Books, Books, and more Books

I seem to have reached a rare and magical land where I finish books faster than I can write about them.  A winter cold did help me get some of the reading done, and a promise to myself to read a little more – so far, so good…minus the cold.  Because I have read several good books since my last book post, I’m going to give you some quick, short thoughts on them instead of a whole blog post for each individual book.  Here goes:


Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War 2 and Vietnam by Michael Takiff

This wonderful book cataloged fathers who served in WW2 and their sons who served in Vietnam.  There are heroic stories, cowardly ones, good stories, and bad ones.  I came away with a sense of how our soldiers in WW2 drew strength from the belief that what they did was right and the nation was behind them.  While the lack of moral conviction – most of them had no idea if the war was right or not – and support from the nation pulled down our Vietnam soldiers.  I disagreed politically and morally with many of the men who fought in Vietnam, while others amazed me with their courage.  This book gives you insight into the everyday soldier’s reaction to sweeping historical events, the pain of sending your son off to war when you know exactly how hellish it is, and different paths of healing.

Rating: PG-13


American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This was my first Neil Gaiman book.  He’s not highly recommended for nothing.  What an amazing writer.  What a way with words, and what a haunting writing voice.  Gaiman weaves his great sense of myth and fairy tale, almost subconsciously, through his story.  American Gods is about an ex-con, Shadow, who encounters gods brought by immigrants to America.  The gods are going to war against the newer gods of technology.  Caught up in the skirmishes of the war, Shadow finds out he’s more deeply tied to the gods than he ever thought.  A healthy grasp of mythology – Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and more – makes the story even richer. In fact, it’s almost required.

Rating: R


Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

When a writer like Martin tackles vampires, you sit up and pay attention.  This book avoids the normal vampire romances.  Instead, it focuses on a steamboat captain – Abner Marsh – who meets a vampire – Joshua York.  They develop a unique and amazing friendship that spans Marsh’s whole life.  Together they build the most beautiful steamboat on the Mississippi, take on a vile band of vampires, and try to save Joshua’s kind from the thirst.

Martin’s story has few female characters, which is refreshing in the world of vampires.  His hero, Marsh, is an ugly man, but you admire him so much you forget he isn’t an epic Hollywood beauty.  It helps that Martin constantly reminds you Marsh is a fat man covered in warts – an ugly, rough, loyal, and good man.

For any of you who wish vampires where less romantic, and more evil, this book is for you.  Also, you will learn more about steamboats and sailing the Mississippi than you ever thought could be interesting.  Trust me.  It’s amazing.

Rating: R


Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Someone far more eloquent than I reviewed this book, read her thoughts here.  Little Bee is a word book.  It’s an image book.  It pulls you into a strange, sad, and sickening world with the beauty of words strung together.  What happened on a beach in Africa brings two women together and changes their lives forever.  It is the clash of first and third world countries, with both women trying to find their way.  Reading it was a sheer joy.  It was also sad, painful, and the ending leaves you a little unsatisfied.  You will also never look at Batman the same again.

Rating: R

Well, those are just a few short thoughts on the books I’ve most recently read.  I’m firmly in the camp that if you wish to write well, you must read often.  I keep my brain fed with stories from many sources: movies, books, friends, video games, and even music.  I keep my brain fed with writing styles, word use, voice use, and rule keeping and breaking by reading.  I’ve always been a reader and will always be a reader.

(I will be uploading these short reviews to my GoodReads page as well, if you would like to follow me there.  If you look to your right, there is my Goodreads feed on the sidebar.)


A Simple Tribute


Many of you know I’m a huge Band of Brothers fan.  On Saturday we lost one more of these few remaining heroes.  My heart goes out to his family during this time of loss and I hope the Lord uses it to effectively call his own as they ponder the shortness of even this great man’s life.  I’m thankful that I had the honor of even knowing this man’s name and parts of his story.  I’m thankful for his sacrifice for our country.

When I went in, I was eighteen. I thought it was all glory and you win lots of medals. You think you’re going to be the guy. Then you find out the cost is very great. Especially when you don’t see the kids you were with when you went in. Living with it can be hell. It’s like the devil presides in you. I knew what I sighed up for, yes, and I would do it again. But the reality of war—words can’t begin to describe it. – Bill Guarnere
“I treasure my remark to a grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?” “No”, I answered, “But I served in a company of heroes”.” – Dick Winters

Lessons from the Boutique, Part 3: Have a System

Been there, done that.

