divide, tough. He can’t have the silver in my teeth.
“I’m represented by Rob Pettigrew in Fairfax,” I tell Mr. Silva. “I suggest you take this matter up with him.”
“Um . . . I thought it might be nice if we talked first. We usually speak to the heirs before we involve their lawyers.”
An unexpected word strikes my ear like a jolt of electricity. “Did you say heirs?”
“Yes, ma’am. Ned Norris passed away last month, and we’ve been working hard to settle his estate. Tracking you down has proven to be a challenge.”
“Ned Norris?” I look at Mother, still lingering behind the screen door. “I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize the name. You must have the wrong person.”
“I believe he was your mother’s uncle . . . so he’d be your great-uncle. Mr. Norris had no children and his wife predeceased him by several years. So he’s left his entire estate to you.”
Mother steps out from behind the screen, her forehead knitting in a frown. “Ned Norris? Uncle Ned?”
The lines on her forehead deepen. “I thought he died. One of the cousins called me a few weeks ago.”
I lift a hand to silence Mother because I can’t follow two conversations at once. Beneath my sweaty tee shirt, a kernel of happiness has sprouted and sent tendrils of hope through my being . . .
An estate. That usually means dozens of boxes for the nearest thrift shop, but it could also mean money, even a house or property . . .
“Mr. Silva,” I turn slightly, escaping Mother’s curious gaze, “I never really knew my great-uncle. When you say estate, you mean . . .”
“His business, naturally,” the lawyer answers, “comprised of the house, the land, and all necessary equipment. The place has been closed ever since Ned had his stroke, but a caretaker has lived on the premises to keep the equipment in order. People have been taking their business to Eustis or Traveres, but it shouldn’t take much if you want to get the place running again.”
Dozens of images flash through my mind, pictures of cozy restaurants, quirky retail shops, perhaps a real estate office. I’m a natural organizer, so I could probably handle any of those things.
I’d like to crawl through the telephone line and kiss this lawyer.
“Wow.” I bite my lower lip and look at Mother. “What sort of business is it?”
The lawyer releases a short, embarrassed laugh. “I thought you knew.”
“Then it’s about time you became acquainted with your uncle’s legacy. Ned Norris served the Mt. Dora community for over fifty years; there’s scarcely a family in town he hasn’t helped at one time or another. Our mayor spoke at Ned’s funeral; said Ned was the kind of man you want by your side in your hour of need.”
For some reason, I suddenly envision a saintly-looking man at a desk with an adding machine. Could Uncle Ned have been a tax preparer?
“Please,” I say, realizing that something about my uncle’s career has made the lawyer uncomfortable, “if you could tell me the name of my uncle’s business--”
“Fairlawn,” Mr. Silva replies. “Your uncle has left you the Fairlawn Funeral Home.”
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Warning: This post is not for the denta-phobic. And it definitely may fall under the category of "More than you want to know," so if you want to believe that I write in a turret all day, better skip this entry.
Last week, on the advice of my dentist, I agreed to have two crowns put on. Why? Because I apparently grind my teeth in my sleep, and I have worn down my molars in the back. So all four lower molars have to be "crowned."
In any case, I went to the dentist, expecting it to be no big deal. Back in my orthodontics days, I had six teeth pulled, and don't remember that as being too awful. So anyway, last week I settle into the chair, accept the stuff on a stick that numbs my gums, and prepare for smooth coasting.
The dentist (whom I like a lot) comes in and taps my gums and teeth with something. "Do you feel that?" I shake my head. "Okay, we're good to go."
And so she begins to whitttle a pair of perfectly fine, if a little flat, molars down to nubs.
Well. All I can tell you is that I kept thinking of Sydney in that Alias pilot when the mad Chinese guy pulled out her tooth without anesthetic. And I know it's only a TV show, but I keep thinking that if Syd can sit through that and still urge the guy to "bring it on," I can sit here and get this tooth filed down.
But I begin to feel something, so I think of Sloane and the Needles of Pain.
And I begin to see little bits of tooth flying around, so I think of Marshall (love him!) drinking the epoxy.
And then I begin to feel more sensations, so I think of Vaughn (sigh) and the Inferno Protocol or whatever it was that was supposed to be soooo painful.
And at some point, I think I yelped. Actually, "yelped" is probably not the exact word, since my mouth was filled with cotton and fingers and drills and vacuums and what not. But it was enough to make the dentist pull back and look at me, her eyes wide above her surgical mask. "Did I hurt you?"
Duh. I didn't say anything of course--couldn't--but through sign language I make it clear that I WANT MY IPOD. So I plug it into my ears, thinking that all my favorite songs will drown out the drill and carry me away to a place where even Syd would feel no pain.
Well. Peter Cetera is not good for dentist's offices; he has no transporting power. Nichole Nordeman, on the other hand, is excellent. At one point I think I was in the Throne Room of heaven, at least until the odor of burning tooth wafted up and entered my nostrils. Bingo, I'm back in the chair. My hands look like they're directing a symphony, but there's a lot of clenching and unclenching. And I'm covered in a cold sweat.
I keep thinking Why? I have only one cavity in my entire mouth. I have only eight molars to my name. Why on earth am I doing this?
Because someone said I should. I'm such a sucker.
Well, enough dramatics. Suffice it to say that I now have Two Temporary Teeth and still have go to back and get two more nubs and that means more drills and fingers and vaccums and what not. Next time it's Nichole Nordeman all the way.
I tell you, it's enough to make a Baptist yearn for booze .
Monday, August 21, 2006
Charis Connection sponsored a contest for "flash fiction"--a short piece of 250 words or less. The winners will be posted Monday and Tuesday, so pop over and take a peek! http://charisconnection.blogspot.com.
Another question from my schoolwork:
Medical research has determined that many cells are capable of being altered so they can be converted to other types of cells. This offers the promise of curing many diseases and disorders. The controversy regarding this largely comes from the source of the cells. One option is to use mature cells (obtained from adults). This has no known negative impact on the donor, but it is unclear as to whether this approach can be used to develop every cell type needed. The alternative source is fetal stem cells. This approach is proposed as being more likely to be successful, although this is yet unproven. However this results in the destruction of the embryo. What is the biblical foundation for your position?
The relevant facts of the case are these:
· Many stem cells are “plastic,” i.e., they can grow to be a blood cell, a kidney cell, a brain cell, etc.
· Researchers believe that stem cells could be used to cure severe diseases in already-born patients.
