Midsouth SCBWI Update

Tomorrow I will remember every drop of red ink I’ve splashed on a student’s paper. It’s payback time. I will meet with 7-time NY Bestselling writer Ellen Hopkins, who will critique my manuscript. I’m bracing myself for what’s to come. It’s my turn to listen and learn.

The great thing is that Ellen knows how we writers feel. She’s been there. I admire the passion she possesses for helping other writers see their dreams come true. 

As I listened to her recount her  journey as she gave the keynote address, I realized that we writers all have our own journeys. Often our stories come from the pain we have suffered, and through writing we learn how to deal with our struggles. I hope that if my path continues to stretch toward publication that God will give me opportunities to help new writers, especially teens.

So here I am in Nashville.

I’ve made great strides since the Indy conference. I’m not on the 18th floor this time, but I am able to walk near the rails overlooking the open area. I haven’t pushed, bumped or cussed one person who nudged me toward the open space. (Please note that it is not my nature to do these things, but extreme fear brings out the worst in me.)

So far I’ve enjoyed all the sessions. I’ve picked up several autographed books, including one with a scary Sasquatch-looking creature on the front cover. It’s for my younger son, but all the Lockhart men have had their own dealings with Sasquatch–and no, I’m not referring to myself. I’ll save that story for a later time.

Editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer and Bray has been on hand to lead a few workshops, including the First-Page critique session. In case you don’t know, a First-Page session calls for writers to anonymously submit the first page of their work for critique. Ruta made several excellent points we writers should keep in mind.

  • Remember one editor’s opinion may differ from another. If you don’t get the response you desire from the first editor, don’t be afraid to submit somewhere else. Editors have their own preferences.
  • Writers who want to write for the YA market should double check to see if their topics are relevant in today’s teen world.
  • Fantasy (speculative) writers must, must, MUST create a believable world at the beginning. Otherwise, most editors won’t turn the page.
  • Don’t overwrite. Don’t over do the description.
  • Make sure you open your novel with the RIGHT scene.
  • According to Rita Rumas, historical fiction and “fish out of water” stories may be tough markets for new writers to break into in the general children’s market.
  • Rumas also suggests adding an unusual touch, such as maybe adding a paranormal element to the historical genre.
  • Lovely prose garners attention, but the story must move forward with successful pacing.
  • Each character should have his or her own voice in the novel.
  • Editors want writers who are already involved in a critique group.

Before I log off to finish polishing my manuscript, I’ll leave you with a thought. Adventure and story exist everywhere around us. You never know when you’ll meet your next character, so get ready to write.

Just a couple of superheroes fighting crime in downtown Nashville


Not What You Think

By day I function as a spasmodic journalism teacher, intent on encouraging my students to change the world with their words. By night I throw on my writer’s cloak and hang out with adventurous characters who teeter on the edge of suspense and comedy.

Somewhere in between, I write my blog.

Lately the latter has been a challenge because I have been literally away from my computer. What time my laptop and I convene. I devote to the craft. I am polishing my novel before I send it to a potential agent.

But still…I miss being able to connect with my buds through my blog.

Tonight I will be busy meeting parents at our school’s annual parent-teacher conference. Even though I’m usually exhausted by the end of the evening, I look forward to meeting my students and their parents because I genuinely want to meet their needs.

But sometimes these conferences don’t always go as planned. Sometimes, try as we might, we teachers don’t always project the image we want to convey.

There’s always a little apprehension, as well as hopeful expectation, that every teacher feels on PTC night. We don’t want to leave a bad impression.

Being a Christian teacher in a public school sometimes complicates matters, especially when there are so many denominations and beliefs. I don’t want parents to think I’m overstepping my bounds. I don’t want them to think I’m pushing my beliefs or brainwashing their children just because I am who I am.

My goal is to teach and to reach. I try to live my faith through my acts of kindness. I don’t want to “turn off” my students because we don’t share the same faith. When God orchestrates my abilities to lead my students toward Him, I am pleased to be his vessel, his tool.

I guess you might say I am a Christian teacher, but my audience is the general market…I mean the children of the public school. I teach from a Christian worldview.

I remember one PTC night a few years ago. I spent hours cleaning my desks. I wore a nice professional outfit. I wanted to look my best. My dance card was full, and I had a long list of parents.  I eyed the door nervously as I waited for my first visitor.

I don’t recall the name of my first parent, but she eyed me suspiciously even though I did my best to be as amiable and positive as possible.

The next parent and the next parent did the same. In fact, every parent was a repeat performance.

