Six degrees of the blues vs. fifty shades of grey? I’ll take the blues.

square dance

A serendipitous life is like an “allemande left.”

In square dance terms, this call requires each dancer to take the other’s hand, making it easier to enter and exit the movement. Serendipitous dancers move freely in life, acknowledging that all things work together like an “allemande left” to allow them to take take hold of and to learn from the fortunate accidents they encounter.

A few weeks ago, I had a creative dream. When I woke up, song lyrics trickled in my head like a gentle stream. But one word  spewed forth like the spring–Celie.

Never heard it–at least, so I thought.

I wrote down the lyrics but changed the name to Cecilia, which is what I thought my mind was probably trying to dream. Hey, it worked for Paul Simon.

Of course, my OCD nature compelled me to research the name’s meaning. Historically, Cecilia was the patroness of music because when she was dying she sang to God. A little more research revealed the name’s meaning refers to “a way for the blind.” Hmm. Music? A way for the blind? Yes. And, of course, “blind” can be interpreted on a myriad of levels.

I was so pumped. What a very cool dream. But one thing kept nagging at me. I didn’t dream the name “Cecilia.” I dreamed “Celie.” Once again, I felt compelled to grasp the hand before me and examine the next clue to find out why I dreamed this song.

Turns out Celie is derived from Cecilia. I don’t want to give away my song ideas, but I wanted the song to have a Delta feel about it. As most of you know, I love, love, love the blues, so I built the song around a mysterious woman named Celie who could read people.

A little more research revealed the French origins of the name. Okay. Louisiana. That works. And according to my Internet “baby names” search, people with the name “Celie” are often great analyzers or mystics.

Perfect.

At this point, I had the whole song written with multiple layers of meaning. I thought I was finished, but then I found one more detail that put the icing on my joconde. (So, I’m trying to be clever here. Get it? For those of you who don’t know, a joconde is a French opera cake. It will make even more sense when you read the next couple of sentences.)

So here’s the missing link (literally) to today’s serendipitous story.

I’m a fan of the show Nashville. I serendipitously showed up at a taping and was an extra. I serendipitously met one of the stars at the Aerosmith concert. My favorite singer on the show is Clare Bowen, who plays Juliet. While I was creeping my Facebook newsfeed, I found a post from my favorite shop, the upscale Two Old Hippies in the REAL downtown Nashville.

(Sidebar:  I love Nashville, the city. I really like to visit  Two Old Hippies. It’s fun to browse for, not just merchandise, but also details and vibes for stories and songs.)

Back to story, the post revealed that Clare Bowen had just bought the last pair of Liberty fringe boots, the same pair of boots I admired but could not purchase. The Two Old Hippies post included a video clip of Clare wearing the boots on The View with Whoopie Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd.

I don’t always click on links, but, hey. I like Two Old Hippies. I like Clare Bowen. And I like the boots. I clicked on it.

(Another sidebar…I had the opportunity to interview Sherri Shepherd several years ago. What a lovely lady! Her presence in this story just makes me smile. Squirrel! Yes, I know. I’m a little spastic.)

Back to the story…again.

Anyway, when they interviewed Clare Bowen, the ladies of The View revealed that the beautifully Southern singer was actually from Australia.

AUSTRALIA?

And she was a trained opera singer. (Remember when I made the witty remark about the joconde?) Clare had to learn country. And she had to learn Southern.

Turns out Clare Bowen herself was having a serendipitous moment on the show.

She couldn’t tell her own story without revealing how a song about Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Miss Celie in  The Color Purple, changed her life.

(Sidebar Number Three…Miss Celie! My dream! Maybe I had buried that little detail far back in my brain and my subconscious was trying to help me dig it out. We can’t even comprehend how God designed our brains. We think we know so much.)

“Miss Celie’s Blues” opened the door to a new understanding of music for Clare Bowen. She found freedom in the blues. She loved the bluesy feel of the song.

The blues. Miss Celie’s blues. Sister Celie’s blues.  Of course! THE BLUES!

Clare Bowen’s first real taste of the blues change her life and brought her to Nashville. How serendipitous.

