Angel in Flight

On the way to Athens, Ga., that Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help question why Tabitha had to die so young. Death was no stranger to me. I’d seen it too many times before. I knew questioning God was wrong, but I was desperate for an answer. This was a passing of another loved one.

I’d spent the night before her services tossing and turning. I prayed for God to comfort Tabitha’s family, to make it through the funeral services with their sanity still intact.

Then, for some unknown reason I remembered the rainbow I’d seen two days before. I’d forgotten the rainbow. Nor did I make a connection between the two incidents until I remembered the experience the week before and my prayers.

My unanswered prayers. God had not kept all my loved ones safe.

I’d worked practically around the clock the previous eight weeks and missed being with my family. I needed a rest, but was reluctant to leave them for an entire week to attend a conference I’d planned months in advance. My husband instinctively picked up on my indecision. He insisted I go and forget everything, except to relax and enjoy the time away.

After arriving at St. Simons, and sharing the workshop experience with a treasured friend, I was glad I’d gone and delighted in new writer friendships developed throughout the week.

A fleeting late afternoon shower, sent my friend and I running for cover and certainly didn’t do anything to lift my dampened mood. After the rain, we joined the group heading for the auditorium anxious to listen to the speakers on our last afternoon at the conference.

After, my friend and I walked and talked sharing memories of the day, when suddenly I glanced upward and noticed a glorious rainbow brushed across the horizon.

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“Look at that beautiful rainbow.” I said. “Wait, there’s another one forming on the left. Have you ever seen anything like it? I wonder if a double rainbow has a special meaning?”

My friend lifted her hand to shade the sun from her eyes. “Oh It’s magnificent,” she said, then turned toward me. “You know what? I think that’s a sign something wonderful is about to happen.” She grinned as we walked toward the conference room.

I glanced down at my watch. The time was a little after five o’clock.

“I think tonight’s going to be special for us,” she said.

Indeed it was special, when that night we both won awards in the writing contests we’d entered.

We headed to grab a cup of coffee before returning to our room. “Still, as happy as I am, I can’t shake the feeling, even as supreme as rainbows are, there is something meaningful and sad about this one,” I said. “What are your thoughts?”

“You may be right,” she commented. “We can’t know the future.”

An old familiar feeling set in, and it knew it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Since my early adult years, I dreamed dreams that sometimes came true. Later in life as I grew as a Christian, the visions and discernment began. Not understanding they were from God, I frequently became upset when they infiltrated my sleep and filled my heart.

“They’re gifts and blessings from God, honey, that’s why you see them,” my mom explained. “God doesn’t allow everyone to have dreams and visions as you do. He shows you these things so you will pray about them.”

It took many years for the impact of her words to fully register with me, to pray for guidance in the situation, when I felt the pull in my heart.

An urgency swept through me when I recalled the rainbow, and again, I felt honored and a responsibility to intercede in prayer. “Father God, I don’t know what this means or what is about to happen. Please send your Angels to watch over and keep my loved ones safe. I pray, Lord, you will prepare the heart of whomever is facing a trial and wrap them in your loving arms. Amen.”

When I returned home the next day, the answering machine bleeped repeatedly. One message was from my daughter-in-law. I called her at once. The tremor in her voice alerted me that something was terribly wrong. My heart hammered and my blood ran as ice while she spoke.

“I have some bad news. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. Tabitha’s been in an accident…a horrible car accident. She was killed instantly yesterday afternoon, sometime between five and five-thirty.”

Within minutes of the time the rainbow appeared to me that previous Friday afternoon, my twenty-year-old niece’s fate was sealed.

I was in shock, heartbroken and angry that God had taken her. She’d been way too young. Unbelief pushed me to ask her to repeat what she’d just told me.

“Why, Tabitha? Oh, God why?” I questioned. I buried my face in the towel I was holding, and wept for Tabitha and the anguish I knew my younger sister was experiencing.

Tabitha had been an angel here on earth. Always a kind, considerate niece, and a sweet loving daughter to my now distraught sister and her family. I’d attended too many funerals in the past three years, and that she’d been taken so young, didn’t make any sense at all.