· Stem cells are available for harvest in umbilical cord blood, mature patients, children’s baby teeth, and human fetal tissue. Stem cells are even plentiful in fat removed from adult patients.
· Removing stem cells from embryos results in the loss of preborn human life.
· The research regarding stem cells is in its infancy. We cannot be completely positive that these cells can cure Parkinsons, etc.
*In its most basic stage, human life--consisting of a fertilized egg--is human. Given time, it will grow to become a baby, then a child, then an adult. It is not potential life, it IS life, and it didn't begin, but was passed on from a living egg and a living sperm. To own, sell, or experiment on this life is tantamont to owning, selling, or experimenting on another human--all of which violate of the U.S. Constitution.
The conflicting issues are the rights of the already-born patients to possible cures versus the rights of the preborn patients. Also complicating the question are the rights of researchers to best carry out their experiments. Are we limiting them unreasonably?
Out of mercy and love, we ought to try to find cures for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Scientists and researchers have a moral responsibility to do what they can to improve human life and beat back disease. Embryonic human life, though preborn, is still created in the image of God and has a right to life. Psalm 139:13-16 tells us that God made all the delicate, inner parts of our bodies and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He watches over embryos as they are being formed and woven together. He has a plan for each of us before we are born . . . and he loves us.
In his common grace, God has already provided several sources of stem cells: adult bodies, liposuctioned fat, children’s lost baby teeth, and umbilical cord blood. Scientists have recently discovered a method by which already mature cells can turn back time and become “plastic” again: The key to the new development is a small molecule called reversine. The researchers found that it caused cells which are normally programmed to form muscles to turn back into immature cells whose final state is not sealed. Thus they could become many different types of tissue such as bone or cartilage. Researcher Dr Sheng Ding said: "This [type of approach] has the potential to make stem cell research more practical. "This will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells."
Another alternative is to remove all holds on such research, enabling researchers to create embryos on demand, further cheapening human life and creating babies for “spare parts.” Yet another alternative is to “write off” those who are suffering from genetic diseases.
Summary: It is clear that we owe protection to the weakest among us, from preborn babies to the sick and elderly. By upholding and protecting all forms and ages of human life, we can best preserve the right to life and liberty for all of us. If we protect the aged, weak, and preborn, we will be upholding the value of human life. This affirmation will benefit society, and should cause all people to think twice about having abortions, committing murder or suicide, or even despairing of life. If we are important and have value, then we are better equipped to see ourselves the way God sees us.
Stem cell research is important and could be of tremendous value for mankind, but we must do everything possible to prevent doctors and researchers from harvesting fetal tissue from embryos and destroying life. Scripture assures us that we are created in the image of God and he cares for us inside the womb.
Those who urge us to lift the restrictions on fetal cell research seem myopic in their approach when stem cells are available in so many other sources. Why are they insisting upon the right to take innocent life? It makes one wonder . . .
Sunday, August 20, 2006
One of the assignments in my doctoral classwork is to "counsel" in hypothetical situations after investigating the ethical issues in certain cases. Here's an example:
The question: A young couple has been working in your church as youth leaders. They would love to have a family of their own, but have not been able to conceive after several years of trying. Recently, a friend of theirs from work suggested going to a local fertility clinic to try artificial insemination. They have come to you for guidance. What would you advise?
The facts of the situation are as follows:
· The couple has been happily married and have not been able to conceive a child.
· They are (we assume) believers and want to honor God with their decision.
· They yearn for children and feel this yearning is a God-given desire.
· Artificial insemination is no longer an experimental procedure. It has been proven and tested for generations.
· Artificial insemination comes in several varieties: AIH, insemination by husband, and AID, insemination by donor.
· Artificial insemination outside the body (IVF) can result in the fertilization of several eggs, resulting in more than one living embryo.
· More than one living embryo may be implanted in the woman’s womb. One or more may not survive implantation. Or several may survive, requiring that one or more unborn babies be destroyed in order to preserve the mother’s health and the lives of the others.
The ethical issues involved are the rights of the parents to procreate and the right of an embryo to life.
The alternatives: the couple could choose adoption instead of exploring AI or IVF in any form. Many children wait now for parents, and adopting one of them could fulfill two sets of dreams with one action. Sacrifice would be involved—the parents’ dream of biological children, the experience of pregnancy, some months of babyhood—and challenges would be present. But God often uses and blesses adoption.
The couple could choose AIH, insemination by husband. This would maintain the sanctity of the marital bond and give the couple the biological child they want. If conception is to occur in vitro, they could stipulate that only one egg be removed and one embryo created. This limitation, however, would result in far greater trouble and expense for the family and the medical personnel.
The couple could choose AID, insemination by donor. This might violate the sanctity of the marital bond and could result in the father’s being “detached” from the resulting child. The mother could also feel “attached” in a way the father cannot understand. In effect, he would be adopting another man’s child borne by his wife.
The consequences are rife with the potential for problems. Adoption holds its own unique challenges, but the parents would be facing them equally since the child would not be biologically related to either of them. Furthermore, if they felt the clear leading of God in this direction, they could rest in the knowledge that God has brought them to this place in his sovereign will.
AIH offers far fewer problems than AID or adoption. The resulting child would be related to mother and father, so the method of conception becomes a moot point. If any form of in vitro fertilization is chosen, the experience, particularly if limited to one egg/one embryo at a time, may take longer and create financial hardship for the family.
AID, for reasons discussed above, could result in deep mixed feelings for mother and father: guilt for the mother because she is related to this child while the husband is not, and resentment on the part of the father because he is raising someone else’s son. If the child learns of that his father is not his biological parent, he might likewise feel unattached and even experience a sense of loss and yearning for his “missing piece.” Even if he is not told, he may notice that he is not much like his father and wonder about his origins . . . and even his mother’s fidelity.
My decision would be to counsel the family to prayerfully consider either adoption, AIH, or simply to wait. All three options present unique challenges, but by the time most couples reach this degree of desperation, they are willing to forge ahead and do what must be done. They must have a clear sense of God’s leading in a particular direction, or they will spend the rest of their lives wondering if they’ve done the wrong thing.
Heavy stuff, isn't it? (Note: I'm not sure that artificial insemination by donor would "violate the marriage bond," but the author of my textbook views it as a violation of the "be one flesh" mandate in Genesis 2. Personally, I haven't been able to reconcile that view to the idea of "raising up sons to one's brother" (Levirate marriage) that was practiced in the Old Testament.
