Up, Up, and Away

I recently attended an event in Wausau which included a festive array of hot air balloons. As a dozen brightly patterned balloons were inflated and launched, I was reminded of the soaring hopes I had three years ago when my debut novel, Mirror Images, won the Women of Faith contest and was published by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson.

IMG_20160709_183134_156I had visions of Mirror Images becoming an overnight sensation. With the recent release of my second book, The Jonah Complex, I still feel the exhilaration of seeing my story in print, but I no longer have any illusions about how hard it is to market a new project without a carefully thought out strategic plan, lots of networking, and patience.

Unlike a colorful balloon on a beautiful summer day, it takes more than hot air to launch a successful book. It takes years of work, careful editing, and a great support system. I am blessed to have a bright and encouraging husband, a circle of loyal and caring friends, and a God who has taught me patience, humility, and a clear awareness that whether my book sells one copy or a thousand, He is in control.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps — Proverbs 16:9

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Racing toward Perfection

For the past month, I’ve been working on the final edit of my book, The Jonah Complex. It’s a time-consuming and exhausting process. No matter how many times I go over the words, I’m pretty sure I can never make it perfect. It brought to mind a post I read some time ago about the challenge of editing.

Consider that the novel is 274 pages long and contains 534,918 characters and spaces. Even if my edit is 99.9% accurate, there could be as many as 1-2 errors per page. I’m grateful for the input I get from others and realize the value of seeking out people with creative spirits, discerning minds, and keen eyes for detail.

It’s hard not to draw a parallel with the story of my life. Its pages are far more plentiful and its twisting plot infinitely more complex that any manuscript. I don’t have auto-correct to polish up my poorly chosen words in moments of frustration. There is no dictionary or thesaurus to help in difficult times when words fail me altogether. There is no manual of style to suggest the acceptable form I should adopt in unfamiliar situations.

That’s why I’m grateful that my story isn’t finished yet. The work that I’ve begun is constantly under review. Every day, it’s carefully edited by the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

God’s creative Spirit reads every word, suggesting deeper themes, new and better directions for my storyline. His discerning mind, which knows the beginning and the end, controls the pacing in His perfect time. He understands my character arc, patiently pointing out the flaws and encouraging me to search for better motives. His keen eye for detail spots the weaknesses in my efforts. He guides me from my rabbit trails and sets me back on the right path before my mistakes have a chance to ruin the overall flow of my story.

Just as a good editor can turn a book into a bestseller, God is fine tuning my life for His glory, and the prize He has in store for me is better than a Pulitzer.

reflect… Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1b-2

 

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Narrow Mindedness Revisited

 

What if I told you I was trying my best to be more narrow-minded? Would you think I’d joined a radical religious sect or some extreme right—or left—wing organization?  Or would you simply assume that I’m a small-town girl who lacks a sophisticated, global outlook?

In the politically correct world in which we live, everyone wants to be open-minded. Narrow-minded people are, after all, ignorant bigots.  Closed minded ones … well, if a person can’t be persuaded to change his opinion when presented with a logical argument, what’s the point of dialogue? Best to avoid them altogether.

But wait. What if being open-minded isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Especially in the church. What if the open mind is nothing more than a funnel for regurgitated ideas and empty cultural values? What if, in our Herculean efforts to avoid being closed-minded, we merely become double-minded instead?

James 1:8 cautions that “… A double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.” (NAS) Contrast this with Matthew 6:13-14 where Jesus teaches:  “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (NAS)BRIDGE

If I have to choose between being open-minded or narrow-minded, I want to be the most narrow-minded person I can be. Narrow-minded—not in terms of the current vernacular—but in the same sense someone might be called heavenly-minded. I want my thoughts saturated with the things that lead to life and my mind focused on the narrow way to which Jesus calls us.

What about you?

 

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Hearts Under Attack

You wake, sweating, at two a.m. A crushing weight in the middle of your chest demands immediate attention. Instead of calling 911, you pad to the fridge for a snack and settle into the recliner in front of the TV. There’s no way you can sleep. Not with pain and fear rumbling through you like a freight train in the night.

 

It’s obvious you need help, but you can’t stand hospitals. Doctors are know-it-alls. Their smug smiles and holier-than-thou attitudes turn you off. Everything they hold sacred seems irrelevant to your daily life. And it’s not just physicians. The entire medical community is riddled with hypocrites. You imagine their pointed stares and probing questions, the judgmental position they take against your life style and your taste in nightwear. They’ll try to shame you with the infrequency with which you’ve visited the hushed, hallowed halls of their facility over the years.

