The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 2

This week I’ve got the conclusion of The Secrets of the Mud Room. Enjoy!

The neighbor kids had their own ideas. When we were small, their thoughts centered on toys. One thought she kept all the lost baseballs and roller skate keys there in one big mound.

Some of the other kids had other hopes. “Do you think she has my slinky?”

“Or my yo-yo?”

“And mebbe all the marbles you’ve lost?” another asked, poking his little brother.

As we got older, other ideas came to mind. One girl was convinced that Aunt Sharon was a zombie hunter and the mud room was where she stashed her victims.

An older boy said he had it on good authority that Aunt Sharon was a Russian spy. That mud room held her signaling radio, weapons and James Bond gadgets. “Or else,” he said with a smirk, “she keeps her handcuffs and whips in there. The ones she uses on your Uncle Otis.”

I couldn’t see that. Aunt Sharon chasing zombies? Or spying like James Bond? Not her. Not the woman who wore pink curlers in her iron gray hair at night.

Not the woman who never, ever spanked me. Not even when  I was five and tried to climb into her aquarium because I wanted to marry one of her goldfish. Instead, she nearly wet her pants laughing. She paused a little when she realized I’d stepped on her favorite fish, but then let her sense of humor overtake her again.

She didn’t laugh so hard the time when Bruce the neighbor kid convinced me to let him stick the toilet plunger on my face. She gave Bruce a talking to I don’t think he ever forgot. 

Oh, Aunt Sharon could get riled up, alright. She’d be downright bloodthirsty when it came to smashing the grubs that turned the leaves of her hostas into lace. Or scary enough to chase off zombies when she saw the rabbits nibbling on her strawberries. But a spy? No. Impossible.

Now Uncle Otis, I could see him as Maxwell Smart. But what he would have done that was so awful Sharon would whip him was beyond me.

All the talk from the neighbors was making me wonder. Surely Aunt Sharon wasn’t mixed up in anything dangerous or illegal. I hoped not. If she went to jail, then where would I end up?

Once a neighbor woman tried to come in through the mud room, one day when she was bringing over a gooseberry pie “just to be neighborly.” Sharon chased her off with a hoe. Uncle Otis and I heard a lot about nosy parker busybodies for hours afterward.

A few nights later, I was snuggling down under a handmade quilt in her spare room. The silence of the night was only broken by the chirping of the cicadas and the gentle hum of the air conditioner.

A loud crash like a dozen pots and pans hitting the floor cracked the silence. I sat bolt up in bed, listening. Was that swearing I heard coming from below? Some of those words my nine-year-old ears had never heard. Surely that wasn’t my Uncle Otis?

No, it wasn’t. I heard the door to the other bedroom open. “I told you so,” said Aunt Sharon.

There was a low mutter that had to be Uncle Otis’s response.

Since neither of them seemed to be disturbed by the ruckus below, I slid out of bed and went into the hall. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Aunt Sharon was already halfway down the stairs. “Come and see, girl. It’s time you learned a thing or two.”

Uncle Otis rolled his eyes and pointed down the stairs. “You might as well.”

The swearing got louder as we descended. Aunt Sharon led the way into the kitchen. My eyes widened as she marched over to the mud room and swung open the door. Finally, I would learn the secrets of the mud room.

The first thing I noticed was the open door that led to the yard. Then a volley of cursing brought my attention to the mud room. Or rather, the gaping hole in front of the outside door where the mud room floor should have been. Leaning over to look, I could see two men, one lying on the floor clutching his ankle.

“It’s my burglar alarm,” Aunt Sharon said with a smirk. “My free burglar alarm. Otis here was after me to get one you had to pay for. Waste of money, I told him.”

She looked down through the hole at the two men, who were now demanding to be freed. “We had a flood here, years ago and the mud room floor fell in, that spot in front of the door.” She pointed to the hole. “We had a feller come out, he said all the joists would have to be replaced. We’d have to tear the whole thing out, floor and supports, to get it fixed.”

“We could have got done it, you know,” said Uncle Otis.

