Wednesday, December 9, 2009

THE Hook

I’ve been wrestling several days with a “hook” for the proposal for Tangled Strands. Afew minutes ago a wrote a friend that I was torn between working on the hook or working on a blog—and then it occurred to me. Maybe I should write a blog about the hook.

Sorry if that sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook, but I am serious. So let’s back up and talk about the hook. In writing, it is simply a set of words, a devise, by which you try to “hook” a reader the same way a fisherman hooks a fish. The opening of every book needs a hook if we want the reader to take the book home. The end of every chapter needs enough of a hook to keep your reader turning the pages. The back cover on a paperback or the flap on a hardback book are designed to be hooks in themselves.

What I need right now is a hook for the opening of a book proposal. The proposal is what you send to an agent or a publisher (or your agent sends to a publisher) when you are trying to connect with an agent or a publisher. The definition I have at the moment is this: HOOK – the selling hook of 30 words or less; extremely important summary of why the reader should buy the book (italics mine).

In other words, I have thirty words to convince a reader that my book is worth the $$ being asked for it—or, in this circumstance, thirty words to convince an agent that taking a look at my proposal and my synopsis will be worth his time.

What’s the difference between a proposal and a synopsis? The synopsis of course is a summary of the story. A synopsis can be a half page or many pages. A proposal may include the synopsis, but it includes much more—everything from the number of words in the article or synopsis, to who you think will read it, to why the author is qualified to write it, and what plans the author has for trying to sell the final product.

You can see why the hook is important. If it doesn’t catch attention, none of the other “good stuff” in your proposal may be looked at.

So now that I’ve written my blog about the hook, I still need to get back to coming up with the hook itself. I need to find those thirty words that will capture attention and make the reader of the hook say, “Wow! I want to know more about this.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Trying to Get Back on Track

I know it is bad news, if I consider myself a writer, that I haven’t kept up with my blog. Whether an excuse or a reason, the truth is that my focus the last two months has been on getting that revision done so I can get on with the challenges of finding an agent and a publisher. Is the revision is done? Are you kidding? A novel is never “done” until it goes to press. However, this one of mine is far more done than it has ever been. Most important, it is pretty close to where I want it before I contact the agent again.

I could do many more things to it before considering it “ready,” such as looking at each chapter to see if it begins with something catchy enough to keep the reader reading. Or does every chapter end with a punch or an element of suspense that will keep the reader turning pages. I need to go through the whole thing again looking for those “to be” words that weaken writing, especially when combined with an –ing word (I don’t fully understand why that is bad, so I have more learning to do). I need to do a “deep edit” scouring for excess and unnecessary words (like just, really, and a dozen of their pesky cousins).

Speaking of “to be” words, many of which are linking verbs, I was impressed recently to discover one of my grandsons with an assignment to write an essay without linking verbs. They’re teaching that in seventh grade now? Yikes! I can promise you that it isn’t easy.

I won’t make any bold promises about getting back to writing regularly on this blog. I want to. I have to. I must if I am to broaden my readership and get it to the place where I can use it as a proper author’s tool.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Passion for the Task

The online course of my writers' group for November is about writing your passion and getting published. We haven't gotten to the getting-published part, but the first assignment was to write about your passion for your "wip" (work in progress). I just posted this:

If I didn't love my story, I would have abandoned it a long time ago. Though I had created the characters and story idea many years before, I finished writing the story more than twenty years ago. I made a few half-hearted efforts to get it published, but it wasn't until recent years that I began a serious effort to upgrade it to today's styles and guidelines in Christian fiction.

So I've been learning and applying things like show-don't-tell, eschew was and -ing, no head hopping or butlers in the chandelier, goal-motivation-conflict, deep POV, hooks that grab and endings that don't let go--the list is endless. The more I practiced what I learned, the more I discovered I needed to learn. Then I had to discover how to apply those things without letting them kill my "voice"--in other words, making them my servant, not my master.

Doing that has taken more time than I ever imagined--so yes, it has taken passion. I believe in my story about a girl who "tosses aside love for a ride on a whirlwind," an action which soon lets her crash and subsequently sets her up to learn about forgiveness and second chances. It's a story about relationships and God's ability to unravel "tangled strands" and weave them into meaning and beauty despite human failures. I'm within sight of the end, but still wrestling with a few issues. It must be passion keeps me going. (End of assignment)

If you've been reading my blog very often, some of that will sound familiar. I hope so. I'm happy to report that I've finished what I called the "forward progress" on my big revision. Unfortunately, that is not synonymous with being perfectly "done." But as I said in my report to my local writers' group, I'm much closer to done than I've ever been before. Meanwhile, I keep digging deeper for that passion that is trying to keep me going.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Showing of Some “Show vs. Tell”

I know I am highly delinquent in keeping up with this blog, but I’m not going to apologize. I’ve been working very hard to make forward progress on the long, drawn-out revision of my novel. Rather than give you a tale of what that has involved, I here give you an example of what I’ve been doing.

I’ve said that a big feature of today’s style of fiction writing is to show the reader an action as it happens rather than simply narrating, or telling about, that action. Here’s what I’m talking about. The next paragraph is the original of a passage in my Tangled Strands story.

<< When word finally came that a bona fide marriage had indeed taken place in New York between Sharon Champlin and Anthony Casanetti, Agnes and Sharon laughed and cried and hugged each other like schoolgirls. But they sobered quickly because the message from Alec also requested a meeting in his office with Agnes and Sharon, Mollie and Chris. Unable to imagine why he needed to see all four of them, they arrived at the appointed time promptly—and soberly. >>

Following is how I rewrote it to show the actions as they happened:

Sharon was in the backyard filling the bird feeders when she heard Mrs. Baldwin hollering her name. Hollering? Mrs. Baldwin never hollered. Sharon dropped the container of seed on the bench and dashed into the house.

“What’s the matter?”

“Chris’s father called. Are you ready for this?”

Sharon’s knees went weak and she reached for the nearest chair.

“They found it! They found the marriage certificate.”

“You mean—mine and Tony’s?”

“A genuine marriage between Sharon Marie Champlin and Michael Anthony Casanetti III.”

“Are you sure?”

Sharon began jumping around, laughing and crying at the same time. The next moment she did a double take when Mrs. Baldwin grabbed her and began jumping with her.

Suddenly the older woman stopped, and the joy on her face shriveled.


“There’s more. Mr. Thorne wants you, me, Chris and Mollie to meet him in his office at two o’clock this afternoon.”

Sharon’s mouth fell open. “Really?”


“But why? Why would he want to see all four of us?”

“I have no idea, Sharon. Let’s just make sure we arrive promptly.”

