gardening, spiritual life, writing

The writer’s dilemma

“It is a mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere.” — Steve Goodier, inspirational author

We have an odd front yard. By a quirk of street layout, this part of our property is unusually long and skinny for our neighborhood, meaning we have the sheer frontage to collect not only the leaves of our own two oak trees, but those frCIMG5715_edited-1.JPGom several other trees across the street. This makes for plenty of raking.

Given the fact there is also plenty of on-street parking in our city, finding a place to pile up all these raked leaves until the vacuum truck comes is difficult. We’ve settled on two spots, one mountain-sized pile at the curb right in front of our house and another way, way, way down at the corner of our street.

Fortunately, I actually enjoy raking — the scritchy-scratch sound, the woodsy smell, the easy-to-quantify accomplishment — but there’s one part that’s always tricky. Because I have to focus my energy and attention on the leaves to be gathered, the gathering place is always at my back. Sometimes, I literally lose sight of the goal and go too far to one side or the other, wasting time and effort.

Any person whom God wired for creating and making would have to see the life lesson in this. Particularly when it comes to selling our product — be it books, free-lance news, photographs, art and on and on. Selling is sometimes so all encompassing that we can figuratively lose sight of the goal — sharing what we create.

I thought about this just this morning, lying in bed contemplating scenes from my most recent novel in the darkness. They are good scenes, funny scenes, scenes I’d nearly forgotten. I’ve been posting here, there and everywhere; linking to this and to that; commenting and responding, friending and following. There’s been so much marketing activity in 2018, it’s hard to remember the actual book writing that’s behind it, under it and, I truly hope, over it.

This is where I’d like to write a neat little paragraph that sums up life-work balance and creative pursuits in 2018 and beyond. But, I cannot. Is there a balance of create and sell? I haven’t found it yet, although I remain hopeful.

Have you? I’d love to hear what works for others. 🙂




books, women, writing

Got build?

“Be patient! The Great Wall didn’t got build in one day.” today’s actual fortune cookie wisdom

God certainly has a sense of humor. If otters weren’t enough to prove that, my odd career trajectory would. There is absolutely no other way to explain why, almost four years ago, a journalist would sit down to write a romance novel, actually do so,debbienora.jpeg and Debbie Macomber would come alongside a few months later to help move things along.

Yeah, that Debbie Macomber. If you are not familiar with the queen of clean romance, or romance in general, this is a lot like a novice horror writer being befriended by Stephen King. Staggering. Gobsmacking. Miraculous enough to make one laugh with joy.

The first time we spoke — an incident prompted by an unlikely series of events that included a TV cop show that turned itself on in the middle of the night — my heart was pounding so hard I could actually hear it in my head. Whoosh, whoosh. Whoosh, whoosh.

As we’ve gotten to know each other over the last three years, however, her real star power has come to the forefront. Beyond the sales (more than 200 million books in print and more than 1,000 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list), beyond the Mark Twain-like humor and the Steve Jobs-like business acumen — there is an exceptionally decent woman. A Christian woman, in fact.

She’s suggested. She’s referred her favorite how-to books on scene pacing — slooooow down, deadline writer. She’s pointed me toward critical contacts inside the daunting labyrinth of the publishing industry. She’s been wise enough to let me fumble through the big decisions and the ever-present doubt and fear, pointing me to God instead of her own considerable industry know-how. In short, she’s stuck around as more than a mentor. She’s a friend.

That truly came home this weekend, when we met in person for the first time. She, one woman from her team of experts and I sat at a lunch table and strategized as to how I can enact a homespun version of social-media platform expansion that reflects her own. That’s pure Debbie. Graciousness and guidance. Not, “Let me do this for you.” Patience and encouragement. Not, “What were you thinking?”

It’s true. That’s what she’s like. That’s what God’s like. I hope that’s where I’m headed, as well, even if I don’t “got build” in a day.

books, writing


“A CD. How quaint. We have these in museums.” Eoin Colfer, Irish writer, “The Eternity Code”

I have a flip phone, which probably tells you everything you need to know. I also use a hand whisk. If I could, I would set my own type by hand, roll on the ink with a wooden brayer and print one page of my work at a time. Denied such opportunity by the fact it is 2018, I write across multiple electronic platforms. My news stories, my essays, my first book — it’s all digital.

Last week — egged on by my agent and talk of “reader accessibility” and “broadening your platform” — I went so far as to take the Facebook plunge. I started with church ladies and gentlemen, figuring they would be nice enough to tell me if I did anything weird. No one’s said anything like, “Get thee hence, Luddite.” So, I must be OK. Or, my church peeps are overly polite. Or not speakers of Shakespearean.