~~Angie, certain that something like this will pop up in the WIP
P.S. Thanks, Lisa, for the clarification. You're right, so I edited. :-)
Saturday, August 19, 2006
My youngest, Bradley “Bugs” Graham, is playing in Mom’s flower bed when I pull into the driveway. I see him lift his head long enough to recognize the minivan, then he plops his fanny onto the front porch step, props his elbows on his blue-jeaned knees, and plants his round cheeks in his hands. Even at five, he knows that Little Boy Dejected pose is guaranteed to wring my heart.
Bugs doesn’t budge as I shut off the engine and step out of the van, though I do catch him shooting a curious glance in my direction. As I walk toward him, though, his gaze remains fixed on the brick step beneath his feet. Skeeter, our Jack Russell terrier, pops out from beneath a bush and scampers to greet me.
I pat the dog’s head, then look at my son. “Hey, kiddo.” My purse slides from my shoulder as I stoop to his level. “Got a hug for your mama?”
His blue eyes roll toward his coppery bangs, but he doesn’t move.
He nods, so intent upon maintaining his hands-on-cheeks that his elbows rise from his knees with each up-and-down motion.
I sink to the step, too. For a moment we sit together, two melancholy souls staring at the yawning emptiness of the sky. A pair of birds flies by—ducks or something—and I wonder if they’ve mated for life.
“The redheads are in there.” Bugs’s voice startles me from my reverie.
“You know—those ladies. They’re all actin’ silly.”
His meaning eludes me for an instant, then I remember—my mother is a charter member of the Fairfax chapter of the Red Hat Society, a group of over-fifty ladies who take a vow to have fun in their golden years. I’ve never actually witnessed a meeting, but I’ve seen Mom gussied up in her red hat and purple feather boa.
And she thought my teen years were bizarre.
Skeeter rushes off to chase a squirrel as I slip my arm around my son’s narrow shoulders. “Are the red hats in the living room?”
“Then we’ll go in through the kitchen, okay?”
Like cat burglars we sneak into the garage and creep down the narrow aisle between a wall of storage boxes and the side of my mother’s Buick. When we reach the door that leads to the kitchen, I turn and press my index finger to my lips. Bugs’s eyes are shining, and I’m so grateful for this evidence of happiness that my voice wavers: “Ready, Freddy?”
Exaggerating my movements, I open the door and slip into the kitchen in a crouched position. Bugs creeps behind me, tiptoeing in his sneakers, following in my footsteps. The dining room table, visible over the kitchen bar to our right, bears the remains of finger sandwiches, cookies, and congealed salads.
When I turn to check on Bugs, I see that my conspirator’s eyes have drifted toward the delectable detritus. “You hungry?”
He presses his lips together as his gaze lingers on a mound of sausage balls.
“Tell you what, kiddo—I’ll cover you if you want to sneak in there and grab a couple of goodies.”
I understand why he hesitates. Mother’s friends seem to think the good Lord dropped me and my kids at her house so she can enjoy unlimited time with her grandchildren and they can sneak hugs and kisses.
Bugs’s blue eyes focus on me. “I’ll be quick.”
“Okay, sport—make a run for it.”
He’s off with a squeak of his sneakers, but the laughing ladies in the room beyond don’t seem to hear this evidence of our trespassing. After a moment, my mother’s voice commands their attention: “Do you agree to handle growing more mature with humor and to take your silliness seriously?”
Someone giggles in answer.
“In the spirit of friendship and sisterhood, do you join your Red-Hatted sisters as we sassily go forth, bonded affectionately by the common thread of ‘been there, done that’ and with real enthusiasm for whatever comes next?”
A hushed voice: “I do.”
“Will you promise to learn to spit and not be afraid to sit on the sidewalk if you get tired?”
“Do you pledge to never, ever wear nylons with open-toed sandals?”
“Then place your right hand on your hat and repeat after me: I do light-heartedly swear on my hat to do my best to uphold the spirit of the Red Hat Society. This I pledge with a Red Hattitude . . .”
Alarmed that Bugs might have wandered into the initiation ceremony, I peek over the kitchen bar. My son’s pockets are bulging, presumably with sausage balls, and he’s heading for a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
“Bugs!” I whisper as loud as I dare. “You’d better hurry!”
He grabs a cookie, takes a bite, then stuffs the eclipsed remainder in his shirt pocket. He’s eyeing a bowl of red M&Ms when the relative calm of the living room erupts into a babble of voices.
I hiss a command to my offspring: “Move it, boy!”
Like the hero of every B movie ever made, Bugs reaches for one treasure too many. His fingers have just invaded the crystal candy bowl when the tide turns and the sea of Red Hatters swells toward the dining room. Mother’s voice rings above the bedlam—“Bugs Graham! You’ll spoil your appetite!”—then a crush of swirling compliments drowns out her reproach.
“What an adorable child!”
“Let the boy eat what he wants.”
“Oh, you sweet darling! Come over here and give me some sugar.”
I gesture to Bugs, but he’s caught in the riptide. One woman pinches his face while another bends and wraps her arms around him. My little eel squirms, though, so when the latter red hatter attempts to kiss his cheek, her lips smack his ear instead.
Too late, I realize that I am now exposed to Mother’s guests. I paste on a polite smile as the ladies approach with open arms and cries of welcome. “Jennifer, sweetheart, how are you doing?”
“Your little boy is such a delight. You also have a daughter, right?”
I extend my hand to Bugs, who has managed to thread his way through the milling Hatters. “No, ma’am, I have another son.”
“So sorry to hear about your trouble. But I know Queen Snippy loves having you here.”
I blink. “Who?”
“Her Royal Highness. Your mother.”
How could I forget? The Hatters bestow royal names on one another, and my mom rules this particular chapter with a red velvet glove.
“We’re enjoying the queen’s hospitality,” I say, addressing as many hatters as I can. “But if you all will excuse me, I think my little boy could use an appointment with the royal bathtub.”
I smile and nod and exchange polite greetings as I pull Bugs toward the hallway, and at one point I glimpse the queen smiling by the front door. Because she’s wearing her hostess face I doubt any of her guests know how hard these last few weeks have been . . . for all of us.
Mother loves me and my kids, but she’s not accustomed to having two young boys and a hyperactive terrier underfoot. And as grateful as I am for her support, I don’t want her to spend her slender retirement income on us. Neither do I want her to become a full-time babysitter.
“If you ladies will excuse me . . .” I tighten my grip on Bugs’s hand and pull him out of the kitchen.