Fact is, the second version took more than twice the words the single paragraph did. That isn’t a problem unless a novel already comes in at 120,000 words (the author undoubtedly has two stories there). In my case, the original was about 87,500 words. It is now 91,300. Less than 4000 added? Not so fast. A year ago I moved the beginning of the novel forward six months, and that cut off 13,500 words. If I’ve crunched the numbers correctly, that means I’ve written some 17,000 new words in that last year.

And here everyone thought I was “just editing.” I hope it means I now have a better understanding of “Show, don’t tell.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Kind of Book I Want to Write

I finished reading a book today. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time where I found myself wondering what has happened to the family since the book was written. That’s natural and quite common when the story is from real life, but this one was fiction. My audible comment when I finished was, “Now there’s a writer who know how to make characters live!”

Now that is the kind of book I long to write. Whether I can or not remains to be seen. I won’t be able to do as good a job as this author did because I will never have the years of experience she’s had, but I’m going to do the best I can, and I guess that is what counts.

My husband enjoys mystery and suspense sagas by this same Christian author, but the story I read was an emotional family drama. Fred has been raving about how well she portrays character emotions, and now I know what he means. I may need to read it again as I put the finishing touches on Tangled Strands.

The book, by the way, was Never Again Good-bye by Terri Blackstock.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Taking the Harder Route

I had an interesting time working on my novel over this long weekend. I am now well beyond the beginning where I had to find new ways to cover what I had lost when I moved the beginning of the story forward by six months.

Now a lot of what I am doing is getting rid of speaker labels that are built with adverbs, such as “she said sadly” and replacing them with some form of action that shows how she feels instead of simply telling the reader she is sad (e.g., “she sniffed and wiped her eyes). Much of the dialog in those chapters was already quite satisfactory; I just have to polish up the “speaker attributions.”

Another thing I’ve been working on is getting more “deep point of view” (POV) into the story. Here again it is usually a matter of showing rather than telling. Instead of saying “she wondered if he would come again,” you simply write, “Would he come again?” Deep POV takes the reader more inside the mind and heart of the character, which is good. It took me a some time to catch on to how deep POV worked, but I’m getting the hang of it, and it can be fun to do.

So I was tootling along making progress when I came upon a block of chapters that stopped me in my tracks. Four of the nine of them need to be almost completely rewritten. I had known a couple of those chapters were coming because I remembered them well, but I hadn’t known how many.

Why do they need so much rewriting? Once again it is the issue of showing vs. telling. Those chapters were written in the old style of a narrator telling the story to the reader rather than showing the story happening. In some ways, it is a lazy way to write. It is harder to show things happening and to bring your reader into the heart of your characters as they are living out a scene than it is to simply tell the reader what happened.

Most of these chapters were summaries of action-type things—friends helping someone move, cleaning up the house, then planning a work marathon over Labor Day weekend (really—I didn’t make it up for this weekend; it was written many years ago like the rest of it). Most of those will not be difficult to turn into “showing” accounts, except that I don’t want to blow them out of proportion to how important they are to the story.

One of them, however, is not action based. It was life reflections of an important but minor character who is not and should not be a “point of view” person. (A point of view person is someone in the story through whose eyes you let the reader experience the story—I’ve talked about that before.) I already have a max of POV characters, so I couldn’t make him into one even if his part had been actions rather than reflections. Because it is reflection, that one has been a real challenge to my creative thinking ability, but I now have a plan sketched out that I believe will help me win eventually. How?

You’ll have to read Tangled Strands someday and find out .

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Writer's Platform

I was referred to two articles today on writing and getting published. It’s nice they come at the beginning of a long weekend when I expect to be able to focus on my writing while my husband revels in the return of football. Of course, I may join him for a few interludes since I enjoy football too.

Though both articles have good advice, they have different focuses. One is on keeping up one’s confidence as a writer, while the other is about the importance of having a “platform.” A platform? In publishing terms and as I understand it, a platform relates to how many people you know and therefore how many might be interested in buying a book you get it published. An extensive platform lowers the risk to a publisher of putting out a product no one buys because they never heard of the author.

Platform is one area in which I can feel at least a measure of confidence. I have more relationships than I can keep up with, and I appreciate them all. I’ve enjoyed a rich and varied life on three continents. I am blessed with multiple circles of friends from different eras of my life, including:

• My growing up in Africa—and now through Facebook a whole new generation of those who grew up there after I was gone.

• The boarding school and college I attended

• Forty years with our mission large organization, including dozens of former students and even more coworkers

• Those who have been interested in our work over those forty years, many who have invested financially at one time or another, including those in fifteen states on our current statement of gifts received today

• Folks in seven churches in five states who have invested in varying degrees in our ministry during those years.

I didn’t mention family, but of course they count big time, and some of them are my greatest pillars of support. I don’t have a large family, but they all have friends, too. As I said, I am blessed.

Now if I can just keep those relationships going until I find a publisher . . . They don’t all know about my writing dreams, but a good many do. In fact, recently when I felt the need for concentrated prayer for my efforts, I got positive responses from eleven wonderful friends in nine states.

That must count something for the beginning of a platform.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Giving God Permission - Part Two

I should have already understood about giving God permission because He had taught me that same lesson seven years earlier when terrorists killed one of our coworkers when we were in South America. That experience hit close to home for our family because my husband Fred was one of the twelve adults present when they took our friend captive. Fred spent an hour and a half face down in his pajamas on the cold floor with his hands tied to his feet behind his back.

Seven weeks later, they executed our coworker and swore they were coming for the rest of us—-and our house at the mission center was way out on the edge of things. I’ve never forgotten the night when I was afraid to take off my clothes and go to bed because I was sure someone was going to come pounding on that front door in the middle of the night.

Now I had known most of my life that nothing could touch me unless it was within God’s will. However, that head knowledge alone did not give me peace in the midst of that situation. That head knowledge had to get down into my heart so that I was able to say, “Okay, God, if it is your will for harm to come to me at the hand of those terrorists, then that’s okay with me.” When I could say that…and thus give God permission…I was able to sleep in peace.

Somehow I didn’t remember that lesson until after Daddy died. Since then, God has brought me other opportunities to test whether I trusted Him enough to “give Him permission.” Not surprisingly, on some occasions I’ve remembered early on and been able to do that, yet in others it has taken the a long time (in one case, years) to make peace with something He sent my way. I have an idea that is simply our human condition. We learn, and we forget. We trust God, and yet we worry again.

