“Just because I finished writing the story doesn’t mean the book was finished.”

Rate this:

Continue Reading...

pregnant-woman

Did you know that some cultures in East Asia consider their newborns as being one year old the instant they are born? I think that is a marvelous concept and actually a more accurate measure of how old a person is. Though unseen to the outside world (except by means of ultrasound), the infant is unbelievably busy, eating, growing, and becoming. The speed of brain development during this period is almost unimaginable, as 50,000 neurons are produced EVERY SECOND.

Much emphasis is placed on how a mother’s actions affect the child she is carrying, especially regarding the harmful effects of alcohol, smoking, and other drugs. But not enough attention is paid to the mother’s emotional/mental health.

In a study of over 4,000 mothers and their children, who were followed for over eighteen years, mothers with negative, pessimistic, depressive thinking patterns when pregnant increased the risk of their child being depressed eighteen years later. And women who were under significant stress while pregnant produced children who were more stress prone, irritable, and moody.

If you are pregnant and recognize any of those symptoms in yourself,

  • Find you a good counselor who can help you overcome your negative attitude and help alleviate the symptoms of depression
  • Talk with your OB provider and ask if they can help (with either medication or a referral to a counselor)
  • Force yourself to do some physical exercise, even (or especially) if you don’t feel like it, and even if it’s just going for a walk
  • Talk with an empathetic friend or family member
  • Start a daily Grateful Journal, listing three things per day that you are thankful for
  • Be sure you are paying attention to your spiritual life by means of prayer, meditation, Bible reading, and worshiping with a community of believers

If you know someone who is pregnant, don’t assume you know anything about what’s going on with her mental health. People are very adept at covering and hiding their true self from others. Go ahead and assume that she has days when she really struggles to maintain her equilibrium. Then you need to:

  • Send her a handwritten note or letter, letting her know you were thinking of her and offering to be a lifeline, if she needs one
  • Ask her out for coffee, or a meal, or a walk in the park
  • Go visit her and keep the conversation light
  • Or let her cry on your shoulder, if that’s what she seems to need
  • Fix a meal and take it to her
  • Show up unannounced and tell her you are going to take her laundry home and do it for her
  • If she has other children, take them to spend the night with you for a night
  • Or offer to watch her kids while she goes out to a movie

An unborn child is unable to make any choices or control any part of its environment. What it deserves is having a network of people that will do whatever they can to help the baby’s mother be as healthy as she can be – physical and mentally.

 

Attraction, not Promotion

December 7, 2016 — 4 Comments

change5

One of the most frustrating experiences you can have is when you try to get someone you care about to change their lifestyle and the direction of their life.

My first bitter taste of this was as a school teacher in my early twenties when I unsuccessfully tried to convince a student they were traveling the destructive path of using drugs. No matter what means I tried, nothing made a difference.

Perhaps you’ve been there (or are there now), too, in trying to get a loved one to:

  • change their eating habits
  • quit smoking
  • stop abusing alcohol and other drugs
  • surrender their life to God
  • start exercising regularly

Or you may have experienced this frustration during our most recent Presidential election when you tried to convince someone that either Trump or Clinton represented the coming of the Apocalypse. No matter what evidence you used to persuade them, it didn’t change their mind.

So, if threats of lung cancer and emphysema, diabetes, knees, hips, and ankles wearing out, death from an overdose, the Apocalypse, and hell fire and damnation won’t produce lasting change in people, what will?

Dr. David Mee-Lee, one of the foremost voices in addiction treatment today, and who I’ve had the opportunity to meet and learn from, says, “You cannot push, pressure, persuade, prescribe and pester someone into real and lasting change. Only as you inspire and attract people to think and act differently will you initiate a process of change.”

Notice he emphasizes two things: one is “lasting change.” You might be able to scare and/or guilt someone into making a change, but that kind of change rarely lasts. It’s not that fear and guilt don’t have a role in change, but those emotions must come from within the person. For example, the man who has a heart attack as a result of his unhealthy lifestyle might be motivated by fear to make changes. But beating people over the head with a “guilt stick” or using scare tactics won’t produce the lasting change you are hoping for in them.

The second thing Dr. Mee-Lee emphasizes is your behavior – not the behavior of the one you are trying to get to change.

“My behavior?” you say. “I’m eating healthy, I exercise regularly, I don’t smoke or use drugs, and I live my life for God.”

If that is true, then the question to ask is, “Is the way you go about living your life one that inspires others and that others find attractive, or do you appear to be miserable, joyless, cynical, and pessimistic?” If you are the latter, why would anyone want to join you in living the way you do?

Think about that, and let it sink in.

What all this means is, we should be most focused on changing ourselves, not on changing others.