When we enter the quiet hallway that leads to the bedrooms, he grins up at me. “We got busted!”
“And whose fault was that? You didn’t have to take some of everything on the table.” I sigh as some still-functioning part of my brain raises a mandatory maternal warning. “And you shouldn’t eat so many sweets before dinner. You’ll ruin your appetite.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will. And you need a bath.”
“Can’t I wait until after dinner?”
I lean against the wall and close my eyes. It’d be so easy to give in--seems like all I do these
days is surrender.
I look down at my son. “Okay, but you have to wash your hands before you eat those snacks. And you head into the tub first thing after dinner without arguing. Okay?”
Bugs scampers away and turns into the first doorway on the right—mother’s sewing room, now serving as a bedroom for Bugs and Clay. Since quiet reigns in this hallway, I know Clay is either shooting hoops at the park or out riding his bike. At thirteen, he’s smart enough to leave as soon as he spots a red hat.
I grip my purse and trudge toward mother’s guest room. The flowered, lace-trimmed bedspread isn’t my taste, nor is the floral art on the walls. Mom said I could hang some of my pieces, but as long as I don’t unpack our furnishings, I can believe this situation is only temporary.
I sink to the edge of the bed and kick off my shoes, then pull my purse toward me. The realtor’s check lies in the fold of my wallet, so I pull it out and stare at the number in the box: forty thousand dollars.
I can’t help feeling like a contestant on a game show. If offered the choice of a new car, the down payment on a small townhouse, or a year in a nice apartment complex, which should I choose? All three are decent prizes, but none of them comes with a guarantee.
A cackle creeps down the hall and slides beneath my closed door; one of the Red Hatters is giggling her way into the hallway bathroom. I close my eyes against the sound, then topple sideways onto my pillow.
I need a relaxing soak in the tub, but I don’t dare commandeer the bathroom until the last Red Hatter has gone. I need a good soak, a good cry, and a good night’s sleep because tomorrow I have to get up, get dressed, and go out to look for a job. Again.
Skeeter and the boys will stay here with Mom. Though she keeps insisting that she doesn’t mind watching them this summer, I know better. Clay is at that awkward age and Bugs’s constant questions would try the patience of a plow horse. Mom loves my little guys, but she hasn’t been a full-time mother since I left home more than twenty years ago.
My thoughts whirl as my mind relaxes into drowsiness. By the time I’m fifty, my boys will be sixteen and twenty-four. Old enough to have survived whatever trauma their father and I have inflicted upon them.
Maybe by then I’ll be able to put on a red hat and laugh again.
Still with me? ~~Angie
Friday, August 18, 2006
Thank you so much for your encouraging comments on yesterday's "first scene." I'll put up the next scene, probably tomorrow.
I should add that this book is women's fiction. Lately my books have fallen into three categories: historical (The Nativity Story, Magdalene), speculative fiction (Uncharted, The Elevator, Unspoken, The Novelist) and women's fiction (The Pearl, The Debt, and Fairlawn, the WIP).
So don't expect any talking gorillas or storms or uncharted territory (sorry about the pun). :-) This one is solid women's fiction that could happen to any of us, though, as usual, I promise to take you to a world that's not ordinary. In due time. :-)
And--notice, if you please, that the scene gives a lot of information without a smidgen of BACKSTORY (defined as something happens before the present story moment.) Nancy and I harp on this when we teach, and our students resist us. But our rule is NO BACKSTORY IN THE FIRST 30 PAGES, and I'm trying my best to follow it. (You'll find backstory if you look in my older books--I'm a recent convert to this rule, but now I'm absolutely religious about it.) You can give information, but you have to give it in present story time.
You might also notice that the heroine does not have red hair or green eyes . . . nor does the first sentence begin with the character's name. (VBG)
Okay, so the last thing you need is another addictive computer game. But for your Friday fun, you have to try this one:
P.S. BTW, what do you think of the cover image for THE ELEVATOR? It's still being tweaked.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I had to put FAIRLAWN aside to work on THE NATIVITY STORY, but now that the latter is turned in and edited, I'm back to work on the book.
The following is the first scene. What do you think? Does it draw you in and still raise a few questions in your mind--enough questions to keep you reading?
A grieving woman, I’ve decided, is like a crème brûlée: you begin in a
liquid state, endure a period of searing heat, and eventually develop a
By the time we sell the house I am pretty much crusted over, so I’m
honestly surprised when the real estate agent slides a check toward me and tears
blur my vision.
Ms. Nichols doesn’t seem to notice my streaming eyes. “That’s a tidy little
profit, even if it is only half of the proceeds,” she says, eyeing the bank
draft as if she can’t bear to let it slip away. “If you’re in the market for
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be renting for a while.” I lower my gaze lest she
read the rest of the story in my tight expression: This money is all we
Apparently oblivious to the rough edges in my voice, the realtor babbles
on. “Our agents also handle rental properties. If you’re interested, I have a
nice listing inside the Beltway--”
“Anything I could afford near the
District wouldn’t be big enough for me and my boys.”
Ms. Nichols frowns, probably wondering how a woman who’s just been handed
forty thousand dollars could be so miserly, then she shrugs. “I’m in the book if
you want to take a look. I’m here to serve.”
She stands and thrusts her hand into the space above the desk. “A pleasure
to work with you, Mrs. Graham.”
I stifle a grimace. Do I still have the right to be called Mrs.? The title
fits about as well as my wedding band, now two sizes too big and consigned to a
box at the bottom of my underwear drawer. Stress has whittled flesh from my
fingers and added years to my face. My boys haven’t noticed, but my mother
certainly has. Before we turn out the lights tonight, I can count on a lecture
ranging from “Why You Shouldn’t Have Married that Louse” to “What Will Become of My Poor Grandsons Without a Father to Play Ball With Them?”
I stand and accept the realtor’s outstretched hand. “If the new owners have
any questions, they can reach me at my mother’s house. We’ll be there until we
can find a place to rent.”
Ms. Nichols laughs. “Oh, we don’t encourage interaction with buyers after
the sale. If one of their pipes bursts next week, you don’t want to be around.
Walk away and don’t look back, that’s the best thing for everyone.
Easier said than done. I give the woman a stiff smile, then turn and leave
the office, trying to follow her advice. I’d love to walk into the future
without looking back, but how can anyone walk away from sixteen years of
marriage without feeling like an emotional amputee?
I reach the car and catch my reflection in the driver’s window. Why am I
feeling this urge to throw myself a pity party? I am far from helpless. I am a
twenty-first century woman and I’m holding a check for forty thousand dollars.