I’ve recently started thinking about this “giving God permission” in relation to my Tangled Strands story. One of these days I should write about the things God has done that make me believe I have His blessing to be working on it. I can do that because I'm talking about hind site—what I have seen Him do. But to claim assurance about what He is going to do in the future strikes me as presumption, and I can’t pretend to know what God’s plans are.

All I know is that, for today, I have reason to believe He wants me working on it. I even believe it is a story He could use to accomplish something spiritual in someone’s life if it gets published. At the same time, I have to keep my heart open to giving Him permission to do whatever He plans as far as its getting published.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Giving God Permission, Part One

My father was dying.

And I was not ready to lose him.

When we brought him to our home here in Dallas for what turned out to be the last fifteen days of his life, I did a little memory inventory. I found only two times—-one in my childhood and one in adulthood—-when my daddy and I were really upset with each other. It is always hard to part with a loved one, and I assure you it is especially hard to give up a relationship like that.

My being upset with God did not mean I was crying my eyes out during those fifteen days. In fact, I didn’t even cry when Daddy died, and I didn’t cry at the funeral. It was three weeks later before I finally broke down—-and then I cried so hard and so long that it took the chiropractor months to get my neck back the way it should be. And it was nine loooong months before I was able to say to God, “It’s okay that you took Daddy away.”

Obviously, God did not need my permission to take my father, and He clearly did not wait for any permission from me. So what’s the big deal about giving God permission? The big deal is what happened in my heart when I finally granted that permission. That was when healing of my pain could finally begin.

The above is the beginning of an oral devotional talk I have given in connection with my work of training missionaries. So what is it doing here? Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the first time God taught me this lesson about permission, and then I’ll tell you how it relates to my Tangled Strands novel.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out of the Groove

Blogging. It was something I hesitated to get involved in for a long time. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t keep up with it. I knew how easy that would be. But when one of my writers’ groups offered an online class in how to get started, I took a chance. And I surprised myself. I went the first year doing pretty well, and even a while after that.

But this summer the inevitable happened. I got out of the groove, and now I’m having trouble getting back in. It’s not that I never think of anything to say; I just never feel like saying it. For someone who considers herself a writer, that’s very bad.

So what shall I talk about? Getting my desk back in relative order again? A great hike with my grandsons? Getting back to going to the Y? Some new recipes I’ve tried?

I could talk about any of those, but my original idea for this blog was to talk about my novel. Not the novel I’m “writing,” but the one I am rewriting. Part of the problem is that I’m taking so long doing that, I’m sure anyone who is reading the blog is tired of hearing about it. Sometimes I struggle with just how much I want to put out there for everyone to read about.

The truth is, I don’t have very many reading it, and that is both a comfort and a frustration. I know many families members do, and I appreciate that. I know a few friends do, and that’s rewarding. I realize that so far most of what I’ve written about probably isn’t of interest to anyone who doesn’t have a personal interest in me or the progress on the book. In some ways, that is a relief.

Enough philosophizing. Something has to change, and it’s going to have to be me. Yet right now I’m putting on a big push to make progress with this revision, so that doesn’t encourage me to take time out to write a blog. And so around the circle I go.

I like that last one I wrote about the calendars and time lines. I’ve kept up with that religiously, and it has been a wonderful tool. I think I finally have a date for that baby to be born. As a matter of fact, I have another similar tool that is helping me, despite the fact that it is time consuming. I could write about it—nope! I did a search and found out I already did that. But I’m still keeping up with it, and that it a good thing.

Maybe if I give myself a good shaking, I’ll get those wheels turning again. Hmmm.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Of Calendars and Time Lines

When I wrote my Tangled Strands story all those years ago, I had a rough timeline in my head. Sharon’s birthday was in August, she came back to Willow Valley in February, and her baby was born in late spring. Other events wove themselves in between those in a flexible way. Since I got into this serious revision of the novel, I’ve known I’d have to go back to work things out more specifically with a calendar—the 1958 calendar, to be precise. Doing that during the last few days has turned out to be more interesting than I expected.

My first step was to find a 1958 calendar. Of course the Internet could give it to me, but it didn’t prove as easy as I anticipated. I could find calendars for that year, but I needed a blank calendar so I could write in all my events. I eventually settled for printing out nine copies (that’s how long the story lasts)of a calendar template and filling in the numbers for the days. I wrote the names of the months in block capital letters in pink marker across the top. I didn’t bother with Sunday, Monday, and the like because those are always in the same place on a calendar. I did, following the 1958 calendar, handwrite the dates in each one, and that didn’t take too long.

Of course I worked in pencil, but even that isn’t perfect because I don’t have a fresh or decent eraser in the house that won’t leave dark smudges if I erase. I was at the story today but didn't think to get one. The 1958 calendar told me Easter came on April 6—important because I have an event that relates to Easter. Larry has Easter vacation, and the plot events at the close of that are some of the biggest in the story. As it turned out, it gave me a little trouble, but most of all were the surprises over how things came up that just didn’t let themselves be nailed down without some kind of problem. Most of them were related to Sunday.

For example, I had pictured the cookie-baking effort towards peacemaking happening the day after the big blow-up with the slap. But the blow up definitely happened Saturday, and the day after would be Sunday. Not that one couldn’t make cookies on a Sunday (though I know some who wouldn’t), but Sharon’s first Sunday had other things that needed to happen, such as her declining to go to church with Agnes. So the cookie-making idea had to be pushed to Monday. Sharon’s doctors appointments were another thing that needed to be anchored down on logical dates that spring.

Sharon’s grandmother told her how many weeks it would be until her track-driving father would be back in town. So when would that happen? The date of the meeting in Alec Thorne’s law office controlled the date Sharon started looking for a job, so that all had to be coordinated. I’ve finished the effort now, up through where I’ve done the revisions, but not beyond. I have yet to figure out and nail down the rest of the dates as I go along (except for Mother's Day, which is a given),and I look forward to finally having a birth date for Sharon’s baby.

Ooh! I just thought of another issue to check. Between the blizzard at the time of Sharon’s return to the day she reflects by the river, is there enough time for the snow to melt? I just checked and—whew! there is.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Applying GMC to Life

Today we had our second writers’ meeting of the month, the one we call our “Think Tank.” The idea of it is to provide a practical venue for whatever we need—perhaps green lighting together, seeking input or critique from each other, or in some way applying what we’ve been learning. Following our meeting on Goals, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) from our meeting two weeks ago, some of us have been working to apply it to our stories, as I wrote about doing last week.

To accomplish that, sometimes I’ve had to go to the very core—What does the Point of View character want in this scene? (goal) Why does she want it? (motivation) What is keeping her from getting it? (conflict). Those are the building blocks of any story that keeps the reader turning pages.