She shook her head. “Who’s got that kind of money? So, I got me an idea. I just covered the hole with a mat. And I hung all kinds of metal pots from the bottom of the mat so it would make a big crash if someone fell through.” She grinned at me. “I never locked the back door after that. If someone came to break in, I knew they’d come in that way. And get caught.”

Uncle Otis hung his head, shaking it back and forth. “Ok, ok. It worked. Now can we fix the floor so we can use the back door again?”

“See?” she said, directing her words to me. “It worked, but he wants to give up on it. All to use the back door. For what? To save a little time? Time is what we’ve got, not money.”

When the police came, it took them awhile to understand just how Aunt Sharon caught two members of a gang that had been responsible for a rash of break ins in the area. Then it took longer for them to free the would-be burglars from their temporary jail to take them to another one.

All the commotion brought the neighbors over. Sharon shooed everyone away from the house.

“The show’s over, folks,” she said. “Otis here heard a noise in the night and came downstairs with a baseball bat. Had to whack one of ‘em on the ankle. Go on home now and let us get back to bed. And don’t walk all over my snapdragons on your way out.”

I looked at my Uncle with wide eyes. He winked at me and shrugged. “It was nothing, really,” he said.

That was when I finally understood that the people around me didn’t always mean what they said. Some just told stories for no reason. Others had a reason, a motive that wasn’t always a bad one. I started to listen a little more carefully to what people told me, and to not take their words at face value.

Aunt Sharon wore a smug grin for two weeks and celebrated by baking my favorite cookies with the sprinkles on top.

As for Uncle Otis, I think he gave up on ever using the back door ever again.

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The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 1

This week I’m sharing with you the first installment of a short story I wrote for my writer’s group. They got a chuckle out of it. Hope you do, too!

The Secrets of the Mud Room

For long as I could remember, my great-aunt Sharon refused to use her back door, the one that led from her kitchen to the back yard. The neighbors thought she was odd. The neighbor kids called her crazy. I didn’t know what to believe.

Summers, she’d fill that back yard with a massive vegetable garden, growing everything from tomatoes to okra, onions to watermelons. I don’t think there’s a vegetable she didn’t try, at least once.

Some did better than others. The watermelon never got bigger than cantaloupes (and yes, she knew they were fruit. She just called the whole thing a vegetable garden.) The strawberries, on the other hand, took over and just about choked out the green beans. The corn, the one year she attempted it, didn’t grow higher than a dog’s eye, let alone an elephant’s.

Tomatoes and zucchini, those she could grow. We were eating salsa and zucchini bread long before they became popular. And if only iPhones were around then, we would have documented her zucchini lasagna, probably the first people in the world to eat it.

Raised beds of flowers circled the vegetables. Marigolds and begonias, impatiens and violets all raised a riot of color during much of the summer. The hostas and day lilies did their share as well, the cool green and white leaves of the hostas contrasting with the bright yellow of the lilies.

Aunt Sharon loved that garden. From dawn to dusk she’d toil away, weeding and deadheading, tilling and fertilizing, anxiously calculating how much water to give her tender plants. She’d only come inside for lunch, then head back again.

But she’d never use the back door.

Even though her house had a large mud room at the back, she never set foot in it. She’d leave the house by the front door and walk all the way around, through the dim coolness of the side yard with its six maples and a birch, then get her tools from the garage that stood twenty feet away from the house. To go back inside, she’d repeat the journey. At the front door, she’d shuck her gardening shoes and replace them with a pair of slippers she left just inside.

Uncle Otis tried to reason with her. She’d just wave her hand at him like she was shooing a fly. “You just listen what I tell you, old man,” she’d say. “Just do what I say.”

Sometimes he’d get frustrated and go all passive aggressive on her. One day he wanted to eat his lunch in front of the TV so he could watch the ball game. Aunt Sharon said fine, I’ll bring the ice tea if you bring the sandwiches.

The next-door neighbors told me they could hear her raging at him for bringing just the sandwiches, not the plates she’d laid them out on.

