Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: Room for Two

It is not often I read a book that haunts me the way Room for Two has done. From the opening line to the closing paragraph, this was a book I did not want to put down and has changed the way I think about many things, including mental illness and suicide.

"Sweetie, I'm home." I tried to put as much kindness into my voice as possible. I didn't want to have another argument - at least not right away.
A gunshot echoed from our bedroom, followed by the sound of a bullet casing skipping along a wall.
Everything slowed down.

My heart literally ached with these opening lines. What would it be like to walk in the door and experience something like this? Abel tells us without mincing words. He is extremely honest in telling us what happened and how he came to deal with it and learned to forgive his wife and himself. Written as non-fiction, it reads like fiction and was very easy to immerse myself in. This is a story I would have loved if it was fiction, but knowing it was fact made it reach into the deepest parts of my heart and squeeze.

What is the book about? Let me tell you.

When a life is destroyed, when guilt says you played a role in its destruction, how do you face the days ahead?
Twenty-six-year-old Abel Keogh chooses to ignore the promptings he receives concerning his wife's mental illness, and now he feels he is to blame for her choices. If only he had listened . . .

At some point in our lives, each of us face devastating afflictions and must eventually cope with loss. Regardless of how it happens, the outcome is still the same - we are left isolated, alone, wondering what we could have done differently, and where we can turn for peace.

This is Abel's story in his own words. His search for peace and the miracle that follows is proof that love and hope can endure, despite the struggles and tragedies that shape each of our lives.

On a more personal level, Room for Two made me realize that I have my own story to share and gave me the couage to begin writing it. If Abel can write about such a painful, sensitive subject, than my fears at exposing myself are negligible.

So, thank you, Sir, for writing words that can stir the soul and improve us in the ways we need, whether big or small. Having the courage to take your life in hand, love again, and share all that you've learned with the rest of us has made you a hero in my eyes.

Purchase Room for Two here.
Room for Two
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Cedar Fort (August 2007)
ISBN-10: 1599550628
ISBN-13: 978-1599550626

Quote of the Day: "Books want to be born: I never make them. They come to me and insist on being written, and on being such and such."
~Samuel Butler

Earwig Mash-up

A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion about earwigs happening on one of the writing lists I belong to. Evidently one of the ladies there had something in her ear and when she washed it out, an earwig came swimming out. Of course one of the gents had to pop in with his earwig story--waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating pinching happening in his ear. Turns out he had an earwig in there too.

Two nights ago I was taking a bath when--you guessed it--an earwig scrambled up the shower curtain. Thankfully I had a couple of books on hand to mash it with. Everywhere I turn I find earwigs this year, insects I hadn't seen much of since I was a kid in Washington.

My nine year old is terrified of them. Well, he's terrified of bugs in general, but he let out a rather girly scream this afternoon when he walked down the stairs and saw one on the wall. I mashed it pretty quickly, but all of the earwig stories and action have created a problem.

See, I've got this really active imagination--probably overactive--and now I can't sleep at night for fear of an earwig crawling inside. I've taken to sleeping with cotton balls stuffed in my ears for protection, which of course makes it hard to hear my alarm clock go off in the morning. *sigh* A girl just can't win, can she.

On a positive note, I've finally started writing again, but not what I'd been planning on. I've played with an idea for ten years or more and never had the courage to write it--a non-fiction piece, which is a form I am completely unfamiliar with. I'm shooting in the dark here and only hoping I can make it right, and it's all thanks to a book I finished on Sunday by Abel Keough, called Room for Two. I'll be reviewing it tomorrow, so come back for the review, but I'm telling you, that story has inspired me in many, many ways. It's got me writing again, which is something I've lacked for two years. In the past three days I've written over 4,000 words. I thought that was a pretty good start. I'm very grateful to have some inspiration and courage again, so keep rooting for me, everybody. I can use it!

Quote of the day: "You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke."