 

Who are they to cast stones? You’ve seen them off duty, eating deep fried fish on Fridays or running from the liquor store in sweats. How can they have the answers that will save your life? The wisdom to point you down the path of healing? They’re no better than you. No different. It’s easier to stay home. To self-medicate, ignore the symptoms, and hope you feel better in the morning.

 

Ridiculous? I bet most of us have had nights like I just described. It wasn’t a heart attack that jolted us from our sleep—but a different kind of heart disease called loneliness. The bone deep, soul crushing loneliness that engulfs us when we feel totally isolated—not just from our family and friends, but from life, from our own emotions, and from God.

 

Faced with a medical emergency, we rush to get professional help. We seek out highly trained specialists, more than willing to place our lives in the hands of strangers. We don’t stop to consider if we like their attitudes, their politics, or the kind of music they play in the OR. We don’t worry if we’ll fit in, if our clothes are good enough, or if they’ll talk about us behind our backs. We just want to get well, so we place our faith in their promises and pray they have the power to heal us.

 

Why not grant your local church body the same grace the next time your heart tries to warn that it’s under attack?

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The High Cost of Adoption

My son and his wife are trying to adopt a child. For anyone who has been this route, you know the process can be expensive, time-consuming, and downright frustrating. The home studies, the fees, the waiting, the prayers.

Adoption is both joy and sorrow. For my son’s dream of fatherhood to come true, somewhere a young woman must make the gut-wrenching decision to give up her child. Without her sacrifice, he might never know the wonder of having someone look up at him and call him, “Daddy.”

It makes me consider my own adoption. Most of you don’t know I was once an orphan. Not only orphaned, but for the first fifteen years of my life, I was homeless. An illegal alien, if you will.

Scripture teaches that we are all orphans and wanderers until God calls us to be His children.

Like any adoption, the one that brought me into God’s family was an event mixed with joy and sorrow. My adoption was costly and required a great sacrifice. I didn’t have to foot the bill, but a Father had to give up His Son, in order for me to look up in wonder and call Him, “Daddy.”

 

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” –Romans 8:15 (NAS)

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On Becoming a Better Backseat Driver

On a recent road trip to Alabama, we loaded up the car, programmed an address into the GPS, and took off—with little advance planning and less concern about the maze of unknown streets, intersections, and highways that lay between us and our final destination. This, despite the fact that past experience had proven our GPS to be less than perfect. Although the technology is good, even the latest updates can’t catch every detour or closed bridge, and Minnie, as we affectionately dubbed our navigation system, has demonstrated a tendency to get confused by turn lanes, parking lots, and ferryboats.

Why is it that many of us will blindly follow a GPS into uncharted territory but hesitate to turn over control of our daily walk—or of our final destination—to a God who created the very worlds and satellites our GPS uses to pinpoint a location? A God who doesn’t get lost and go mute in a Walmart parking lot or repeatedly urge us to drive fifty feet off the front of a ferry.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus calls us to follow Him. In order to follow in obedience, we must be willing to let Jesus lead. It’s not easy to surrender control of our plans, our hopes and dreams, or our lives, but that is His daily challenge. Jesus wants us to acknowledge His sovereignty and to trust Him with all aspects of our lives. We need to settle into the backseat and let Him drive us through the dark streets and raging storms of life. Who better to navigate the narrow way home than the One who proclaimed, “I am the Way.”

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A Carpenter’s Son

Dad was the son of a carpenter in a time when basements were dug and laid by hand—shovelful by shovelful, block by block, when boards were cut to length with tape, square, and handsaw, and rafters were constructed and nailed in place by one man, swinging a hammer, hour after hour, day after day.

Dad learned the value of conservation and sleeping well after a hard day’s work—not from PBS programs or sleep studies—but from watching his father. Grandpa salvaged building materials from condemned properties for use in future building projects. He pulled nails from planks and two by fours and straightened them with his hammer to be reused. His was the generation that fed families during the Depression. His recycling efforts were not a green activity—but a learned response to need and a lingering certainty that it made no sense to throw away something simply because it seemed to have outlived its usefulness.