His defense was he’d listened to her, and done what she said. She hadn’t said anything about plates.

Oh, the neighbors had a good time telling me how Aunt Sharon would make trip after trip, carrying groceries in the front door, even though it would have been so much easier to go the back way.

And the time Uncle Otis fell on the ice and broke his leg, what did she do when she got him home from the hospital? She drove him up to the curb in the front and eased him up the long walkway with its eight steep steps and in through the front door, cast, crutches and all. Uncle Otis was a least a foot taller than she, and chubby to boot. The back way was much shorter and had only two steps. Why Uncle Otis didn’t argue I never heard.

Sometimes I’d overhear him, asking her if they could get it fixed. “It would be more convenient,” he’d say.

She’d always refuse, saying it worked fine and they didn’t need to spend the money. “Besides, it’s good exercise, taking a few extra steps.”

I lots of time with her and Uncle Otis, most of the summers and school breaks, handed off by my parents who were either on the brink of divorce or travelling the world together. “We’ll be right back for you, darling,” my mother would say. Usually that meant I’d be at Aunt Sharon’s for at least six weeks.

The first year it happened, I got up every morning and packed my bag. I’d pester Aunt Sharon all day. “When are Mommy and Daddy coming for me?”

She’d gently hand me a cookie or enlist me in helping her with some task. “They’ll be here when they get here,” she’d say. “In the meantime, we’ve got stuff to do.”

Sometimes my mother would drop me off and say, “I don’t think your dad loves you anymore.” I’d spend a week in misery, missing him, thinking I’d never see him again.

Then I’d get long letters from him, twice a week like clockwork, all telling me how much he missed me. All the back and forth and contradictory messages made it hard for me to know just what was what and where I fit in. And who, if anyone, could be believed.

I was small for my age, with limp red hair and stick-like arms and legs. It took some time for the neighbor kids to allow me into their games. Egged on by them, eager for their approval, I tried a few times to peek into that mud room to see what was in there.

Once time Aunt Sharon caught me with my hand on the door handle of that back door. “No!” She screeched so loud I jumped almost high enough to hit my head on the ceiling. “Never,” she told me, wagging a finger in my face, “never use the back door.”

Her brilliant blue eyes probed mine. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I looked at my feet. What was the big secret?

I was too scared ask. But over the years I wondered what was in the mud room. Treasure? Dead bodies?

Come back next week for the conclusion.

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Planning a Novel: A New Use for Spreadsheets

Everyone’s got their own idea on how to write a novel.

Some writers say they just let their muse take them down whatever path it desires. They let their imagination roam, creativity soar, and permit their masterpiece of prose to flow.

Others plot out every detail, down to the color of minor characters’ eyes and the shape of their toenails. They know every scene, every beat, every dramatic development before they write.

Then there are the rest of us, who inhabit the space somewhere in the middle.

And are trying to find ways to be more efficient without cutting off the muse.

The Search for a Better System for Planning Novels

I’ve tried lots of systems. In my opinion, filling out detailed character descriptions before starting to write is a waste of time, and frankly, boring. It works better for me to get some of the main points of a character figured out, like age, sex, and some dominant traits. Then as the story unfolds and I work with the character a bit, I can decide if she is lanky or muscular, has green eyes or black. Or if she twirls her hair when she’s nervous.

But these kinds of summaries are necessary, especially when editing. A decision must be made if the heroine’s eyes are round or almond shaped, and this should be recorded in some organized manner. Otherwise, editing becomes a nightmare. I’ve wasted much time skimming chapter after chapter, trying to find out how I initially described a character (was he tall and dark?) and if I suddenly changed him into a short redhead.

Finally: A Novel Planning System I Can Use

Then I stumbled on this handy post that explains how to use spreadsheets to organize a summary of all this information. Why didn’t I think of that?

One is for character information:

For the current series I’m writing, it’s been helpful to have a spreadsheet to help me remember character details. On the vertical axis of the sheet, I have character names listed. On the horizontal axis, I have important details like: birthdate, basic appearance, biggest weakness, greatest strength, quirky details, and fatal flaw. Then I’ll have multiple columns for “backstory.”

