Saturday, March 31, 2007


An article in last Sunday's paper convicted me. According to an article from the New York Times, many research reports "provide evidence of the limits of multitasking. The findings, say neuroscientists, psychologists, and management professors, suggest that many people would be wise to curb their multitasking behavior when working in an office, studying, or driving a car."

Well, duh. Didn't we all know that?

The experts say we should check email only once an hour (I have mine set to check every five minutes), listening to soothing background (not music with lyrics), and don't watch TV.

They go on with a lot of fiddle faddle about neurons and the limitations of the human brain, but there's nothing new here. Didn't your mother always tell you to turn off the TV while you were doing your homework? Isn't that what you tell your kids?

Yet we don't practice what we preach. In another study, a group of workers at Microsoft took an average of 15 minutes to return to their tasks after stopping to respond to incoming email. They strayed off to reply to other messages or to browse web sites.

Well, of course they did.

Hmm. Now that I'm looking at a rapidly-approaching deadline, maybe I will adjust my email collection to every hour. Or just steel myself not to look at it except at preassigned times.

Easier said than done.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Techology got you frustrated? Try this!

My friend Jimbo sent me the following link. Seriously, I do NOT suggest that you try this at home. The idea is tempting, though . . . .

For those of you who get frustrated with your technology, may I
recommend the following product?

I am REALLY impressed with that blender.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Off to Mt. Hermon

If it's Thursday, I'm off to teach the fiction track at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer's Conference. I'm excited about attending because this is the granddaddy of all Christian Writer's Conferences and it's my first time to teach (or attend) here. My pal Nancy Rue says she went to the conference as a student a long time ago, and it's where she really learned how the business works.

In any case, I'll be flying to San Jose, trying to work on the plane, and looking for the redwoods. The camp is in the middle of a redwood forest, and I've never seen the redwood trees. Can't wait.

And--can you think of any songs about dogs? I have "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog" and "How Much is that Doggie in the Window," but I keep wondering if I'm missing something obvious.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Special Radio Tribute to Jane Orcutt

My pal and fellow novelist Randy Singer dedicated his weekly radio show to Jane Orcutt today. Randy invited Sandra Byrd, Randy Alcorn, and yours truly to go on the show and talk about Jane, Christian fiction, and heaven.

You can listen to the show at this link: .

Click on the link under 3/28/07 for interviews with "Randy Singer" and "Randy Alcorn."


Light-fingered and Light-Footed

You may remember that the other day I was moaning about the stink in my house. I finally figured out that it had to be a rat in the attic--a dead rat, that is. And since the stink was coming from the joists between the first and second floors, there wasn't much I could do about it.

Today, though, I was reading in the paper about a man in Waterville, Maine. Seems he has a mouse in his house, and the mouse keeps getting the better of him. Bill Exner has caught this mouse three times, but the mouse keeps escaping. And the last time, the mouse got even--he stole Bill's teeth.

Bill's lower dentures disappeared from his nightstand one night, and he just KNEW the mouse took the things. So they scoured the bedroom and found a tiny mouse house--a hole in the wall. Their daughter's boyfriend came over with a crowbar. They lifted up the baseboard, sawed a hole in the wall, and pretty much destroyed the mouse house--and their bedroom, I would imagine--and sure enough, they found Bill's teeth in the rodent rent-free district.

So--now Bill has his teeth back (sterilized, of course), and occasionally they see the mouse. It comes out to stare at Bill . . . probably coveting those teeth.

You could chew through a lot of walls with man-sized molars.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Good news for Sudoku Lovers

Okay, I've tried to work sudoku puzzles. I keep saying that I don't like them because I'm not a whiz at math, and people keep pointing out that there's really no math involved.

Still . . . what can I say? The game leaves me cold, but I know that millions of people LOVE it. Okay. I can't do the ennegram (or whatever they call that thing in the paper) either, but I like crossword puzzles.

I suppose my brain is just more wired for words than numbers.

Anyway, if YOU like sudoku, you're in luck. Nikoli, the company that invented Sudoku, is coming out with at least 250 more puzzles.

No one can deny that sudoku has taken the world by storm. It has been carried, at one time or another, in more than 600 papers in 66 countries. It has been the topic of more than 200 books that have sold 20 million copies worldwide.

So . . . be on the lookout for more Nikoli puzzles. If you like numbers, you'll soon be in puzzle heaven! Me, I'll stick with the crosswords . . .


Monday, March 26, 2007

Community Columnist

Another of my newspaper columns has appeared in The Tampa Tribune. Here's a link if you'd like to read it online: .

It'll be interesting to see reactions in the paper. If you pop over to read it, be sure to let me know what you think.

Oh--and if you won a copy of THE ELEVATOR last week, you will let me know what you think, right? Please? You're the first official readers!


Sunday, March 25, 2007

For Sunday: Take a Bible Quiz

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

HT to Megan DiMaria for this quiz!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Color Me Cynical, but . . .

You probably heard or read this week about Michael A., the twelve-year-old boy who was lost in the North Carolina woods for three days. A rescue dog found him--hurray for the rescue dog! And PEOPLE magazine just reported that "his scout training really helped him" (or so says assistant fire chief Joe Ware).

Now--I'm delighted they found the boy. Honestly. I'm proud of the dog, Gandalf, and his trainer, Misha Marshall.

But I also know kids, having been married to a middle school youth pastor for 26 years. And something about this story just grates on me.

Here are various facts I've heard over the week (which may or may not be true, but they were reported in the media):

**Michael didn't want to go on the boy scout camping trip. Dad said he'd give him five bucks if he came home and didn't like the trip.
**All the boys get up one morning and take a hike. Michael wants to sleep late and won't get up. So they leave an adult at the camp with him.
**All the boys come back and eat lunch. Michael eats with the boys, then he disappears.
**Reportedly, Michael thought he'd hike out to a road and hitchhike home. But he got lost.
**How lost? He was found a half-mile from his troop's camp. He asks for a helicopter ride, but doesn't get one. Now he's worried about makeup schoolwork and wanting to know if anyone got him on TiVo.