~Arthur Polotnik

Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Review: All's Fair

I first met Julie Bellon at the 2006 LDStorymakers conference. We were standing in line for lunch and my friend was chatting with her so I joined in, not realizing at the time that she was a published author. She was very friendly and so easy to talk to I quickly came to love her, and once I began reading her books my admiration grew even more. Julie has the ability to create characters that readers care about, which is the most important aspect of a book for me, up and above everything else.

All's Fair is the story of brother and sister Brandon and Kristen Shepherd. The book nabbed me on page one when I found Kristen running away from the altar, and my connection with her was finalized when she found herself climbing a fence in her wedding dress, rain pouring down, and she slips and falls in the mud. The picture was so vivid and my heart ached for her right then. I was hooked. Add to that Brandon, a military doctor in Iraq who is captured by the enemy, and I had a very hard time putting this book down. Julie always does that to me. It doesn't matter what else is going on, I will avoid it to dive into her books and devour them as quickly as I can.

Great characters, fascinating plot--you can't go wrong with this one. It gets a big two thumbs up from me!

Quote of the Day: "A writer's mind seems to be situated partly in the solar plexus and partly in the head."
~Ethel Wilson

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bragging Rights

I know most people think their mom is the best, but I've got to say I think my mom is definitely in the cream of the crop. This is a woman who became a widow at 43 with a two and a four year old, then turned around and raised them by herself. She is the most independent person I know and taught me that there truly is a way to do anything if you're creative and research your options enough.

You know how most gardeners have a green thumb? Well, my mom's got a green arm. The woman can grow anything! She's built decks and sheds, she's built rooms and painted, she's laid carpet, done plumbing, took care of her own aged parents, and continued to raise her two kids in a loving home.

But in all the busy-ness of her life she had to give up her greatest dream: that of being an author. She has said on many occasions that she is not only proud of me for my accomplishments, but is so grateful that she gets to be a part of my journey toward publication, that in a small way she gets to live her dream through me.

Well, not anymore.

On Saturday, as I had a marathon wait at the Atlanta airport, I got a phone call from my dear mother. Months ago she had submitted a few stories to a lady she'd met, Joy Robinson, who had previously published a compilation of spiritual stories called Touched by the Spirit. Mom had hoped something would come of it, but hadn't been expecting much of anything, when lo and behold she receives a copy of Joy's newest book in the mail with not one of Mom's stories, but two! She was thrilled, to say the least. The book is called Tender mercies: Stories to Stir the Soul and is published by Cedar Fort.

Can you say proud daughter???

What an amazing thing, to have my mother finally see her dream of publication fulfilled while her daughter is on the path herself. She asked me today if I was at all jealous of her success and I could honestly say, not one bit! I am so happy that she's been able to feel the joy of seeing her words in print and am so, so thankful to have her as my mom. She's my hero--the person I look up to more than any other.

So, congratulations, Mom! I'm so very proud of you! Let's keep making those dreams come true!

Quote of the Day: "A writer lives, at least, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all. To transmit that feeling, he writes."

~William Sansom

Friday, July 18, 2008

Book Review: Caught in the Headlights

I finished two books yesterday (see previous blog for the other one), the first of which was Caught in the Headlights: 10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way. Wow, what a book! I began my journey through the 10 lessons without much thought for how it applied to me. To be honest, I thought more along the lines of, "ooh, my husband should read this" or "Oh, this chapter would be great for my friend." It wasn't until I hit chapter 7 on forgiveness that I started to feel "caught in the headlights."

Everyone has things in their lives that change them, things that are tough for them to get over and I've certainly had my share, but I had one experience in particular that I found myself reflecting on as I read this chapter. It's not one of those experiences I can share as it is far too personal and would seriously hurt the other person involved, but it was one of those experiences I have really struggled to learn to forgive, both the perpetrator and myself--for being so stupid. I've prayed and done a lot of soul searching, I've met with counselors and sought guidance from church leaders to help me know how to let this go, and even all these years later I'm struggling. This chapter caught me in a cotton vise and wouldn't let go. I don't know that I've found all the answers here, but I've certainly found some, and it was a pleasure to find them in such an uplifting and humorous book.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10 also felt focused toward me and made me finally see what this book was about, but that's something I can't really tell you either. Not because I don't want to, but because the lesson is applied a little differently for everyone. You can only learn your lesson by reading the book and appying it to your life.