When I go to use a character I haven’t used in awhile, I’ll do a quick check of the sheet to make sure I have the character in my mind.

Another spreadsheets charts character change:

The result was a spreadsheet that has a row for each character. Across the top are dates. Each cell is filled with a sentence or two describing what is happening in the character’s life at that time.

The result of creating this spreadsheet was a deep understanding of the series I’m writing. Although the narrative is flux, I can tell you how my protagonists will grow and change over the next seven books I plan to write.

The post also describes spreadsheets for plotting the beats of a story and a scene checklist. Hop over to The Write Practice to read the entire post.

I’m sold. I’ll be using these ideas when I start my next novel.

And please let me know in the comments what you think. Do you think a system like this will be helpful to you?



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What is the Value of a Life?

Read just about any news story and the question of the value of a life will come up. Should the government use its resources to feed people, valuing their existence? Or educate them? Or does life have only the value that others put on it, like a woman contemplating her pregnancy?

The movie Gattica explores this question in a fascinating manner. Set in the future, genetic engineering is the norm. Couples go through a rigorous process to ensure their offspring will have the proper genes for health, intelligence, beauty and success. These children are labeled “valid” for education, opportunities and hold a high place in society.

Children born the natural way are called “faith babies,” meaning their parents had them on faith. Vincent Freeman, the film’s hero, is one such person. He’s nearsighted, has a weak heart and the doctors project that he will die by the age of 30. His parents realized their mistake and underwent the genetic engineering for their second son, a son who was born perfect, a valid. Vincent would forever be an “invalid.”

But Vincent isn’t willing to accept his place in society, stuck in a menial job. He dreams of joining the mission to Saturn.

His chance comes when a friend is involved in tragic accident which leaves him paraplegic. Vincent uses Jerome’s DNA to assume his identity and trains for the space mission. He learns how to use Jerome’s skin samples, hair and urine to deceive the random testing.

But What’s Wrong with This Picture?

This film explores a world where faith babies are defiantly second class, less desirable as mates and given fewer opportunities.

The question arises, wouldn’t every parent want to ensure that their child was perfect and had the attributes of physical attractiveness, intelligence and athletic prowess to be able to do whatever he or she wanted in life?

The problem is the unintended consequences. The society portrayed in this film is completely devoid of happiness, vitality and fun.

What’s wrong with this society?

It Has Decided What Has Value

This society has determined once and for all which lives have value and which ones don’t. There is no room for deviation. The result is everyone is forced to live in a certain way, act in a certain way, and even spend their time in certain ways. All prescribed by what the society values.

There is no room for any deviation. Creativity, which would be trying something different or doing something in a different way, would be like admitting there are other forms of “valid” than the accepted ones.

There’s also room for celebrating the contributions of those who aren’t “valid.” They miss out on the sensitivity and kindness of a person with Down’s syndrome. They deprive themselves of the inspiration of a paraplegic who learns to run. They would have never enjoyed the music of an Andrea Bocelli or a Beethoven.

In short, they’ve taken on the role of the creator and the judge. They have assumed they know what’s best.

Over and over we see the limits of human wisdom. Communist central planning is a great example. The Soviet Union had chronic shortages of shoes. That is, if you happened to have normal sized feet. People with smaller or large feet never had a problem finding shoes. The reason is that the genius central planners who set production goals for shoes decreed that the same number of shoes would be produced in each size. No one bothered to find out what the demand for the different sizes actually was.

It Ignores the Human Spirit

At the end of the film, Jerome committed suicide. He couldn’t live in a world that valued perfection when he was no longer able to live up to the promise of his genetics.

Had he lived in a society that valued the human spirit, Jerome could have had a future. Instead, he was faced with the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the culture he lived in.

One of the most compelling lines in the film comes during an interaction between Vincent and his brother Anton. As boys, they would swim out into the ocean. They dared each other to swim further, competing to see who could swim out further. Every time, Vincent, the “invalid” with the weak heart, could swim farther then his brother, the perfect “valid.”