What's wrong with this picture? I'm glad the boy is safe; I'm glad he's home. I'm grateful for all those people who prayed and worried and worked hard to find him.

But please tell me someone is going to sit this kid down and tell him to FOLLOW THE RULES. If your troop goes on a hike, you get up and go, too. Don't go into the woods alone, don't go off without telling anyone, and DO apologize to all those folks who worried themselves silly over you.

I've seen kids come to activities with their minds made up to have a lousy time. They hang back, they don't participate, and sure enough, they have a lousy time. But they have no one to blame but themselves.

I just hope this kid learns a lesson . . . and that the lesson is not Break the Rules and Become a TV Celebrity!

Sorry to sound like such a curmudgeon. But honestly!


Friday, March 23, 2007

This and that

Not too much happening here except work, work, work.

I did stop at 8:30 p.m. tonight (writing this on Thursday) to watch a movie: THE GREAT RAID. It's the true story of how a group of Army Rangers raided a POW camp in the Philippines just before the Japanese Army was about to kill all the prisoners. An amazing story, and augmented with actual footage. (BJ--you'd like this one.)

There are some violent scenes, so consider yourself warned, and once again I found myself simply flabbergasted at man's capacity for evil. But there are also many moments of (true) heroism and bravery and courage.

Learned yesterday that The Novelist is now out in a large print edition; UNCHARTED is now out in paperback, and THE NOTE is now out in mass market (that's the "pocket" size you usually find in grocery stores, etc.) I also received copies of The Novelist in a foreign language--Dutch, I think. When it rains . . .

I wish I were more interesting. :-) But now I need to herd my dogs to bed and head there myself.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jane Orcutt Obituary

Jane Orcutt, 47, an award-winning novelist, died peacefully Sunday morning, March 18, 2007, after battling acute myeloid leukemia since late last year.

Memorial service: Jane's life will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at Arborlawn United Methodist Church, 5001 Briarhaven Road, Fort Worth.

Memorials: Leukemia Society of North Texas, 8111 LBJ Freeway Suite 425, Dallas, Texas 75251.

Jane was born Jan. 25, 1960, in Fort Worth, the daughter of Ben and Doris Hooks. A UT grad, Jane had a broad range of writing and editing skills and was particularly talented at breathing life into historical time periods. She loved to write about Texas and brought a fresh view of the bluebonnet state to her readers worldwide. Jane was a devoted child of God, having authored several Christian novels, including "The Living Stone" and "Lullaby" and "All The Tea in China," which will be published posthumously this forthcoming June. In addition to her own writing work, Jane mentored young writers. Jane was also a Texas Rangers fan.

In 1982, she married Bill Orcutt. They had two sons, Colin and Sam. One of the most important pride and joys in Jane's life was homeschooling her boys for many years. She was dedicated to helping them explore their interests and intellect while allowing them to grow into individual men of their own account.

Jane was a loyal and loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, a witty and sought-after friend, and a tender pet owner. Most of all, Jane was a follower and lover of Jesus Christ. She rests safely in His arms now.

The family wishes to thank everyone at Harris seventh-floor oncology and Dr. Assad Dean and Baylor Hospital's Roberts Tower sixth floor and Collins Building fourth floor and special thanks to Dr. Berryman and Dr. Vance for their care and support. All of you are truly gifted at what you do. The family would also like to express appreciation for everyone at PPC for their thoughtfulness and caring deeds.

Survivors: Husband, Bill Orcutt of Fort Worth; sons, Colin Orcutt and Samuel Orcutt; her parents, Ben and Doris Hooks; sisters, Carol Thomson and husband, Bill, and Kay Wiesmann and husband, Dean; nieces, Rachel, Jenny, Dayna and Kelly; and uncle and aunt, Jim and Sue Hooks; and uncle, Paul Cole and his family.

Published in the Star-Telegram on 3/21/2007.

To sign the guestbook: Click here

I find it very odd to be working on books about a woman at a funeral home while I am mourning Jane.

I miss my friend very much. I remember comforting her--and she me--when we lost our beloved dogs. I remember agonizing over the finer points of how to say something in a novel. I remember laughing with her over Seinfeld.

Jane never got around to setting up a web page, but some of her friends are going to do a site for her very soon. As she watches her work continue, I know she'll be pleased that she can honor her Lord on earth even while she's worshipping at his feet.

If you haven't already done so, go to and order her book, ALL THE TEA IN CHINA. I promise you'll love it.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back to work . . .

I've been so busy working that I haven't had much time to write blog posts . . . so, for those who were creeped out by the embalming scene, here's another scene from the firstbook. No embalming, I promise. :-)

And today I was asked how much of my stories come from real life. This scene springs from a time when my three older cousins told me there was someone bad in the house watching from a window. I don't remember many details, except that they really scared me!

Set up: Bugs and Clay, Jen's children, have just moved into the funeral home and are getting to know the neighborhood. Photo? My idea of what Bugs looks like. :-)

