Mow That Grass!

One of the places we lived when I was a child was an old antebellum house in Georgia that survived Sherman’s march to the sea. A former carriage road ran in front of the graceful (but falling down) house which was serviced by an outhouse just off the carriage road. The house had no bathroom, no running water. A log cabin off to one side of the house and surrounded by a sea of yellow daffodils in the spring was the first slave cabin in our county. The house had history galore…but no comfort.

The highway ran behind the house instead of in front of it. Every school morning we had a long trek down the red clay driveway to the bus stop. Because the field surrounding the house was by default our front yard, one of my jobs was to mow it with a push mower. Mowing the actual front yard that adjoined the carriage road was a relatively quick and easy job except for twice—once when a swarm of bees took objection to the mower and once when I moved some debris out of the way and unknowingly disturbed a wasp nest. Mowing the three-acre back yard/front yard, however, was pretty much an all-day job.

No one else in the family—parents, grandmother, six younger siblings—wanted to mow. They rather questioned my sanity for enjoying the arduous task. That’s because they didn’t know my secret.

My secret was that even though I pushed the mower through grass and weeds, picking up rocks that were in the path, and avoiding harmless snakes and baby rabbits—I wasn’t just mowing the yard. I was building stories. With every forward thrust of the mower characters emerged and conversations evolved. Every time I tugged the mower to life with the pull rope and started through the enormous field—new stories, new conversations, new book plots materialized from the green expanse in front of me.

I don’t remember if I ever came in from mowing and wrote down any of the stories. I rather doubt it. I was probably too hot, too tired, too sweaty—and with no running water in the house and no bathroom—I couldn’t jump into the shower and wash off the sweat. With a household of ten and no privacy, baths were sponge baths in a basin and timing them right for the sake of modesty was challenging. Nonetheless, I loved to mow. I still do.

Any physical task that requires more brawn than brain is an ideal opportunity to people my head with characters, conversations, and story plots. It’s not work, it’s not a chore—it’s an exercise in imagination building.

The Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10.

Work presents an opportunity for imagination building.

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

Perfect R Not Us

Some folks believe they are perfect. Perhaps they are, but probably not. Perfection is a stress-inducing condition from which I can cheerfully proclaim I do not suffer.

I can’t imagine the burden of needing to always be right—or to have other people think that you are—or of never making a mistake (or thinking you never do). Some of the most miserable folks I know are perfectionists. Stress is a killer. It starts on the face by killing the smile and turning it upside down.

Some of my mistakes have been notable: spending an extra $100 from my bank account because I read the teller’s receipt wrong and thought the money was there (so did the bank—so the Lord saved me on that one); turning our wedding cake into body shield armor by cooking an artificial sweetener for the frosting instead of powdered sugar; showing up at the wrong place at the wrong time because I always get lost—the list is long. Most recently, it was the first of the two books I wrote while I was stuck in the hospital with an infection in a hip replacement. I decided that the title “Utopia House Murder” had more punch than my first choice, “Murder at Utopia House.” I sent the change to the cover illustrator, but not to my editor. Oops! The book came out on Amazon as “Murder at Utopia House,” but the cover was “Utopia House Murder.” Fortunately, most mistakes can be rectified and the title now matches in both places. Whew!

Utopia House Murder is—like most of the other books I have written—a Christian cozy mystery-romance-suspense, but at the same time—it is unlike any of the other books I have written. Sadly, I can’t differentiate between the two here because that would be impossible without dropping a spoiler. And for a writer—spoilers are unforgiveable mistakes.

We, as humans, make mistakes. “As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Psalm 18:30.

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

Inspired…

Writers are strange creatures. They find inspiration in strange places.

Friend One: “That was a terrible thing that happened to him.”

Friend Two: “What an ironic way to die.”

Writer: “I can use that in a book.”

Not wanting it to sound like I’m exercising false humility, because it’s true—God writes my books. I’m the typist.

Inspiration is like gold. Sometimes it’s lovely and unexpected—a nugget resting on top of desert soil. Sometimes it’s hidden in gravel and discovered after traveling down the riffles in a wet or dry washer—alternatively known as the hardships of life. Sometimes it’s the streak of bright shining metal in a quartz rock—obvious, but needing to be ferreted out.

Nearly all my books are Christian cozy mystery-romances. The idea for “Body in a Tree Murder” sprang from the memory of a Texas Hill Country motorcycle accident I covered for the local newspaper. “Unsigned Card Murder” came from an incident in church where a person refused to sign a birthday card and left me wondering why. The opening paragraph for “Body from the Sky Murder” hit me when I sliced open a bell pepper and found a perfectly formed baby sitting inside. “Balloon Body Murder” fell into place after I read a newspaper article about the new Texas law that allows hunters to shoot feral hogs from balloons, and “Thawed to Death” from a news item about a body found in a freezer.

Inspiration for my newest book, “Signed to Death,” developed after I watched an antiques program on TV and had the random thought, “You could hide a body in one of those old signs.”

“Look out!” Maj yelled as the huge orange gulf gasoline sign with blue letters lumbered toward me down the slopped driveway. The warning came too late. The metal frame hit me. My feet came off the ground. I fell. So did the dead guy inside the sign.

Regardless of the initial source of inspiration for my books, the ultimate author is God. “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”

There is one thing in my books for which I take complete and total credit for—mistakes.

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

Giving Birth

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.

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