Toward the end of the film, Anton asked Vincent about this. “How could you beat me every time,” he asked. “I swam as far as I could.”

“No,” replied Vincent. “You swam as far as you and still know you could get back. I just swam as far as I could.”

Vincent’s spirit, his drive to better himself, gave him victory over the brother who relied on his genes.

The lesson, as I see it, is that we are more than the sum of our genes. They are just the starting point, the hand of cards we’ve been dealt.

In the eyes of humans, some hands are worth more than others. But in the eyes of our Creator, every hand has value.

There are many ways to play those cards. The choices we make, the paths we take, the effort we put into what we do, all make up who we are as a person. And what we contribute to our world.

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Knowing Your Why

Why we do something is as important as knowing how to do it if we’re ever going to finish.

Starting a project is exciting, like falling in love. When I start something new, all kinds of possibilities spin through my mind.

I can almost see the novel completed, the story racing in front of me like a movie shown at twenty times the normal speed. Faces jump into my mind’s eye, as if I’ve met the characters somewhere.

Then it’s time to write. The characters don’t do what I want them to do. Or they talk to their friends like they are delivering a lecture. Sometimes they come across as just plain unlikeable people.

That’s real problem when I think that of my heroine.

The frustrating, I want to throw the computer out the window times are the times when it’s most important to know why you write.

What is My Why?

I’ve thought about that for myself. Why is it I haven’t given up on the novel I’ve been working on for nearly four years? What keeps me going?

One reason is I have a hard time giving up on anything. Quitting, cutting my losses, I’m just not that good at those things.

But what keeps me coming back?

Part of it is my love of literature and my desire to create books that are the kind I love to read. The longer I keep working on my novel, I gain an appreciation of the novelist’s craft.

Another reason is to infuse my works with my own worldview. I’ve been disturbed by some novels I’ve read. Not that I don’t agree with the choices of the characters, or that they hold a worldview antithetical to my own.

But that after reading the novel I am subtly seduced in to wanting to embrace that way of thinking.

A good example of this from film is the Nicole Kidman movie “To Die For.” In this film, she plays a teacher who seduces on of her students and convinces him to murder her husband.

The husband wasn’t abusive or a drunk. She’d just gotten tired of him and wanted someone else.

Halfway through the movie, I realized to my horror that I was hoping that her plot would succeed.

Such is the power of a story. I found myself wanting a murder to succeed.

That’s not why I want to write.

Why? To Share a Worldview

So, in my own way, following the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis, I’d like to infuse my stories with the Christian worldview.

Not to be overtly Christian necessary, with all the trappings of the “Christian fiction” genre, however it’s defined.

But to celebrate Christian values and show how they influence society for the better. To write stories that inspire to people to be better than they are. Or to help readers get a glimpse of themselves and how they relate to others, and how they can influence others for good.

That’s why I write.

What about you? What’s your why?



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About Face


Here’s a short piece I wrote in response to the prompt “About face.” I’m beginning to think this could be the start of a novel. What do you think?

About Face

Jenny never could say for sure why she made the abrupt about face that day. Whatever it was, it surely saved her life.

She’d been out shopping, picking up some shampoo here, a new shirt there. She’d even remembered the socks her husband reminded her to get by leaving an old one with a big hole in the toe next to her cereal bowl.

The whole time she was out that morning, she kept seeing a woman in a dark green scarf.

Normally she wasn’t one to notice people’s accessories. She wore the same earrings every day, just a simple pair of studs. Unlike most of her friends, she owned exactly three purses: one for summer, one for winter, and one for special occasions.

But somehow the dark green scarf kept coming into her field of vision. It shone in the sun, like it was made of some kind of glittery silk.

Jenny couldn’t imagine why someone would be following her. She tucked her purse (the standard summer one, a plain beige clutch) under her arm tightly and moved a little faster down the street.

She turned into an ice cream shop and ordered a cone. Taking a seat by the window, she watched. No green scarf.