I left the funeral home and began the two-hour trip home. My heart was empty and I felt as though I were suffocating. I could only imagine the pain Tabitha’s parents endured. They had been so brave. Even though their hearts were crushed, they had smiled through the ordeal of thanking everyone who had attended her service.

I turned the radio up loud and tried to drown my thoughts. Deep down I knew nothing would ever be the same. I wanted to run, but there was no place to run, no place to hide. There was nothing I could do, except pray for them.

I scrambled to find the small notebook I always kept on the seat beside me and a pen. I scribbled words that flooded inside my head, which I had no control. God was giving me a poem for Tabitha. One of the lines in the poem gave me a peace that our Tabitha truly was with God.

A new Angel laughed, and beheld the King.

A still voice whispers reminding me of these words when I pray. “Not my will, Lord, but thine.” God had answered my prayers. Tabitha was safe. Safe in the arms of God. He had wrapped me in His loving arms and given me a measure of peace.

Tabitha’s early death reaffirmed we don’t have the promise of tomorrow. But God promises not to put anymore on us than we can endure, and that our children are gifts from Him entrusted to us for but a little while.

I believe God gave me the moment with the rainbow to wonder in and remember that it is only one of His promises.

Writing: Sow the Seeds & Watch it Grow

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At some point in time, you’ve probably heard about the four stages of competence. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, it’s the process one goes through while learning a new skill. I first learned about the stages when I left the Pediatric ICU and took a job working in the realm of education. I believe it applies to writing, and the process goes something like this:

 

Stage 1:  Unconscious Incompetence 

“I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.”

Stage 2:  Conscious Incompetence

“I know that I don’t know how to do this, yet.”

Stage 3:  Conscious Competence

“I know that I know how to do this.”

Stage 4:  Unconscious Competence

“Yahoo. I know and can do it effortlessly.”

 

As I think back to the early days when I first sat down to write, I can still remember exactly how it felt to be so blissfully ignorant. It was such a good feeling. (Or so I thought.) Then realization hit. Hard.

Say what? Yup. Poof. There went the bliss.

Now, replacing the euphoria was yet another massive learning curve, one I’d have to muddle through while releasing a rivers worth of blood, sweat, and tears.

Yes, the learning curve is huge. The list of rules seemingly keeps growing longer and longer. It’s no wonder stage two is reportedly the most difficult stage to conquer.

I call this the “mistake and self-judgment” phase. It’s riddled with internalized phrases like…

Why am I bothering? Will I ever catch on? Geez, maybe I should throw in the towel and move on.

Stage two is the phase where people often give up, but it’s also the time when an incredible amount of growth can happen. It’s important to understand that mistakes are a natural part of learning. From them, we make adjustments and eventually find ourselves, on occasion, saying, “Yeah, I think I’ve got this.”

I still see myself existing somewhere between stage two and stage three, which can be rather daunting since I can now find things that are wrong with my writing but still can’t seem to figure out how to fix them.

As a reminder that many things often start from seed, I recently followed the instructions on a packet I picked up at the Grand Canyon and hope to grow my own Joshua Tree. In the beginning, it takes a lot of sunshine, and I have to keep adding water to the bowl. Just like my writing, the seeds I poured onto the soil will either stay dormant or, just maybe, they might grow.

If they don’t, it’s no big deal. I’ll adjust and try again. One day, with a great deal of persistence, I might even find myself enjoying that blissful feeling as I work between stage three and stage four.

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See you next month for my post, Christmas is Coming.

Until then, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This writing gig isn’t ain’t easy!

🙂

I admit it. I’m going to need therapy.

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I’ve prepared for this moment for eighteen years now. But in these last few hours as a mom with a senior in high school, come Saturday, I know I’m going to completely fall apart.

Sure, after twenty-four weeks of puking my guts out and an emergency C-section, I cut the cord to my only son. Really. I did.

  • Who sent their five-year-old to Wisconsin for camp? I did.
  • Who sent their eight-year-old 700 miles away to summer camp where he’s going to learn to identify bear scat and sleep in the woods? I did.
  • Who handed over the key fob on that very first day the driver’s permit was issued and taught him how to drive all over Chicagoland? I did.
  • Who dropped their sixteen-year-old off at O’Hare Airport so he can board a flight to Boston and experience a three-week engineering adventure? I did.
  • Who got exceptionally nervous when she received a picture text from her I’m-way-too-busy-to-keep-in-touch son who captioned said photo: Literally lost at MIT? I did.