Ultimately, the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves, and trust me, that is a FULL TIME and never ending job.

I recently visited my neighbor, Chester, who has plenty of common sense but is short on the other kind, and learned MUCH more than I expected or cared to know and some things I still don’t understand.

I began by asking, “How’s your wife, Punkin’, doing?”

He replied, “They performed a mammy-o-gram and told her they were going to have to take her odories out because of her enthomesiosos.”

Chester does have a way with words.

“She’s also got that degeneres disc disease.”

Perhaps this is a new disease that was named after Ellen DeGeneres.

“Tell how your health is, Chester.”

His face drooped, and he said, “I’ve got that ‘sleep acne’ and am supposed to start sleeping with a machine.”

I have to say that I saw no evidence of facial blemishes on Chester’s face. Well, actually, there is very little of Chester’s face that you can see underneath his full beard, so I can’t be certain.

He launched into a rather graphic, R-rated, description of the doctor examining his “prostrate” gland and said he was going to go to the liberry to read if the doctor was making it all up or if that’s truly where his “prostrate” is. “And then, the other night,” he said, “I got up in the middle of the night and broke my little toe on the chester drawers in our bedroom. It hurt worse than when I tripped over the rot iron table in the living room last month!”

I’m not saying that Chester stumbles a lot; it’s only when he’s been drinking. Okay, so he does stumble a lot.

I tried to shift the conversation away from the medical field by asking, “How’s your grandmother doing?”

“Not too good,” he replied. “She was in tensive care and bleeding eternally the other night, but she didn’t know it because she’s got that “All-timers” disease.”

Then suddenly he turned the tables on me by asking, “Do you ever get flustrated with your wife?”

I started to tell him, “not so much as people who use malapropisms,” but knew all he would do with that is give me a blank stare. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t reply, because he had something on his mind.

“Punkin’ got mad at me because I forgot her birfday. So I drove to the Wal-Marts, nearly running off in the medium of the highway because I was driving so fast, and bought her an African that she could lay across her lap while watching TV. But that made her madder. She said the only thing that would make her happy would be if I’d buy her one of them Datsun puppies she’s so fond of.”

Between picturing an African American lying across Punkin’s lap and an old Datsun pickup sitting in their living room, I was having trouble keeping focused on Chester’s conversation. I tried again to give some direction, and asked, “How’s your kids?” (I should have asked a question that could not have been turned back toward the medical arena.)

“Supposably the boy’s got strap throat and chicken pops, which Punkin’ said was sort of simular. I don’t have any ideal if he does or not.”

“Lord, please deliver me,” was my only thought at that point. One more question came to mind. “How’s your job, Chester?”

“I don’t know the pacifics of everything, but my foreman says it all depends on what the budget looks like in this next physical year. Irregardless, I’m going to have to be off for a while helping take care of Punkin’. She told me to axe you if you could help us out with the rent money this month. We’ve got to replace our chimley.”

 

I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my books. I don’t know about other writers’ methods, but my method is to create memorable characters FIRST, then let them tell their story.

Tucker’s Way began with the creation of Tucker (who turned out to be a character people can’t forget). Then I asked myself why a person would become the way she was, in other words, what was HER story? Next, I asked myself what she would do if she ever had to interact with someone who was her polar opposite? That was how the character of Ella came to life.  But, again, what was HER story? Revealing to readers their individual stories, plus their joint story, became easy to write.  The other characters in the book sprang up as I began writing Tucker and Ella’s story.

In Toby the story was to be about two characters: Symphony and her dog, Toby. But suddenly, as I began writing their story, these other characters began appearing. Caleb, the dark character, was no where in my mind when I began writing the book. I “accidently” found him.

This last aspect of writing is one of the most enjoyable, when characters appear that I’d not thought about or planned on.  Or sometimes a character does or says something that I had not planned on. (No, I’m not spirit possessed when I write.)  I simply have the characters interacting with each other, doing and saying things that are true to their character.

It doesn’t make any difference how well you use metaphors and similes in your writing or how complex your plot might be. If you don’t have characters that are memorable, that always act in ways that are true to them, people won’t be interested in reading your books.

My motto is: let the story serve the characters, not vice versa.

For the Sake of a Song

July 12, 2016 — 1 Comment

What is there that can make people from all walks of life – unemployed, wealthy, married, divorced, staunch Democrats, hardcore Republicans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, agnostics, saints and sinners, politicians, apolitical, black and white, PhD’s and high school graduates, professional and amateur musicians – lay aside their differences and join together in harmony?  If is for the sake of a song.

