Tuesday, April 29, 2008

garlic cheese grits

Kentucky's Derby Day is the first weekend in May and it is a fun event for horse and hat lovers - and those who like to eat. People here have never heard of it, sadly. So forgive me for reminiscing a bit.

Years ago, I attended Tates Creek High School in Lexington, Kentucky and was a member of the flag corp in the marching band. We were the 50 girl team that dressed in jockey silks given to us by the many horse farms of Kentucky and waved heavy flags around and performed routines. None of that foo-foo stuff - this was really athletic and I have the bad knees to prove it! Try marching in 100 degree heat smothered in silk and you'll know what I mean. I think I wore the Darby Dan silks most of the time.

One May we were invited to the governor's derby breakfast and so we dressed in our silks and went. I remember the big white awnings, the mint juleps that we weren't allowed, and big pans of garlic cheese grits. Heavenly. Lots of pretty hats and fresh flowers and smiling people. My Old Kentucky Home was played again and again. I remember not wanting to leave. I thought being governor of Kentucky must be a good thing. Sometimes I wish I was 17 again and sitting in that fancy tent eating grits.

By the way, there is no such thing as Yankee grits out here. Or grits period. When I fly home I bring a suitcase of them back with me. Hallelujah!

In honor of Derby Day for all you Kentuckians out there, here is a recipe for garlic cheese grits:

1 cup quick-cook grits (not instant)
4 cups boiling water
1 stick butter
2 eggs, room temp, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon seasoning salt
12 oz. Velveeta cheese
garlic powder, to taste
sprinkle paprika lightly on top

Add grits to boiling water and cook as directed. When thick, add butter, cheese, garlic powder, and stir till melted. Stir in eggs and seasoning salt. Pour into 9x13 buttered pan and bake in 325' oven for 1 hour. Happy eating!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

just like Jesus

Last year, when I was wondering where this writing dream was going, my family gifted me by contracting with a freelance editor out of Atlanta to read my manuscript to see if it had any merit. This editor was my first ever exposure to the professional writing world and I felt like I'd boarded a plane to a strange land. Her very vocabulary was different. She used terms like backstory, pretty clean at the line level, information dump, and suspension of belief. She took my book, my baby, and raked through it like she was killing snakes. Then she handed me a 40 page critique in addition to all the editorial comments she'd made in the body of the 462 page manuscript.

She said only a small percentage of manuscripts she evaluates show promise of eventual publication and mine did but for two things. It was too long. And my hero was too perfect. Just like Jesus. She recommended that I give him a quirk. Maybe more than one. So I did. I went back into the body of the manuscript and analyzed every scene he was in and chipped at him bit by bit until he became more real. When I was done I liked him even more. And then I shaved 100 plus pages off the book. This is not easily done. But I knew it was for the good of the story.

I'm wondering if the same thing happens to us on a spiritual level. Only God must work in reverse. We are far from perfect, but He wants us to be like Jesus. He has to chip at us to accomplish this. He takes the ordinary stuff of our lives and uses it to rub us raw and make us like His son. His is, as one writer calls it, "a severe mercy." He wants our story to sing. And he has to edit the heck out of us to do it. We aren't fully polished, to use an editorial term, until we reach heaven. We are a work in progress.

Have you read Benjamin Franklin's Epitaph?

The body of B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
and Stript of its
Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost,
For it will (as he Believ'd)
Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author

Saturday, April 26, 2008


My son, Paul, is really real. Even though he is only 8 years old. Sometimes we think he might qualify for one of those switched at birth stories because he is nothing like the rest of us. He doesn't like to read. Or get dressed. Or eat. Just popcorn, popsicles, and pizza. When we ask him a question he answers by making animal noises. Most every morning he wakes up singing. He is that happy. Once when we rushed him to the hospital for what we thought was an appendix attack and everyone was crying hysterically but Paul, he turned to us and said in great disgust, "Cut it out, you crybabies!" It must be hard for Paul to live with the rest of us because he has genuine joy and we have to work it up. Paul is really real.

When I stopped writing to just be with Paul, he made it so worthwhile. I almost forgot about the pretend people I'd put in a drawer. He taught me so many neat things that I might have overlooked if my head had remained in a book.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

what's really real

I've heard writers say that the imaginary people running around in their heads are as real to them as their own family members. I don't expect anyone to understand this because I don't either. But it's true. Stranger still, writer's become very, very fond of these pretend people. They will take a lot of your time if you let them. They are, in a word, high-maintenance. But they are not really real.