And, had  I not been sick for seven days with what I am sure is the plague, I would have never have had to leave work today to go to the doctor. And if I did not receive the dreaded shots, I would not have had to go home instead of back to work.

Because I came home when I did, I serendipitously read the Two Old Hippies / Bowen post as it was the first to pop up on my Facebook feed.

Now I know how Clare Bowen, Two Old Hippies, the show Nashville, Liberty fringe cowboy boots, Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg, the plague, and THE BLUES worked together today to create my tailor-made serendipitous story.

“Allemande left” everyone.

 

A day in the life of me

Assignment for my creative writing class:  Borrow some of the techniques Dean Koontz uses in Odd Thomas
and write your own story titled “A Day in the Life of Me.”

I am a night owl. I like to stay up past midnight when everyone else has gone to sleep and the house is mine. The solitude is mine. My thoughts are mine. And I can write.

But when morning comes I’m never ready to wake up. Just a few more minutes of sleep—I reset the alarm. I hate the alarm.

And I have to dress according to my mood. If I wear the “wrong” thing, well then, my day planks. No, I’m not a fashionista. Maybe it’s a feng shui thing, applied to clothing.

But I can never find my shoes. And off I go in search. Why I don’t look under my computer table, why I dig through the bottom of my closet, I do not know. I cannot wear shoes in my house. Off they go as I sit cross-legged in my rolling chair writing or playing my guitar.

Get dressed, dab on a little make-up, straighten my hair, find my earrings. Oh, have mercy. If I don’t wear my lucky earrings, I am incomplete.

And regardless of the time, I must complete my morning ritual. I check Facebook and WordPress, and I play my guitars, electric and acoustic. I switch them up. Both have their own little nuances.

I can’t put into words what these guitars mean to me. They are my life source.

I’m not saying God isn’t. He is, of course. I’m just saying that for me to be me, I have to find myself through song. Some people march to the beat of their own drummer. I make my own melodies on a six string.

And the first thing I do when I get home from school? Play guitar. And what’s the last thing I do before bed at night? Play guitar. My life source. The one materialistic thing that lets me be me.

And it never fails.

I play too long, or the clock cheats and makes me late. I rush to my Durango to head to school. And then I realize I don’t have my phone. I run back into the house and grab it from my charger and stuff it in my bag. Half way to school, I panic. Where is my phone? I think, “Did I put it in my bag?”

And I madly search for it while trying oh so hard not to go past the 15 mph school zone speed limit. I don’t need another $173 ticket. Nay, I do protest. I’ve lived near the school practically all my life, and it wasn’t until I received my ticket that I ever saw those signs, new of course, marking the extended school zone.

Someone pulled a fast one, and it wasn’t just me. But I was the one stuck with a ticket.

I get to school. Aw, man. Has the bell rung? Can I get signed in before 7:45?

I rush, rush, rush. I used to be an early bird, arriving at 6:30 a.m. But I’m a weary basket case, so 7:40 it is on most days…or 7:45.

I rev up to teach the college English classes. Seniors. Who woulda thunk I’d like them? They’re laid back. Heck they’re almost adults. We can so relate.

Oh, you teachers of K-10. Bless your hearts, especially middle-school teachers. How do you handle the giggles, farts, snickers, and burps? And I can’t believe I just used the f word in my blog. Never. Totally uncouth.

Attendance. I have to take attendance, but my computer will not pull up portal. I spend all of announcement time trying to log on. And then I’m bombarded by students who want one-on-one help. I can’t transition from English to sociology. The same thing happens with the transition to creative writing.

But ah….it’s time for newspaper production, a time when I can work ALONE on the technical aspects of desktop publishing that my students rarely learn. It’s too complicated. I have to do it myself to send the files over the Internet. Word, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Distiller, Adobe PDF. I do the job of a graphic designer without ever having taken the first college class. And that’s why they pay me the big bucks to take on the school newspaper. Not.

By now I realize I have never turned on my phone. I turn it on and discover a couple of texts. Aw, man. No wonder everything has been quiet.