Been there, done that.

Once upon a time, this country girl – who can still milk a goat – helped her husband co-found and manage a set of Designer Consignment Boutiques.  By designer, I mean our boutiques carried $10,000 fur coats and gowns with the price tags still on them, $3000 handbags, $700 shoes, and other beautiful, exotic, and limited edition things, which we sold on consignment.  I learned many lessons from managing the boutiques for 14 years, ten of which we owned them.  In the first lesson, I talked about managing your time and worry with the philosophy of ‘first things first and second things not at all’.  In the second lesson, I talked about having an opening and closing to your day to help you prepare for all the little providences God brings your way.  In this lesson, I’m going to talk about systems.


One of our boutique philosophies was Always Organizing.  We had a system for literally everything.  We did everything the same way, every time.  That way no matter who did it, it was always done neatly, efficiently, and was traceable.  We never let anyone do things their own way.  That would have cause chaos.

But, the systems weren’t set in stone.  We constantly looked for ways to improve.  If an employee or even customer had an idea, my husband and I evaluated it in the grand scheme of the boutiques.  If it looked good, we gave it a test run.  We encouraged everyone to improve the running of the store.  Smooth running gave us more time for our customers and happier employees.

Always Organizing.

This concept applies easily in the management of your home.  You need to have systems.  If you want to keep your home clean, presentable, and open while having time to run to the library with your nephew, take a walk with your sister, and hurry to help a church member, systems are required.  The things you do everyday like dishes, laundry, tidyings, showering, budgets, making the bed, getting dressed, etc., all need a system.  Sounds dull and boring, right?  Who wants to do the same thing every day, all the time…groan.  True, but it’s worth it.  The dull, rut, duty type things have to be done.  They won’t go away.  They won’t complete themselves.  But you don’t want to spend your whole life scrubbing pots and pans, right?

Have a system.

The opening and closing I spoke of last lesson is an excellent example of a system.  Systems can be huge: cleaning the house from stem to stern.  Or small: making the bed.

Always Organizing.

Systems always need evaluation.  Always examine your systems for waste: wasted time, wasted motion, and wasted effort. Always organizing starts with your mind and your systems, not with the order of your canned goods.  Study the way you clean, do laundry, use social media, garden, read, cook, plan out your week, and serve others.  You may think you don’t have a system but you do.  You have a way you do things, but is it the most effective way?

Embrace the freedom to change the system if it’s not working for you.  Believe me, this first year home – yes!  A whole year home! – has been a lot of trial and error.  My most recent change came when I realized I spent a lot of time being grossed out by my own bathroom cause I shed a lot.  By the end of the week, it was just soooo nasty.  Instead of living in my own filth, I started spending all of 30 seconds sweeping the bathroom floor each morning.  Now the bathroom feels cleaner and I’m not embarrassed every time someone comes over and needs to use our bathroom.  I took a system I already had in place and modified it to work better.

My mom and my husband are both very systematic and organized.  I try to apply the things I learn from them in my own home management.  I’m not so much that way.  I tend to be a little more head in the clouds.  But, I have benefited from their examples and their lessons.  I have more time to live in the clouds when my feet have a system for walking the earth.  Don’t kid yourself the earth must be walked.

from Google, by allison712

from Google, by allison712

If you have kids, caretaker responsibilities, or just a busy life and busy husband, you need systems.  If you’re a single women you need systems.  If you’re a college student or high schooler, you need systems.  Systems help us deal with the daily grind and free us up to do the things we love.

Are you good at systematizing your duties?  What are your biggest system struggles?  Not your forte?  Do you get help?  Let’s share our ideas in the comments below!


Lesson 1: First Things First

Lesson 2: Opening and Closing

Lesson 4: Dealing with People

Lesson 5: Red Heels

Lesson 6: Fashion from Boutique to Housewife

Quote of the Weekend

“Through our ongoing struggles with impatience and frustration, God was working on us.  Of particular note, he was impressing upon us the fact that true blessedness doesn’t flow from changing circumstances but from an unchanging God. ” – A Hope Deferred by J. Stephen Yuille

(A lesson learned only over a lifetime.)

California Cousins: How Tomatoes Grow and Sunday Clothes

Building GI Joe forts...not in our Sunday Clothes.  (L-R: Abby, John, Emily's legs, Jason, Matt, Tom.)