When my boys were very small, I wrote only when they took naps, but this soon began to spill over into other parts of our day. I began to notice that I would rather be with my pretend people than the real people God had given me. I wanted to shut my office door (luckily I don't have one) and never change another diaper, clean up a mess, fix more food, read the same storybook again, run another errand, or the like. I began to resent the interruptions.

So I began to ask myself what was really real. I decided that I would rather be a good mom and a bad writer than a good writer and a bad mom. So I put my writing away for five years and didn't touch it. Not one scribble. I now had two little boys under the age of 3 and a schedule that was wide open. Some writers might be able to manage both but I could not. Writing is that consuming for me. Strangely, stopping writing was almost a relief.

During those five years, I believe God helped me make an eternal investment in the lives of my sons. Wyatt is now almost 12 and Paul will soon turn 9. They don't need me as much anymore. They'd rather spend time with their Dad or playing with their friends. They think having a mom who writes books is interesting. We have a wonderful relationship, maybe because the writing stopped for a time when they were small and needed me most.

I've since taken up writing again, as you can see. But I still try to live in light of the question, "What's really real?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the art of writing

Karen Kingsbury, dubbed the queen of Christian fiction, can write a book in two weeks.

Jerry Jenkins, of Left Behind fame, claims to get his creative ideas in the shower.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, began her writing career at age 65.

Louis L'Amour was rejected by publishers more than 150 times.

Stephen King, based on present royalties, makes $5 million a year.

During his lifetime, Herman Melville's timeless sea classic, Moby Dick, sold only 3,715 copies.

Dr. Suess wrote Green Eggs and Ham because the editor bet him he couldn't write a book using less than 50 words.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nim's Island

What do you get when you take a wacky writer addicted to hand sanitizer and mix it with a handsome Scottish scientist/adventurer and a too-cute little girl? Nim's Island is all about books and the imagination and well worth the time and $. Randy and I took the boys to the theater yesterday and loved spending a couple of hours on a tropical island (we refuse to play in the snow in April).

I especially liked Jack's (the dad) comment that, "Courage is something we have to learn every day. It's not just in you - it's in every choice we make."

Sometimes an inordinate amount of courage is needed to just get out of bed in the morning. I have a young, dearly loved family member with MS who embodies the type of courage talked about here. I know of another woman at church whose back is so bent because of illness that she can't straighten up and is often in a wheelchair, yet has graciously invited us to her house this Friday. When I asked what I could bring, she said "Nothing. I want you to have a break from fixing dinner." And I have a neighbor who recently had a massive stroke and the doctors doubted he would ever walk again, but now he walks without a walker and his gait is just as good as it used to be. This is true courage.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


This morning I took myself out for breakfast - alone. I rarely get to do this, having two boys and a husband. But it's my birthday so today I did. Most of my friends have fled at this point, thinking this a very strange preference. But I really like being alone, even to eat. Just you and your food. No trying to get a word in edgewise or filling awkward silences. But sometimes I think it makes other diners uncomfortable and they seem to be looking at you out of the corner of their eye and thinking, "Hmmm ... must be one of those weird writer types." There are so many in this area.

It was snowing this April morning here in Washington state and the mountains were all white beyond the cafe window, yet when you hit the door you could smell the sea as the waterfront is just two blocks away. If you're ever in this tiny town, be sure to stop by First Street Haven and have a bite to eat. The coffee and eggs benedict are very good!

An older lady at church recently told me she counts each of her birthdays as an increasing blessing because it is yet another year nearer to heaven. Now I have a new perspective on birthdays.

I truly believe, "And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." Psalm 139:16

God is so gracious to withhold the date of our death from us, though He knows it very well. Today I thought how good it would be if we could learn to live with this date in mind. Wouldn't everything be brighter, richer, fuller? Or, if we were in a valley, wouldn't this make the dark places seem more temporary? One day we will live outside of time and there will be no more birthdays. Max Lucado says time is just "a footspan on eternity's trail." That's enough to make me celebrate.

Friday, April 18, 2008

novel covers

I am so excited to see the cover for my first book due for release August of 09. It's historical fiction set in 18th-century Kentucke, which is the correct spelling for that time period. Remember those risque romance covers from years ago? My brother teases me that mine will feature Fabio in a coonskin cap!

There is a lot of work/talent/time spent on the right cover for a book and my publisher, Baker Publishing Group, has produced some very beautiful cover art. I really like the lovely work done on All the Tea in China by Jane Orcutt. I recently ordered a copy from Amazon and have it setting out on my desk - it is that pretty!