And I rush, rush, rush. Multi-task. Grade papers. Call parents. Check my email. Check my email. Check my email. Email for high school. Email for Motlow. Email for writing. Email for Harmony House. Would you believe I didn’t check it for a few days, and I exceeded 1,000 messages for one account. I hate email almost as much as I hate my alarm clock.

Then it’s back home.

Oh, what to expect. Usually something LOUD. It starts with boy grumbling about taking out dog. Then there are words. And then there is a quick trip outdoors. Back in. No success. The dog gets irritated and lays a passive aggressive plan in the kitchen. I hear more yelling. It gets ugly. Every day. Same old song and dance.

I must grade. I must grade. I must grade. But I have had my heart and soul telepathically sucked out of me from the other bodies in my room craving my attention. I want to give, but what’s left? I’m tired.

I need a break, so I watch TV. Last night it was Nashville. The show, to me, seems fairly realistic. I’ve been on the far, far outer fringes of the Nashville music scene for years. Been to a few media events. Done my fair share of schmoozing. I love that show. I do. The tension is spot on. I can feel it.

I also watch Criminal Minds, Leverage, Psych, Supernatural, Major Crimes Bones, etc.

Truth be told, though, I really wish I could give up TV. I want to read.

Reading and writing are gifts you give yourself and others. Oh, to read.

And, finally, I lay me down, my soul to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

So many distractions in a day. So many reasons to lose focus. So many sources of discouragement. Sleep is a fine escape.

Snuggled in my Ireland t-shirt and old black sweats, I drift off. I dream. But the dream never lasts long enough. The alarm goes off. And I wake up when the day breaks.

And I do it again.

My Monday Mentor: Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg

First, allow me to quash the ugly rumor that I kidnapped Rick Bragg at the Southern Festival of Books.

I did not. However, last year my friend and I came very close. We watched his handlers whisk him away to his signing table, and we followed him down the secret corridor and corralled him into posing for a quick picture. It was my friend’s idea, really. She once stalked Harper Lee.

But that’s another story.

Apparently, we are not the only people who have ever considered the friendly abduction of a Pulitzer Prize winner. I arrived in Nashville later than I had planned and rushed into the War Memorial Auditorium, just seconds before Rick took the stage. I marched straight to the front, betting everything on the chance there would be one empty chair upfront between two strangers. I didn’t mind squeezing in.

“Excuse me, mam,” I said to the Junior League lady on the left. “Is anyone taking either of these two seats?”

The woman to the right ignored me, her eyes intent on the stage, but the sophisticated lady stood, waving her arms, scanning the packed auditorium.

“Oh, no, that one’s not taken,” she replied, half listening to me while pointing to the chair next to the lady who did not acknowledge me. “But this one—this one belongs to my friend. I’m worried about her. She has already accosted Rick Bragg at our hotel on the elevator. I’m afraid she’s going to follow him on stage. I don’t know where she is.”

Hmm. I thought to myself. Maybe that’s why this party hasn’t started yet. Somebody else is cutting in on my writer.

So no, I did not rope him (literally or figuratively) into being today’s Monday Mentor. But as I sat there in the packed War Memorial auditorium with dozens of other women and their patient husbands and a few persistent photographers, I listened as he read from The Prince of Frogtown, and I savored each word.

He is my mentor, whether he knows it or not.  

Sonny Brewer

I also purchased Sonny Brewer’s new release, Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit, featuring Rick Bragg’s story. I have everything else Rick Bragg has written. I just didn’t have this one. Plus, I liked the title. I figured it was apropos for a budding writing, awaiting her turn in the literary sun.

All of us budding writers dream of the day when we can sit in a hideway coffee shop in some romantic location and sip espresso and tap on our keyboards and turn out million dollar bestsellers that take us away from our mundane 9-5 lives.

Fat chance.

But anyway, I had the gall—as my grandmother used to say—to wait thirty minutes in line for Rick Bragg to sign a book he didn’t even write, hoping that he wouldn’t be offended that I hadn’t boosted his own book sales.