Building GI Joe forts…not in our Sunday Clothes. (L-R: Abby, John, Emily’s legs, Jason, Matt, Tom.)

“A story, a story, tell us a story,” Jules said on a crisp October morning when the sun shown delightfully warm.

“Well,” said Aunt Abby.  “I think I know just the one.”

“Is it going to be another western, Aunt Abby?” Jules asked.

“There are lots of westerns,” Constance agreed plucking a late summer flower and handing it to Imogene.

“We live in Texas, don’t we?”

Five or six heads nodded, one wasn’t sure, and one drooled on a truck.

“But today I’ll change it up.  Today isn’t a western…it’s a war story.”

“Yes, that’s perfect!” Bruce said.

“I don’t like war stories,” Jules said emphatically.

“You’ll like this one.”

“Is it gross?” Joshua asked.

Aunt Abby pondered that for a moment.  “Yes, but mostly funny.”

“Is it about us?” asked Ellie.  “I’ve never been in a war.”

“How about we find out,” Aunt Abby said.

Once upon a time, another set of cousins lived near one another.  In fact, they lived right next door to each other and shared their yards.  These cousins had no idea how tomatoes grew…or they forgot when the war started.  It was a lazy Sunday afternoon with hours to go before church.  They were all dressed in clean clothes their mothers expected them to keep clean.  Cleanliness and time are a horrible combination of circumstances for any child, and especially a group of children, to bear.

“Why aren’t they at church?” Jules asked.  “At this church, they have Sunday School in the morning, the Main Worship Service, and then everyone goes home.  Then they all come back in the evening for the evening service,” Aunt Abby explained.  “That’s strange,” said Bruce.  “Yes, it’s very strange,” Jules said.  “Odd?” Aunt Abby said with a slight sparkle in her eye.  “Very odd,” Ellie said.  “Well,” Aunt Abby explained, “not all churches have the same schedule that we do.  In fact, most of them don’t.”  “Are we odd?” Jules gasped.  “Probably just a little bit, but back to the story.”

As the cousins wondered the backyard ideas sprang up, each one wonderful, and each one shot down.  They were in their Sunday clothes.  They couldn’t make the pit in the backyard deeper.  They couldn’t play Over-the-Wall.  They couldn’t play the Gun Game: a combination of hide-and-go-seek, war, and arguing.  They couldn’t play Ghostbusters, or G.I. Joe.  No one remembered later who first said the b-word: bored.  It might have been Matt, John, or Tom in their white button up shirts and black or khaki trousers.  It might have been Abby or Emily in their matching blue dresses with a strawberry pattern.   They whispered the word at first afraid their mothers would hear.  All five of them knew exactly what would happen if they uttered the b-word.  Chores.  Even on Sunday.  Moms loved chores.

They gathered in the back backyard near Matt, Abby, and Emily’s mom’s garden.

“Abby!” Ellie said.  “Is this a story about you?” Jules said with wide-eyed wonder.  Aunt Abby smiled.  “It’s a story about me, and Bruce’s mommy, and Constance and Joshua’s daddy.”  “My Daddy is Matt,” Joshua said in case anyone was in doubt.  “What about my mommy?” Jules said.  “We didn’t know you’re mommy then, Julie-bear.”  “Daddy?” Ellie asked.  “He was too little to be there.”  “Daddy is not little.”  “He was once, and,” Aunt Abby scooped up Imogene, “Your mommy was just a baby like you.”  “Are you all related?” gasped Jules.  Aunt Abby laughed.  “Yes, that’s why you’re my nieces and nephews.  You’re the children of my brothers and sisters.”

“We could sword fight,” Matt suggested gesturing at the swords and shields littering the grass.

“We can’t sword fight in our Sunday clothes,” Emily reminded them.

“We could throw balls at each other,” John said.

“The soft ones?” Abby said.

“We could have one team with shields and one team with the balls,” Tom suggested hefting an old, wooden shield lying in the yard.

They all agreed that throwing soft balls and blocking them with shields could be both fun and not ruin their church clothes.  Matt and John ran off to get the ball bucket while Tom and the girls drew up teams.  They decided, since Matt and John weren’t there to argue, that the two girls and Tom against Matt and John was a fair division.  Tom being the oldest had a natural advantage due to age – every child knows this.  They also knew Abby and Emily’s aim wasn’t the best.  The two girls would even the odds on Tom’s age advantage.