Then she noticed the man in tattered jeans. He shuffled down the street. A few minutes later, he was back, ambling down the other side.

“I’ve been watching too much television,” Jenny told herself. “I’m not mixed up in international espionage. Or drug running. Or even drama with an ex.” Crowds always made her nervous. “Time to get away from all these people.”

She tossed her napkin in the trash and stalked out, striding down the street toward the bus stop.

Just as she neared the corner, she had the sensation that someone was crowding her, walking nearly on her heels.

She made an abrupt about face and came face to face with the man in tattered jeans. She pushed her way past him and . Nearly running, she fled down the street.

Later, at home far from the crowds, she turned on the television news. A woman had been pushed under a bus. At the same corner she’d been on, where she felt so uneasy.

Jenny’s hand flew to her throat as she stared at the picture of the crowd that had gathered around the tragedy. In the back of the crowd stood a woman wearing a shiny green scarf. And the dead woman, a woman who could have been Jenny’s twin, was holding a beige clutch purse.


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5 Ways to Overcome Procrastination



I know I’ve been fighting it the past few days. And I’m learning that overcoming procrastination isn’t as simple as telling myself to get to work.


Instead, I find myself flitting from project to project, not feeling like working on any of them. My passion for what I was doing seems to have evaporated like water from a flower pot, leaving my creativity parched and dry.

It was time for some serious action to be taken. A little research (and yes, this was another means of avoiding the work that really needed to be done!) and I came up with some solutions.

Ways to Overcome Procrastination

  1. Make a list of what you need to do.

Then take a second look at the list. Figure out what on the list must be done today. Focus on those tasks, and give yourself permission to not worry about the others today. Instead, set some timelines for when you will get to them.

  1. Fight to Get Back that Motivated Feeling

Look at your to-do list. Pick a project. Either a short, easy one, or something you’ve been dreading.

Picking the short easy one means you’ll quickly have something done. You may find your momentum is back, or at least you’ve got yourself into a working mindset.

Picking something you’ve been dreading is harder.

But it’s worth a shot.

If you get it done, first you’ll feel so relieved. You may have such a burst of adrenaline you’re ready to take on your whole to do list.

And often the reason we procrastinate is because we are dreading the project. Now look what’s happened: you’ve gone and gotten it out of the way.

Which is what happened to me. I made a phone call I didn’t want to make. It wasn’t the most important thing that needed to happen. But it was on my mind and distracting me from other tasks. Once that was out of the way, I could move on.

  1. Break Up Projects into Manageable Pieces

Sometimes the big projects seem overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like there’s no point in even starting. It will never be finished.

Or I only have fifteen or twenty minutes.

So break up the tasks into pieces, some that might only take twenty minutes, others that could be longer. Devote just a little time every day to one of those pieces. They say that’s how John Grisham wrote his first novel. One page a day. By the end of the year, he had it done.

  1. Think About Your Why

Ask yourself why you are doing the project in the first place. Then ask yourself why you are procrastinating.

Keep digging. Don’t settle for the first answer.

To show you what I mean, I’ll answer for myself.

Why am I procrastinating today?

I don’t feel like working on my novel.

Why not?

I’ve revised so many times I’m sick of it.

Why not send it to an editor now?

It’s not good enough.

Then why not work on it some more?

Because I’m afraid that no matter how hard I work I’ll never get it to be good enough.

Here’s the problem. Plain old fear, masquerading as perfectionism.

Once I realize that, I can face the fear and move on.

Don’t listen to the doubts. Just get back to what do you want to accomplish, and think about how will you get there.

  1. Get out of La-la Land

Don’t waste your time fantasizing about the result. That’s just going to lead you to daydreaming and wasting time. When you have your goal in mind, figure out what steps you need to take to achieve it.

Still need help? Here’s a helpful article with ten more tips for overcoming procrastination.


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3 Ways to Use the Power of Story

Who doesn’t love a story? Parents use them to amuse children. Speakers use them to illustrate a point. Politicians use them to sway people to vote for them.