It’s not a fortune, but it’ll tide us over until I find a new job and a new
I meet my mirrored gaze and order up a mini-lecture in the same no-nonsense
vein I’d use with one of the boys: “Look forward, not back. You’ll find
someplace to live; you’ll find a job. Until you do, you can depend on Mom.”
Oh yeah, I’ve come a long way, baby--from chief of staff for a respected
U.S. Senator to a woman who goes around talking to her reflection.
Lifting my chin with a determination I don’t feel, I unlock the car and
slide into my aging minivan.
~~Angie, probably sitting in the dentist's chair while you read this . . .
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Since I work with language every day, I don't like gibberish, but I have to admit the following is funny. I inserted "Angela Hunt books" into the generator and came up with this:
The re-sizing factor can be summed up in one word: real-world. At Angela Hunt Books, we have come to know how to aggregate vertically. We have come to know that it is better to synthesize magnetically than to actualize intuitively. If you maximize holistically, you may have to actualize ultra-nano-micro-macro-strategically. Without niches, you will lack content. Our feature set is unparalleled, but our open-source integrated, dot-com obfuscation metrics and simple use is usually considered an amazing achievement. If all of this seems astounding to you, that's because it is!
What does the industry jargon "C2C2C" really mean? What do we e-enable? Anything and everything, regardless of anonymity! The re-purposing factor can be summed up in one word: infinitely reconfigurable. We apply the proverb "The early bird catches the worm" not only to our users but our aptitude to deploy. We pride ourselves not only on our user-centric feature set, but our newbie-proof administration and simple use. The metrics for data hygiene are more well-understood if they are not customer-defined.
Without well-planned models, metrics are forced to become killer. Angela Hunt Books is the industry leader of B2C web services. Without structuring, you will lack functionalities. Our feature set is unmatched in the industry, but our B2B2C user communities and easy configuration is frequently considered a remarkable achievement. The capacity to reinvent intuitively leads to the aptitude to empower virally. The channels factor is world-class, leading-edge. The metrics for development are more well-understood if they are not B2C2B. Think reconfigurable. Think client-focused. Think customized. But don't think all three at the same time.
Imagine a combination of Python and Apache. Without e-businesses, you will lack raw bandwidth. The ability to architect compellingly leads to the capacity to reintermediate magnetically.
We apply the proverb "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" not only to our web services but our capability to engage. Think magnetic. Quick: do you have a customized plan for handling new communities? A company that can implement fiercely will (at some point) be able to synthesize defiantly.
We have come to know that it is better to leverage vertically than to synergize intuitively. We here at Angela Hunt Books think we know that it is better to optimize perfectly than to exploit seamlessly. Imagine a combination of HTML and ActionScript. If you transition proactively, you may have to disintermediate virally. What does the industry jargon "out-of-the-box, distributed, cutting-edge, 60/24/7/365 research and development" really mean? We pride ourselves not only on our C2C2C feature set, but our simple administration and easy configuration. We realize that it is better to orchestrate seamlessly than to empower iteravely. The metrics for versioning are more well-understood if they are not end-to-end. Think macro-scalable. It seems astounding, but it's true! Think super-back-end. We have proven we know that it is better to unleash proactively than to visualize vertically.
I am personally grateful that no trees had to die to produce the above nonsense. :-) Have a lovely day!
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Acting on a recommendation from Robin Lee Hatcher, I Netflixed CONSPIRACY last weekend . . . and was blown away and sickened by the truth of this powerful film. Entertaining? Not in the least. True? Yes. Illustrative? Absolutely.
The movie is a reconstruction of an actual meeting that took place outside Berlin during WWII. The Nazis had begun to gather the Jewish people in ghettos and, because the war on the Russian front was not going quite as well as expected, they didn't want to have to feed and house so many "Israelites." So they spoke of "evacuation"--but the evacuation in this case meant "extermination." One by one, the men around the table came to grips with this change in language . . . and began to understand that while Hitler would never publicly state he was killing Jews, that is fully what he intended to do. Millions and millions, until the German race was ethically "pure" and Europe had "no more Jews."
The film was scripted from notes which were supposed to be destroyed, but weren't. The meeting was shrouded in secrecy, but the truth, as they say, will out.
This film is alternately repelling and fascinating . . . repelling because these men had absolutely no regard for the sanctity of human life (except their own), and fascinating because of the way they twisted language. I found it interesting to think of their arguments in terms of human abortion--they "evacuate" wombs, don't they? Those who defend the practice of abortion deny that babies are human just as the Germans denied personhood to Jewish people.
The SS officers spoke of wasting bullets on Jews . . . so poison gas was cheaper and more deceptive. They recognized that if they were to tell their soldiers to shoot men, women, and children, that morale would invariably suffer . . . so they designed death camps and gas "showers." Reminded me of something I once read in the book SHOAH--the soldiers on cleanup detail there weren't allowed to refer to the bodies as "corpses" or "bodies"--they had to call them (a coarser word for) dung.
The film is rated R for a few instances of raw language. But it is a fascinating look into the minds of these smiling, polished men who sold their souls for power. Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci are brilliant. Colin Firth is exceptional as a lawyer who keeps cautioning the others not to rush into this extermination, not because he loves the Jewish people, but because he loves the law. (Interesting juxtaposition: a man who loves the Law more than he loves people? Not so rare, after all.)
I highly recommend this film . . . but be warned, it is not entertaining. It is enlightening.
News flash: My friend Athol just sent me this link:
Check it out and you'll see that the prejudice against Israel continues.
Monday, August 14, 2006
My friend Terri Gillespie, whom I met in Philly several years ago, said that some friends of hers wanted to meet me. They attend her messianic synagogue, and I was delighted to meet Arlene and Judy. I expected the usual chit chat, but I wasn't expecting the Lord to bless my socks off.
Let me back up a bit. When I was in high school, I played in a hand bell choir. Our director, Jim Whitmire, arranged for us to play at a reform Jewish synagogue. "Israel and the Jews are still God's chosen people," he told us, "and God promises to bless anyone who blesses Israel."
And so we went off to play at the synagogue. That teaching stayed with me as the years went by, and later the Lord led me into an association with Pastor John Hagee. Through Pastor Hagee, my love for Israel was clarified and reinforced. I began to study Scriptures about God's future plan for Isra'el, and I realized that in his sovereign plan, we Gentiles are grafted into their tree. Anyone who tells you that God has finished with Isra'el, or that the church has replaced Isra'el, is not interpreting the canon of Scripture clearly.