I was baffled.

I also couldn’t figure out why my co-worker repeatedly stuck his head in my door. He laughed and waved each time he walked by. I was a bit annoyed. I couldn’t concentrate on my conferences because I kept trying to figure out why he was harassing me.

By the end of the evening after all my parents had gone home, I figured out the source of my trouble. Above my head behind my back was a huge painting with words that read “Welcome to Hell.”

That painting was the first image all the parents saw when they walked in my room.

I guess I don’t have to explain how the painting got there. My laughing co-worker took it upon himself to help decorate by using a project one of his British literature students had painted. It was a tribute to Dante’s Inferno. He must have hung it on the wall while I was in the restroom. I don’t know how I missed it.

I can only imagine the perceptions of my visiting parents—all because my crazy co-worker “labeled” my classroom.

I guess that just goes to show that labels and images can change people’s perceptions even if they haven’t actually taken time to get to know the product—or the person.

Tonight I’ll be careful to portray a positive image. I have one goal in mind—to let my students and their parents know I really do care.

For more information about 3D chalk art, click on the following website:  



Time for romance and autumn reads

Wednesday is the big day. Fall arrives.

Ever since I was a little girl, autumn has been my favorite time of year. I think it’s because I am a romantic. When we discuss romance in my English classes, my male students squirm in their seats. But then when I explain what real romance is all about–from a literary standpoint anyway, my guys fess up to being romantics themselves. True romantics lean toward the idealized, the heroic, the adventurous.

I like autumn because I can feel the adventure in the air. There’s a random sprinkling of sinister deeds and mischievious pranks that keeps me looking around corners for what I’m not sure is really there.

The onset of twilight, the unexpected chill, a darting shadow and the glow of a blood-red moon create the perfect ambiance for a spooky tale around a campfire under the stars.

Autumn to me means cozy. Just mention of the season conjures up images of a fire, a blanket and a good book. Speaking of which, I have a whole list that I’ll share with you later–my Autumn Must-Read List! What’s really exciting is that I met several of these authors at ACFW! I bought their books! Now let’s read.

Autumn is a time just waiting for escape. I plan to start writing again. I have two books in mind. One, I’ve already started. It’s a stand-alone romance with a baseball theme. The other is a continuation of the TJ Westbrook series. That’s the one I can’t wait to develop. I’ll be heading back to Memphis. Nothing like a good road trip.

And speaking of road trips, it’s just about time for a retreat to the mountains of East Tennessee. Give me nature’s palette of color, a hide-away cabin, a hot tub, pumpkin spice candles and a book from my must-read list, and I’m all set.

The arrival of autumn also signals the arrival of the Southern Festival of Books. Mark your calendar for October 8-10. You can find a full schedule on the Humanities Tennessee Website:  http://www.humanitiestennessee.org/festival/index.php

I obviously can’t list them all here, but here’s a taste of whom you’ll see if you make it to Nashville. Again, you’ll find a full list on the website:

Rick Bragg — Pulitzer Prize winner for Feature Writing; author of All Over but the Shoutin’, Ava’s Man, The Prince of Frogtown and other best-selling books and memoirs

Susan Gregg Gilmore — Author of the novel Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and others

J. M. Hochstetler — Author of the American Patriot Series as well as publisher and editorial director of Sheaf House Publishers

Sharyn McCrumb — Award-winning author of numerous bestselling novels including The Songcatcher and She Walks These Hills

Ramona Richards — Award-winning editor, speaker and author of Steeple Hill novels

Jen Stephens — Author of The Heart’s Journey Home

Share your thoughts. What does autumn mean to you? What book tops your list of Autumn Must Reads? Let’s celebrate this season of harvest, a time when God’s fingerprints and brilliance of design are all over his creation.


Monday Mentor– ACFW 1010 Update

Going Up?

Having just returned from the ACFW conference, I can think of no better topic to blog about than what else—the ACFW, of course. In case you don’t know, ACFW stands for the American Christian Fiction Writers. I have enough tips that I could fill a month’s worth of blogs, but for space purposes, I’ll limit what I have to say to My Ten Most Important Lessons Learned at the ACFW Conference.

My journey to the ACFW conference officially began when I registered for my classes, paid my fees and then booked my hotel room. Oh, and what a grand hotel it was. Before I ever stepped foot in the building, I scouted the Internet for pictures and details—and I had a problem with that I saw.