* * *

Now that the park swing has slowed, Bugs slides off the seat. He wants to land on his feet like Clay always does, but he loses his balance and topples forward, his hands smacking the soft, black sand.
Ouch. Even the dirt in this place is hot.
He glances at the basketball court to make sure Clay didn’t see him fall. His brother’s head is still bent over the ball he keeps bouncing, slamming it with one hand and then the other. There’s no shade over the basketball court, so Clay’s dark T-shirt is wet with sweat.
Skeeter prances at Bugs’s side, eager to move on. The dog has already checked out the dock, the picnic tables, and a couple of trash cans near the water. “In a minute, boy. We have to wait on Clay.”
Bugs wipes his hands on his shorts and watches as his brother bends his knees and launches the ball toward the hoop. It hits the backboard, rolls around the rim, and falls to the side. No good.
Clay goes after the ball, then catches it and stops dribbling. Bugs wipes a trickle of sweat from his forehead and stares as a boy comes through the break in the chain-link fence—a big boy, probably old enough to drive.
No wonder Clay stopped dribbling.
“Hey.” The kid nods at Clay and bounces his own basketball on the asphalt. “Wanna shoot?”
Bugs bites his lip as his brother rolls his ball from one hip to the other. “I was just about to leave.”
The kid shoots from the middle of the court and grins as the ball swishes through the net.
“You must be one of the kids from Fairlawn,” the boy says, waiting while Clay catches the bouncing ball. “My mom told me about you guys.”
Bugs walks forward as Clay slaps the big kid’s ball across the court.
The kid catches it and rests it on his hip as he grins at Bugs. “Hey, little dude.” He glances at Clay. “You know this one?”
Clay nods. “That’s Bugs.”
“For real?” The kid’s grin widens. “Hey, Bugs, I’m Brett. I think we’re neighbors.”
Bugs wipes his hands on his shorts again, not sure what he’s supposed to do next. Maybe he’s just supposed to stand around and watch.
Brett jerks his chin at Skeeter, who is circling the players on the court. “That your dog?”
Clay shrugs. “He’s ours. But mostly he hangs out with Bugs.”
“Better keep an eye on him. There’s folks around here who’ll feed poison to a strange dog.”
Bugs calls Skeeter to his side as Brett dribbles the ball a couple of times, sends it through his legs, and spins around to catch it. The kid is smooth. Like a milk shake.
“So,” Brett says, holding the ball again. He looks at Clay. “How d’ya like living at the dead shed?”
Clay shoots a worried glance at Bugs. “’Sokay.”
“Did ya hear any ghosts last night? Anything bumping around in the tomb room?”
Bugs looks at Clay, but his brother’s face has gone blank.
“It’s just an old house,” Clay finally says. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“You must be hanging out in the wrong part of the house.” Brett bounces the ball again and winks at Clay. “I hear that old man Huffman keeps heads sitting on a table in the room where he empties out all the blood and stuff. There’s a window you can peek through, if you’ve got the guts. You can actually see ’em.”
Dead heads? Bugs waves at his brother, but Clay doesn’t notice. He’s grinning at the older kid as if this is all some kind of joke.
“Oh yeah?” Clay bounces his ball, too, just like Brett, then catches it with one hand and hugs it to his hip. “I think I’d like to see that. The heads, I mean.”
Brett’s grin widens. “Come on, then., I’ll show ya exactly where they are. But we gotta be quiet. Mr. Huffman doesn’t like people hanging around the evisceration station.”
Bugs doesn’t know what Brett means, but the place he’s talking about sounds bad. Really bad.
“Clay?” Bugs hurries after his brother, who is already following Brett toward the gate. “Clay, what’s a tomb room?”
His brother doesn’t answer, but catches up to Brett. They are whispering to each other, laughing, and taking such big steps Bugs can barely keep up.
He follows the older boys through the narrow stand of trees, but stops in the shadows when Brett leans against a pine and points to the back of the pink house. Bugs sees a garage, a sidewalk, and a small porch.
“See that door?” Brett says, pointing to a door Bugs has never noticed before. “That’s where they bring in the dead people.”
“That’s not true.” Bugs lifts his chin. “There aren’t any dead people in our house. Mom would have said something.”
“She wouldn’t tell you, squirt. People always hide stuff like that from kids.” Brett jerks his chin toward the corner of the house. “You can find out about the dead heads for yourself. See that little window next to the porch?”
Bugs creeps forward and peers through a stand of bushes. The window is set high on the wall, but there’s some kind of metal box beneath it.
“Your brother and I are tall enough to look through the window,” Brett says. “We could give you a boost so you could see inside . . . but I don’t know. Maybe you’re not old enough to handle it.”
Bugs looks from Clay to Brett and sees them exchange a glance.
Clay shakes his head. “I don’t think Bugs ought to look. But I’m good. Let’s go.”
“Okay. But be quiet.”
Clay and Brett hunch their shoulders and run forward in a crouch, pausing by the bushes next to the big metal box. Skeeter trots off with them.
Bugs hesitates, then sprints after the others. He doesn’t want to look in the window, but he doesn’t want to be left alone in the shadowy woods, either.
Clay is grinning when he catches up to them. “So you came,” he says, standing with his back pressed to the wall of the house. “Don’t tell Mom what we’re doing, okay?”
Bugs takes a step back as the big metal box begins to vibrate and roar. “What is that thing?”
“It’s part of the air conditioner.” Brett lifts his voice to be heard above the machine. “This is a good time to look, because Mr. Huffman won’t hear you if you scream. Ready?”
Clay grins as both boys turn to the window. “I can’t see anything,” Clay says. “A curtain’s in the way.”
“Easy enough to fix.” Moving as carefully as a robber, Brett lifts the bottom half of the window and slides it up. Then he and Clay step closer and peer into the mysterious room.
“That is too cool,” Clay says, sounding more okay than he ought to.
“Isn’t it?” Brett points into the space beyond the fluttering curtain. “See that head over there? I think I knew that girl from school.”
Clay rises on tiptoe. “She musta been pretty . . . when she was alive.”
Bugs stares up at his big brother, unable to believe what he’s hearing. This can’t be right. There’s no such thing as a tomb room or a table with heads on it . . . is there?
“I wanna see.” Bugs draws himself up to his full height and squeezes into the space between the other two boys. “Gimme a boost, will ya? I wanna look, too.”
“I don’t know, Bugsy.” Clay turns from the window and gives Bugs a sad look. “It’s kinda creepy in there.”
“It’ll give you nightmares.” Brett lowers his arms from the windowsill. “Maybe we should just go before Mr. Huffman shows up.”
Bugs puffs out his chest. “If you don’t give me a boost, I’m gonna tell Mom and Mr. Gerald that you were out here peekin’ at girls’ heads.”
Brett runs a hand through his short hair. “You know . . . maybe we should help him take a peek.”
Clay crosses his arms. “I dunno. He might get scared.”
“I won’t!” Bugs glares at his brother. “I didn’t keep the light on all night—you did!”
Clay’s eyes harden, and then he smiles at Brett. “Okay, let’s lift him. You take one leg and I’ll take the other. We’ll let him look but only for a second—”
“That’ll be long enough.”
The older boys bend and lace their fingers together.
Bugs slips his left foot into his brother’s hands. “You aren’t gonna tell on me, are you?”
Brett snorts. “Why would we do that when we were peekin’, too?”
Satisfied with the big kid’s answer, Bugs braces himself on Clay’s shoulder and slips his other foot into Brett’s hands. Together they lift him, but all Bugs can see is the edge of the white curtain.
“You’re gonna have to push that thing outta the way,” Clay says, his breath coming in odd little gasps. “Here, we’ll lift you higher so you can see better.”
“Wait, Clay. I can’t—”
Before he can say anything else, Brett and Clay push him onto the windowsill and through the open window. Bugs closes his eyes, afraid of what he’ll see; then he hears the slam of a door . . . and footsteps.
Can a dead head walk?
Kicking at empty air, he teeters on the sill, unable to slide backward without losing his balance and falling. He snatches a breath, and his head fills with a smell unlike anything he’s ever breathed before. He screams, the air filling with a screeching sound that ends only when arms as strong as iron wrap him in a monstrous embrace—
That’s when he feels a warm wetness between his legs . . . and begins to cry.
“Calm down, boy! What in the world?”
Because the voice sounds familiar, Bugs opens one eye. Mr. Gerald has him. The old man sets him on the floor and steps away, his hands slipping into his back pockets. “Are you okay, son?”
Bugs hiccups and lowers his head. The wet spot has darkened his shorts, and a yellow puddle is spreading over the floor.
Mr. Gerald clears his throat. “Oh . . . hmm. Let me see what I have around to clean you—that—up. You just wait there, and don’t worry.”
As the old man shuffles away, Bugs sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. There are no dead heads in this room, only a lot of cabinets and a couple of tall tables the color of a bathtub. There’s a faucet at the head of one of those tables and some strange tubes.
But no heads.
Mr. Gerald comes shuffling back, a wad of paper towels in his hand. Something inside the old man cracks as he kneels in front of Bugs, but he doesn’t complain as he wipes Bugs’s wet legs with the paper towels. “You got clean clothes upstairs?”
Bugs nods.
“You go up and get ’em on. Bring these shorts back down and I’ll toss ’em in the wash.”
Bugs takes a step toward the door, then turns and looks at Mr. Gerald.
“Don’t worry,” the old man says, wiping up the puddle on the floor. “I won’t tell a soul.”