Listen to this (as yet unfulfilled) prophecy from Zechariah: "Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died. The sorrow and mourning in Jerusalem on that day will be like the grievous mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddo. All Israel will weep in profound sorrow, each family by itself, with the husbands and wives in separate groups . . . (but) on that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and defilements. . . . And the Lord will be king over all the earth . . . And Jerusalem will be filled, safe at last, never again to be cursed and destroyed."
Paul referred to Isaiah 59:20-21 as a future promise.
God has a plan for Isra'el. Paul wrote "Yet the Jews are still his chosen people because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God's gifts and his call can never be withdrawn" (Romans 11:28-29).
In any case, over the years, God has led me to write a few books in which I could honor Isra'el by portraying characters as they really were. Jesus was not a brown-haired Greek, he was a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua. Mary, his mother, was named Miryam, and he grew up respecting and obeying the Law he came to fulfill.
Back to Saturday afternoon--I met these two dear women, who thanked me for my books, for portraying Yeshua as the Jewish teacher he was. And then I asked them how they came to receive their Messiah, and the stories they told . . . I can't do the stories justice, but it was clear to me that God has been working in their lives for years. He revealed himself so clearly, drew them to his side so steadily and tenderly, yet in his own time.
And my heart overflowed (not to mention my eyes!) with love and passion for reaching the same people Paul yearned to reach.
The world has been so filled with Christian anti-Semitism--yes, it has--that we must own up to the debt of love we owe. And that is the best way, I think, to reach those who are Jesus' physical brothers and sisters--we must love. And as I writer, I must be honest and true when I depict biblical characters who are Jewish. How can I do less?
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Anna Quindlen had an insightful column in the August 7th edition of Newsweek. She writes about solitude and explains that though she loves her family, she loves time alone. Here are some collected snippets:
"I like solitude. I can spend days happily alone, eating Raisin Bran for dinner on the porch instead of bothering with a starch, a stove, and a napkin. Eldest of five, mother of three, veteran of noisy newsrooms: it is any wonder that I like the sound of silence? It has a good beat, and you can dance to it."
"If you like to be by yourself, there's the assumption that you're antisocial, antifamily, a month away from becoming that old woman down the street with the weedy yard and the decrepit house, or the Unabomber. . . People covertly embrace faux solitude, the places in which they can be alone among others: the plane, the car, the pew."
"Lack of solitude is probably why most political figures are slightly deranged. Between the aides, the staff, and the Secret Service, the president is never, ever alone, and senators richochet from meeting to charity lunch to meeting to fund-raising dinner to yet another meeting. Every once in a while I have a day like that, and at the end of it I have not had a single coherent thought. It's like mosquitoes buzzing around your ears while you're trying to sleep. You can't dream through the din."
"I can be the life of the party when necessary, but sometimes I just need to hear myself think. After all, if we can't hear ourselves thinking, is any thinking truly going on?"
Angie here again: by the time this is posted, I'll have spent four days surrounded by writers-in-training at the Philadelphia Writers' Conference. I love being able to teach--and I love being able to give back. But I'll be honest--by the time I get back home, I'll be ready to talk about ANYTHING but writing.
I love solitude. I have a mountain of books to read, my computer can record all those great movies that run in the dead of night, and there is always something to be done around the house. I could happily live by myself (with a dog) in the middle of nowhere, with only short runs into town to assure myself that I'm Fit for Human Company. Through the magic of the Internet, my friends are a few keystrokes away.
But God has also called me (and you) to live and worship in family and community. And this is a good thing, because it is in rubbing up against others that we wear off our own rough edges. :-) It's in family and communal living that we shake the egoism out of solitude and learn that we're NOT the center of the universe.
Anna has a wonderful point about needing silence to think--amen! Silence is a spiritual discipline that we forget to practice in the hustle and bustle of life. Because we're not listening, I wonder how many times we don't hear God speak?
Take some time to practice silence today--it may be harder than you think. Get alone, get quiet, and . . . listen. What do you hear?
Friday, August 11, 2006
Charley Gansky has a new toy. :-) And he's smiling about it.
Know you're going to be a slump around three o'clock and could use an affirming phone call? Know you're going to be at a boring party at nine and you really need someone to call and tell you to come home?
Click on the link below and arrange for the phone call you need! It's hilarious! Caveat: do not think we are encouraging you to lie. About anything. Me, I prefer the affirming phone call, even if it's from a computer. :-)
Thursday, August 10, 2006
C.J. Darlington sent me the following link: http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/yankeetest.html.
I rated 49 percent, "Barely in Yankeedom," which is surprising, since I live in Florida and am SURROUNDED by Yankees . . . and married to one.
So--do you speech patterns give you away? (Where's Professor Higgins when we need him?)
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
(Written on August 3rd because today--Wednesday--I'm flying to Philly for the Philadelphia Writer's Conference).
This morning, as I watched Alias, season four, on the treadmill, SpyDaddy said something to Syd that went like this: “Sometimes a comforting lie is better than the awful truth.”
And immediately my mind went back to our discussion of ethics. Was he right? My gut instinctively says no, and I thought of all the people in Scripture who lied (Rahab, the Egyptian midwives, etc) and who were apparently blessed.
Then I thought of David, the “man after God’s own heart.” We know God loved him and blessed him, but David committed murder and adultery, and there’s no way that God could want us to emulate that behavior.
Accidental Poet asked if the example of the three ways to handle a question like “Have you hidden Jews in your house?” (posed by Nazis in WWII) was a case of situational ethics. If you missed my response (given in the comments), I said that situational ethics is relativism—when values change according to the situation. Situational ethics, or relativism, would say that lying is right in one situation, and wrong in another.
Sadly, too many Americans live by this credo—it’s okay to tell your employer you’re sick when you want to go to the beach, but wrong to lie to the IRS. Or, depending upon your feelings about the government, maybe you think it’s right to lie to the IRS and wrong to lie to your spouse. Or, depending upon your spouse, you think it’s right to lie to your spouse and wrong to lie to your kids . . . you get the picture. We live in a country of shifting stand.
In our example about the Nazis, where I gave three biblical examples, lying was wrong in each case. In the first case, it was wrong so you wouldn’t do it. “Yes, I have hidden Jews in the basement,” you would say, and then you would have faith in the sovereignty of God.
But God knows our frame, that we are weak, and so there’s option B: “No, I haven’t hidden Jews,” you’d say, then you’d close the door and ask God to forgive you of the lie. You’d have been choosing the lesser of two evils.