 

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Who taught him how to make pancakes? Admittedly, I did NOT do this; apparently, he can read the box and follow directions. YES!! But wait! I taught him how to read. Therefore, I must have also taught him how to make pancakes. Booyeah!

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So why am I going to fall apart this Saturday at the graduation ceremony and do it again when I drop him off this August so he can begin the next adventure of his life? Because…

  • Who’s going to point out what’s wrong with commercials X, Y & Z?
  • Who’s going to have a conversation with me about the plot of the latest show we’re addicted to, and how he’s über confident the plot is following Vivaldi’s Four Seasons because, to him, “It’s soo obvi.”
  • Who’s going to destroy the upstairs bathroom and have no clue it’s disgusting?
  • Who’s going to insist the 80’s music I grew up listening to isn’t in any way too loud and should, therefore, be cranked up even more?
  • Who’s going to beat me in Family Game Night?
  • Who’s going to tell me he loves me each morning before heading out the door?

The list could go on. After all, a lot has gone on during the short eighteen years from the moment he took his first breath to now. And it has been short, seemingly flying by like a next-generation fighter jet that is obliterating supersonic speeds well above Mach 6.72, which is 6.72 times the speed of sound, or 4520 miles per hour. Fast. No wonder everyone keeps saying, “Don’t blink, you’ll miss it.”

Yes, there is so much to look forward to in life. And ultimately this is exactly what hubby and I have prepared our son for. But, among many things, I sure am going to miss our evening mealtime, which turns into thirty minutes of Wheel-watching and a focused attempt at being the first to blurt out the answer to the puzzle.

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Thankfully, I’ve got hubby at my side to help me solve the puzzles I can’t, friends who insist on four-hour lunches at Portillos, and my Main Street sisters to keep me busy. Now, where did I put that number so I can make an appointment for my first therapy session? Might it be 1-800-Disney?

Change is in the Air

At 50+ years old, one usually thinks their life is how it will be. The children are raised. You are enjoying the grandkids. Life is cruising along…and then this happens!

I moved to California from Maryland when I was 7 years old. I’ve lived my whole life here. And now we are moving–to Nevada!! The husband woke up one morning and said, “let’s move, let’s buy a new house, let’s have an adventure.”

The next adventure in my life is beginning. We know no one there. Our family and friends are all here. The husband is finally retiring retiring. We will have a new home, new furniture, and a new life. It will be different. It will be exciting. At least, I hope so!! Fingers are crossed and I am sending positive thoughts out into the universe. Maybe my next book will take place in a Nevada ghost town. Ooooh, new book ideas already!

What exciting unexpected thing has happened to you?


Jill James, romance writer and adventurer!

So I’ve Finished Another First Draft…Now What?

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Yup! That’s how I feel when I’ve finally made it to the end of another story.

But what happens now?

Every author has their own process they go through. I thought I’d see if I could pinpoint how I get from the thrill of finishing that first draft to nearing the point of publication.

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It certainly is quite a transformation.

But here’s my must-do list.

  1. Delete any and all unnecessary description that slows flow. I often ask myself: Does my reader really care about this little bit of info? Make them feel like they’re in the scene and move on.
  2. Combine sentences to show/tell the same thing in one rather than three while still maintaining a balance of short and long sentences.
  3. Watch out for info dumping and delete unnecessary parts that neither mean something to the plot nor move the story forward. This is the time to be ruthless. Murder those darlings!

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4. Search for cliches and ditch them. Be original.

5. Search for overused words. I have a slew of those suckers that creep into my stories.

6. Check all those ideas and thoughts that I hopped out of the shower to jot down in the notes section of my phone. Add in and fix per the list of Things-To-Do-For-BookXYZ.

7. Read the story out loud. How does it sound? Does it flow? Do my characters sound like real people? The story should sound as natural as it would if you were sitting at a pub with your bestie and simply telling her the story.

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8. Rewrites and edits—no matter how many passes it takes—are a must.

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9. Tackle opening sentences of each chapter. Same goes for mini-cliffhangers or some sort of exciting news at the end of each chapter. I really do want to keep my readers turning pages.