That's it!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Memorial for Jane on Charis

If it's Tuesday, I'm blogging today at the Charis Connection (see link at right) as a memorial for Jane. I thought it might be nice to let her speak in her own words, so I culled some snippets from old emails she's written me over the years.

Stop by and take a peek. You'll see why she is much-loved.

P.S. I took the day off Monday to go "play" with Travis and Keri, who work for Tyndale House's author relations department. We went putt putt golfing and fed the alligators. Travis and Keri thought I was kidding when I said that yes, there are gators all over the place in our lakes. They know I'm not kidding now.


Monday, March 19, 2007

HPV Update

There's news on the HPV/cancer vaccine front. And it'll be interesting to see how it's played out in the media.

Fact: A recent study suggests that the prevalence of a sexually transmitted virus (HPV) that can cause cervical cancer is greater than previous estimates had suggested.

Fact: The study indicated that the prevalence of the two main cancer-causing strains--the two strains prevented by the Merck vaccine--"appears to be relatively low."

More: the prevalence of HPV was 26.8 percent among U.S. females in the 14-59 age bracket. Prevalence of the four strains of HPV that Gardasil protects against--was 3.4 percent. THREE PERCENT.

According to the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 28, 2007, p. D8), "the prevalence data doesn't capture cases of women who were infected by HPV in the past but have since been cleared of the virus. (About 90 percent of infections clear within two years.)"

So why are bills being drafted in 20 U.S. states to make Gardasil mandatory for preteen girls? The answer is obvious. $$.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pray for Jane's Family

My friend Jane, whom I asked you all to pray for a little while ago, died this morning from leukemia. So I would ask you all to pray for her husband, two sons, and family in the days ahead.

And as sad as I am at the thought of missing Jane in the months ahead, the writer in me is grateful that her books will live on. She has a new one coming out this summer, All the Tea in China, and I know you'd love it. I read the manuscript and found it delightful. It's available to preorder now.

It's easy to praise God when He answers prayer in the way we want him to. It's harder--but just as necessary and proper--to praise him when he answers in a way we didn't expect. So I am praising the Lord for his wisdom, for his faithfulness, and for the fact that he welcomed Jane this morning.


Friday, March 16, 2007


I'm so excited! The mail man just delivered six ARC (advance readers' copies) of THE ELEVATOR to my house.

And I'm willing to give half of them away. But how?

I've decided to do it this way: I have three people in my immediate family (hubby, son, daughter), and they have ages. (Hint: hubby is way older than me.)

I've decided to send copies to the commenters whose comment numbers match the ages of my family members. Yes, you may comment more than once, but you may NOT comment more than once in a row--in other words, you have to wait to leave a second or third comment until someone else has posted a comment (IOW, you can't sit there and click "post" over and over and over.) Consecutive comments from the same person will be deleted or ignored.

NO, you may not sell the book on eBay. :-)

I'll announce who the winning commenters are in a follow up blog post, then you can email me your addresses.

This is assuming you'd like a free copy, of course. Months ahead of publication time. :-)

Ready, set . . . go!



Thanks for your comments on the scene. I suppose my fascination with the process bleeds over, because I DO find it all very interesting! Glad you all do the same.

There is a grand plan to all this, BTW. In book one, Doesn't She Look Natural?, Jen inherits the funeral home and has to face her fears and squeamishness about the whole thing. In that book she helps prepare a couple of bodies in small ways.

By book two, She Always Wore Red, she is in mortuary school, and serving as an apprentice for Gerald while she's going to school. (There's LOT more going on in the book; this is just part of it.)

In book three, She's In a Better Place, Jen will be officially running the funeral home. And the mortuary stuff is really just backdrop for all the stories--each book is really about something else altogether. :-)

Yes, Susan, autopsied bodies are a LOT harder to embalm--in fact, most funeral homes charge extra for autopsied bodies.