As far as the style of the writing is concerned, I found Barry Phillips an entertaining and energetic writer whose voice captures the reader and sweeps them through the book to drop them with a sigh at the end. I laughed out loud many times and found myself really pondering over the messages presented. I loved the cartoons introducing each chapter and found Mr. Phillips did a marvelous job using stories and his unique voice to make an impression. I'm not a big self-help reader, but this is one of those rare books I'd recommend to almost anyone. I think anyone could find something about themself in this book. I know I certainly did.

So, thanks, Mr. Phillips, for sharing your hard learned lessons with us in the hope of easing some of our journey on the path. This reader really appreciates it!

Quote of the Day: "Every novel is an attempt to capture time, to weave something solid out of air. The author knows it is an impossible task - that is why he keeps on trying."
David Beaty

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fighting the Fear

I finished a book tonight that I've been reading over the past couple of months, savoring it like good chocolate. It's called "The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear" by Ralph Keyes. Wow, has it been good. It's one of those books I am excited to read again and again because there was just so much good stuff packed in it that has already helped me in my quest to overcome or at least deal with my fear. If you haven't had a chance to read this book and are struggling with your fear like I have I would strongly suggest you run not walk to your nearest book store and pick it up. It is packed full of examples from dozens of writers who have struggled just like you and me.

People like E.B. White. You know, the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little? Yeah, that guy. Evidently he struggled so much with fear that at times he would put a manuscript in the mail only to chase down the mailman and beg him to give it back. Mr Keyes says "When the Paris Review wanted to interview him for its Writers at Work series, White said he'd be better qualified for one on Writers Not at Work." Evidently Mr. White had a history of anxieties that shifted as he grew and his best method of coming to terms with his fears was to turn them into stories.

That's just one example. There are stories from authors and poets cover the past hundred years or more. It has been tremendously helpful in letting me see that every writer has some fear or another and that the trick is not to try and overcome the fear, but rather to use it to push me onward, to convert the fear to excitement and help me write.

I've got some great new tricks in my bag now, things I hope will enable me to get back to the page and move past the crippling fear. Things that let me see I'm not so wierd after all. Well . . . I am, but it's okay . . . I'm a writer. Wierd is normal for me. As I'm always telling my friends, "I have come to embrace my wierdness." I think that's how this book has helped me the most. It's let me see that I'm okay just the way I am. Now I just have to use it to put words on the page. Wish me luck!

Quote of the Day: "You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist, you are learning your craft- then you can add all the genius you like."
~Phyllis Whitney

Monday, July 14, 2008

Writing it to Bits

I discovered something about myself today. I am an organized writer. You'd think after having finished two books and starting many others I would have realized that about myself already, but in the past I'd just pray for inspiration and go with whatever worked. I'm still praying for inspiration, but am finally noticing trends that work well for me, and one of those is to break the big pieces of a book into smaller and smaller bits that are manageable. The trick then is to put them back together in a beautiful, understandable whole.

It's a lot like creating a mosaic or stained glass. You break or cut the whole into bits, then piece them back together in a pattern that is even more beautiful than it was to begin with. So, that's what I'm trying to do today. I'm planning my pattern and breaking glass by creating an outline, dividing the book into parts, and within each part, chapters. After that I'll begin piecing it together by creating a synopsis of each chapter before I finally sit down to actually write the first draft. I'm not one of those who can sit and come up with the pattern as I go. I have to have some direction ahead of time, and I create that with this formula of mine. I guess I tend toward the one draft side of things, with lots and lots of planning in advance.

I'm finding it's much easier to repeat the action of writing a book when I understand my process, rather than having to figure it out again each time. It will save a lot of time and hassle in the future, I think. So best of luck to all of you with your writing endeavors. As for me? I'm off to start piecing together a story that will hopefully be as beautiful as the picture above when I'm finished with it.