But he signed it, graciously, and he listened to me gush about him being my favorite writer, and we chatted, briefly, and he endured a photo op, and I left. Satisfied.

What is this strange power that Rick Bragg possesses?

What is this power lures droves of sophisticated women to fawn over a man in baggy pants and an everyday shirt speak about a culture to which they certainly cannot relate, a culture they most certainly shun. How can women who have never eaten saltine crackers with Vienna sausages or Underwood Deviled Ham, who have never stepped foot inside an outhouse, who have probably never even seen a tar-papered shack, appreciate his stories of the downtrodden South?

Is it romance? Maybe.

I can only speak for myself. I am a happily married woman with two children, yet I persuaded my husband to brave the crazy Nashville traffic on a packed 1-24 to drive 70 miles so that I could hear him read from a book he wrote three years ago.

I appreciate Rick Bragg because he writes the way I want to write, the way I try to teach my students to write. There’s a well-worn quote from Walter Smith about writing: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

When Rick Bragg sits down at his keyboard and opens his vein, he bleeds Rick Bragg all over the pages. That’s what I like about Rick Bragg. His style is distinct, unmistakable. When I ask my students to write, I want their writing to be infused with their own distinct style and personality, not some “nice blend of vanilla tapioca,” as Ray Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451.

I like Rick Bragg because he’s honest. (Yeah, yeah, I know the naysayers will bring up the New York Times controversy over his questionable use of stringers.) But Rick Bragg writes like Rick Bragg. He writes like a man inspired by passion. He writes like a man who tells a story with purpose. He writes like a man who is the voice of a people who would never speak for themselves, not in a way that people of a higher culture could understand.

Rick Bragg is like a bridge between cultures. He has a foot in both the upper middle and the lower.

Charles K. Wolfe

Rick Bragg reminds me of my MTSU professor, Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, the man who taught me to appreciate and to preserve folk tradition and culture, particularly the culture of the blue collar laborers, the working class people, my people.

Rick Bragg is a champion of the blue collar laborer, the working class. Although we may not see eye to eye politically—or maybe we do, he paints a picture that is true. His words ring true.

But what I like most about Rick Bragg is that he remains humble—or at least he appears to be. He’s not afraid to throw the word “ain’t” out in a roomful of high culture literary elitists. He knows what he is, and he knows what he isn’t—or ain’t.

Rick Bragg hasn’t forgotten his roots. He hasn’t gotten above his raisin’. He sees the value of a people, of people, beyond their socio-economic worth. He peels back the layers of people and exposes them for what they are, respects, maybe even loves them, just as they are.

An honest picture ~ No coercion involved

Rick Bragg is the kind of writer I want to be.

I don’t know where Rick Bragg is spiritually. I think he knows where he ought to be. But he inspires me as a writer—and as a Christian—to see all people for what they are and to love all people as they are.

Monday Mentor: Kaye Dacus

Having just returned from the Middle Tennessee Christian Writers (MTCW) conference in Bellevue this week, I’ll have to admit I’m pumped about all the information I gleaned from this conference. I’m just about to set sail on the most intense writing adventure of my life, two back-to-back conferences, one in Indianapolis (ACFW) and the other here at home in Nashville (Midsouth SCBWI). I signed up for these conferences totally ignorant of what to expect. I am a newbie, afterall. However, after attending (and joining) the MTCW group, I feel much more sure of what I need to do to prepare. I’m not there yet, but I now have a very clear picture of what I’m aiming for.

Kaye Dacus

This week’s Monday Mentor is Kaye Dacus. Kaye is an accomplished writer, an experienced editor and the current president and co-founder of the MTCW. She is, in her own words, a woman whose life is dedicated to “hope, humor and happily ever afters.” I am especially grateful for Kaye’s dedication to make the MTCW conference a wonderful success. I also appreciate her taking the time to visit SerendipiTeeBlog.

Just who is the REAL Kaye Dacus?

I’m the daughter of Mike & Judy Dacus; sister of Michelle Dacus Lesley; aunt to Josh, Caleb, Michaela, Jordan, Benjamin and Jacob; and granddaughter of Crawford & Julia (Caylor) McLellan and W.C. and Edith (Bradley) Dacus—and cousin to a bunch of people!