Matt and John returned with the ball bucket, agreed to the terms and conditions of war, and the game began.  It proved only slightly less boring than doing nothing.  Trying to hit your brother, sisters, and cousins with balls and block them with shields was satisfying on a certain level.  The thunk, thunk, thunk of the balls striking the wooden shields and the occasional howl of pain as they struck a limb occupied the cousins for several minutes.  But the war needed something more…

“What about the rotten tomatoes in the garden?”

No one later admitted who first suggested the idea of the tomatoes.

“Sunday clothes,” Emily reminded them.

“We have the shields and swords, we won’t get dirty,” said John.

For once Matt agreed with John.

Abby pulled a squishy, rotten, stinking tomato from the vine and lobbed it at her brother.  It didn’t thunk when it struck the shield.  It splattered.  Tomato juice and seeds went everywhere.  This was not boring.  This was fun.

The backyard erupted into a full-out war, everyone for themselves.  They stripped the tomato vines of all their rotten occupants.  Tomato goo coated their shields.




Arms wound back and released a hail of rotten, red fruit.  Shields rose and fell protecting white shirts and hair, half-up.

“You know,” someone who remains unnamed said, “no one ever eats the green tomatoes.  We can throw those, too.”

The green ones hurt.  They didn’t splat.  They thunked harder than the soft balls.  But, that didn’t stop the war.  The two teams drove at one another armed with green tomatoes.  They clashed in the middle of the backyard shield to shield.  The cousins screamed and yelled and laughed as tomatoes flew left and right.

“What is going on?”

Everyone froze.

The cousins turned.  Matt, Abby, and Emily’s Mom stood at the edge of the backyard, hands on hips, Sunday dress clean and pressed.

“You’re Sunday clothes,” she said, stunned.

The cousins looked down.  Shields had not protected them from the tomato splatter.  Rotten tomato flesh and seeds clung to their shirts, dresses, and hair.

“My tomatoes,” Mom said.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Abby said.  “We only used the rotten ones and the green ones.  Nobody eats the green ones.”

Aunt Abby giggled and a sparkle shown in her eye.

“Is that the end?” Constance said.

“Was she mad?” Bruce asked.

Jude turned his large serious eyes up to Aunt Abby’s face.

“Grammie, you mean?” Aunt Abby said.

“Grammie’s your mom?” Jules said, her eyes wide with surprise, again, and her eyebrows arched.

“Yes, of course she is.”

“But was she mad?” Ellie asked.

“Of course she was mad.  We ruined our Sunday clothes and picked all her green tomatoes.”

“Why would she be mad?” Bruce asked.  “No one eats the green ones.”

Aunt Abby ruffled his blonde hair.  “Cause, what we didn’t know is that the green ones turn red when they’re ripe.  We picked all the unripe tomatoes.  Now none of them would ever turn red.”

Jules put her hand over her mouth.  Ellie, Bruce, Constance, and Joshua did the same.  Imogene and Jude looked from them to Aunt Abby and back before covering their own mouths with plump fingers.  Jules giggled.

“Did you get a spanking?”

“No, we didn’t.  But we did learn not to pick the green tomatoes, and not to have rotten tomato fights in our Sunday clothes.”

“Can we have another war story, but about us?” Bruce asked.

“I’m sure someday we will,” Aunt Abby said giving the whole group of nieces and nephews a hug.  “I’m sure we will.”

The End

(L-R: Joshua, Jules with her arm around Ellie, Constance, and Bruce.)

(L-R: Joshua, Jules with her arm around Ellie, Constance, and Bruce.)

Writing Journal: Timeline

I’m a pantser, as most of you other writers know.  I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a pantser over the years.  You can read the article I wrote featured on the Magill Review here.

Because I’m a pantser who abhors all things outline related, my stories come out a bit on the messy side in the first rough draft.  I’m aiming for a particular goal when a great idea or plot point derails me, and I’m off chancing that rabbit until I sort out how it connects with the rest of the story.



Case in point, my WIP(work in progress): Icicle Rain started out as a revenge story.  Two friends commit a crime.  Deke goes to prison.  Jonah accepts the mercy offered to him.  Deke languishes in prison feeling betrayed by Jonah.  He breaks out determined to get revenge.  Now that I’ve grown more comfortable in my new world, gotten to know my characters better, and fleshed out the political lines, the story has turned into an epic war story.  (Surprised?)  The kernel of the revenge story is still there, it’s just no longer the main driving force.