Today at Think Tank we had a chance to apply the concept to ourselves personally. First we went around the circle and expressed one of our goals for this year, whether for our writing or some other aspect of life. One, for example, is working to lose weight, one wants to connect with an agent, while I want to get beyond this revision and rewriting.

Then one at a time we had to verbalize our motivation, our why? Those were interesting, but most interesting was when we had to verbalize our conflicts—what is keeping us from our goal? An interesting collection turned up, with a fair amount of overlap. Most of us have work responsibilities, one has young children. We deal with interruptions of every kind, every day. Most of us simply have more things that we need or want to do than we have hours in our days, and everyone can identify with that. I know my ancestors worked harder physically than I ever will, but I’m also sure none of them were pulled in so many directions almost constantly.

We learned a good bit about ourselves today, some more than others. I invite you to take a few minutes to do the same, either alone or with a spouse or someone else close to you. Choose a goal, something you really want. Verbalize why you want it, and then take a good look at the conflicts which fight against your obtaining it. You may pick up some practical perspectives on changes you might be able to make to help you better reach your goal.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Styles vs. Rules

A couple of days ago I wrote a message to a fellow writer who is feeling a bit overwhelmed with all he is learning about writing Christian fiction in today’s world. I have his permission to post here what I wrote him.

A lot of what you are going through is familiar territory to me. I came to our writing group 2 1/2 yrs ago with a WIP [work in progress] I'd written years ago, and I hate to admit that I've been working every since to "bring it into today's writing styles." Among the many things I've learned and tried to put into practice are the likes of point of view (POV), sprinkling back story instead of dumping it, showing instead of telling, weeding out to be verbs and -ly words.

To keep my sanity in all this, I've come to distinguish between "rules" and "style." Subject-verb agreement is a rule, so is using the right tense of a verb. How often you say "he said-she said" or whether you say "arid" instead of "very dry" is a matter of style. Even the now-notorious "head-hopping" is a matter of current style; it didn't used to be an issue, even twenty years ago.

The point is that if we want to sell in today's market, we have to learn to write mostly in today's style -- i.e., what editors are publishing these days. One of the reasons for that is that our world has changed, people have changed, our culture has changed. Today's TV-saturated brains are used to quick changes and seeing everything--not to having it described as in Kaye's favorite example of the audience Dickens wrote for.

All this is immensely complicated by the fact that we are supposed to do that without abandoning, or losing, our own “voice,” which is pretty close to the same as our own style. Impossible? An oxymoron? Sometimes it feels that way, but it must not be since so many seem to be succeeding these days.

Sixteen months ago I started a blog in which I've talked about some of my struggles and challenges. It occurred to me that you might find some of them helpful. I did a quite stab in the dark and found one that says some of what I've tried to say here but which might also serve as a starting point to browse some of the others. The blog is at, and that particular one at For whatever it's worth....

Above all, hang in there! We're glad you're a part of our group, and if we can help you as others have helped us--well, that's pretty much what a writing group is about, no?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I’ve Been Doing It!

(Note: You won’t understand this blog if you haven’t read the one before it.)

I made a lovely discovery today.

After spending considerable time working on “goal-motivation-conflict” issues with my main characters, I went back to the “scenes-analysis” table that I’ve been keeping for two or three years. I had modified it periodically, and last week I had already modified it by setting it up with columns for GMC. Then I set about, one scene at a time, from the perspective of the point-of-view character, to try and verbalize the GMC for that character in that scene.

Perhaps it’s still all Greek to you, but it has begun to make sense to me. After four or five scenes, it dawned on me—it looks as if I’ve been writing this way already! I didn’t have to struggle to identify a goal, motivation and conflict going on in each scene.

That means I’ve been doing something right! To say that was a good feeling is an understatement. At this point, I have done the analysis for two of the three pages of scenes that are already on the chart. I may go ahead and do the third sheet (it has some cool scenes on it), or I may get back to the revision process and just report on each scene’s GMC as I finish with the scene.

I’m still far from an expert on this, and I sometimes still confuse the goal with the motivation. In the online class I am taking on the topic, distinction is made between external GMC and internal GMC, but in the work I did today I didn’t make that distinction. Maybe next week I need to ask the facilitator about that.

Through this GMC business, I am really getting into my main character and understanding better what makes her tick. This is good because I didn’t know all that as I wrote her story initially. (I didn’t even recognize and acknowledge her as my mail character until I took a class from Angela Hunt at the first writing conference I attended.) So good things are happening.

One of those good things is that the more I get into this, the more I see the rich possibilities in stories beyond this first one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back Story -- My Journey Continued

When I first sat down to write what has turned out to be my lifelong wip*, I wrote the opening scene, and then I charged ahead and wrote pages and pages of back story. Years later, I learned that, though back story is necessary—you dump it all at the beginning like that! Before I learned that, I worried a lot about that back story – i.e., would it keep people reading until they got to the “real” story, but I still assumed all the back story was necessary straight out the gate. How else could the reader understand what was happening in the “present” of the story? For a while I tried breaking up the back story, but the story still wallowed in reflections and emotions but no action. It has taken me years to adjust my thinking to using back story only as a teaser to create suspense that keeps the reader turning pages.

Last fall I decided I needed to jettison the first six months of my story and begin it, not when Sharon ran off with Tony, but when she came back widowed and pregnant. Those who encouraged me to do that said, “Oh don’t worry about what you cut—you can just weave it in as back story!” Oh, great. More back story was something I did not need.

But I went ahead and tackled the challenge. I made only brief references to what had happened six months before, and like a good girl, I left out more chunks of the original back story. Then I submitted it to the Genesis writer’ contest. In the feedback I got, one theme was repeated about things the judges didn’t understand—why does Agnes feel so compassionate towards Sharon? Why does Sharon feel this way when she’s been gone only six months? Why does she feel thus and thus about Larry? Why? Why? Why?

You know why? If they only had some of the critical elements of back story that I had to cut, they would have understood all those things. I was ready to throw up my hands. Then came the June online course of the month on Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. You know what I learned? Despite the many ways I’ve heard back story maligned since becoming involved with writers’ groups, it is not only necessary, but it has an important purpose. Isn’t that exactly what I’ve always thought?

It is, in fact, an integral part of “goals, motivation, and conflict.” The motivation for all the goals and sometimes the conflict comes from the back story! So I wasn’t that far off. But I’m also learning that using it is extremely tricky because, according to the writing styles of this day, you have to find ways to weave that back story in so subtly that the reader almost doesn’t notice it as back story. It needs to be done seamlessly enough that the reader doesn’t feel jerked out of the forward motion of the story for a trip backwards.