Dad took that lesson to heart. He was good with his hands and learned to fix mowers and cars, to repair used appliances and broken windows, to remodel worn out rooms and turn neglected buildings into brand new apartments. Later, his efforts would turn creative: restoring player pianos, repurposing telephone poles to totems, tapping nature to make wine, trees to make syrup. He saw beauty in permanence and found pleasure in preserving pieces of the past.

After Mom developed dementia, Dad cared for her with the same tireless devotion. They were married in a time when “for better or for worse” was a promise that still meant something. Mom’s illness wasn’t a project he could fix or repair, but his commitment to her never wavered. The world sees Mom as a sad, frail woman with clouded eyes and fading memories. Thankfully, my Dad, an eighty-eight-year old son of the Carpenter, holds firmly to his faith and the legacy left by his father. He continues to see beauty and intrinsic worth in every life—even one that some would say has outlived its usefulness.

 

 

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Novel Cover Design

The cover for my second novel, The Jonah Complex, is currently in the design process. What are your thoughts on the layout so far? Feel free to comment below. Click here to read the first chapter of The Jonah Complex.

Working Design of my newest novel, The Jonah Complex.

Working Design of my newest novel, The Jonah Complex.

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Chapter One, The Jonah Complex

1

Bai was freefalling. Terror mocked her deliberate plans. Contain the chaos, Donovan. Analyze the dissonance. The staccato of her boot heels echoed through the parking garage as she hurried toward her BMW. Rewrite your fear belief. Become the new narrative. Despite the self-directed therapy session, Bai sensed panic would prove both mindless and illiterate.

Shortly after her move to Chicago, Bai had sat on a jury that sentenced De’Ken Stone to death for the murder and mutilation of a city alderman. According to the morning paper, the state crime lab had uncovered backlogged DNA samples that cleared Stone of the 2006 crime and implicated a man executed three months ago in Texas. Had it been that long? How would Stone feel, waking as a free man for the first time in seven years? What would he do first?

Payback. It was hard to imagine him doing anything else. De’Ken Stone was a volatile hulk of society gone awry. An angry man with impulse control as limited as his vocabulary, he’d come unglued after the verdict. Three burly guards had physically restrained and dragged Stone from the courtroom as he screamed threats at the judge, jury, and wife of two years—a timid, white woman who refused to corroborate his weak alibi. He swore he’d kill them all if he got the chance …

Could the headlines be wrong? She was practically engaged to the DA. Wouldn’t the police or Peter’s office have notified her of Stone’s release? Although flight smacked of weakness, it seemed her safest recourse until she had time to think. To neutralize the threat. Despite her father’s wealth, she wasn’t sure there was enough money in the world to appease Stone’s rage. She threw her overnight bag into the trunk and gasped as a strong hand closed around her wrist.

“Going somewhere, sweetheart?”

Bai palmed the canister attached to her key fob and hit the car alarm. As the horn erupted in the confined space, Bai wrenched back, hoping to use the distraction to break free of the man’s grasp. She stumbled when he unexpectedly released his hold. Her face flushed as she processed that her attacker was not a massive black man but an amused blond in a cheap suit.

Chase Winters. Bai’s jaw tightened as she silenced the alarm and slipped the canister into her purse. Winters was the homicide detective who had testified about Stone’s priors.

“Hope that’s not pepper spray,” he said. “It’s illegal to discharge in an enclosed space anywhere in the city.”

It was mace, but Bai held his gaze. “If you’re here to warn me about Stone, Detective, you’re woefully late.”

“You might want to lay low. There’s a pack of reporters out front and a film crew on the ramp clamoring for a statement.”

“Paparazzi are the least of my concerns.”

Winters stuck a cigarette in his mouth. His lips moved slightly at the corners. “Stone’s got you spooked.”

Bai slid on a pair of oversized sunglasses. She hated that she’d let a man—this man—see her fear.

His grin broadened. “Relax, Miss Donovan.”

“Easy for you to say.” She willed her voice to remain steady. A measure of anxiety was normal, but the panic threatening to devour her reason was completely unacceptable. “Stone was a drive-by waiting to happen. I doubt death row improved his disposition.”

“No one’s going to hurt you, Bai.” Winters’ voice was cashmere. “You have my word.”

She swayed toward the unexpected gentleness. At the last second, Bai stiffened, appalled she’d nearly collapsed into his arms simply because he’d used her first name. Winters always called her Miss Donovan in a wry tone—an attitude and title, she suspected, chosen specifically to annoy.