Fortunately, while registering on line, I noticed a little box that allowed me to explain my special needs and request appropriate accommodations to meet them.  This is what I wrote:

Dearest Hyatt Regency Consierge,

I am so thankful that you have the wise foresight to ask your guests in advance what special needs they might have. My needs are quite common, I’m sure, but quite significant. You see, if they are not met, I’m afraid both you and I will suffer significant repercussions.

I am deathly afraid of heights. I notice that your hotel has many floors, many floors. I cannot possibly function on a top floor. In fact, on a mission trip to Michigan, my pastor once forced me to ride across the Mackinac Bridge. It wasn’t enough for him to make me ride across the bridge. He stopped the van and taunted me to look through the windows over the edges of “Big Mac” or “Mightly Mac” as the third longest suspension bridge—in the world—is affectionately called.

It wasn’t pretty what happened. I tried to warn him. Not quite willing to be nearer my God to thee, I began writhing around in the floor board, begging him just to get us the “you know what” over the bridge. I’m not sure my pastor ever recovered from the experience. He eventually left for West Virginia, then Montana—and finally China! I must have caused him a heap of embarrassment.

I’m sure you understand what I’m saying. Please house me close to the ground floor.

Mr. Consierge,  I once lived in a multi-floor apartment complex with outside entrances. I had a small dog at the time, and my small dog’s leash snapped, and my small dog ran away—but not far. He ran up the steps to the top floor of the complex, and I had to retrieve him. There were only two floors, not like your fine establishment which has floors that scrape the bottom of heaven. But I don’t do open spaces and heights together.

Mr. C, I had get down on all fours—maybe it was my belly (I can’t recall)—so that  I could crawl or writhe all the way across the open walk. I embarrassed myself. I embarrassed the apartment manager. I embarrassed my dog. Do you really want something like this occurring at your hotel?

Mr. C Dude, I become violent whenever I am near the edge. I will not walk beside a wall made of poly methyl methacrylate, PMMA—Plexiglas. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Instead of putting up a sturdy reassuring wall, the architect of your building planned clear walls so that patrons can look down at the floors below them.

Man, that’s just crazy! How could expect anyone in his or her right mind want to look down?

And, that’s another thing…your glass elevators. I’ll take the stairs, thank you. Mr. Consierge, sir, please put me on the bottom floor.

Under normal conditions I don’t think I could take down a grown man—even with the violent tendencies that come with my extreme fear of heights. But I’m taking kickboxing now. The combination could be lethal. I’m not threatening you—not yet anyway. I’m just saying.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

So when I arrived at the Hyatt Regency, I smiled at the man helping me get checked in. He smiled back and handed me my room key.

“You’re on the eighteenth floor.”

I did not faint. I did not cuss—after all, I was attending a Christian conference. I had to exhibit some self control. I merely got on those glass elevators and pushed number 18 and rode to the top, leaving my fears with the consierge on the bottom floor.

What other choice did I have? Stay locked in my room afraid to do what God had call me to do? I don’t think so.

So as I leave you with the Top Ten Lessons That Changed My Life, I’ll start with the most obvious.

  • Get over it. If you are serious about being a writer, you’re going to have to get over whatever fear you have that’s between you and the desire God has placed in your heart. Whether it’s a fear of talking to new people, facing rejection or changing your routine to do what it takes to learn how to hone your craft, you’re going to have to get over it. Well, you could just hide your talent and stay in your safe place and refuse to take a risk. You’re better than that. Come on!
  • Cynthia Ruchti says that instead of worrying so much about creating characters, we writers should focus on developing our own character first.   http://www.cynthiaruchti.com/blog
  • Everyone has a story. How is your life story? Boring? Author Tim Downs says that maybe a good editor (God) should get a hold of it.  http://www.timdowns.net/
  • Tim Downs also says that it is through fiction that you, the writer, will woo people. http://www.timdownsblog.com/
  • Allen Arnold, Senior Vice-President and Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson challenges writers to know their brand and to know their tribe. Brand refers to the writer’s identity. Tribe refers to the type of followers. http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2010/01/today-allen-arnold-senior-vice.html
  • Literary agent Rachel Gardner welcomes new writers to visit her blog for information regarding getting an agent, writing a query, crafting a pitch, etc.  http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/
  • Writers who are interested in learning more about writing for young adults should check out the website YA Highway. http://www.yahighway.com/
  • Tim Downs says “the delight is in the hunt.” Readers and other human beings enjoy finding hidden treasures. Most of the time, information “sticks” with audience members when they hear a story rather than a lecture even when at first the audience members don’t “get it” at first. Think about Jesus. He was willing to be misunderstood. He spoke in parables so that his audience could think about the story and hunt for the truth lying under the layers of story.
  • Writer Jill Williamson recommends paying attention to pacing. Writers should avoid stopping the flow of the story with going into backstory or “telling.” http://novelteen.wordpress.com/
  • Serious readers and writers should check out Book Sneeze. If you like to read and to write reviews, you must check out this site!http://booksneeze.com/
  • Writer Brandilyn Collins offered a scripture reference (Jeremiah 45: 5) for writers to help them maintain focus:  “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people,declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.”  (Learn more about this author at her website: http://www.brandilyncollins.com/about.html.)