And the second step--the one I probably won't detail--is the "cavity embalming." I think I do allude to it, but not many details. This is where they take a long hollow tube, called a trocar, and punch it into the body. They have to perforate all the major organs and then aspirate the pieces. All of this, too, goes down the drain and into the sewer. (Lovely thought, no?) I suppose it's better than what the ancient Egyptians did--they put most of the organs into canopic jars and saved them for the afterlife.

I'm also not being specific about how they plug all the body orifices in case of . . . um, seepage. (I mean, flies land on dead bodies . . . you wouldn't want to see a maggot crawl out of your loved one's nostril, would you?)

This is the sort of lovely detail I probably won't include. :-) My rule is--if it grosses ME out, leave it out. :-)

Thanks for the comments! Please keep 'em coming!

OH! P.S. No, you don't capitalize "missy" because it's like "honey" or "kiddo" and you wouldn't capitalize those. It's a nickname, but not a proper nickname like "Angie." (But to be honest, this is one of those stylistic things that you may as well leave to your editor. Different houses may use different styles.)

And did anyone notice the parallelism in the sentence I loved a couple of days ago? I think what I love about it is the parallelism, the rhythm, and the ba-da-boom at the end. Writing requires as much listening as reading, you know . . .

Well, I've dithered long enough. My migraine is clearing, so I'd better get my act together!

Angie, who really ought to share a NICE scene after this . . .

A scene from the WIP

One of the challenges I'm facing with this second book about the funeral home is being detailed without being OVERLY detailed. In this scene, Jennifer is learning how to do an embalming, under the watchful eye of Gerald, the embalmer. What do you think? Good balance of details without too much gore?

(BTW, this isn't the worst part of an embalming. I don't think I'm going there, at least not in this book.)

After going to my Tuesday morning class, picking up Bugs, and receiving Skeeter’s good health report from the vet, I walk down to the prep room and pull on latex gloves, a rubber apron, and a mask. When he sees that I’m ready, Gerald wheels Waldine Loveman out of the cooler and I help him transfer the body bag to our preparation table.

After Gerald unzips the bag, I see that Waldine is still wearing her housecoat and nightgown. Gerald stands back as I cut the garments away and set them aside. I can’t help but notice that Waldine’s nightgown has been washed so many times the thin cotton is nearly transparent in places. Her housecoat, a simple number with snaps up the front, is whispery soft. No wonder she liked to wear it around the house.

As I survey our latest client, I feel myself mentally shift gears. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t involved in the field, but once the clothing is gone, the body on the table becomes simply that—a body. This sort of detachment is probably what allows morticians to perform their work without suffering from emotional overload, but I know one thing for sure--the embalmer’s job is to halt decomposition to the point that the family will be able to hold a viewing and a funeral without being repulsed by the sights, smells, and sounds of a decaying corpse.

Six months ago, I would have shrunk from the sight of a dead client; now I study the body with clinical interest. My pulse quickens, and from out of nowhere I remember that I used to enjoy dissection days in high school biology. Frogs, worms, rabbits—all of them fascinated me.

With a detached eye, I glance at the clipboard that traveled with Waldine, then I check the body. Waldine Loveman is a well-nourished Caucasian female who apparently died of natural causes at age eighty-six. Her skin is remarkably free of scars—I’ve seen everything from appendectomy to Caesarian scars on our last few clients.

“Go ahead.” Gerald nods and ties on his mask. “You know what to do.”

I do, but only from watching Gerald, so my fingers tremble as I pick up a sharp pair of scissors and place the point of a blade at a spot in the hollow of the neck. I press downward until the blade cuts the skin, then I make a small incision and slowly slice my way through the adipose layer beneath the epidermis. I set the scissors aside as Gerald offers an arterial hook.

"Good job,” he says. “Now reach in and catch the jugular.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to do this?”

“We learn best by doing, missy. I’m here—and I won’t let you make a mistake.”

I draw a deep breath and thank the Lord that I’m not practicing on a living patient. I shouldn’t be nervous; at this point, it’s almost impossible for me to make a blunder Gerald couldn’t rectify. Still, I don’t want to mess up. Though I didn’t know her, I want to treat Waldine Loveman with respect.

With gloved fingers I slip the hooked end of the arterial hook into the incision. As I probe the area, I superimpose an image from my anatomy book onto the body’s pale flesh. The internal jugular vein and the common carotid run alongside each other, parallel to the trachea. The jugular lies closest to the skin, right . . . there.

I lift the bluish vein out of the incision, startled, as always, by its surprising size.

“Excellent.” Smiling his approval, Gerald presses on the skin, then threads two pieces of string under the vein and ties them in a loose knot. “Now, go for the carotid.”

Again, I take the arterial hook and go fishing. The hard object to the right is undoubtedly the trachea, so the carotid artery lies just to the left—

My hook retrieves a smooth, pale tube.

“That’s right.” Gerald threads another pair of strings under this artery, ties them, and hands me the scissors. “Now make the T-incision.”

I gulp and bend over the body. I wince as I slice a T into the artery and the vein, then I step back so Gerald can take a look. My left hand is open and extended, and I’m startled when he snaps a piece of chrome tubing into my gloved hand.

Like I’m some kind of surgeon?

“Always wanted to do that,” he says, the corners of his eyes crinkling above his mask. “Fit it into the artery opening, please. Remember—point the head toward the heart.”

I try to squeeze the head of the metal tube into the first T incision, but I must have made the cuts too small. I hesitate, wondering if I should make the opening bigger, but Gerald clears his throat.

I lift my hands and step to the side, then watch in wonder as he seats the tube with the smallest twist of his hand. “Takes practice,” he says, handing me the other tube. “You do the drain tube.”

“We drain through the veins.”

“You’ve got it.”

The drain tube is easier, or maybe this time I’m more relaxed. When both devices are in place, I tie the loose strings around the metal tubes to prevent them from slipping during the pumping process.

“You’re becoming a pro,” Gerald says, smiling. “How are your nerves?”

I feel as jittery as ever, but my kneecaps no longer engage in instantaneous jiggling the moment I approach the prep table. I must be getting used to this.

I reach for a bottle of arterial fluid. “I think I’m okay.”