Liz Curtis Higgs, one of my favorite authors, said that she cried when she saw the cover of one of her Scottish novels for the first time as it looked exactly like she'd imagined it would be. I don't have any set ideas about mine, being so new to the publishing world. I like surprises! And I'm sure the art dept will do a fine job.

I just hope readers like my book!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the most beautiful road

Recently a neighbor told me our rural road has been listed as the second most beautiful in the state of Washington. I wonder which road won top honors? There are so many in this state that I'd hate to have to judge. Our road is like a picture postcard, wending upwards toward the mountains and skirting a huge glacial lake that is nearly 700 feet deep in places. Often you have to slow for deer or even an elk or bear. Cougars roam along the creeks and there are numerous beautiful birds. It is a joy living in so spectacular a place. Looking out my windows I am constantly reminded of God's grace in allowing me to live here, even if it is extremely wet!

Still, I miss home. My husband and sons are Washingtonians but I am a Kentuckian and always will be. I'm so excited about returning home to Berea and Lexington in August this year, Lord willing and the airfare doesn't rise, so I can be with family and visit all the places I love. Too many to name really! Some of my favorite spots are Fort Boonesborough, Cassius Clay's historic home of White Hall and also Henry Clay's Ashland, the pinnacle and Indian Fort in Madison County, the beautiful Berea College campus and Danforth Chapel, etc. My early years were spent in the Mammoth Cave area further south/west but will have to save that for another trip.

When I do fly home I am always a bit sad to see how much things have changed, grown, been rearranged. I think Daniel Boone would turn over in his grave to see the land he settled so transformed. I doubt he'd even recognize Kentucky anymore. But it is still home and I am always glad to get there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good writing vs gifted writing

I'm going to be blogging a bit more these next few days as I'm expecting a deadline soon and then I'll simply disappear for awhile. So right now I am awaiting revisions for my first book, polishing my second, and doing research for my third. And I thought I'd only get to do this once I died! I used to console myself by thinking that if I couldn't write here, then I would be in service there. I am so blessed.

This is sure to stir some debate but since no one seems to be reading this blog anyway, I guess I'll just say some outrageous things with the disclaimer that I am not placing myself in the gifted category of which I am about to write.

That said, there seems to be a terrible trend in fiction today toward the shallow read. Lately I've been wondering if we have become so dumbed down by video games and tv that we expect a book to read like a commercial, etc. Fast and sort of mindless, shallow and somehow unsatisfying. All show and no stay, so to speak. And some of these books are bestsellers!

Now it seems to me there are two types of writing and two types of writers. I'll wager that most books being printed today are well written simply because the market is so competitive. But so many of these books don't sing. Sure, the writer can tell a pretty good story but there is not much passion in the writing, the characters are kind of flat/shallow, the plot is so so and the benchmark of a truly good book is missing - beauty.

Surely there is no higher praise than to have an editor or reader say of a book, "Beautifully written."

And I'm not talking poetry or romance novels. Some of the most beautifully written books I've ever read, that stir you so that you want to weep, are by men. Try James Alexander Thom's Long Knife or Allan Eckert's A Sorrow in Our Heart. These books are not simply well-written, they are beautifully written, and the writers are extremely gifted. I think Liz Curtis Higgs, especially her latest Scottish novel, Grace in Thine Eyes, would qualify.

There are many more but these are the ones that come to mind for me. I am not in that category but I long to be.

I guess many people want a quick read that doesn't require much thought and even less emotion and is soon given to a friend. But the beautifully written books, the ones that stir your heart and soul, are the ones kept and never traded. I have a few of these and wish I had more. If you know of a beautifully written book, please let me know. In the meantime I'll be dreaming of writing one.


I am so proud of my brother, Chris. He is such an interesting guy and lives in Ecuador but will soon be moving to Spain. He has a wonderful family including his beautiful wife, Nicia, and 4 great kids, Andrew, Joshua, Daniel, and Kaylea in that order.

Check out his websites: www.IrwinsInEcuador.com and also www.MissionsForDummies

This morning I found out that Wheaton Graduate School selected him as one of their alumni to highlight on their website - www.wheaton.edu/intr/Overview/alumni.htm. So, in his words, he's now not only beautiful, but famous too! I forgot to mention he has a great sense of humor!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Publishing 101

I really want much of this site to be devoted to the novice writer who is searching for answers concerning writing and publishing. We'll be taking this journey together as it is new to me,as well I don't have many insights thus far but what I do write will be fresh and perhaps hopeful to some seeker out there.