The most important bit of advice I have for new writers is to join ACFW–but ONLY if you are serious about your craft. This organization is built on prepping the writer for publication. If you aren’t ready to devote yourself to the craft, you won’t be willing to take advantage of the resources. http://www.acfw.com/

Stay tuned….more ACFW info to come this week!

Launch pad

“If you don’t like your life, why don’t you change it?”

Someone that I don’t know very well told me that recently—or rather emailed me that recently. It’s funny how people you don’t even know can “coincidentally” deliver different forms of the same message.

Oh, how I enjoy interviewing people. Whenever I interview someone, I know that I’m going to learn something new so that I can become a better person. It works EVERY time. Well, in my last “big” interview, my subject told me that people are generally happy as they want to be. They’re doing what they want to do even if they complain about their circumstances. His words made me think about my own life. I was not where I wanted to be, but I wasn’t doing anything about it.

I want to be a writer. I want to write for young adults.

I decided to get serious about it. Shortly after I took the first steps to “get serious,” I found these words in my email. Hmmm. I also decided that I started out by getting serious about my fitness. I want to be more disciplined. I’ve given up my couch for challenging activity. I have gotten stronger. I have built my endurance. I am succeeding. I am changing my life.

Taking my writing to a professional level has definitely resulted in a life change. For one, I will embark this weekend to Indianapolis to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. I will be one of hundreds who are also determined to change their lives. What’s cool about this conference and this group of people is that everyone genuinely there wishes one another well. I have already met some wonderful new friends. There’s an answered prayer right there.

In fact, everywhere I’ve turned I’ve met new people that I really seem to connect with. In fact, I’ve made new friends at work and at play and at the writing events I’ve attended. I’ve never been happier in my life. And it all goes back to, you guessed it, changing my life.  Yes, God answered my prayers, but I had to overcome some of my fears so that I could try something new.

This may be my last blog for a few days as I’ll be preparing to go out of town, but I plan to bring back some tidbits of what I learned for my Monday Mentor. Another one of my prayers is to encourage other people who are afraid to take a step of faith.  I don’t know what God has in store, but I’m listening. I want to help others too.

I have to remind myself that change is a process, rarely ever an overnight occurrence. Right now I am dealing with extreme anxiety and forgetfulness. I have a very special ichthus necklace that’s made of leather and a nail, but I can’t find it. I lost it when our house flooded due to a broken pipe. I wear it when I need to be reminded not to mess up.  I tend to mess up. It seems that losing things has become a habit for me.

My substitute reminder is a smaller, very inexpensive fish necklace. I wore it when I was dress shopping for the conference, and I took it off in the dressing room—and left it there. I had already driven to another store when I remembered it. Fortunately, it was there when I returned.  You would think I would have learned my lesson, but I did it again at the very next store.  This store was a little more snooty that the previous one. When I went back to retrieve it, the lady had it waiting for me at the counter. She eyed me suspiciously. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but once again, I was happy to have it back.

Since then I’ve lost my car keys and my cell phone—more than once. I have also lost a pair of black sandals that I really, really need. I’m at a loss. Where could they be? And this morning I left before dawn and ended uo leaving my lights on all day. Needless to say, my battery was dead when I returned to my truck this afternoon. I had to get to the rec center for my class, so I didn’t have time to panic. I took charge and flagged down my friend, who happened to have jumper cables. But neither of us really knew how to use them. So I took charge—AGAIN.

I hooked them up wrong. But thankfully I did not blow up our automobiles. A co-worker came along and show me how to do it the right way. God takes care of me when I try to take charge.

I have my little black dress and heels—nothing too fancy, but it works. I have my new business cards. I have my one-sheets. I have my proposal. I have my sample chapters. I think I’m ready to go. The only thing I’m working on now is preparing my heart for what God has in store, good or bad. I’m ready for a new life. How about you?