As Gerald fills the tank of our embalming machine at the sink, I uncap four bottles of formalin, a mixture of formaldehyde, lanolin, tint, and deodorant. Once the Portiboy tank has filled to the correct level with water, I add the arterial fluid and wait for the liquids to mix. When the solution is a uniform pale pink, I connect the end of the Portiboy’s hose to the metal tube we’ve inserted into our client’s carotid artery.

Gerald checks the pressure dial and flips the power switch. With a series of steady clicks, the pump injects arterial fluid into the carotid. Within a matter of minutes the incoming liquid pushes black blood through the tube connected to the jugular. The liquid flows out of the body and onto the table, then it travels along the table gutter, into the sink, and down the drain.

I lean against the counter and watch, amazed again at the efficiency of the human body. I’ve learned that the human circulatory system is a long circular highway with hundreds of smaller side streets. Unless blocked or broken, all the avenues lead back to the heart.

The embalmer creates a detour, forcing a preservative into the body’s highway system even as he pushes dead blood into the public sewers.

I pick up a spray attachment near the sink, ready to break up any clots that might clog the drain, but my attention is diverted by a knock on the prep room door. “Mom?”

I stiffen. My children have gotten used to the idea of living in a funeral home, but they’ve never witnessed an embalming. I don’t think I want them to.

~~Angie, back to work

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Firsts for Congress

(I love this picture. Click on it to see the cat's eyes close up. Hilarious! Maybe it's been photo-shopped, but it's still funny.)

My newspaper recently reported that this is a year of religious "firsts" for Congress: The American people have elected the first Muslim, the first Buddhists, and the first atheist.

The Secular Coalition for America held a contest to identify the highest elected "non-theist" in the land. This week it announced the winner: Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from California.

Stark, 75, issued a brief statement confirming "I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being."

When I was a junior in high school, I was selected to represent my school during a week in Washington, as a guest of my congressman. With several juniors from other area high schools, we toured the D.C. area and met several representatives.

I remember asking several elected officials if they felt their job was to represent their constituents OR to vote their minds. Without exception, they said their job was to vote as they saw fit.

Which made me realize--and reminds me today--of the importance of electing officials who REPRESENT us. Once in office, too many officials assume (perhaps correctly) that the American public is not as well educated on the issues, so they vote according to their conscience--or will.

Our country is a representative democracy--meaning the people govern only as they are represented in government. So if your representative is not truly representing you, find someone who does. And support him/her.

Stepping off my soapbox now,


P.S. I wrote something today that just delighted me. I don't know if anyone else will think it's funny, but I think it's hysterical. (Maybe you had to be here.)

Here's the bit (from the book about the woman who inherited the funeral home):

When Gerald comes through the back door to the prep room, it’s not formaldehyde I smell, but fried chicken. He may have a body in the call car, but he has dinner in his arms.
I could kiss him.

LOL! I may be strange, but I love it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kids too religious for parents?

Interesting article in the March 2 Wall Street Journal. According to an article on the front page of the Weekend Journal, some kids are becoming more devout than their parents, thus creating havoc in the home. Sixteen year old Kevin Ellstrand, for instance, is the son of self-described secular humanists who shun organized religion. Two years ago Kevin began to follow Christ, but his mother finds it "appalling" that her son doesn't believe in evolution. Kevin says, "I don't want my parents to go to hell for not believing in God. But that is what's going to happen and it really scares me."

And it's not only Christian parents--some Jewish children are deciding to keep kosher when their parents do not. And some Muslim youths are becoming more fervent than their parents.

What are we to make of this? Some say this is a natural product of teenage rebellion; I tend to think that the power of Christ to change lives is real, no matter what the age of the person who surrenders his life. Without a doubt, some teenage conversions are genuine . . . and the proof is visible in changes that persist years down the road. What changes are wrought in a believer's life? Easy: love, joy, peace, goodness, faith, and patience.

No one can deny that many a teenage passion fades in time. Even Jesus spoke of the seed that falls by the road, springs up in shallow soil, and withers in the heat of the sun. But some seeds grow deep, find the nourishment they need, and bring forth much fruit.

Now I have a quick question for you--I need information for the WIP. What do you think of as "funeral food?" In other words, if you were going to make something to take to a grieving family, what would you make?


I Hope You Dance . . .

If there's one thing I wish I'd done in my childhood that I didn't do, it's DANCE. I love dance--mostly watching it, since I feel a little inferior about it (being raised in a non-dancing church, you see). I LOVE dance movies, I love ballroom dance, I love dancing around the house. No, not hoochie-coochie dancing, but the kind of dance that expresses joy in movement and in simply being alive.

The above link is to a New York Times article on praise dance. I love it. When I occasionally traveled with Women of Faith a few years back, one of my favorite parts of the program was when Thelma Wells' daughters would do a praise dance. They are professionally trained dancers, and their presentation was simply beautiful. Reverent. Lovely.

So enjoy the article . . . and I hope you dance! In heaven, I'm signing up for a thousand years of ballet.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn

Hubby and I just watched this movie: THE SIMPLE LIFE OF NOAH DEARBORN. I highly recommend it--a sweet, poignant film starring the wonderful Sidney Poitier. I know it's available on Netflix.

A hat tip to Robin Lee Hatcher for recommending this one--it's great. All about loving what you do . . . and I can relate to that, as can my hubby.

Speaking of work, here's a WIP update. Friday I finished what was mostly a second draft (though a lot of it was first-draft), and was feeling pretty good until I sat down today and started going over my plot skeleton.

Uh oh. Bleakest moment--no good. Deep structure? Missing key points. This is what happens when you let the characters take you away--they don't know a thing about story structure. :-)

So tomorrow will be a triage day--I sit down and make a list of things to fix, then I jump pack in again. Every pass makes the book better.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why do you buy books?

The Feb. 26th issue of Publisher's Weekly listed the results of a survey on the book buying habits of Americans. Readers could choose more than one answer, and these are the top eight answers:

Why do you buy a book?