Let’s look under the hood of novel-writing.  Behind every well-written story is a complex timeline of events.  One the reader may never ever see.  It lists out everything from hair and eye color to seasons and day-by-day actions.  It tracks where and when each major player is at all times regardless of whether it’s a scene in the book or not.  It tracks weather.  It makes sure everyone ends up at the right place at the right time.  It even tracks chapter breakdown and has character portraits.  (A writer has to remember who has a big nose and who doesn’t.)

So, each morning as I add a new scene, or edit an old one, or both, I make little adjustments to my Timeline page.  When I first started writing, I wouldn’t start the timeline until I finished the first rough draft.  But as I developed stronger writing muscles and my stories became more complex, I began my Timelines whenever my brain became confused and muddled by facts.

With Icicle Rain, I started the Timeline at the same time I started the book.  I had three or four characters in my head, one or two magical abilities, a couple of scenes, and an undeveloped setting.  Over the next few weeks, that grew into a handful of chapters, ten or so characters, and four days of plot points.

For the first time, I’m recording events on my Timeline as they happen in the book.  I’m adding and adjusting the Timeline as I add and adjust the story.  I always make sure the Timeline file is open alongside the story file.

What has this done for me?

  • First, it’s let me see my progress as a writer.  I believe having the Timeline open from the beginning shows a level of commitment and professionalism.  It shows my growing confidence in my storytelling and writing abilities.  Before I would have just written, let the chips fall where they may, and sorted it out later.  Now I know what editing is like and I’m trying to save myself some work up front in the initial rough draft.  I think, and hope, that this is growth in my ability to write.  I know what’s coming when the books done, so I plan for it now.
  • Second, it’s let me watch the world grow.  This is a new world, a new writing style, a new voice for me.  No matter what genre or age group I write, I have signature elements: darkness, damage to the hero, healing heroines, grace, mercy, hope, friendship, and ultimately light overcoming the darkness in the end after a long hard road.  But this brave new world is not modern, it’s futuristic, it pulls from my other world, for sure, but it’s very different.  It’s a fairy tale.  This has allowed me to be more poetic in my descriptions, mythical in my creations, and mysterious with my magic.  Those of you who have read any of my other stories will recognize some echoes from those worlds, but seen in a new light.  The Timeline allows me to see the world grow in a more truncated format than the chapter-by-chapter story.
  • Third, it’s helped me be aware of timeframe conflicts earlier on.  Instead of writing, writing, writing, reaching plot point 24 and realizing nothing is coming together correctly, I’m on plot point 4 making sure everything’s moving forward at the right pace.  When I see they aren’t, I adjust either the story or the Timeline.  This gives me a greater sense of control and helps me see where I need to go.

How is this not outlining the story?  It is in a way.  It’s outlining in hindsight.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Any story I’ve ever written has a goal.  I’m either working towards a scene or exploring two characters.  But, I still don’t know what twist and turns the story is going to take.  Icicle Rain still has big dark patches.  I know how I think I’d like it to end at this point, but I’m not sure of the exact path to get there.  I know what I want to happen in the next few days to each of the main characters, but I’m not sure how that’s all going to play out.  Keeping a Timeline as I go let’s me see where I’ve been but leaves the future dim.

And, I like it that way.

I like the not knowing because it lets me hear the story for the first time.  I get to be sad, happy, touched, and angry as I’m writing.  I don’t know yet how all the threads weave together.  It’s exciting and motivating just like when I read a book I’ve never read before.  I can’t wait to pick it up and find out what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to come together.  It keeps me turning the pages.  It keeps me typing and dreaming.  That’s why I’m a pantser, a reverse outliner, a Timeliner.

Quote of the Weekend

“Looking back, we couldn’t recall very many explanations of the trials we had experienced over the years.  But we had learned that we must embrace the fact that God often entrusts his people with the unexplained.  That’s a crucial lesson to grasp, because it necessarily means that – in the midst of difficulties – our faith isn’t rooted in understanding why, but understanding who.” – A Hope Deferred by J. Stephen Yuille

(My father-in-law gave me this wonderful book to read.  I really enjoyed it.  It is the story of a pastor and his wife struggling to have children, struggling to adopt, and the lessons he learned about spiritual adoption through the journey.)