Or, option C, you choose the greater good: “No, I haven’t hidden Jews,” you’d say, counting it better to save their lives than to keep your conscience clear. (And you’d have to ask forgiveness for the lie, anyway).
I think we’d all have to agree that option A is best. In my book THE TRUTH TELLER, Lara Godfrey and her son are being pursued by an evil genius, so for five years she lives under an assumed name and establishes false accounts, false identities, everything. But she realizes that this is not a godly life, so she tells the truth . . . and pays a price for it. But God is faithful, though she does go through a LOT of grief for her decision.
Once I read a book by the late Grady Nutt. He proposed that Peter was like Barney Fife and Jesus was like Andy Taylor. He said that on the night Peter denied Christ, maybe we are wrong judge him quickly—after all, if you look carefully, Peter denied at the gate, then at the courtyard, then by the fire. Peter didn’t run away. He was sneaking in, maybe playing “Barney” or “Spy Disciple” and trying to figure out what was going on with Jesus. And maybe he was so crushed when Jesus saw him and the cock crowed because he didn’t have a chance to explain why he was cursing and skulking about.
Ah . . . I think here we may have an example of ethics examples B or C. Peter was lying, maintaining a deceptive cover, perhaps for a noble (in his estimation) purpose. But the end result was the same—he was crushed. No matter what his motivation, Peter realized that 1) Jesus had known what he was going to do and 2) Jesus was disappointed in Peter’s actions.
“The truth shall set you free,” Jesus said, and it’s so true. Once we start lying, we begin to live lives that are false . . . and we ultimately injure those around us. And sometimes, perhaps, it is better to remain silent about the family skeletons than to tell all and unburden ourselves.
SpyDaddy got it wrong. A comforting lie isn’t better than the awful truth. And Sydney soon discovers this for herself.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
This is an old movie--so old that its star, Robert Duvall, had hair in it. But it's one of the most moving movies I have ever seen, and I've seen it more than three times. It's a simple story, but it's one of the most moving depictions of love. The protagonist, Jackson Fentry, doesn't say much, but he loves deeply and truly.
The screenplay is by Horton Foote (TENDER MERCIES), and it's wonderful. Don't be put off by the apparently slow pace and the black and white film . . . it's worth every minute.
I'll warn you, though--keep the tissues handy. And especially if you are a foster or adoptive parent, be prepared to have your emotions stirred with an industrial mixer.
Tomorrow. Netflix or rent it today.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Accidental Poet asked: To what extent is the novel autobiographical, specifically with regards to the writer in the novel being challenged to write something different?
LOL. No one has ever challenged me to write something different. I think most editors would like to challenge me to write something the same--i.e., to find a niche and stay in it. So that part is completely fictional. Jordan Casey wrote in only one genre, and when you're that successful, it's easy to get pigeon-holed.
Betsy asked: Do you feel compassion for those who struggle with gambling or depression as a result of writing the Novelist? (P.S. Not that you aren't compassionate already :)
Let me turn the question around a moment. If YOU were to write a story about a child molester, would you feel compassion for this character? Most people would struggle to portray that character with any compassion because they don't struggle with pedophilia.
I don't struggle with gambling or depression because I've never gambled and I'm rarely depressed. But I have struggled with overeating, self-discipline, and children who seem bent on going their own way. So what I have to do is take the compassion I would feel for people in those situations and transfer it to things for which I have little natural empathy.
I think this is why God sometimes leads us through the valley. We need to develop empathy by touching the face of Grief. He wears a different face for each of us, depending upon our situation, but we still know him. And in knowing him personally, we are able to sit quietly and comfort others who find themselves in his company. Sometimes we only have to testify to the fact that God is there, too.
If that's all the questions, thanks very much for coming along on another BOM!
Sunday, August 06, 2006
"Everyone says this book is so good but I struggled and struggled and finally gave up. Maybe I missed a great ending but I'll never know. I though the whole story was a bit weird!"
The reviewers I respect the most, however, (PW and Library Journal), had this to say:
From Publishers Weekly:
In a novel her publisher is touting as "a glimpse into her own life," Hunt,
a grandmother and prolific writer (more than 70 books), pens a novel about a
prolific writer and grandmother. Jordan Casey is the pen name for Jordan Casey
Kerrigan, grandmother and author of a bestselling adventure series. She agrees
to teach a college night class on writing fiction and is challenged by an
irksome student to ditch her formulaic approach and try writing something from
the heart. Stung by the criticism, Kerrigan turns down a lucrative contract for
another adventure novel and writes an allegory of paradise, sin, the fall and
redemption as played out in an otherworldly casino. As she writes, her desire to
change her 21-year-old son Zachary's chaotic life as a suicidal addict becomes
an impetus for a story she wants to communicate about life, loss and second
chances (told alongside mother and son's actual plight). God, she believes, is
the ultimate writer, complete with an outline for one's life story—yet even the
characters in the hands of a novelist have choices. Jordan's reality and fiction
alternate and finally converge as Hunt spins her tale, with flashbacks to
Zachary's innocent childhood that are guaranteed to wring tears from even the
hardest-hearted reader. Although Hunt is known for her competency, this novel
also shows poignancy and imagination. (Jan.) Copyright © Reed Business
Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
I have also received letters from readers like this one:
And kudos to you for using bipolar disorder as a trait for one of your characters. As one who has suffered with the disorder my entire life (40+), yours is the first novel (The Novelist) that I have ever read that uses bipolar as a trait rather than the central theme of the story. Zack could have easily suffered from any other type of disorder or addiction, yet you portrayed him as bipolar. Thus, you have helped to "break the silence" regarding an illness that is so often misunderstood. Many thanks and blessings.
And this one:
Yesterday my husband was so depressed...we've been going through a very tough time the last few months and yesterday was one of the harder days we've tackled. I quoted to him "I know the plans I have for you....good and not evil...future and a hope" and "In our weakness, He is strong" and how he needs to give himself credit for being stronger than he thinks he is...and how God knows his strength and won't give him more than he can bear but I believe it's more than he thinks....etc etc. Anyway, last night as I was reading the last few chapters of the Novelist, you QUOTE back to me...almost exactly everything I told Joe...even the same scriptures! I, of course, read it aloud to Joe. It's neat how God goes out of His way to confirm things to us...and neat how God uses your writing again and again.