“Gee. I feel safer already.”

His gaze sliced through her sarcasm. “You weren’t the only juror.”

“No, I was the only heiress.” The only one skewered in a thinly-veiled novella the following year implying Bai had used her money and professional expertise to influence the verdict.

“You might be the center of your own universe, Miss Donovan, but I doubt Designer Justice made the reading list at Statesville.”

Bai’s cheeks warmed. With Stone safely incarcerated, the provocative but poorly written book—the first in a crime series by Racey Delaney—made a loud, local splash before fading to relative obscurity. With the unpredictable man back in the headlines, the novel would likely resurface, thrusting her into the spotlight of media speculation and Stone’s understandable bitterness.

“Besides, De’Ken says he found religion in the pen.” Winters flipped out a silver lighter. “Claims he’s changed.”

Into what? Bai thought. Fatalism wafted toward her as distinct as burning tobacco. “Do you believe him?”

“Jailhouse conversions are fairly common.” Winters puffed twice, frowned, and tossed the cigarette to the ground. “Unfortunately, they tend to be dramatic … and short-lived.”

Bai nodded and glanced at her diamond watch. With any luck, she could be in St. Louis before dark.

“Off to hide in Daddy’s castle, Princess?”

“I’m not six, Detective.” Bai bristled. “I don’t need Andrew to solve my problems.”

“What do you need?” he asked gently.

A friend, she almost admitted before she recognized the tactic. “For you to run off the press. If you don’t care that Stone threatened my life, you can at least protect my privacy.”

“Newshounds annoy me, too, but unlike you, they haven’t broken any laws.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mace is illegal in Chicago, Miss Donovan. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.” He pulled her suitcase from the trunk and moved toward a battered white Honda parked nearby.

“You can’t be serious.”

“They’ll probably toss the charges.” He glanced back at her. “But I’d love an excuse to cuff you.”

Bai arched a brow. Was he joking, threatening, or flirting? Despite her psychiatric degrees, Bai found Winters a hard man to read.

She locked her car and trailed after him. It wasn’t the police protection she wanted, but it was better than nothing. While Winters shuffled debris to make room for her case, she fished a prescription bottle from her purse and snuck two tablets under her tongue. She jumped when he reached around her and swung open the passenger door.

Discarded fast food containers and empty soda cans littered the floor. The ashtray overflowed. A faded air freshener dangling from the rearview did little to camouflage the smell of stale cigarettes and week-old fries. Her hand brushed the soft leather of her trench coat. She hesitated and slid inside.

“Lose the Mata Hari look and tuck your hair inside that,” he said, tossing her a boonie hat with an NRA logo. “The secret to hiding is not to be what everyone’s looking for.”

Bai removed her designer sunglasses and exchanged her wide-brimmed hat for his. Although she looked like a bit player from Crocodile Dundee, he proved right. The film crew outside parted for the old car without a second glance.

“You want to grab something to eat?” he asked as he pulled into traffic.

Flirting. Her teeth clenched as she swept off his hat. “Drop me at the corner. I’ll call a cab.”

“At least let me buy you a drink. If memory serves, I owe you one.”

She ignored him and dug through her purse for her cell. Although Bai typically avoided aggressive men, she’d asked the taciturn cop to buy her a drink after the verdict. He blew her off in front of several onlookers with a snide comment about rich chicks gone slumming. His reaction reinforced her distrust of men in general and ones who reminded her of her shrewd, pragmatic father in particular.

“Better woefully late than never.” He smirked.

“Not in this case.”

He chuckled. “Where’d you say you were headed?”

“Why the interest in my travel plans, Detective?”

He grinned crookedly. “To be honest, Bai, I suddenly find myself interested in everything about you.”

“Really?” Bai murmured. Although physical intimacy didn’t factor into her hierarchy of needs, she knew lust made otherwise careful men do stupid things.

“Absolutely.” He paused and darted her a look. “The guy who offed Crenshaw was a professional.”

Bai jumped as a loud rumble of thunder rattled the car. “Who? Oh …” Bobby Crenshaw was the alderman who’d been shot three times in the back of the head, sawed into pieces, and stuffed into an oil drum. “What’s that have to do with me?”

“You’re a smart lady. Use your imagination.”

“Woman,” she corrected. Where was her phone?