But I thought I had done a lot of that! I know I tried to do that. It’s clear I’m going to have to try some more. How? Besides trying to stand “outside” the story and figure out the GMC on every character and scene, I’m going to have to do an analyze of just the back story—laying out what I have in there now, figuring out what more is still needed, and finding more ways to weave it in “seamlessly.”

Can I do this? I have to have faith I can. And I have to have faith that my story is worth it. My one comfort in this discovery is that my characters have lots of powerful back story.
*Work In Progress

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Seasons of Drought

Seasons of drought happen in our lives in many ways. They happen with the weather, they can happen in our spiritual lives, they can happen in our progress and creativity. How should we respond? Would it help to panic? Can we avoid despair? Should we rustle around trying to stir up rain?

We could do any of those, but most of the time strategies like that don’t do much but drain our energies. They do this not only physically but mentally and emotionally. We can end up rustling around, stirring up mental or emotional dust, and still not find any true relief.

Sometimes a good strategy is to let it rest for a while. Don’t try to force anything (with the weather, you definitely can’t). Don’t get so worked up that you can’t think objectively or creatively. Sometimes with a dilemma, a disappointment, a misstep we’ve made, we need to simply let it rest and unwind, let it germinate and simmer, let your mind or your heart explore or come to peace.

In any of these things, it is always good to pray and wait on God. The Scriptures are clear that God wants us to wait on Him, to be patience, to trust Him to work out His plan. He has that plan for us all the way to the end of our days, whether they be few or many, and He knows how the present is going to evolve into the future.
Sometimes we just need to wait out a draught.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Life Without a Computer

I know a whole generation of young people, including all my grandchildren, who can’t imagine life without a computer. For something that has so completely revolutionized our lives, the computer hasn’t been around that long. In fact, in my early adult life I worked for two publishing companies who were still setting type by hand, one letter at a time. Even though I lived seventy percent of my life before computers came on the scene, as a writer in today’s world, I have trouble imagining life without them.

I think the most amazing difference between writing on a typewriter and on a computer is the ability to make changes without having to retype the text you’re not changing. When we wrote terms papers in those olden days, if you found a mistake on a page, you had to retype the whole page—which ran you the risk of making some other mistake in the process.

If you decided you wanted to add a sentence, you would not only have to retype that page but an indefinite number of pages beyond because all the text would have to move forward to make room for the new sentence. The testimony of one of our organization’s early Bible translators was that, in the process of translating the Scriptures into one of the minority languages in Mexico, she typed the entire New Testament twenty-seven times. How many of us have even read if twenty-seven times?

I wrote the first five pages of my Tangled Strands novel on a typewriter in the summer of 1975. I wrote the rest of it in the late 1980s, and by that time I had a computer. I thought what that WordStar program could do was pretty terrific, but it was amateur compared to what I can do now.

The truth is, I have enormous respect for all those people who wrote books before the advent of the word processor. I can’t help thinking of Grace Livingston Hill, who turned out dozens of books in the ‘40s and perhaps earlier—all on a typewriter. I have a personal theory that it is harder to get published these days simply because computers make it so easy to write a book that many times more people are doing it. And there is no way I would be reworking my story the way I am if I had to retype a whole page for every little polish or improvement I make.

However, typewriters had something wonderful going for them. They were not subject to viruses and “crashes.” I’m thinking about all these things this week because the hard drive of my main computer left home by UPS three days ago so that experts in another state can try and solve its problems. Thankfully, I have a laptop, but it isn’t the same because I don’t have access to all my files and resources.

So my hat is off to those stalwarts who wanted to put words on paper and get published enough to manage it on a typewriter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Changes in Writing Styles

I’ve spoken a number of times in this blog about the changes that have taken place in Christian fiction in the last fifteen or twenty years. By listening and studying, paying attention and practicing what I’ve been learning, I am gaining steadily in my skills of recognizing and using these new styles. Another thing I’ve done to build my skills is to read primarily the kind of fiction I want to write and authors I know writing in the new style.

You see, not everyone has made changes. A few well established writers have such a following and have sold so many books that they haven’t needed to worry making changes. Why should they if people are reading their books as much as ever?

This brings up a question about whether these changes are necessary, even justified. Have they really made the reading better? Few deny that Christian fiction two or three decades ago was shallow and not highly thought of by people who knew quality writing. Those who advocate these style changes are convinced they strongly increase the quality of Christian fiction.

Again, what kind of changes are we talking about? We’re talking about helping one’s readers to experience the actions and emotions of a story rather than simply telling about them using strong nouns and verbs rather than “propping them up” with adjectives and adverbs, and giving readers credit for “getting it” the first time, not talking down to them through an omniscient narrator who explains things.

Though as I said I’ve been reading almost exclusively novels written by authors writing the newer styles, I broke my pattern this last week. I picked up a book by an ultra-successful author who has been writing for many years, who has sold dozens of books in multiple series (stories that follow the same characters, often generation after generation). I wanted to see what his writing style has been in more recent times.

I found the book written the way I used to write.

The first thing to be obvious was that he didn’t follow the current mandate not to jump from one character’s head to another’s within the same scene. That style change, called point of view, or POV, was one I resisted for a time. It took practice to master it (and maybe my Genesis contest entry will show that I still slip up). (I’ve learned it did indeed evolve during the past decade and didn’t start out as firmly entrenched as it now is.)

Questions have been raised about this POV business, such as whether readers who aren’t writers really notice, let alone care. I can’t answer that, but I know that now that I’ve become aware of the difference, I didn’t like going back to the old ways as I read this book. Perhaps the author has made changes in his writing more recently, but in 2003 he was still “head hopping” all over the place. It bothered me a lot, and I didn’t like having that omniscient narrator popping in all the time to tell me how things were instead of setting me up to discover them for myself.

So this weekend I’m back to continuing work on my novel (written so long ago) where I’m trying to show instead tell and take readers deeper into the hearts of my characters through the illusive thing called “deep POV.” Only time will tell whether it will be worth the effort.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I’ve been working the last several days on chapter summaries of my novel. This is for an agent who invited me to submit my work. The end result will run to four pages, each with two columns.

Chapter summaries are interesting creatures. You have to pull out the essence of the chapter and express it is 1-3 sentences. My longest two or three are fifty words long. Most are in the thirties and forties, with a handful under twenty. The agent says he wants to see the flow of the story. That sounds like a worthwhile reason.

Summarizing is a challenging mental exercise. A similar effort is called synthesizing. My Merriam-Webster Dictionary says a summary tells the main points briefly, while a synthesis is a combination of parts into a whole. I’m sure some of my education cohorts could explain the difference between the two, but that doesn’t concern me right now. “Telling the main points briefly” sounds like exactly what I’ve been trying to do.