Stay tuned for updates on the conference—and pictures—and a new CONTEST. Oh yes, if you will please remember me in your prayers. If you have any requests, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll pray for you

Monday Mentor Songwriter Appreciation

For this week’s Monday Mentor post, I decided to pay homage to a few of my favorite songwriters. I didn’t mention the singers’ names or the song titles because I wanted to focus only on the craft, the writers’ abilities to tap our emotions through their carefully chosen tools of diction, imagery, juxtaposition, metaphor, simile, personification. I admire their art.

Songwriters are amazing artists. The masters of the craft can take a story and lay it out before us in three minutes. When they mix their lyrics with the right music, they make art that moves us to laugh, dream, think, sing and love.

I am always inspired by quotes and lyrics. What is your favorite song lyric? Why is it so powerful? What special meaning does it have for you?

The Indian summer both of us laughing

Hackberry trees and fireflies flashing

So many holes in the soles of our shoes

You don’t choose life, life chooses you

Floatin’ on a raft we built from scrap wood

Mosquito scratching felt so good

And I’ve never seen eyes your color of blue

You don’t choose love, love chooses you ~ Rodney Clawson

 I’d change it if I could, but I’m really not that strong

I might be understood if I knew where I belong

I might fly beyond this room

And kiss the cheek of the moon ~ Wayne Kirkpatrick

If I could reach the stars I’d pull one down for you
Shine it on my heart so you could see the truth
That this love I have inside is everything it seems
But for now I find it’s only in my dreams ~ Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tommy Sims

 But every time you hold me

You take away some lonely

Everytime you love me

The further away I get from the edge ~ Pete Sallis

Questioning those in powerful position
Running to those who called His name
(But) Nobody knew His secret ambition
Was to give His life away ~ Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Wayne Kirkpatrick

Oh, it seemed like a holy place, protected by amazing grace
And we would sing right out loud, the things we could not say
We thought we could change this world with words like “love” and “freedom”
We were part of the lonely crowd inside the sad café ~ Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey

Would I know by sight if I met you in the street
Clandestined collision by shuffling feet
I’ve only seen your face on museum walls
But your everpresent eyes don’t miss the sparrow’s fall. ~ Justin Vigeant

In open fields of wild flowers, she breathes the air and flies away
She thanks her Jesus for the daises and the roses in no simple language
Someday she’ll understand the meaning of it all ~ Matt Bronleewe, Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Steve Mason

You’ll see mountains and the valleys

And the rivers far down below

Oh the high road might get lonely

But it’s the only way to go ~ Pete Sallis

And I don’t know how it gets better than this

You take my hand and drag me headfirst, fearless

I don’t know why but with you I’d dance

In a storm in my best dress, fearless ~ Hillery Lindsey, Liz Rose, Taylor Swift

 Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses

You been out ridin’ fences for so long now.

Oh, you’re a hard one, I know that you got your reasons

These things that are pleasin’ you can hurt you somehow ~ Don Henley, Glenn Frey

Just to know, just to know that you love me gives me hope to carry on
What can this world do to me? No, no
Just to know, just to know that you’re with me
On all these roads I traveled on
When all I have is gone, I confess my dependence on you ~ Jamie Slocum

I run from hate, I run from prejudice
I run from pessimists, but I run too late
I run my life or is it running me, run from my past
I run too fast or too slow it seems
When lies become the truth
That’s when I run to you ~ Tom Douglas, David Wesley Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott

 And now I’m singing my songs

Standing up on a big and bright stage, yeah

And I do my dance while the music plays

But when the music stops

Am I doing the walk? ~ Steven Curtis Chapman

Even when you’re gone,
Somehow you come along just like
A flower pokin’ through the sidewalk crack
And just like that
You steal away the rain, and just like that
You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed
Sing like a bird, dizzy in my head
Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night ~ Jeremy Bose, Blair Daly, J. Harding, Matthew Shafer


This is a busy week at the Lockhart household with the three Lockhart men all having birthdays within one week:  Kenny, the 7th; Josh, the 12th and Michael, the 14th. So in honor of the boys, particularly the younger two of three, the ones who allow me to take photos, I dedicate Sunday’s blog to then. They are, after all, the source of my inspiration.  

Class of 2010

Nineteen years ago, Joshua William was born after quite a difficult delivery, but despite his traumatic entry into the world, he has proven that he is no quitter. I am so proud of him, class president all four years, the Tennessee High School Press Association Student Journalist of the Year and now an MTSU journalism student.   

