Every October when a cloudless autumn sky blooms cerulean—I remember Norma Jean. She died on a day like that.
Norma Jean was in my ninth grade class. I didn’t know her well. She didn’t sit close to me in class. She didn’t hang out with me at recess. But one day our homeroom teacher came into the room and said, “Class, Norma Jean will not be coming back to school this year. She has cancer. She is dying.”
Shock glued me to my desk. I wrote a poem about Norma Jean. I didn’t pray for her—I wasn’t a Christian back then. I didn’t know how to pray. My parents were atheists. We didn’t go to church. We didn’t have a Bible in our house. God and Jesus were only mentioned as swear words—words that kids were not allowed to use.
Up until our teacher’s announcement, I didn’t realize that children could get cancer. I didn’t realize that they could die young. My adolescent mind had never grappled with hard truths like that.
Nora Jean died 55 years ago in rural Georgia. I wonder how any other people remember her? Many of us will never achieve fame or fortune. But if we can have even one person remember us 55 years after our death the way I remember Norma Jean in October when an autumn sky blooms cerulean—we will have lived well.
Writers of both sexes understand giving birth. It’s exhausting. Writers give birth every time they release a new book, or new words for any media. It’s a moment of extreme pain—wondering if they got it right, if it will grab readers, if they will get good reviews, if readers will like it. It’s a moment of great joy. Holding a book inside is—to quote Jeremiah in the Bible—like fire burning in your bones. It has to get out before the flames can be quenched.
“Body in a Tree Murder” is number 31, or 34 for me—depending on how one counts. I don’t usually count the first three. They were written under a different last name and so long ago that I’m not sure they are still available. I certainly never get any money for them!
My atheist father wrote four anti-God books before his publisher was killed in a car wreck and my father quit writing. When I first started writing my goal was to write at least one more than he did to counterbalance any derogatory or lasting effects his books had wielded. However, writing is so much more than that to me. It is simply something that I cannot not do. I am only alive when I am writing and giving birth. No matter how much it hurts.
More than two years ago when all the media hype and scare tactics began about covid, I knew this was coming. I tried to tell others. When I didn’t get shot down by those who had bought into the fear, my voice got drowned out by the fear-induced clamor. Now when one attempts to post anything about covid or vaccinations on Facebook—it automatically gets covered up at the top with an approved “facts on covid” or “facts on vaccinations.” No one wants the word to get out about those who have died or developed serious health issues from the jabs. Alan, for example, went into such extreme Parkinson’s Disease after his second injection that he was hospitalized and couldn’t walk. He is still recovering.
For those who think the Bible is just another book, this was written in AD 95: “He (meaning God’s enemy satan) causes all to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark, or the name of the beast…” Revelation 13:16. And those who accept the name of the beast will not enter heaven.
The Scottish government has just passed a law that people must show proof of being double vaccinated to attend large events. Instead of paper proof, they are requiring an app on peoples’ phones. Think about that. What’s going to happen when folks start losing their phones or stealing phones…guess what the next step is and how quickly the size of the gatherings requiring proof will shrink. The next step is so obviously a computer chip just like the ones that are even now required by law for dogs.
The Bible is true. It is always right. Doesn’t the fact that the book of Revelation warned about today’s events in AD 95 prove it? I think it’s about time we all got back to reading our Bibles, believing God’s words, and accepting His wisdom as our final authority for every situation in life.
Vacations are good for many reasons including expanding experiences. Writers are often advised to write about what they know. Research is great, but there are still things one will probably not learn through research alone.
Had I not moved to Scotland, I would never have known that it stays light up until 11 p.m. in the summer. I would never have known that it is cool to cold even in the “summer” and that it rains almost every day—especially in the marine climate where we live. I would not have known that when something is sickening it scunners people; when something is shaky it is shoogly; wet, grey, and rainy days are dreich; imagining things is havering; juice is any kind of drink besides coffee and tea – meaning all sodas; that tea is not only tea to drink but also the evening meal; that when someone is sick they look peelie-wallie, and that paddocks are frogs.
We just got back from a vacation, an enjoyable bus tour to “the borders” between Scotland and England. My favorite part of the vacation was the evening meal that I did not have to cook. We visited interesting places including Abbotsford, the castle-like home of author Sir Walter Scott who is famous for his literary works, his compassion and appreciation of people from all stations in life—an oddity during his lifespan from 1771 to 1832, and his quotes: “Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last and final awakening.” “The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon.” “Love rules the court, the camp, the grave, and men below, and the saints above, for love is heaven and heaven is love.”