For the past 18 years it has been my privilege to direct a community chorus made up of 30-40 singers whose backgrounds are described above. For 18 years these people have met once a week and for two hours laid their differences at the entrance to our rehearsal hall and focused on make harmony with each other.  Then they go on the road together, traveling on a bus for days, in order to share their song with others.  The result is nothing short of magical.

Surely to goodness if a small group people can lay aside their differences for the sake of a song, we can all lay aside our differences for things even greater. 

We don’t have to agree on every point

in order to get along

                                                                                               for the good of humanity.

Greg Gilpin wrote a powerful song about how we must “rise above the wall” of our differences.  Click on the link below and listen to my chorus performing this wonderful song at the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center.  And instead of looking for ways you can disagree with others, look for things you can agree on.

Rise Above the Walls

If you’ve read any of my books, you know that the Obion River (that’s pronounced [o – BI (long I sound) – yun] flows through all of them and plays a significant role in the story line. My newest book, Toby, is no exception.

Although most of my stories are completely fictional, the Obion River is real.

The Obion River system, which has four separate streams, is the primary surface water drainage system of northwestern Tennessee. Those four forks are: the North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork and Rutherford Fork (which is named after the town of Rutherford). The confluences of these forks are only a few miles above the mouth of the Obion’s discharge into the Mississippi River.

In Toby the South Fork of the Obion figures prominently.  If you take the Hinkledale Road out of McKenzie, TN,

20160630_122812

you will soon find yourself enveloped in the verdant landscape and surrounded by thick woods, the closer you get to the river.20160630_122034

 

20160630_122457

During the dry, summer months, the water level is often low enough that walking through the woods can be done with relative ease when compared to trying to navigate it when all the trees are standing in water and the mud is 8-12 inches deep.

20160630_122119

20160630_122520

This is no crystal clear stream.  It’s color always reminds me of the color of chocolate milk.

During the summer it is teaming with snakes, especially the deadly water moccasin, or cottonmouth, as it is sometimes called.  But in the winter it is home to ducks and occasionally to nesting Bald Eagles.

20160630_12221320160630_12255020160630_122558

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symphony Nelson and Toby are completely at home in this area, having grown up hiking in it.  But even familiar areas become unfamiliar when a flood removes familiar markers or if you are there at nighttime (without a flashlight) which makes it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you.

Join Symphony and Toby as they frequent this area on their journey toward discovery – discoveries that will change them forever.

Book Cover

Years after Symphony rescued Toby, they went walking in the woods where they both took what was to have been a short nap, but don’t awake until night has fallen. Here’s some of that scene:

Without warning Symphony jerks awake and sits up. Her eyes wide, she stares into the darkness. “Toby, it’s night! I didn’t mean to sleep this long.”
Toby stands up, stretches himself, and shakes.
Symphony feels around on the ground beside her until she finds her walking stick then stands up. She pats each of her empty pockets. “I didn’t bring a flashlight or matches or anything. I didn’t plan to be out here after dark. I didn’t even bring my phone.” She feels panic pushing its way into her throat. She looks up, trying to see through the canopy of trees. “I can’t see the moon or stars to try and get a sense of direction.”
The woodlands orchestra and chorus that fell silent when she shouted Toby’s name reconvenes and picks up their performance where they left off. Tree frogs begin their sing-song buzz, the high-pitch chirp of crickets rubbing their legs together, a chuck-will’s-widow and a whippoorwill start up their own variations of their similar frenetic song, the deep bass of a bull frog croaks in the distance. Though all these sounds are familiar to Symphony because she was in the woods many times with her grandfather at night, she’s never been in the inky black woods without any light. She tries to think about the path she took before she sat down and went to sleep to see if perhaps she can retrace her steps back to her car. She closes her eyes and sees all the different items that attracted her attention during the day. But when she opens her eyes she has no sense of what direction she should start in. A chill shakes her body, and she notices for the first time that she is cold, the damp, cool air having settled into her bones while she was sleeping.
Suddenly Toby detects something that doesn’t not fit in with all the naturally occurring elements of the woods. Unsure which of his senses picked up on it, he gives out a low growl of warning to whatever it is and sweeps his eyes all around them, then sniffs the air.
“What is it?” Symphony whispers, gripping her walking stick more tightly.
In the distance Toby believes he sees a tree fifty yards away move ever so slightly. His eyes are like lasers as he stares unblinking. Again he sniffs the air. This time his olfactory senses reward his effort with the smell of something that is human-like but unlike any human he’s been around. His hackles raise reflexively, and he growls a little bit louder. Every nerve in his body is alert. He sees movement again in the same place and explodes into rapid barking.
Symphony screams.

(If you want to know what happens, be sure and buy the book when it’s released July 26. Better yet, why not pre-order your copy today from Amazon?)