Vacation-Vacation

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.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Words Matter

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.”

Words matter.

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.

Words matter.

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.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Why I Write Clean Books

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.

Thawed to Death – Kindle edition by McKean, Stephanie Parker, Potter, Victoria M. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Too Chili To Die

Usually my blogs are not about my books, although I do include a link to my books at the end. This time, it is about my newly released book—newly meaning today—Christian cozy mystery romance “Too Chili to Die.”

I often tell folks who will understand that God writes my books and I type them. Some folks don’t understand that, so I leave them to their own conclusions.

All I have ever wanted to do since I was nine years old is to write books. Just write. I am blessed by God that I can now do exactly that—after most of my life working two to three jobs at a time and using every stolen minute to write.

The Bible promises that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” Those very jobs that kept me too busy to write now find their way into the background of my books. Like “Too Chili to Die”—working on a small local newspaper and covering events like chili cook-offs.

Too Chili to Die was fun to write. Hope readers will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Getting Pruned

As a writer, or as a person, I don’t like getting pruned. Facing tribulation.

With the world in a panic over covid-19, we are all getting pruned. Limited in where we can go, what we can do, what we can wear—sometimes even what we can purchase. Facing tribulation. It stinks.

Even as a writer, pruning is required. Standard book writing advice when I started writing was to make each chapter in the book as close to 20 pages as possible. Most books were between 19 and 23 chapters. Now books feature short chapters of a few pages each, and can have 50 or more chapters.

Good authors have always researched their books before writing them, but now research is required even to make conversations flow. People nowadays use phrases copiously such as, “no worries,” “so basically,” and “right?” And teens toss in, “dope,” “lit,” “sick,” for good—and “salty,” “thirsty,” and “curve” for bad.

For me, technology is like a pair of pruning shears. First Facebook changed. Then WordPress. When I write a blog—I want to write it, insert a photo, include the link to Amazon, and publish it. I don’t want to be pruned. I don’t want to have to fight and be stretched, shaped, and chopped to figure out the new way of doing it. I don’t want to be pruned. I don’t want to face tribulation. I just want things to be simple.

Simple. No tribulation. No pruning.

A tree made me ashamed of my bad attitude about being pruned. It is a wide, tall, healthy tree working its way up to the sky. At the bottom…a large nearly horizontal stump where the limb at the bottom of the tree was sacrificed to allow the straight tree to flourish. The stump is dark and disfigured. When it was chopped off, the tree cried tears of sap. Trees don’t enjoy pruning any more than I do. But the tall healthy tree is a testimony to the power and benefit of pruning.

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3

Dream Possible

One of my favorite songs is “The Impossible Dream,” written by Joe Darion and composed by Mitch Leigh. It is the most popular song from the musical “Man of la Mancha.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go.

To right the unrightable wrong
To be better far than you are
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far…

I love Man of La Mancha. I love “crazy” knight Don Quixote who tilts at windmills and lives to the extreme rather than allowing his dreams and visions to be tamed by society and turned into cookie-cutter realities.

I’ve spent my entire life and writing career encouraging others to reach for their dreams. I will probably spend the rest of my life giving the same advice. Yet, a comment from a neighbor recently made me realize that perhaps our dreams should in some way be possible. For example, I dreamed of being in my drama department’s musical productions at college and becoming a famous singer. I can’t carry a tune.

This neighbor said, “My husband and I dreamed of buying a two-story house and retiring here. We did, but now our knees have gone and our dream has become a nightmare. We can’t get up and down the stairs—and that’s where our bedroom is.”

With God, all things are possible. All things are possible with God. But wisdom may be contained in knowing how to dream the possible and trust God for the impossible.

Mysterious Ways

One of our friends frequently declares, “God works in mysterious ways.” He does.

It is a mystery of God that husband Alan McKean and I met. He lived in Scotland. I lived in Texas. If the staff writer who was scheduled to interview him had arrived at work that day—I would not have gone to interview him and we would not have met.

It is a mystery of God that I ever left Texas. Partially due to a bad decision, my house and property was stolen out from under me. I stood beside my packed truck with tears running down my face and prayed, “Lord, if you don’t want me to leave Texas, now would be a good time for one of Your miracles.” The miracle turned out not to be that I stayed in Texas, but rather that after I left—Alan and I re-connected and got married. I moved to Scotland, and since that move I’ve written 24 books, 10 of which are set in Scotland.

As in the Garth Brooks’ song, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

My life is filled with God’s mysteries and miracles. All things really do work together for good to those who love the Lord, just as God promises in His word. Some of the worst days in my life have turned out to be the best.

Jesus told His followers in Mark 4: “To you, it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”

I’ll never live long enough to understand the mysteries of God, but I know they pen the chapters of my life.

Baggage Claim Ticket

savannah over fence deserted street

When I was walking Savannah, a woman said, “What a beautiful dog. If you ever want to get rid of her, I’ll take her.”

Would she want to redeem the baggage claim ticket; expensive veterinarian-approved food for irritable bowel disease; the clean up after her vomiting and diarrhea episodes; the $65 a box enzymes to sprinkle on her food every time she eats, the vet bills. Savannah is a beautiful blue mere rough collie—but she comes with baggage.