The first week after bringing him home from the hospital Josh let us know he was on the fast track. He was already lifting his head up and looking about the room as if to say, “World, here I am, ready to take you on.” Before he was old enough to go to school, he was already creating stories and had two imaginary brothers and an imaginary sister: Kinder, Mark and Folla. They went with us every where, riding on top of the car as there was no room for them inside. Sometimes Josh’s imaginary uncle from England joined them.   

Where's the Mystery Machine?

 Josh also had a fascination for Batman. He had his own suit. Being the indulgent parents that we were, we used to drive him around town in his costume so that he could look for crime. When we were in Knoxville, we took him to a Shoney’s, where he signed autographs…in his suit…as Batman.   

Josh is creative, but before he wanted to go into media and writing, he wanted to be a detective. I made him business cards on my computer, and he wanted to advertise his services on Swap and Shop. I’m not sure that he’s ever gotten over the fact that I had to deny his request.   

But he did get an early start on television as a winner of the Reading Rainbow original story contest. He created his own illustrations too. Our star read his story on NPT!  

Josh's Tak

 Happy birthday, my dear son. I am so proud of you. You are a wonderful writer, an amazing videographer and movie maker and a pretty decent guitar player. I’m so glad you like the Takamine. I know that whatever you do, you will be a shining success.  

Eight years later after Josh’s dramatic entry into the world, Michael Caleb came along. Even before he was born, I knew he was going to be lively. He never stopped moving. He was the baby who never went to sleep. He was constantly moving, and I can’t count the number of times he fell out of his bed. His first word was ball, and he could wait to start playing soccer at the age of three.   


When he was four, he was the tiniest boy on his basketball team, but that didn’t stop him from going up to the biggest kid on the other team and taking the ball out of his hand. Michael looked like a rag doll being shaken by a pitbull. But he never let go. He has played running back on his football team, short stop on his minor league teams and midfielder on his soccer teams. He was also a proud East Coffee Warrior basketball player last year. 

Creativity 'n Motion

 Because he’s constantly moving, it’s only fitting that he is taking drum lessons, and he’s coming right along. He has his own drums in his room, and I’m sure he drives the neighbors crazy with his beating. I don’t mind. Even when he doesn’t have sticks in his hands, he is pounding out a rhythm to the song on the radio.  


 Always moving.Michael is my comedian, my talker. He is never quiet. Honestly, dear teachers, we have had numerous discussions with him concerning his loquacious behavior.  He received a note on his progress report indicating that he needed to control his talking. Michael’s explanation was that he just talked too fast. Too fast? I haven’t heard that one before.  

Michael’s hero is Josh. He wants to do everything Josh does, and he too was a Reading Rainbow winner and was able to read his story on TV too. 

My Angel

 Happy birthday, my little angel. You know you were named after the arch angel Michael (and Michael W. Smith). You have brought such joy to my life. You know you’ll always be “Mama’s boy.”   

As for the third birthday boy in the bunch, happy birthday. Thank you for being a wonderful father. I can’t imagine any greater gifts. I love you all.  

Hanes Man--They're clean. I promise.

Movie Maker

Sir Michael

Our Hero


9-11 and Reckless Abandon

I was bouncing on and off Twitter when I saw a tweet from Ellen Hopkins that challenged writers to blog about our freedoms. Actually, I had been thinking about doing so already, but I was a bit hesitant because I have a strong conviction that I should use my words to bless, not to curse. Not that I would ever use my blog to curse, but we all know how easily words can be misconstrued. How ironic I should say that considering this blog is about transparency.

Transparency? The word is probably not what you would consider when you think of 9-11 and freedom, but I am thankful that I have the God-given right—and I do mean God-given—to be transparent –to be me, to not worry about whether I measure up to somebody else’s perception of  who I should be. I am who I am. God gave me free will. However, I willingly gave up the right to make decisions for myself because I wanted an omnipotent God of infinite love to tell me what is best for my life. Not everyone has made that decision.

If I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing, that is keeping a close, daily dialogue with my creator, then I shouldn’t worry that I will compromise my integrity. Am I tempted? Of course. Do I mess up? Sadly, yes. We all do. It’s easy to turn a deaf ear to the still small voice when there’s something we want that doesn’t fit in with God’s current plan. But if we return to our daily, never ceasing dialogue, then we will do what it takes to make our relationship right again.