1. A friend's recommendation 49 percent
2. Familiarity with the author 45 percent
3. Description on jacket 32 percent
4. Reviews 22 percent
5. Advertisement 21 percent
6. Place on bestsellers list 17 percent
7. Reading group pick 16 percent
8. Cover design 12 percent

So . . . why do you buy a book? I buy tons of books, and my deciding factors are usually a friend's recommendation, reviews, and advertisements. (I read reviews in the NYT book review, TIME, NEWSWEEK, PEOPLE, and PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY. A stellar review in any of those will spur my urge to buy. Ditto for a provacative ad.)

So--what are your reasons for buying a book?


Friday, March 09, 2007

No Wonder Most TV is Lousy

I don't know about you, but I gave up on most TV long ago. There are the occasional gems--I fell in love with Alias and 24, but only after I'd watched a couple of seasons on DVD. I still watch the occasional episode of ER, but if I watch anything else on TV these days, it's usually the news or a movie.

Well . . . I just read that there's a new TV series being developed for (drum roll, please): the Geico caveman/cave people. (What is the proper gender-neutral language?)

That's right, you read it here first. Though the project is still at the rudimentary stages, the plan calls for the comedy to be titled "Cavemen" and focus on a trio of prehistoric characters who battle prejudice in modern-day Atlanta. According to the Wall Street Journal, ABC will pay for the pilot and the show.

Here's the really interesting part: because few people even watch commercials these days (they either fast forward through them or channel surf during the break), the powers that be are coming up with other ways to advertise. The cavemen have been showing up outside ads (though I have seen them plastered on billboards in airports--I suppose that's an ad, isn't it?).

For instance, last month an actor dressed as a caveman showed up at the Academy Awards and attended an after-Oscars bash. Also last month, says the WSJ, a caveman played a round of golf with football analyst Phil Simms during his Super Bowl pregame show.

So--look for a caveman appearing near you. I'm not sure if he'll be there to sell Geico Insurance or his new sitcom.

I miss the gecko.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

What is Your Chair Like?

Okay . . . I've heard about the seating debate raging on a few email loops, but I knew the story had hit the big time when I read about it in the Wall Street Journal. According to the WSJ, the chair of choice these days isn't a chair at all . . . but a big, rubber ball. Exercise balls, usually priced at about $25, are a lot cheaper than an Aeron chair (usually over $1,000) and probably a lot more fun. Like the chair pictured here? You can get one at for $109.95.

According to the WSJ, employees at BlueSky Strategies in Toronto have races on ball chairs when they need a break.

I do tend to get up feeling stiff and creaky after a long day at the desk, but I'm not sure a ball chair is the answer. For one thing, Babe would probably try to carry it around, so it'd pop in a matter of minutes. For another, I'm afraid I'd drift off in thought and roll backward. And how am I supposed to lean back, prop my feet on the desk, and watch a video on a ball chair? Shudder. They might be fun for a while, but not for all day. Still, if it's your thing . . . go for it. And let me know how it feels. :-)


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

BOM: Questions and Answers

Kari asked: "The book absolutely made me think about cloning etc and even bringing someone back from the dead. Even though I thought Diana was a hard woman I saw her desperation! We lost a son born too early and it certainly brought back many memories!Do you ever 2nd guess yourself after the book has been printed or ask yourself what you would have done differently?"

Sometimes, Kari . . . but to be honest, by the time a book has come out, I've gone over it so many times, and so have my editors, that we're all pretty weary with it.

And I can honestly say that I give each book the best I have to give at the time. Of course, life is a learning process, so there are things I would do now that I didn't know to do "back then," but there's no use in dwelling on past mistakes.

So . . . unless I get a chance to go back and edit a book for re-publication, I don't spend a lot of time in regret. There's always something new to work on.

Thanks for coming along on this BOM!

BTW--we've retitled the books in the Fairlawn series (the books about the woman who inherits a funeral home.) The first (finished!) is called DOESN'T SHE LOOK NATURAL? The second (I'm writing now) is SHE ALWAYS WORE RED, and the third will be called SHE'S IN A BETTER PLACE. What do you think?


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The "Jesus tomb" --an Angie Update

My pal Randy Ingersmanson, novelist, physicist, and a man of many talents, has undertaken an explanation of the so-called "Jesus tomb"--the finding that has many people speculating about Jesus's wife and children.

You can read Randy's explanation here: .

I watched part of the Discovery channel's explanation, and came away more than satisfied with the way the experts called many of the assumptions into question.

To my way of thinking, it's just another attempt to cast doubt on the truth of the Gospel.


BOM: The Results/Reader Reaction

3 of 15 people found the following review helpful:

The Worst Book I've Ever Read, February 27, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
This book started out good, but later on it becomes boring and unrealistic in everything except the emotions. I bought this book thinking it would be an interesting read but I was severly disapointed. The plot skips around a lot and the main character goes through some "interesting" fazes. (Kicking her husband out for not agreeing about cloneing, etc.) I would never recomend this book to ANYONE (strangers and enemies included).

I'm so thankful for the above review . . . because with it I won first place in a "bad review" contest. (My prize was a bar of bittersweet chocolate.)

And there's the other side of the coin:

Powerful mix of Christianity and current events, September 25, 2005
Reviewer:Christina Lockstein "book addict" (Oconto Falls, WI USA) - See all my reviews
Hunt is one of the strongest writers of our time, Christian or otherwise. Her characterizations are never lazy or weak and her descriptions are deeply moving. The story of Diana seeking her son is extremely relevant in today's political climate. Hunt does a terrific job of researching her subject matter and giving strong debate on both sides. Diana's descent was a little creepy at times, but that's deliberate on Hunt's part. Sometimes we can be equally as guilty of insisting on our way instead of the Lord's way in things. I bawled through the first seventy pages of this book, and spent the rest of it thinking and thanking God for what I have.

(God bless you, Christina.)

Tomorrow: Questions and Answers. Have any? Ask away!


Monday, March 05, 2007

Update: What those letters mean


Okay, for those who are unfamiliar with the Myers-Brigg personality profile: The M-BP is an AMAZINGLY accurate personality assessment tool that I use to create characters (and analyze my friends and family). The test, which is relatively simple, involves four basic areas:

People are either an Extroverted or Introverted (E or I)
Intuiters or Sensors (N or S)
Thinkers or Feelers (T or F) and
Judgers or Perceivers (J or P).