10. Let it sit. This is a must for me. When I let my manuscript sit for a week to a month, the time away from the story gives my brain a break. And my brain works in very unusual ways. After time, I no longer have sentences memorized. I find out if a scene is funny, or sad, or just terribly bad. At this point, I also find issues I missed because I was too close to the story. Once, I wrote an entire chapter that rhymed. What? Yup. I had no clue I’d done it. Some days I talk in rhyme without even thinking. Told you my brain is strange.

11. Read. Read. Read. If I don’t move on to another story while BookXYZ is sitting, I read.

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AND EAT! I tend to forget the importance of nutrition.

12. Shout the news that I’ve got another story for my beta reader(s) to critique. Then pray that they’ll tell me the truth.

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13. Give it all another go… one more time… giving the story everything I’ve got left in me.

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14. Write for me, not for sales!

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15. Celebrate the accomplishment. After all, writing a story is not an easy task!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few other things I do along the way.

What steps do you go though? I’d love to hear about them.

Adventures in Hair Coloring

I have a confession to make. I’m not a natural redhead. At least, not fully. My natural hair color has always been a bit of a melange: blond, brown, and red. Fearing comparisons to I Love Lucy, for decades, I used to try to tone the red down in my hair. Try as I might, the red always peeked through. See? This was me attempting to be a brunette in the early 90s:

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Notice how there’s still plenty of red in those tresses. Finally, one brave salon owner convinced me to embrace the red and after several trials and errors, he and I came up with a color I loved. I’ve been this obnoxious bright red ever since:

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My husband claims it makes me look like I’m not 100% human, but I love the richness, how it makes my light blue eyes pop, and most important of all, how I stand out in a crowd.

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I mean seriously, can you find the bright red head in this picture? How long did it take you?

But…

Nowadays, more and  more people are going red. I no longer stand out in the crowd. In fact, I have a doppelganger at many writing events, a woman whose hair is bright red, and who, in passing, has a close enough resemblance to me in build and height to confuse my friends. This will not do.

New year means new changes.

And so, I am on the lookout for a new haircolor that will allow me to look less than 100% human, to stand out in the crowd, and will make my light eyes pop. So far, we’ve experimented with combinations of red and violet and while I like them, I don’t love them.

I have a few more combinations up my sleeve before conference season starts, but I ain’t telling what they are. It’s important I get a jump on those who might want to copy me. And don’t dare suggest I go “natural.” At this stage, I’m probably more gray than anything else and that ain’t happening.

One day, I was on the NYC subway and there was a woman in her early seventies in a gorgeous leather coat, her hair in a sleek cut and a vivid blue-violet hue. I poked my husband, pointed, and said, “I wanna be her when I grow up.” He blanched and then laughed as if I was joking.

I wasn’t. But I’ve got a decade or two before I’m ready to try that. Stay tuned.

 

 

Forget Christmas in July; It’s New Years in September

Maybe it’s the shadow of back-to-school still lingering over me. As a kid, celebrating my birthday in late August always meant my gifts revolved around school supplies and new fall clothes. I never really minded; it was a chance to change the old self, the old wardrobe, the old shoes, in favor of something new and exciting.

img_0591Maybe it’s the crisper weather and the changing colors of the leaves. As a visually creative person, I tend to absorb my environment and reflect what’s around me.

Whatever the reason, September always welcomes in changes for me–the type of changes normally reserved for New Years’ resolutions. I got married in September, moved into  my house in September, and usually make any big purchases (cars, appliances, home furnishings) in September. This September, I started a new day job, cutting my daily commute by 90%! Big difference.

My current work in progress had me excited to reach the end so I could get it to my editor (where it was looooong overdue). But on a whim, I pulled up an old story I had scrapped last year. I was two-thirds of the way through that story when I decided it sucked, it would never sell, and I buried it in my computer files, believing it should never see the light of day. But a year later, after re-reading it, I realized this was actually quite good. This story didn’t suck nearly as much as I thought.

This revelation has forced me to switch gears and try something else new, another shake-up of my routine. I’m now writing two stories at once, both for the same publishing house. It’s a fine line, dancing between two sets of characters, two settings, two plotlines. But I’m determined to give it a shot. Wish me luck!