Some of the tour was a bit like hard work; rising early for breakfast and boarding the bus, uncomfortable adventures like getting stuck in bathrooms, and—for someone like me who hates shopping—getting dropped off in cities and left to wander up and down the streets looking at things that I have no interest in purchasing. On a hip that needs replacing.
Getting home and back to the computer was more than a joy to me. It was a vacation-vacation. Reconnecting with family and friends to share their needs for prayer and to celebrate their achievements, getting back to work on the book I started before we left, and spending time with our precious Savannah again and taking her on walks. As Sir Walter Scott said, the tragedy of dog ownership is that we outlive them and that makes every day with them—every walk with them—priceless.
Writing is hard work. But God works too. “Praise the LORD! His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonderful works to be remembered.” Psalm 111: 1-4.
You don’t need to leave your house to have a vacation if you love your life and your work.
Words are gifts. A scowl on a face can depict displeasure. A happy, open smile can denote joy. Eyes can express kindness, cruelty, amazement, frustration. But the gift of words can reach deep inside a person and share hidden secrets.
Writers love words. They spend hours crafting them into intriguing combinations to express what they want to say. Dirty socks and toilets produce odors. A honeysuckle bloom wafts fragrance into the air. Neighborhood homes in the evening spice up the air with the aroma of cooking. Scent, smell, odor, aroma, fragrance, perfume and whiff all describe permeating the atmosphere and engaging the nose—but which words are exactly right to transport the reader to the realm the writer is attempting to create?
Telling a friend that you love her summer dress generates a different response than saying, “My aunt Gladys had a dress like that. She wore it when she got too fat for the rest of her clothes.”
Fiction authors know they must capture their readers in the opening words of their books to keep them. One of my favorite openings in my cozy mysteries (except my work-in-progress and not-released-yet which I can’t share) is the following from “Body from the Sky Murder.”
“Dang,” Hooter said, swiping manicured fingertips through her purple hair with the green underlay, “I declare but what this one ain’t too young for sex.” I looked up startled and saw her waving half of a green bell pepper over the kitchen sink, a tiny baby pepper sheltering inside. My laugh was cut short by the horrific crash outside her house. Metal screeched beyond the kitchen walls. On our side, dishes sheltering in cabinets clattered. Hooter tossed the pepper aside and the two of us rushed to her front door. Crumpled aluminum awning partially blocked the exit. “Rik,” she huffed, “I’m too big. See if you can squeeze through this mess and see what’s going on.”I complied. “Hooter…what’s going on is a body from the sky that landed on your roof.”
The opening for that book was birthed when I cut into a green pepper and was delighted to find a perfectly formed tiny green pepper inside. Words created the book. Words allow people to read it.
Since words matter, shouldn’t we use kind, gentle words when speaking to others? Using words that encourage shows respect for them—and respect for words. Angry, condemning words foment bitterness. Gentle words bloom with the fragrance of honeysuckle vines. The choice is ours.
As always, the most enduring words in the world are found in the Bible, God’s Word. “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is.” Proverbs 15:23.
Because I was born in Texas, I grew up with the axiom that everything in Texas is bigger. I believed it.
At that time, Texas was the largest state in the U.S. When President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska to the U.S. in 1959, replacing Texas as the biggest state—I actually cried. I fiercely told family and friends that when all the ice melted in Alaska, Texas would be the biggest state again. And I believed that too.
Some things that are bigger are better—like the bigger slice of chocolate cake and the bigger chocolate candy bar. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate bigger pullovers and T-shirts. Or perhaps I need them? And I’ve always preferred bigger dogs.
But sometimes it’s the little things that make us smile. Here in Scotland with unending grey skies and the colors of summer falling like the constant mist and rain and bleeding away into memories—it was a small thing that made me smile. One purple clover bloom in a vast green sea of grass.
I hate cold. I hate getting cold. I hate winter. Snow holds no appeal to me no matter how much ugly and blight it paints out of sight with virgin whiteness. Snow is cold. I hate cold.
So even with cold stealing over the land like a furry nighttime thief, the one purple bloom made me smile.
Isn’t it marvelous that a great and Mighty God like ours—a God who stretched out the vastness of space, created the weightiness of Earth and the planets and made Texas…took time to make little things as well. Tiny insects, sugar gliders, finger monkeys, pygmy possums, hummingbirds, starfish, seahorses, hedgehogs, hummingbirds, chameleons, turtles—and a host of other things that would take days to list. And fragile, colorful flowers. Even a small purple bloom.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3)
And what is a little purple bloom that coaxes smiles on a wet and rainy day?