When I grew up, I thought that for people to become Christians, they had to dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, talk a certain way, listen to certain types of music. This perception became quite confusing to me after several people professing to be Christian contradicted one other with their rules. Who was right, I often wondered. Then I went straight to the source—the Bible—and found the answer. God is right. God doesn’t place an emphasis on the outward appearance. He goes straight to the heart.

What matters most to God is love.

So my blog about transparency could just as easily be a blog about love. The freedom I am most thankful for is my freedom to love with reckless abandon. And I do.

I am a people person. I don’t think I can survive, or at least thrive, unless I’m around people. If I don’t have the freedom to be myself around people, I wither. A part of me dies. I think what I have loved most about being a teacher is that I can love my kids with reckless abandon, my God-given right.

I’m glad that God wove a creative spirit in my soul. I’m glad He made me quirky, unique. I’m glad He allows me the freedom to appreciate the music that Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Black Crows and Sheryl Crow create. I’m glad that God allowed me to follow His team, the Red Sox with Dustin Pedroia, Tek, Youk and all my other favorites. I don’t know if these people (or their fans) have made the decision to trade their free will for God’s guidance, but if they happen to make bad decisions that don’t honor God, I can’t condemn them. That’s not my place. They have free will. I can love them with reckless abandon, not caring what those who will judge will say.

And loving them doesn’t mean that I have to condone their actions or hang out with them if they are in a place where I could be led astray. I can appreciate the gifts God has given them. God is the giver of all good things. And I can open wide my heart to them and love them with reckless abandon.

I think most of us are well aware of the controversial burning issue that was once proposed for 9-11. I just have one question: Where was the love in that plan?

People have free will to choose which house they will serve. It is not the human being’s job to force other people into believing what the Bible says. The Bible doesn’t instruct Christians to hate their enemies. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time, a season, to draw the line, to establish a boundary. If people use their free will to decide to cross the boundary, then they should expect consequences.

To love means to respect people for whom they are and to respect the choices that God allowed them to make—even if we don’t like them. To love means to grant people the freedom to be transparent, to be who they really are without inappropriate censure or disrespect.

I am thankful for my freedom of transparency. I’m glad that God has reassured me that I can wear my tee shirts, jeans and flip flops, I can play my guitar—loud if want, amplified on some occasions, I can write my Young Adult fiction, I can respect and learn from all people, even those who do not share my Christian beliefs. I can do all these things with reckless abandon—without worrying about other people’s perceptions—their perceptions don’t matter, not really.

God knows what’s in my heart, He knows my motivations and God is in control.

Saints and poets

Something magical happens when a writer puts pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard. Sometimes dreams come true.

If you know me, you know I’m not much of a talker. Well, to most people, I’m not much of a talker. If I trust you and if I like you, if I like you a lot, I probably won’t shut up. (Just ask my students. I’m crazy about them. I can hear them groaning right now. “Oh, she goes on and on and on.”)

Usually when I try to say something really important aloud, it never comes out right. So when I can’t say it aloud, I say it through my writing. When I can’t say it through my writing, I pick up my guitar.

So the creative process goes. Some people paint. Some people sculpt. Some people take pictures to release their secrets when simply speaking will not do.

And then sometimes something magical happens. The creative language transcends the ordinary and speaks in a way kindred souls can understand.

Sometimes a writer almost gives up. Sometimes a writer succumbs to the demons that taunt him. Writers, poets, musicians and artists feel life much more deeply, more intensely, than do others who can’t appreciate the exhilaration that comes with creation.

I can’t help but think of a quote from Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Emily asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” He replies, “No, saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”

Most of us just go about our busyness, ignoring confrontations with life when we can. But writers take time to reply when life begins a dialogue. And then sometimes the magic happens when he or she leasts expects it.

Take, for example, J.K. Rowling, a single mom with a failed marriage. She was on a train from London to Manchester when she ran into a four-hour delay and could only sit and think. She didn’t even have a pen to write down her thoughts, and she was too embarrassed to ask for one. But she held on to her story of a wizard child and found her muse and the courage to write and see the story to publication—even after multiple rejections. Did I mention she was an English teacher?

How about Stephen King? Like many of us, he suffered through discouragement and, as a result, battled a severed drinking problem. He encountered such doubt that he even threw away a draft of Carrie. His wife retrieved it—thank goodness. He continues to produce works that make us tremble. By the way, did I mention Stephen King was once a teacher?

(He’s also a Red Sox fan! And, shhh, promise you won’t tell? I think I may once sat by him at a Red Sox game at Fenway. If you see me, ask me to show you the picture to prove it. And by the way—this is for my newspaper students:  He a wrote a column for his college paper called “Steve King’s Garbage Truck.”)