Recently someone viewed my Amazon Author’s Page and scrolled through the 29 books listed there and said, “I wish I had that many books on my author’s page.” But would she want to redeem the baggage claim ticket; 55 years of time, money and energy spent sending manuscripts out only to have them rejected; 43 years of working two and three jobs to support writing; neither owning nor watching a TV; money spent on a cover illustrator, editor, and special promos, hours spent every single day doing what most writers hate—marketing.

Success, however small, comes with baggage.

Husbands throw away years of marriage and family and children to follow a new face; wives throw away years of marriage and family and children for their dream guy, people move great distances in their searches for a better life.

The new face—sometimes with expensive, demanding tastes—must be fed, clothed, and lavished with attention; the dream guy snores at night and can be selfish, demanding and lazy, the perfect life is acquired through years of hard work, struggle, and delayed gratification.

Life comes with baggage.

When I was married to Luke’s dad, I used to paint billboards and signs with him. He loved the money we made, but deplored my messy hair and the paint on my clothes and under my fingernails. He fell in love with Jackie who didn’t work at all, wore expensive name brand clothes, lavished money on her hair and makeup—and was psychotic about spiders. If she saw a wiggle in a corner of a room and thought it was a spider—she would tear out of the room and nearly take the door off the hinges.

One day Larry and I were painting a sign some twenty feet off the ground. We had very little equipment—and none that would reach the sign which hung out over the street in a perpendicular angle to the building. So…I sat on one end of a plank to hold it down while Larry inched across the other end painting the sign. As he scooted along the board with the paintbrush, Larry extolled the beauty and excellence of Jackie and asked why I couldn’t be more like her.

Abruptly, a huge spider plopped down on my end of the board from the tree overhead. Only God knows how tempted I was to be more like Jackie.

There are no free rides in life. Everything comes with a cost.

Small wonder the Bible warns: “Do not covet.” Small wonder 1Timothy 6:6 instructs us: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Bending, Breaking, Shaping 2020

flowers curved rock fence

Many people don’t like change. I’m one of them.

I don’t like change because I’m mentally lazy. It’s not as easy for me to learn as it is for other folks, thus once I have learned something – I don’t want to have to discard it and learn something new. Take math. No, forget math. I’ve never learned math to start with, and thus any changes to it won’t distress me. I don’t do math.

Quit math when letters came

Today I woke up to find that Windows had commandeered my computer overnight and changed everything. I couldn’t even get to my email. I hate change.

Then I got to our grocery store and diligently followed the one-way arrows around the store—and thus—there was no way to avoid the soap aisle. Some scent on that aisle commandeered my sinuses and I desperately needed to cough. I held back the cough for fear folks in the store would think I had The Virus. I nearly passed out in the checkout line from holding back the cough that was demanding release.

I hate change.

However, as an author, I do embrace language changes that make for more powerful descriptions. I thought of a few today. “Alec, you’re making me angry. Quit going all 2020 on me.”

The box dropped off the shelf behind me and hit the concrete floor scaring the 2020 out of me.

“Let me tell you something, sugar. You know I ain’t one for gossip and talking bad about other folks—but I gotta tell you—that gal is as messed up as 2020.”

By the time she finished settling her mother at the nursing home, picking up the kids from school, and cleaning up after the sick dog—she felt as if she had lived through 2020 again.

The divorce hit her like 2020.

His life shattered around him like 2020, leaving him to trip over emotional obstacles like sleeping dogs in a dark room.

God never causes evil, but He commandeers evil and transforms it into something good. So since we can’t escape 2020, we can bend it, break it, and shape it into a new pattern. All it takes is…accepting change.

But I still hate the new Windows on my computer and I still don’t do math.

bird hooded crow tree

https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

HER

dunoon castle front sunny day

When I first became a Christian I bubbled over with love, joy, peace, and goodwill toward everyone. I thought everyone else was the same. Then I met…HER.

HER lives in Scotland. She hated me for being an American. She was still fighting against July 4, 1776 and American Independence. I was on the wrong side.

HER left me with lasting memories that I’ve forgiven, but haven’t forgotten. It’s a good thing. Every book needs a really nasty baddie to haunt the protagonist. To hold the reader’s interest, the author must hurl rocks at the protagonist and knock him or her down every time they get up again. HER taught me to lob rocks.

Before I met HER, I lived in a bubble. Truthfully, I sort of still do. I float through life glowing and joyful inside my bubble of protection and few things penetrate it. HER found a way to puncture it. So did HIM. But that’s another story.

The point is that as a writer, two of the most valuable people I’ve ever met are people who are antagonist, critical—walking negativity and poison. I love them both. I love them as a Christian because Jesus commanded His followers to love others—especially enemies because it’s easy to love friends who accept us, but dadgum hard to love those who hate us. And I love HER and HIM as a writer. I needed some jostling and pricking into the oblivion of my happy little bubble.

The Bible tells us “in everything give thanks,” and “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

Give thanks for the HERS and HIMS in your life and for the rocks they lob at you. Each rock is an opportunity for growth. Pile them up and climb over a fence. Or just stick them into a book like I do.

simple living skye

https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1