Once I finish, I’m going to study the whole to see if I’ve missed expressing any elements essential to the story. I’ve already become aware of one crucial plot ingredient that isn’t strong enough. Going back and figuring out where and how to strengthen it will be a good setup for the rewriting I have yet to finish. Or perhaps I will decide I have it expressed well enough in the text and just need to get that clear expression into the summary.

I remember sitting with family members working to write a summary of each of my parents’ lives for their funeral programs. Each of them lived fewer than eighty years. Today I read the funeral program of a friend who lived ninety amazing and eventful years—again, a summary, only this one even more condensed.

I wonder what kind of summary someone will write about my life when I’m gone. All I know today is that I hope to add a lot more to the whole before that happens. Then let someone else figure out how to cover the main points briefly or weave the parts into a whole.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Did you ever have to shepherd your children into “bed” in jungle hammocks, on the darkest of nights, in the midst of pouring rain, deep in a tropical jungle? I did. Honest.

The TV weather people this evening tell us we’re going to have storms by morning. What is it about storms that makes us gravitate towards shelter? Why are we that afraid of getting wet? That night during our jungle training in southern Mexico doesn’t seem like thirty-five years ago, nor does the next day when we walked nine hours in rain to get back to camp. Having survived those experiences, do I now relish getting caught in the rain? Do I hold my head high so the rain can fall on my face? Sorry, not I. I still duck and run.

Sometimes we do enjoy storms, but it is usually if we can do it tucked into a cozy place, snuggled under a blanket with a favorite person, or watching safely behind solid glass. We have fun songs about singing in rain and raindrops falling on our heads. A favorite memory is watching my grandchildren delighting in a rainy afternoon in their little boots and colorful raincoats. But generally, it seems to me, those are exceptions.

And then there are the storms of life. In addition to storms that make us wet, there are those that bring us pain, that challenge our fortitude and endurance, or occasionally bring us to our knees in defeat. Then again, if we are blessed, we may come through storms that bring out courage we never knew we had.

Some of the most challenging storms we humans ever face are those that affect our children. In recent days we’ve been watching some precious family members dealing with that kind. As they’ve walked their beautiful little girl through the early traumas of cancer, they’ve shown us what it means when faith has an anchor. This journey for them is just beginning, but they already have an army of warriors behind them, praying for them and watching for the grace, comfort, and strength they will need from their God.

Those incredible jungle hammocks provided us shelter that night, but more important, God in His infinite mercy never sends us storms without being our divine Shelter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Plunges and Risks

Forgetfulness is not the reason I haven’t written in this blog for three weeks. With my husband recovering from surgery and sixteen days in the hospital, life has not been much under my control. I have been very aware of needing to write here. I’ve mulled over idea after idea, but none seemed worth the time it would take me to write or for anyone else to read.

Something big happened during those three weeks—-in fact, less than a week ago. I rustled up the courage to hit the Send button and submit the synopsis and sample chapters to the two publishers from whom I had invitations. Before doing that, I went through the usual writers’ trauma of worrying that the “baby” wasn’t perfect enough and, in the process, finding all kinds of imperfections. Many of them were legitimate, and one was quite serious. But eventually I took the plunge.

One might expect me now to be wound tight with anxiety over the responses I will get. Submitting is always a risk, but surprisingly, I am not up tight. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through this before, and yes, at this stage in life I’ve lived through many disappointments. I have learned that, being me, the best thing I can do to prevent going to pieces when hit with a big one is simply to expect it. This is the approach I took when I faced a cancer diagnosis nine years ago, and it helped.

What works best for me goes something like this: “If it’s bad news, I need to have prepared myself for it. If it is good news, I won’t have any trouble knowing how to respond.” So I’m not holding my breath or planning my book signings (that doesn’t mean I never daydream about them).

Two weeks ago I felt overwhelmed with all that was on my plate in addition to doing what I could to help my husband recover. I had a missionary newsletter to write and print, not to mention several dozen that needed notes plus the stuffing and stamping he usually does (the letters went in the mail today). I needed to get the submissions off, and I wanted to get on with the revision of Tangled Strands. I haven’t made as much progress on that as I would have liked and as I need to in order to be done with it by the end of the month. But I have gotten past that beginning and had a chance to get an overview of what lies ahead. I’m really eager to get on with it.

Something else happened at the end of these three weeks. Two days ago marked the first anniversary of the day I launched this site. The fact that this is the first time I have gone this long without writing is gratifying. I’m glad I took that plunge and the risk because writing here has turned out to be both rewarding and satisfying.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

God’s Foot Soldiers

When I wrote the blog below on February 4, I had no inkling that eleven days later I would still be sitting here in the hospital watching my husband try to recover from that emergency surgery. The surgery, in fact, happened two weeks ago today. Those two weeks have included times of walking in a fog, moments of wondering if I would ever get my life back, and days of waiting for a digestive system to give up its unexpected vacation and get back to work. They have included horrendous hiccups every waking moment, confusion both comical and disturbing, and now a shrill cough that triggers gagging and nausea. We have had challenges to our patience and our faith.

Through it all, God has been here.

His presence has been experienced most clearly through the love and concern of His people expressed in willingness to help in any way needed. A friend gassed the car for me, a couple picked up and delivered a prescription, and another brought me lunch from the cafeteria. A neighbor drove me to and from the hospital a couple of times, including the morning after I got only ten minutes’ sleep. Several have visited or called faithfully to inquire how things were going, always asking what they could do to help.

Local family members took care of our pets, saw that I had something to eat, and took a turn to stay as often as they could. Distant family members have called, advised, sent flowers and stuffed animals, and shed a tear or two because they couldn’t be here. A daughter dropped her responsibilities to come and help when it became clear the whole thing was going to last longer than expected. The other daughter is standing by to come next week if needed.

Thanks to e-mail, I’ve been able to keep friends and family informed almost daily of what is happening, and prayer partners in a dozen states have held us up in prayer. They’ve confirmed it by cards, notes, e-mails—even an occasional phone call. Nurses and hospital staff have been kind and helpful.

So God not only had Advanced Operations to prepare the way, He has had foot soldiers along the way to hold up our hands and lift our burden when they could. All have helped our “faith in walking shoes” to keep pressing forward, one step after another. We’re confident God has a Rear Guard that will see us through to the end.

The latest word is that that may happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

God’s Advance Operations

This isn’t where I expected to be writing my next blog—sitting in a seventh-floor hospital room watching my husband of fifty years recover from emergency major surgery three days ago. But none of this took God by surprise, and that is so good to know.