There are sixteen possibilities, and you pretty much stay "bent" the same way your entire life. Your Myers-Briggs type has nothing to do with whether you are good or evil, it's just the way you see and react to the world. There are DOZENS of books written about the MB tool; they're all useful and interesting.

Note: the above words aren't defined in the usual way. For instance, most people think I'm extroverted, but the defining question isn't whether or not you're comfortable around people, it's where you go to relax. Would you rather go to a party (E) or to the quiet of your room (I)? Do you make decisions based on information you gather through your senses (S) or from your gut (N)? Do you respond to events primarily with rational thought (T) or with your emotions (F)? And finally, are you a piler (P) or a filer (J)?

You can google "Myers-Briggs" or any of the types (INTJ, ESFP, etc) for more information.


BOM: The Editing

LOL! I didn't actually remember the editing, but I found my editors' comments in the file, so now it's clear what both Ami and Karen thought--they didn't like my protagonist.

What can I say? I created a woman--an INTJ--who is intellectual, aloof, independent, and determined. A warm fuzzy, she's not. ( I happen to be an INTJ, which probably explains why Diana made perfect sense to me.)

I had to try and find ways to make Diana a little softer and more sympathetic. I wrote her scenes in first person because she makes some pretty wild decisions and I thought it was important that readers understand her thought processes.

I still see the occasional review of this book where people think Diana did the wrong things and is a terrible person. Well, we all do wrong things . . . and Diana, at least, learns from her mistakes. Personally, I think Diana appeals more to readers who are "thinkers" (in Myers-Briggs parlance), and she probably repulses women who are strong "feelers."

But that's just the way she is.

Tomorrow: The results/reader reaction.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

BOM: The Writing

I've just returned from the Florida Christian Writer's Conference and the 20th anniversary celebration . . . what a great time. Got to spend time with friends, too, including Tom Morrisey and Mark Mynheir.

To be honest, I don't remember a lot about writing The Pearl . . . except that it wore me out. Diana goes through a LOT in that story--several major losses, and she doesn't handle them well. So while I didn't actually experience everything Diana did, I sure felt all her grief.

I remember taking my takes to my accountant while I was writing this book. She said something like, "How's the writing going?" I shoved my hair out of my eyes and looked at her like a crazed woman. "Rough."

It wasn't the writing that was hard, it was the living Diana's story.

And to say much more would sort of spoil the book, so I shall zip my lip.

Tomorrow: the editing


Saturday, March 03, 2007

BOM: The Research

Home from Colorado Springs, from the cold to the warm and muggy. :-)

Diana Sheldon, the protagonist of The Pearl, is a professional radio counselor (I was thinking of a Dr. Laura type.) So I had to research radio work, and the easiest way to do that was to visit a radio show. At the time, Tampa Bay had one radio talk show host I liked a lot--Glenn Beck. So I asked Glenn Beck's producer if I could come observe, and he said yes. I drove over to Tampa, sat in on a show, and enjoyed myself a lot. (Now, as I watch Glenn's success even on CNN, I feel proud to say I met him when.)

To write this book, I also had to learn a lot about cloning. It's not a book about cloning, but still, cloning plays a huge part. And when I started to write, I knew most Christians opposed cloning . . . but why? I mean, if they could clone cells to grow someone a new heart, why not let them do it?

Furthermore, if a book is not to be sheer propaganda, it must present both sides of an argument. It was actually easy to come up with good reasons to investigate cloning . . . and then to come up with solid arguments against the practice.

The timing of this book turned out to be incredible. The very week it released, the Raelians announced to the world that they had successfully cloned a human baby. They never proved it, but for a few days there, news of cloning filled all the major media.

P.S. Tonight, Lord willing, I am in Sarasota, for the 20th annual Florida Christian Writer's conference. I'm keynoting at their anniversary banquet, and I just want to publicly congratulate Billie Wilson for twenty years of service to Christian writers!

Tomorrow: the writing


Friday, March 02, 2007

BOM: How the Idea Germinated

I had forgotten about this, but I just found an email in my file dated Aug. 6, 2001. I wrote to some friends:

"As I was reading my Bible this morning, I cam across a verse that brought me up cold: 'Look now, I myself am he! There is no god other than me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one delivers from my power!"

"I've read this before, but was always assuming God meant that he wounded and/or killed his enemies . . . but now I'm beginning to think he wounds us at times, to work his will in our lives. . . . often we short-change God's sovereignty by assigning 'bad things' to God's permissive will instead of his perfect will, and lately I've been thinking a lot about that. We know he loves us and cares for us, but as I've been considering God as parent, I've come to see that love and care often mean doing things that cause me, the child, to hurt and feel anger and pain.

"Have you seen the commercial with the kids who look into the camera and say, 'I thought you were the worst parents in the world. I hated you. You snooped on me . . . Thanks, mom and dad."

"Ah . . . would it not be human for us to feel the same way toward God when he wounds and heals us?

"I feel a novel theme coming on . . ."

And so I did. That verse, that email, became the idea that bloomed into The Pearl. Sometimes God leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. He does that to my protagonist, Diana, but she doesn't want to go there . . . and so the drama begins.

Tomorrow: The research


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book of the Month: THE PEARL

Welcome back to another book of the month! This month's featured novel is THE PEARL, published by WestBow in 2003.

Catalog copy:

She had the perfect life until the accident. Now science offers an opportunity to replace what she has lost--but at what cost?

Diana and Steve Sheldon had it all--successful careers, nice home, a lovely teenage daughter, an adorable five-year-old son. But when a freak accident ravages their happy family, Diana, a professional radio counselor, finds herself viewing the world through new eyes of grief--and accepting ideas and situations she would have considered unacceptable only a few weeks before.

When a research foundation offers to restore her loss through a medical marvel, Diana is convinced she has found the answer to her family's anguish. Determined to sacrifice anything that stands between her and healing for her broken heart, she proceeds along a dangerous course, never dreaming that healing might prove more destructive than hurt...

As timely as today's newspaper, The Pearl is an honest, heart-rending look at life and faith through a contemporary mother's eyes.

Tomorrow: the germination of the idea.