Winters’ lips twitched, but his eyes remained as cold as the wet flakes splatting onto the windshield. “Jackie Davis works for your father.”

“Who?”

“Crenshaw’s aunt.”

Bai flinched as lightening split the sky, and the sleet ceded to rain. It drummed against the roof making it hard to hear. To think.

“So what? Lots of people work for Andrew. He owns two international conglomerates and several third world countries.”

Winters swerved into a service station and parked under the canopy. He turned and eyed her soberly. “Just thinking out loud. First, you concealed a close personal connection to the victim’s family at pretrial. Then you played a key role in the conviction of an innocent man …”

Bai nearly snapped she didn’t have a close personal connection with her own family, but thought better of it. In her experience, people were of two camps—those impressed with her father’s money and those intimidated by it. Winters didn’t seem like a man who scared easily, but she’d cut her teeth on sycophants.

“The defense based its case on Crenshaw’s ties to organized crime,” Bai reminded. At the time of his murder, Bobby Crenshaw was awaiting trial for his role in a lucrative housing scam. Stone’s public defender, Geoff Gintz, theorized the mob took Bobby out before he could turn state’s evidence.

“Gintz is an idiot.” Winters’ ice blue eyes flashed. “The Outfit doesn’t hire freelancers. They have in-house soldiers do their dirty work.”

“Then you have a mystery to solve, Detective.”

“Trust me. I will.” He leaned over, pulled his badge and gun from the glove box, and got out of the car. Raw wind gusted Bai’s shoulder length hair across her eyes. Rain sheeted off the edge of the overhang and streamed across the asphalt. Winters grabbed a denim coat from the backseat and moved to the gas pump. Bai gave up the hunt for her cell and climbed out to assess the neighborhood. Despite the downpour and her new coat, she considered making a break for the nearest phone.

Winters finished fueling the Honda and surprised her with his keys.

“It’s a crappy night to get a cab. I can bum a ride with one of the guys.” He nodded toward the bar and grill next door. Three squad cars sat in the lot.

“Why would you do that?”

“Maybe I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Call me when you get back. I’ll pick up the car.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “You know my father, don’t you?”

Winters nodded.

“Tell him he wasted his money bribing you to birddog me. I won’t be gone long enough for him to … notice.” Did Winters know Andrew was sick?

“No one pays me but the city of Chicago,” Chase snapped.

Bai hadn’t expected her half-hearted gibe to elicit such a visceral reaction. Winters had been unflappable on the stand despite attempts by both attorneys to needle him to embellish—or contradict—his testimony.

“Then go serve and protect.” She rallied her composure. “Arrest a jaywalker. Eat a doughnut. I don’t care. Just leave me alone.”

His nostrils flared. “Interrogating suspects is part of my job.”

“Is that what I am, Detective? A suspect?”

“Someone hired that hit man, Miss Donovan. Everyone’s a suspect until the evidence says otherwise.”

Bai rubbed her temples. Despite the anxiety meds she’d taken, her pulse was racing. It was bad enough Stone was out there plotting revenge. She didn’t need a suspicious cop poking into her past.

“Your chariot awaits, Princess.” Winters swung open the door. “Just don’t leave the country.”

Jerk. She glared at him and slid inside. The empties on the floor rattled nearly as loudly as his tailpipe as she squealed out of the parking lot. In the rearview, Winters stood motionless, staring after her as rain soaked his coat.

Bai shook her head and drove south. Seventy miles later, she remembered what Winters said about hiding. She was a creature of habit and always stayed at the Four Seasons in a suite overlooking the Arch. She veered off the highway, stopped at the first inexpensive motel she saw, and paid cash for two nights.

When Bai pulled her suitcase from the trunk, she saw Winters’ iPhone—undoubtedly armed with a GPS—tucked inside a new gym shoe. Bai sighed. She didn’t have time to worry about the detective’s faulty radar. She had to find a way to make amends to De’Ken Stone before he designed his own brand of justice and came looking for her.

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Happy Birthday, Mirror Images!

I was asked recently to submit a post for the blog at WestBow Press. As I gathered my thoughts, I realized that Mirror Images had its first birthday on July 29. It’s hard to believe Maddy and the gang have been in print for a full year. The time has gone quickly and has been filled with many memorable moments and a few disappointments. Although the face of self-publishing is changing, promoting and marketing remain huge challenges for the new author. If you’re a writer, tell me about the highs and lows of your publishing journey.

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