First, my own writing journey began 40 years ago when I was about 7. Somehow at that simple age I found writing stories to be an absolutely magical experience. Sort of otherwordly. I still do. I also fell in love with the library and if you'd offered me a million bucks or a million books, the books would have won hands down.
So I wrote and wrote my way through my 20's, 30's, 40's. My first novel was an absolutely horrible affair cobbled together at age 13, then I had to write the sequel to Gone With the Wind, an English romance/mystery, and even Dances With Wolves II.

So where is this going?

All of that scribbling over 30 years was great practice! But after 30 years I began to feel like I needed anti-depressants to go into bookstores. Anyway, my brother told me it was time to take this writing thing seriously. As if 30 years of scribbling wasn't serious enough. So I took his advice and put my latest novel up on the block, so to speak. I submitted it to an amazing service called The Writer's Edge. I didn't have an agent so this was the next best thing. And don't think such a service is a waste of time or the small expense it takes for them to look at your work. So I submitted my stuff and prayed and prayed and began an intense waiting game.

The day after I was posted on The Writer's Edge site, two major Christian publishers contacted me. This began a roller-coaster ride of many months. I became terribly elated and alternately depressed, prayed and prayed, began another book, submitted it all to Him, pondered the sovereignty of God, lost weight and gained depending on which phase of the journey I was in, tried to homeschool and keep my family fed,and nearly gave up.

And then, along came my dream editor. Just when I wanted to quit. I didn't have the heart for many rejections and I admire those writers who do. But God knows our individual tolerance levels (he made us!) and responds accordingly. So this heaven-sent editor from New York contacted me just when I was going to quit. And she opened the door. It is so simple when you stop fretting and just let Him take over. I'm sure the Lord must have laughed when I stood stunned staring at my computer screen and the editor said the publisher liked this novel so much they wanted me to write 2 more!

In that moment the dream of a little girl was realized for a 40 something year old woman. I am still stunned as I write this and I encourage anyone who might stumble upon this post to take heart and ...

don't give up!

If He planted the dream in your heart He won't leave you hanging. We have a Father who never fails.

Friday, April 11, 2008

dreaming of the next book

I've never really thought much about how a book idea comes into being. I find that the Lord doesn't give me any clues about what's next until I've pretty much tied up the manuscript I'm working on. Still, as I finish this second manuscript, I start dreaming of the next. It is nice to have some inkling of what will consume you for the next two or so years. Kind of like taking a trip to an unknown destination and thinking about what to pack. Anticipation is everything!

I turn my third manuscript in to publisher by August 2010. Sounds like lots of tiime but so much of that time consists of research and polishing as well as writing and rewriting. And until recently I have been a blank slate as far as that third book.

A couple of weeks ago a strange figure popped into my weary brain. More shadow than substance but I knew without taking much of a look it was a colonial militia man. I think I groaned as I'm not too fond of them, with the exception of Daniel Boone. They tended to be a pretty rough, tobacco-chewing bunch. Read Long Knife by the amazing James Alexander Thom and you'll likely come to the same conclusions. I think part of my reluctance to flesh out such a character is that it is beyond my ken. I would have to do a lot of research to do him justice.

But today he became a little more familiar. I took out a notebook and sat in the sun and the shadow I had seen became much more substantial and intersting and I saw his female counterpart also though not as clearly. And so I wrote down the plot line as it came to me which is always so fun and interesting (and bound to change before I actually start that first chapter).

So I have a hero with something to hide and a woman who is intent on unraveling it. Best not say another thing or it will be considered a spoiler.

Friday, April 4, 2008

the writing life

imagination: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality. a creative ability. a creation of the mind.

I've been wondering where imagination originates. I think it comes straight from heaven. Notice the word power. Imagination is certainly a powerful thing - and I think most people have one so I wonder about the old saying, "He/she has no imagination."

Because it is a gift, I can take little credit for the publishing contract I rec'd in the mail yesterday, the high point of a 40 year old dream. Getting it was more humbling than heady, really! I was/am amazed that He would allow me to share in the joy that is really all about Him anyway. He is such a personal God, wanting to connect with us on all levels.

For years I wished I didn't have an imagination but now things are heating up and life is looking adventuresome and I am thankful He didn't cancel the gift when I complained. So this post is really a huge thank you to Him for allowing me the writing life.