The beauty of faith is that in my sixty-five years of walking with God, I’ve seen Him go before in many amazing ways. In the military I think it is called Advanced Operations, or Advanced Ops (Ad-Ops? Who knows in these days of “hurry and say it as briefly as possible”?) In multiple aspects of life, it helps immensely to have someone scout out and prepare things in advance. Sitting here, I’ve looked back, and it hasn’t taken much rummaging in the memory trunks to make a list grow.

Perhaps the biggest example of this happened with my becoming a teacher. I didn’t grow up with any plans to be a teacher, and I went through college that with attitude. I realize now that I probably had no desire to teach because I had never been much around children. Most of my growing up was on an isolated mission post in central Africa during World War II. My brother and sister were the only other children of my culture around. My theology tells me that God understood that, and He didn’t push me. It wasn’t until ten years out of college, with the beginnings of a family and early experiences working with children in church that I was surprised to discover I liked working with children. I started to work on a teaching credential, and exactly three years later, when I was finishing up, God started the wheels rolling for our going to South America where I would be a school teacher. I’m still stand amazed.

Eleven years later the speaker for our annual conference on the mission field was a trained counselor, and he chose “Dealing with Stress” as his topic. Well, that was a blessing and all very interesting, but I remember wondering why God had led him to that focus because, frankly, our life was fairly nice and peaceful at that mission outpost. Yet within a week after the speaker left, one of our coworkers was kidnapped and seven weeks later executed. Clearly God had known something we didn’t know, and His Advance Operations had laid some groundwork ahead of the experience.
One of our daughters had a yen to be a nurse, but she wasn’t sure she was cut out for it. After she helped care for her dear grandfather during the last summer of his life, both at a hospital and in our home his last fifteen days, she was hooked and wanted to get the training. At that very time, her company phased out her job, and that left them required to pay for her training for another line of work. God’s Advanced Ops had perfectly set up that timing.

So it hasn’t been surprising that He was still performing special tasks for His children this week, and what a comfort it has been. For starters, our daughter-in-law’s parents were in town, which has made it possible for her and (when he was in town) our son to spend more time at the hospital with us/me. It has been more than a blessing because we have minimal drivers in this extended family, and an extra one wasn’t just convenient but next to necessary. Our dear neighbors have been in a “light” time in their work, so they’ve been avail to help in a number of ways. The fact that my car was already full of gas shows that the Divine Advanced Ops doesn’t deal in just the big things.

At the moment, my Tangled Strands story focuses on the other side of this issue—on God coming in to clean up what has been left behind in a mess. How comforting that our amazing God can handle both with equal divine perfection.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Journey, Concluded

I’m sorry life got in the way the last two days and I didn’t get to post more installments of “Journey.” I will post the rest of it now.

The sections about the body and the Bible came to me fairly easily when I first worked on the piece. The one that follows about the Companion didn’t come together for me until much later. It took considerably more effort—not so much because of the truths in it but from trying to make it follow the pattern of the previous two.

The last section, I think, is my favorite. None of us know when it will be our time to slip beyond that window, and sometimes thinking about it can bring unease. I hope when my time comes for that, I will have lived so that I can face it peacefully and with assurance and that those I leave behind will be able to accept it the same way. So without further ado, here is the rest of my piece about “Journey.”

My companion for the Journey is a Comforter sweet, the Spirit of Truth, the Breath of God.
Though spirit, He is a person.
Though invisible, He is ever with me.
Though quenchable, He cannot be extinguished.

This Holy Companion for my journey both …
guides me and redirects me, comforts me and convicts me,
reassures me and prays for me in my weaknesses.

Sometimes He is grieved by my failures, sometimes heartened by my progress.
Sometimes He sustains me in the depths, sometimes challenges me to new heights.

Through every twist and turn of my journey,
over every mountain top, through every valley,
my Companion has been at my side,
my Map has been steady and true,
and my vehicle has stood by me.
Someday, at a moment chosen before the foundation of the world,
my vehicle of clay will reach the end of its tether.
Then the eagle will fold its wings, the tortoise draw into its shell.
I will step beyond the bridge and slip beyond my window in time—into forever.
© 1996 Esther Moneysmith Gross

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Journey 2

As an introduction to the next installment of my “Journey” piece, I could become a theologian and expound on the history, authenticity, and utter trustworthiness of God’s Word, but this is neither the time nor the place. I will simply say that this journey of my life wouldn’t be complete without the Bible. Our world today is trying to diminish its importance and its influence in our lives, but we’ve read the end of the book. We know that those efforts will not, in the end, succeed.

Nevertheless and inevitably, my theology comes through, and that’s just fine. I should go through and make a list of the references involved in case anyone should ask me for them. Good project.

My map for this journey is a Body of Truth, a Holy Book, a Divine Blueprint.
Though heaven’s wisdom, it is earth’s compass.
Though history, it unveils eternity.
Though authored by many, its Author was one.

This Divine Blueprint for my journey both …
cheers me and chides me, strengthens me and humbles me, comforts me and challenges me.

Sometimes it is a sword piercing my soul; sometimes a balm dispersing my tears.
Sometimes it is living water quenching my thirst; sometimes food nourishing my soul.
© Copyright 1996 Esther Moneysmith Gross

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I am not a poet, though I have written a handful of poems over the years—one about seagulls, one about determination, and other miscellaneous. The events of this past weekend stirred up the memory of a free-verse time thing I wrote in 1996.

My parents were missionaries in Africa in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and my siblings and I spent our childhoods on that side of the pond. Our dad came of age at the beginning of the Great Depression, so he never had any formal or trade education beyond high school. But that didn’t stop him. If he had the vision for something, he found a way of making it happen, with a crew of African workers or without—whether it was build a large home from scratch (“scratch” meaning making the bricks from a termite anthill to cutting the logs from felled trees, to adding electricity and running water personally installed), or whether it was seeing that his wife got a piano in Central Africa, even if he had to rebuild the whole inside following its travel traumas.

Another thing Daddy did was to carry equipment to Africa to take movies, and that brings us back to the events of the past weekend. Those movies are old now, old 16mm stuff. Last fall the family pooled some resources to have them digitized. Since my sister and I are the only ones left who “were there” and could tell for sure what was being seen, we had to do something about that, so last Saturday, with the help of her son/my nephew, we recorded three hours of narration to the movies. Then we allowed him to “interview” us for another two hours about the lives of our parents and others who are already gone. Sunday we spent at least a couple more hours coming up with as many names as we could of people in the old family photo books from 1925-about 1934. (Pictures and all are on his computer now.)