Great literature should first entertain. But its power can also be used in other ways.

Ways Stories are Used

There are three main ways stories influence readers.

  1. To reflect and affirm society’s values
  2. To shape society’s values
  3. To inspire readers

Examples of Books that Reflect Society’s Values

The classic example? Anything by Jane Austen. Reading them is like opening a window into the mind of the early nineteenth century.

The heroes and heroines in her novels are generally those who confirm to the values of the day. Those cast in the role of villain, like Wickham and Willoughby or the Crawfords, are those who defy the accepted morality and standards of behavior.

Another lesser known example is The Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute. The hero is faced with a nearly impossible task, but out of a sense of duty and what is right, he selflessly sets his mind to it. How a middle-aged mechanic manages to navigate international travel in the late 1940s and retrieve his dead sister’s fortune from a shipwreck is a testament to an earlier age when duty and honor meant fulfilling obligations, no matter how inconvenient.

What’s interesting is the hero never considered not fulfilling his duty. That’s a far different value than we see in our society today.

Examples of Books that Shape Society’s Values

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the classic example of a novel written to change public opinion. That the anti-slavery movement picked up after its publication demonstrates how well the author succeeded.

Cider House Rules attempts to show both sides of the abortion debate, but in the end, comes down on the pro side. The sympathetic, thoughtful hero makes one want to agree with him, swaying the reader to adopt his viewpoint.

John Grisham’s The Confession is another example. The protagonist starts off fairly neutral on the subject of capital punishment. By the end, he is rapidly against it, and the reader has been pulled along to this point of view.

Examples of Books that Inspire Readers

This category doesn’t necessarily include inspiration as regards to faith, but it could. There are entire genres that could be included here, such as war stories or survival stories such as Unbroken or American Sniper.

Also in this category we would have such epics as the Lord of the Rings. In this classic, the small, obscure, weak and ungifted with any powers turn out to the heroes. Good triumphs over evil. The underdog wins out against impossible odds.

What books have you read lately reflect or shape values, or inspire?

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A short story about a family argument that started because one person’s perception of the other was wrong.

The argument started simply enough.

“Now don’t be mad at me,” she said.

You know that whenever someone leads with that line, you’re not going to like what they have to say next. It’s kind of like when they start off by saying “with all due respect.” You can put money on it, they’ll be insulting you in the next sentence or two.

My sister stared at me, lids drooping a little over her almond shaped blue eyes. This wasn’t going to be good, I could tell. Whatever she’s done, she knows I won’t like it and she’s going to fight me on it.

I raised my eyebrows and leaned forward. “About what?”

She crossed her arms. “I took Bill to get his driver’s license.”

Bill is my seventeen-year old son.

“You took Bill where?”

“To the DMV. He told me he was ready, and you were too busy to take him. So, I did.”

I blinked, then sucked in as much air as I could. I was going to need it. Clever of her to tell me in a café. She knew I wouldn’t throw anything at her in public.

When I was able to speak, I asked her, “How could you do that?”

“We got in the car, and he drove…”

“Ha. Very funny.” I narrowed my eyes and glared at her.

“I know you wanted to take him yourself, next month. But he was feeling really bad, all his friends were driving, and…”

She trailed off. I guess she could see the rage smoldering in my eyes, my face turning red, my fingers clenched around my spoon.

“You should have called me first.” I bit my lip to keep from shrieking at her.

“I don’t see what you’re getting so upset about. Bill was feeling like you didn’t care if he ever passed the test or not. I know with Joe being gone it’s been tough on you.” She shook her head, letting her bleached blond hair swing around her face. “I was just trying to help out. Seems to me you’re being unreasonable.” She gathered up her purse and coat. “Selfish, really. Things always have to go your way, according to your plan. Think about someone else for a change.”

She shoved her chair back. “I’ve got to. And you’re welcome.” She stalked off, leaving me staring at my empty coffee cup, dish of half-melted ice cream and crumpled, soiled napkin.

Just like my plans.  The plans my well-meaning, buttinski sister had ruined.