For all of my fellow writers out there, I encourage you to continue the conversation life is having with you. If you work hard at your craft, perhaps magic will light upon you and you will enjoy the moment of being able to speak the language of saints and poets.

Ridin’ shotgun to China

“Oh, dear Lord, I’m going to China.”

I’ve never prayed aloud in front of hundreds of people, and I don’t think anyone heard me that night, but there I stood in the spotlight, center stage, while the masses stood around me clapping, congratulating me because I was going to China.

Let me explain.

You see, I’ve always ridden shotgun. I’m the navigator, the sidekick, the tagalong, the best friend, the listener, the confidant, the kid sister who never had a big brother (or a big sister, for that matter). I’ve always played Ed McMahan to Johnny Carson or Ethel to Lucy or Barney to Andy.

So when my dear friend asked me to go on a short road trip to Chattanooga, it didn’t take me long to climb into the passenger seat, ready for a ride. It didn’t matter where we were going. I’m always ready for adventure.

Turns out my friend had done a lot of soul searching, a whole lot of praying, and she felt God was calling her to be missionary—in China. I hadn’t seen this coming, but if God was calling her, I certainly wasn’t going to hold her back. But first she had to travel to Chattanooga for a meeting that explained the process of overseas ministry.

I’m a great support. I’m not such a great navigator. Anyone who knows me knows I have a little bit of trouble, a lot of trouble, with my Ralphs and my Looeys. I confuse my rights and my lefts. But despite my inability to read a map, we made it there on time.

I expected a small gathering, but the place was packed! Being a people watcher, I eyeballed every person in the place. They all looked surprisingly normal to me. But despite their mundane appearances, I still managed to find myself drifting away, tuning out the speakers and imagining what it would be to go on an adventure.

I recall the speaker saying something about people being called to the mission field. My friend stood up. I was genuinely excited for her. I was proud of her. I applauded.

Then the speaker said something about how not all of us are called but all of us can help.

 “Well, yeah. “

Again I drifted away and started thinking about what he said.

“So what if I can’t get on an airplane? So what if I have a fear of heights, uh, a fear of falling from heights, especially mile in the sky heights?  God can use me right here on good old American soil. I can still help—from the passenger seat. Right?”

I know I heard the man speak to those of us who were willing to help. I know he told us to stand up. So I stood up. And then the man addressed the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, these people that you see standing before us are the next group of missionaries who are going to China. Let’s all give them a round of applause for their willingness to listen to the Lord and to obey His call.”

I looked around me. Everyone was cheering wildly. I was standing. They were screaming for me and the other handful of people in the room. I tried to slink back into my chair and under the table without anyone seeing. But I knew the truth. God saw.

Did God trick me? Was this his way of sending me to China? Let me tell you something. They haven’t built a bridge there yet, and I don’t ride boats. I can’t fly, and I can’t swim. I wasn’t going. I just hadn’t figured out a way to tell God.

I spent the next several years dodging God and dodging airplanes. I panicked every time we had a Lottie Moon Christmas offering at church. I think I gave extra just so that God would extend my time here in the states. My friends weren’t so helpful when I confided my fears.

“Just be thankful you’re not going to Africa. You might be living in a hut.”

It took me several years to figure out that maybe God isn’t planning to send me to China, but even if He is, I think now I’m willing to go—wherever.

I’ve always been consumed by fear. As I said, I’ve always ridden shotgun. I’ve always let someone else make the decisions in my life—mainly out of fear.

But I’ve decided that as I begin my new writing adventure that I’m not going to let fear be a factor. I’m getting out of the passenger seat and moving over to the driver’s side. I’m taking control.

(Okay, before you stop me, I know, I know. God is supposed to be in the driver’s seat. But I’m trying to create an extended metaphor here. Indulge me.)

Day in, day out, I hear people, old and young, talk about how circumstances in their lives keep them from being who they want to be. I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t want to live with regrets. I don’t want fear to dictate my life. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to follow my dreams.

I believe God has planted the desire to write in my heart, and if He wants me to get on an airplane or to negotiate traffic in downtown Nashville or to speak to an audience—or to go to China, then I say let’s roll with it.

So, goodbye riding shotgun. I’m moving over. And yeah, I know one of you can’t wait to say it, so I’m going to beat you to the punch—I may be in the driver’s seat now, but I have to let Jesus take the wheel. (Groan. Bada boom.)

Yeah, yeah. I’ve already handed Him the keys.