So even though THE NOVELIST is not everyone's cup of tea, I am glad the Lord led me to write it as he did. Like so many things in life, it wasn't easy . . . but it was worth it.
Tomorow: your questions and answers. You can post them below. ~~Angie
Saturday, August 05, 2006
As I recall, I handed in the manuscript for The Novelist on October 1st. Then I settled back for a few months to do odds and ends types of things . . . and then our family began to go through some very rough stuff. I'd say it was some of the roughest stuff a family can go through, but I've discovered there's always someone who's had it rougher.
In any case, we went through Christmas, and in January, I heard from my editor--two of them, in fact. They told me that the manuscript I'd handed in was unpublishable.
I had never heard that in all my years of novel writing. Not once. My editors, in agreement, said I could either shelve it and start from scratch, or do a major reworking. The problems? The first was that Jordan Casey, the male novelist, was too perfect. He had no problems, no conflict, and, as TBS regularly informs us, Drama is Conflict.
"But he's God," I moaned to myself. Apparently God does not a good protagonist make.
So, after licking my wounds for a couple of days, I threw out the male Jordan Casey and created a woman much like myself--except that Jordan Casey Kerrigan is older, wiser, much wealthier, and much more successful. (She's also a better writer. And probably better looking.)
And because I only had one story to tell--the story of what my family had just endured--I slit a vein and let it all pour out. Now--I'll have you know that the boy in the story, Zack, is not my son and his problems are not ours. But the things that Jordan feels--I've felt all of those feelings. (And, for the record, I am NOT a grandmother. Yet.) I happen to have a close friend who's dealt with a bi-polar son, so I used her experiences to flesh out Zack's story.
And so I began rewriting. I had to trim the allegory story, change Adam (too obvious) to William, and create an entirely new "outer story" for Jordan and her family. I set her in Reno, NV, so I had to research Reno and its environs. The emotional research, I had a handle on.
And so I rewrote it. And my patient editors guided me through the process, and when it was all finished, I rose up and called them blessed. THE NOVELIST is different from anything I've ever done, but it's honest, it's bold, I think, and the emotions in it are gut-wrenchingly true.
And my excellent editors were absolutely right.
Tomorrow: the results and reader reaction
Friday, August 04, 2006
I set out to write two story lines: the allegory story of Adam in his fictional, surreal world, plus the story of the very wealthy, very successful novelist, Jordan Casey. Since Jordan was supposed to represent God, I gave him a nice house, a nice life, a comfortable existence. After all, he was representing God, so he needed to be at peace.
Adam, on the other hand, had to be shaped, created, reasoned through. I had to give him a language, an existence, a vocabulary. His world was not "earth," so, because it was surreal, I had to come up with rules for his world (which is why I don't write science fiction.)
I wrote everything, polished, polished again, and submitted the manuscript before the deadline date. Everything had gone smoothly.
Like the calm before a storm.
Tomorrow: the editing
Thursday, August 03, 2006
This morning I was privileged to share a half hour on Family Net Radio with my pal Randy Singer. (If you haven’t read Randy’s novels, you’re missing a real treat!) You can hear us chat about the importance of Christian fiction after 12:00 p.m. today at this link: http://www.familynetradio.com/mornings/guest.asp?id=487 We chatted about The Nativity Story, Uncharted, The Cross-Examination of Oliver Finney (Randy's book) and the importance of Christian fiction.
Randy will be having a regular time slot on Thursday mornings, 8:30 a.m. EST to talk about Christian fiction, so tune in whenever you can!
~~Angie, who loves radio because she can do an interview in her jammies
Because THE NOVELIST would be dealing with theological issues, I spent a lot of time studying the problem of evil. Not everyone will agree with my conclusions--in fact, if you look in my "reader mailbag" on my web page, you'll see that I was unconsciously addresssing this even in THE PEARL, and at least one reader took exception to my conclusion.
I also had to research casinos and slot machines, and that research was fascinating. Did you know that games are designed to take your money? The designers of slot machines are always coming up with new ways to make you think you've *almost* won, so you'll insert another coin or another token and try again. There's a psychology to the placement of games on the game room floor, too.
Anyway, I was fascinated by this study and read several books on slots. Theology and slots--what a combination! But those were my two chief areas of research.
Tomorrow: the writing
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The germination of THE NOVELIST was more involved than most. It began with my theology study. I was studying the concept of God's sovereignty--something I'd always accepted (to a point) but never fully understood. I was reading Wayne Grudem's book on theology and he posed the question: "In the play MacBeth, who killed King Duncan?"
Well . . . if memory serves, it was Lady MacBeth and MacBeth, right? True, but could we not also say that Shakespeare killed MacBeth? After all, he wrote the play in which the characters committed their murderous acts.
The idea of God as playwright intrigued me. Grudem goes on to explain: "It would not be correct to say that because Macbeth killed Duncan, William Shakespeare did not kill him. Nor would it be correct to say that because William Shakespeare killed King Duncan, Macbeth did not kill him. Both are true. . . . In similar fashion, we can understand that God fully causes things in one way (as Creator) and we fully cause things in another way (as creatures.)
I found in this the answer to several Scriptures that seem to indicate that God can cause evil events. Here's Grudem again: "But we must remember that in all these passages it is very clear that Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil, but rather as bringing about evil deeds through the willing actions of moral creatures. Moreover, Scripture never blames God for evil or shows God as taking pleasure in evil." (Systematic theology, pps. 322-323).
So . . . as I was mulling on this VERY deep topic of evil and God's relationship to it, I thought it might be fun to try an allegory that would attempt to explain why God put a forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden in the first place. So I wrote a story about a successful male novelist (who represented God), and concentrated most of my efforts on the allegory: a character named Adam who lived in a town called Paradise and worked at a game room. But there was one room declared off limits to everyone, and Adam eventually enters the room . . .
And that's how the story started. From a theology study.
Tomorrow: the research
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
By request, this month's BOM is THE NOVELIST, which released in January of this year.
Synopsis: From the author who taught you to expect the unexpected...an intriguing tale about families, fiction, and what to do when life veers wildly off script.
It begins...when a smug college student challenges a best-selling novelist to write something "more personal." It begins...when a mother finds her troubled son slumped unconscious outside her house. It begins...when fiction and reality blur, and the novelist finds herself caught somewhere in the middle of it all. Where does it end? That all depends on who is telling the story...
I've discovered that people either love THE NOVELIST or hate it. Depends upon whether or not they "get" allegory. But I'll explain the hows and whys and results in the next few days.
Thanks for coming along on another BOM journey!