My husband, overseas for a year, was due back in two weeks. We hadn’t told our son the exact date, wanting it to be a big surprise. And Joe, after missing a year of Bill’s life, of tennis matches and fishing trips, would at least be part of this teenage rite of passage and be the one to take our son for his driver’s license.





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Revising a Novel

Writing a novel is like making a fine wine, so they say. You need to give it some time to develop.


So far I’ve been following that advice, now that I’m entering the fourth year of working on Raising Fear.


It’s been a slow process, some bursts of energy and focus, then a time of letting it rest while I turn my attention to other projects.

And I’ve learned a lot along the way.

The actual writing, the creating, is a joy for me. I can crank out three or more thousand words in a day.

The final polishing, the wordsmithing and crafting of metaphor, also are richly rewarding. I can get myself lost in my love of language and nuance.

It’s the revising that is my Waterloo.

For good reason. This is where some of the truly difficult work comes in. Pacing the story. Developing the characters to the point the reader knows who is speaking without being told. Making the world the characters inhabit so believable and tangible the readers feel like they are there.

That’s the hard part. And there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get it done.

I dug up some writing resources, and everyone seems to have their own approach. Some people make two or three revising passes over their novel; one person reported no less than nineteen.

I can’t imagine. After thirteen or so I think I’d be so sick of the project I’d want to set it on fire and roast marshmallows over it.

After some trial and error, I came up with a workable approach.

Revision Number 1: Structure and Pacing

After letting my novel sit in the proverbial drawer for a month or so, I give read it through. While I may make note of rough spots or other problems, what I’m really looking for is structure and pacing.

Are my plot points coming at the right time? Does the story arc and climax in a way to keep the reader’s attention?  Do I need to add or delete scenes to keep the story moving?

Revision Number 2: Plot Holes and Other Obvious Fixes

Here’s where I try to find problems with the plot. If I need my heroine to flee from the villain on foot, but a few scenes ago, she broke her leg, this isn’t going to work so well.

Also, if I see some obvious problem (like my red-headed hero has suddenly turned into a blond), I make sure these are corrected.

Revision Number 3: Beta Reader Comments

Here’s where I get some feedback from others. There’s a difference of opinion on the role of the beta reader. Some people see them as the last set of eyes to look at a novel before it gets published. I don’t agree. I think they are more valuable earlier the process, to give feedback on character and story, to point out plot holes I might have missed or slow spots.

The tricky thing is they often disagree with each other. After my first revision passes, I added a battle scene involving my antagonist. The idea was to show he was in danger from the powers that be as much as my protagonist.

One beta reader thought that scene needed more action and detail. Another thought it should be cut altogether.

My third pass, then, takes all the comments and incorporates the ones I think help make the story better.

Revision Number 4: World building, Setting and Weather

In this pass, I read through, one scene at a time. Carefully I think about details I can add that will help build my world or create the mood for the scene that I’m going for. I also think about how these details can help show my characters or emphasize my theme.

Revision Number 5: Character and Dialogue

This pass is mostly for dialogue. Here I’m trying to get my characters to speak in distinctive ways, whether through word choice or tone.

I also make sure I’ve got my character directory correct and up to date. The character directory lists names, ages, hair and eye color, other physical features, mannerisms, favorite expressions, and other details that make each character distinctive.

While compiling the directory, I can check to make sure I’m being consistent.

Not only does this document prevent characters’ eyes from changing color halfway through novel, but it’s a big time saver for editors and proofreaders down the road.

Revision Number 6: Language

Here’s where the fun comes in. In this pass, I look at word choices, metaphors and similes, and try to add that extra vividness to the pictures I am trying to paint with my words. While I’m at it, I try to use metaphors and similes that fit my theme.

So, there you have it. Six revision passes.

Then the happy day arrives: we’re off to the editor!

By way of an update, I’m in the final stages of Revision Number 3 of Raising Fear. I’ll finish that pass in a week or so. Before I start the fourth pass, I’m going to check my timeline to make sure I have it right. Then I’ll be able to better fill in some weather details.



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