When I took pictures for son Luke’s baby book I thought I was making a book of memories for me. The memories fell short. Time flew past relentlessly—as time does. My purse got snatched. The camera was in it. Work on the baby book ended. As a single parent, there was never enough extra money to buy another camera. Luke loved his baby book. He never got tired of looking through the pages and reading the things I had written to him and about him. When he left for heaven seven years ago—the baby book lived at his house. I wish I had known how important it was to my son. I would have found a way to take more pictures and made time to write more memories. I wish I had known.
When Luke called in early November 2013, and asked if I could join him for Christmas, I wish I had said “yes” immediately. Instead, I hesitated. I was in Scotland. He was in North Carolina. I would be leaving a husband and a dog behind. Even over the phone and in spite of all the miles that separated us—I could feel the hurt my non-answer caused. I wish I had known that he would leave this earth for heaven just a few weeks later. My immediate “yes” would have blessed us both, even though Luke didn’t have Christmas on earth that year. I wish I had known.
When I called Luke on Saturday, November 26, 2013, and got his voice mail saying he would be out of town the next day—I wish I had called back. His plane went down the next day and he flew out of my reach and straight into the arms of Jesus. I wish I had known.
My “wish I had knowns” list is long. I wish I had known how important spelling was when I was in school. Computers have spell checks—but my spelling is sometimes so whacky that the spell check goes, “Huh?” Then I hold the torn cover and loose pages of my dictionary and thumb through the letter section for the word I want because it is simply the best word and the only word that will work. Writers are like that. We wrap words and phrases around us, spin them into an inky cocoon, and live inside them. You may have guessed. I misspelled “cocoon,” but it was close enough that the spell checker managed. The frustrating thing about looking up a word in my fragmented dictionary is that if I don’t get the first two letters right—I must go word by word, page by page, until I find it. And on rare occasions, it doesn’t even start with the letter I thought it did. I wish I had known how important spelling was when I was younger.
A “wish I had known” list is long, sometimes poignant (Wow! Got that one right) and sometimes funny. Probably everyone on planet earth has a different list. But that’s okay, because God fills in the gaps. He knows. He always knows.
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path…I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139.
When I was five, I found an injured bird, caught it, and took it home. It wasn’t injured. I had unknowingly approached its nest too closely. It pretended to have a broken wing to lead me away. It offered its life in place of its young. That memory inspired me to write my children’s book, “Save Our Egg.”
BA…meaning Before Arthritis, I used to run. I liked to run around the fenced track at the school. There was no hard surface and the grass made running difficult, but because it was a mile—it was easy to keep track of distance. One day—running it proved hazardous. Neighborhood seagulls were teaching their babies to fly and had positioned them in the middle of the field. They considered me a threat. Their angry squawks and repeated dive bombing sent me back to the pavement.
When son Luke was eleven, we rescued and raised a baby raven. Rap followed Luke everywhere—even when he was riding his bike. Unlike our collie puppy who liked everyone, Rap was a guard dog. He loved Luke’s best friend, but when people he didn’t know entered our driveway—Rap attacked. He never bothered neighborhood kids in their own yards—just in “his” yard. When the ranchers took a break for lunch in the barn, Rap joined them, walking up and down the long table to accept whatever tidbits they were willing to share.
Recently, a pigeon knocked on our glass door at the back of the house. I opened the door and the bird walked in and settled under one of the kitchen chairs. It was raining, so I gave the bird some seed and water and let it spend the night. The next morning, the pigeon began following me around the house and I put it back outside. Birds are intelligent. Calling someone a “bird brain” is actually a compliment.
Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:26. Jesus also said that not even one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will, and adds, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:31.
When I was around 13 or 14, I used profanity in an effort to fit in with my friends. That never happened. I’ve never “fit in,” and probably not just because I have big feet. Then I started reading Moody Bible books and met the Sugar Creek Gang and kid characters like them. I wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t read the Bible. I didn’t go to church. Conversation around our table at meals consisted of my father telling us that God didn’t exist.
The clean living characters in those mystery/adventure books resonated with me and I vowed that I would never use profanity again. I haven’t. Not even in my books. I want my book characters to be like my son Luke, who made it from enlisted to major before a plane crash changed his address from earth to heaven. While Luke was still a captain in the USMC, one of his enlisted men wrote in the platoon newsletter: “We can’t make Captain Parker swear no matter what we do to him.” I want my characters to set good examples—not by preaching it, but by living it.
Readers also will not find people smoking, using drugs, drinking alcohol, or having gratuitous sex in my books, because the Bible tells us that our bodies are God’s holy temples and that we are not to do anything that destroys them.
One of my friends is dying of lung cancer right now. I used to work with her. I begged her to quit smoking. So did a lot of other people. She was smoking long before I met her. But just suppose that she had fallen in love with a character in one of my books and started smoking because my character made it seem so “cool.” How devastating would that be?
“You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20.