Quote of the Day: "Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for."
~ Alice Walker

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Writing in Georgia

It's interesting . . . since I murdered my inner critic I have found myself actually wanting to write, thrilling to write. I don't want to do anything BUT write! I'm trying to understand what it was about that nasty woman living inside my head that made me lose the joy that made me want to write in the first place. I'm not sure if it's the lack of an internal critic or the lack of expectations from a publisher, but I feel absolutely 100% free to write whatever the heck I want.

I love this feeling. I don't know how long it will last, but I'm going to use it while I've got it. I was on an airplane today for about six hours and spent almost every moment I was allowed writing. I ended up with about sixteen hand-written pages, just rambling notes that help me figure out the direction I want my story to go, and interestingly enough, I'm working on the same story I didn't want to work on for anyone else. I knew I was stubborn, but that's a little ridiculous. I know there will be times I have to write what the publisher wants, like finishing a series or some other crazy concept, but for today and tomorrow and the rest of this week, I'm going to write whatever catches my fancy and I'm going to love every moment of it.

So, if anybody wonders where I may have wandered off to, I'm in Georgia writing my heart all over the page. Hey, what better way to spend a week's vacation is there?

Quote of the Day: "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."
~William Wordsworth

Friday, July 11, 2008

Violent Silence

I beheaded my inner critic today.

Not that she didn't deserve it, mind you, but I'm not usually prone to that kind of violence. It surprised me to what extent I would go to silence the nasty garbage spewing from her mouth.

See, I got a rejection today. It was a good rejection, a great one actually (if rejections can ever be considered great) and came in the form of a phone call. I always thought calls were reserved for the few select who received an acceptance. I'd never heard of a phone rejection, and yet that is what I got today. It was an extremely nice and complimentary rejection for a book I was told was 99% there--they just couldn't fit me into their publishing schedule for at least two years and rather than hold onto it, they were going to let it go so I could find a home for it somewhere else.

Well, after another no and another "almost", I was feeling pretty low and my inner critic started in on me. "Why even bother sending it out to agents? Even if they like the book, they'll never find a picture of you good enough to go in the back cover," she snarled. That brought me up cold. "Stop right there," I said in response, but she wouldn't stop. She continued to spit her nasty drivel in my direction and I just couldn't take it anymore. It wasn't true. I knew it with all my heart, so first I pounded on her face, then suddenly my hands sprouted sickle blades and, whack--her head went flying.

My first thought was, "Oh no, I've killed my inner critic!", but the silence was so divine I couldn't help but smile and then laugh out loud. The nasty voice was quiet. I'm sure she'll find her way back to life at some point, but for now, when I need it the very most, she is gone.

Oh, blessed relief!

Thought of the day: "You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
~Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Heaven Scent

Last Saturday I sat down to read a book for review and spent every spare moment over the next 24 hours finishing it. It's been ages since a book grabbed me by the nostrils and pulled me into it so strongly that it was effort stopping long enough to eat, let alone feed anyone else.

The book was Heaven Scent by Rebecca Talley.

I first met Rebecca at the LDStorymakers conference in 2007, but didn't really get to know her until the end of the 2008 conference. I was very impressed with her kindness and the beautiful spirit she carries with her. She was one of those people that I just knew I wanted to know better, so when the opportunity came to join her blog tour, I jumped on the bandwagon.

Heaven Scent is about a young basketball star who seems to have it all, and for the most part she does--everything but her father's attention. It was a story about forgiveness that goes far beyond that which anyone would normally have to endure. I was very caught up in the characters and their lives. Rebecca is masterful in her ability to create characters the reader cares about. I spent the last hour and a half of my reading time almost sobbing, and that's not something I've EVER done. The instant I finished I passed the book on to my mother, who stayed up half the night reading it and bawled her head off just like I did. The emotional power and beauty were too much to hold inside.

I won't give it all away, because I don't want to ruin it for you. Go out and buy the book because my description of what happens will not come anywhere near to giving you a true understanding of the story. It's something that must be experienced. It would be like trying to describe chocolate.

So, here's a big standing ovation from this little corner of the net, and Rebecca--I can't wait to see what you come up with next! You've made a truly devoted fan out of me!

Quote of the Day: "A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure."

~Henry David Thoreau