It’s true. I’m out way out there now and have lasted longer than the mere 22 hours I spent on Twitter, which is far too much like playing racquetball for my temperament. But, it was no accident I avoided anything tech from sundown Friday to late Sunday afternoon like I had suddenly converted to Orthodox Judaism and then some. I needed that sabbath, that siesta, that breather.

I also needed a nap, a Tylenol and, as I told one friend, “it’s a good thing I don’t drink, because I would probably need that, too.”

It’s now Monday in Appalachia. The frost is thick, the clouds look like a gray quilt and I am refreshed. I’ve posted here. I’ve posted there. I am broadened. I am accessible. I am connected — in both English and kindergarten-level Spanish no less.

I am also holding onto my flip phone with a white-knuckle grip.


spiritual life, writing

Life 101: 4 lessons from the news

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” Arthur Miller, American playwright

Watching the news in the last few weeks has been sobering. No matter how you look at it, America and, indeed, the world are not in their finest hour. As writing news is what I do for a living, however, I may look at the unending mayhem in a different way. One, news reports can give direction to our prayers. Two: News offers continual talking points for parents.

The latter is what has particularly been on my mind lately. Mid-life mom and church lady that I am, I’ve come up with four news-illustrated truths I hope will sink deep into our daughters’ souls and minds.

  1. We live in a fallen world; so don’t expect life to be “fair.” Hurricanes can sweep your house down. You might not get the job, the man, the situation you want, or at least not when you want. There is way more illness and injury, abuse and neglect than you will ever want to know about. Justice is not always served. Sometimes, in fact, the guilty go unpunished and the righteous are murdered in the street. (God knows exactly what happened to you and who did it, my slain fellow journalists! Your blood cannot be silenced.)
  2. Some people will take a bullet for you; others are not even safe to be around. There is often a very sad backstory and God is able to deliver, but some people are just not safe. Wise people will take this into account and not put themselves or their children into situations in which their well-being is dependent on the goodwill or lawfulness of unproven acquaintances, particularly those who are drunk or high.
  3. God is able. No matter how corrupt the official, the organization or even the church — God is able. No matter how violent, how hellbent the offender — God is able. No matter how sick, how disabled, how unemployed, how tragic, how hopeless, how suicidal, how loveless the situation appears to be — God is able. Therefore: Don’t try to keep Him in a tiny box. Set God loose in your life and see for yourself that He is good.
  4. And so are you. Because He is good, your hope is pinned on something that will not fail or disappoint — no matter how impossible the news makes such a thing seem. You can make wise choices. You can rise above this troubled world. You can hope. You can help. You can shine with joy instead of living in fear. So, go. Shine on and on and on!
books, spiritual life

Is it time to ‘give up?’

“It is a mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere.” Steve Goodier, inspirational writer

If America had a universal religion, one of the top tenets of the faith would be, “Never give up.” Whatever our color or nation of origin, we are frontiersmen — determined to the bone. But, sometimes, we might be better off drifting into apostasy.

The wrong-headedness of universal relentlessness can be seen all over the place. Among children, sports and extreme academics are pursued no matter the physical injury or state of mental exhaustion. The god of success forbids that anyone even think of quitting. Young adults up the game by devoting themselves to endless years in college and endless hours of work pursuing careers that require a lottery-style win to secure they are so rare.

Among the mid-lifers, particularly among women, there’s a growing refusal to let go of the appearance of youth. It’s not just people in Hollywood. There are plenty of ordinary American women who will stop at nothing in this pursuit — surgery, strange drugs, excessive exercise, starvation and a staggering variety of cosmetic procedures.

If aging is unacceptable, dying is now seen as outright failure. We rarely use the word “die” as a culture, in fact, even in obituaries. Instead, people “pass after a long battle with…” Those long battles often include grisly and insanely expensive medical treatment that brings misery to the one dying and to their family.

Yes, we do all these things and many more, convinced that our dogged pursuit of a goal is not only a guarantee we will get what we want but is also a form of righteousness. The difficult thing is, sometimes that’s at least somewhat true. Determination can  bring what we want and can be admirable. Other times, however, it’s a form of self destruction disguised as positive action.

How can we tell the difference? It’s tough. I ask myself this question regularly: Is anything I’m pursuing harming me or my family? This has been a particularly tricky question in terms of writing. After nearly 30 years in the business, I recently chose to step back from one venue that was making me so unhappy it was spreading into my family life.

Is that “giving up?” Yes. And, no. What many Americans see as “giving up” can also be seen as a change of direction, a re-focusing. Think about it for yourself. Is it time to “give up” on something? If we’re talking about life, hope, marriage, caring for one’s children and so on — no. If we’re talking about a pursuit that is hurtful — you may surprised the answer is yes.

It’s true. There are times when “giving up,” is simply the wisest thing to do.