Talk about journeys into the past! I suppose it is not surprising that such journeys spur mental forays into the future—however brief those have to be. What will they say about me when I am gone? When I was awake in the night again last night, I was reminded of the “Journey” piece that I wrote more than a decade ago, and I knew it was time to get it out again. It is long, so I’m going to present it in installments, with another one tomorrow and at least two days after that. I call it simply “Journey.”

My life is a journey through a window of time,
a window in eternity custom designed for me
by the Master of the Universe.

In omnipotence He directed the beginning.
His omniscience has seen the end.
With magnificent omnipresence
He is lovingly orchestrating every moment in between.

The strands of humanity that are me were woven together by Him—
uniquely, purposefully, to make me who He wanted me to be.

My vehicle for this journey is a body of flesh, an earthen vessel, a jar of clay.
Though mortal, it birthed my immortal soul.
Though earthbound, it gives me eyes to see heaven.
Though temporal, it is my bridge to eternity.

This physical vehicle of my journey is both …
tough and fragile, complex and simple, dependable and unpredictable.

Sometimes it soars like an eagle, sometimes plods like a tortoise.
Sometimes it is exhilarated with vision, sometimes weighed down with the struggle.
~~ ©Copyright 1996 Esther Moneysmith Gross

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Show, Don't Tell

The now popular phrase “show and tell” originated in kindergartens decades ago with youngsters bringing to class something they wanted to share with their classmates. The child stands in front of the group, holds up what he or she brought, and tells about it. The idea, at this most basic level, is to give beginning scholars experience in communication.

Today the advice in written communication, at least in fiction writing, is “show, don’t tell.” In today’s world, where so much communication—not just television but video games and now even cell phones—happens in visual images, wordy descriptions are out. The long passages of description common a century ago rarely cut it with today’s readers. They don’t have time for them, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the patience. Today we want to see things, experience things, not just have someone tell us about them.

This is one of the areas in which I have had to learn new writing skills. Show, don’t tell. Instead of saying “It was really cold out outside,” I write that “when Agnes Baldwin stepped out of the Wells’ Corner Market, the biting wind took her breath away. She gave her scarf an extra toss around her face….” Instead of just telling that Agnes is shocked to learn that Tony is dead, I show her reaction with “Agnes’s hand went to her mouth. “Oh, Sharon—no! When? How—?”

Another way this applies is that we try not to simply tell who said something. “He said . . . she said” is passé. More effective is showing the speaker doing something. Sharon set her teacup down . . . Chris went to the sink to wash his hands . . . Chris leaned against the counter and studied her. Where the cup is or the fact that Chris washed his hands or leaned against the counter aren’t actions crucial to the plot, but they help the reader visualize the scene as well as hearing the spoken words that accompany the actions.

Of course there are still times we need “tell.” Otherwise, our books would so large we couldn’t lift them. The writer’s challenge is to discern which is which—which needs to be made vivid by showing and which contributes better to the advancement of the story by being presented in an overview.

I’m still learning. My friend Linda is better at this than I am, and she helps by pointing out when I’ve neglected to show. Then it falls to me as the author to determine if that phrase needs to be reworded, or if it is one where actions need to be summarized.

Show, don’t tell. Who would have guessed in when I taught second grade fresh out of college?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dreams, a Broken Tooth, and Jalapeño Pumkin Pie

Yesterday was our monthly local writers meeting at a Panera Bread. When I go to those meetings, my husband likes me to bring home two of Panera’s wonderful cinnamon crunch bagels for our Sunday morning breakfast. Yesterday, in addition, I picked up for myself two small, hard, sourdough rolls. I munched on one of them as I drove home and put the other in a plastic zip bag when I got here.

For some unknown reason, I woke up around 2:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. After a while, I got up, turned on the computer, and wrote a first draft of the blog that I will post tomorrow. In time I went back to bed but didn’t stay long because I got to coughing again. At some point of my in and out, my husband stirred enough for me to request that, should I drop off to sleep a any point, please don’t wake me up. He mumbled something about its being Sunday, but we didn’t argue about it. Eventually I got to settle back in bed, and I drifted into a sound sleep with one of the most fascinating dreams I’ve ever had.

In it, I had been up during the night and finally managed to fall asleep again. When I awoke, a number of family members were around, including my mother-in-law (who died in 2005). I learned they had all been to church and back while I slept. I was incredulous. I never sleep in. I told about the only time I ever slept through Sunday school and church—when I arrived home after a 52-hour trip back from the other side of the world (absolutely true). I wanted to know when we were going to eat—I was starving because I hadn’t had any breakfast. Oh, but we were waiting for others to arrive, including Ron and Judy.

We were standing at the top of the hill watching for them to drive up when I slowly opened my eyes—and was shocked to discover I was in my bed and it was daylight. I could hear Fred shaving. He had made his coffee and eaten his bagel. We were to leave for church in twenty-five minutes. At times like this I am glad for the boarding school experience that taught me how to dress quickly (anyone late for breakfast had to sing a solo). Of course I hadn’t had any breakfast (sound familiar?). I started to get out my bagel, but it was too big to deal with in a hurry. Then I saw the hard roll. Perfect.

The trouble is, if you want hard rolls to stay hard and crisp overnight, you need to store then in a paper bag, not a plastic one, but I didn’t stop to remember that yesterday. My roll was definitely chewy, but I sliced it, buttered it, and chomped away as I got ready for church. I was aware that in my hurry I wasn’t chewing as thoroughly as I might. When we got in the car, I made an awful discovery. I had snapped the front off a molar on that roll—and apparently swallowed it! Thankfully, it has a nice solid filling that comprised the center of the tooth; that was still in place, as well as the back, and I feel no pain. Guess where I’ll be going this week and what I’ll be doing with some of that extra Christmas money? So it has been an interesting day. Maybe worth writing about in my blog?

I didn’t know it wasn’t over yet.

We baked a frozen pumpkin pie, and Fred decided to have a piece of last evening’s homemade pizza before his piece of pie. He was done before I started, and I took just pie because of the sore throat that’s been bothering me for days. The first two-thirds of my piece was delicious, but suddenly my mouth started burning. If you know me, you know I don’t do spicy, or picante, except in small doses. Now my whole mouth was on fire, including the sore throat. I tried drinking. It didn’t help. I wanted my money back on that pie! But how could a pumpkin pie get jalapeño in it?

My logical husband came up with a question. Did I reuse his small plate for my pie? Y-e-ess. Of course, that was it! He likes to add red pepper flakes to his pizza—and you can figure out the rest. Needless to say, I won’t forget this day for a while—and that doesn’t even count the fact that we are finishing our third whole day without Internet access!