I’m the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romance novels with Barbour Books and Harvest House Publishers. I served as an officer with American Christian Fiction Writers from 2003–2005, and have served as president of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers since 2006. Even though I write romance novels, I love action movies and football and am not afraid to admit that I’ve never been kissed!

If we look closely, I believe we might catch a glimpse of your super woman cape. You seem to have found the right touch for writing books that readers can’t wait to read. You’ve had two books come out this summer. Please give us a taste of what’s waiting for us.

Ransome’s Crossing is the second book in the Ransome Trilogy from Harvest House publishers. Charlotte Ransome, desperate to reach Jamaica to see her secret fiancé, disguises herself as a midshipman for a convoy led by her brother, Captain William Ransome. Meanwhile, William and his new bride, Julia, face the rough swells of the sea and of marriage as they try to adjust to life together. When yellow fever befalls Charlotte and her identity is discovered, she begs first officer, Ned Cochran, and Julia to keep her presence and illness from her brother. But could this secret create insurmountable waves between Julia and William? And will Ned’s tender care of Charlotte change the tide of her affections forever?

 

Love Remains is the first book in a new contemporary series, The Matchmakers, with Barbour Books. Every grandmother wants to see her grandchildren happy, especially when it comes to their love lives. Join five active senior ladies—and one gentleman—who take a great interest in the lives and loves of their single grandchildren and become The Matchmakers. Zarah Mitchell and Bobby Patterson become the first focus of meddling grandmothers when he moves back to Nashville to work for the Tennessee Criminal Investigations Unit. Will Zarah be able to forgive the man who years ago chose a military career over her—especially when she learns he is investigating the historic preservation agency for which she works?

 What do you believe is the greatest conflict writers face today (especially writers who do not want to compromise their faith)? How do you believe they can overcome these obstacles?

I think the greatest conflict for most believers who are novelists is a conflict of reconciling the business side of the industry with what they believe is a personal ministry through writing. Publishing houses, whether publishing Christian fiction or general-market fiction, are in business to make money. Many believers feel they are called to write fiction as a way of ministering to or evangelizing others—and the lose sight of the fact that publishing houses aren’t there to support their ministry, but to publish books and make a profit from them so that they can continue to publish more books.

The best way to overcome this is to keep everything in perspective. If God has truly called a writer to write, then God will determine how that writing is to be used for His glory. We have to remain open to the possibility that, while He may have called us to write, He may not be calling us to be published—or to be published within our own timeframe. We just have to keep faithfully doing the work He’s called us to do and let Him handle what’s out of our control.

Why do you write?

My heart is, as it has been for more than twenty years, focused on writing light-hearted romances—romances that cast a ray of hope into the lives of people who’ve been told their situation in life is hopeless. I like writing characters who represent a growing segment of the population that seems to be increasingly left out in Christian circles: women in their late-twenties, thirties, and early-forties (and even older) who have never been married and who want to be loved and accepted for who they are, not pigeon-holed into a category, labeled, or, as happens most often, shoved to the side and ignored/forgotten about by their churches, coworkers, or even friends and family. I’m writing to the women who, like me, expected to be married before they turned twenty-five (-six, -seven, -eight . . .), but who may find themselves now in their mid- to late-thirties or forties and have never even had a date or meaningful relationship.

I’m writing for them (me, actually) so we can hang on to the hope of finding a well-adjusted, loving, marriage-minded Christian man out there somewhere and having a “happily ever after” ending with him (with the hope that he may be closer than we realize). I’m writing for the woman who, like me, feels most alone when she goes to church and sees all the married/engaged couples and families sitting together; who has to endure the family-focused activities, Bible studies, Sunday school lessons, and sermons (if you’ve never noticed, start keeping track of how often your pastor talks about families and/or marriage); who begins to feel it isn’t just the church that has pushed her aside and forgotten about her, but that maybe God has too.

How do you find joy in your creative journey?

Because I’m single and I write romance, the most fun part of writing for me is falling in love right along with my characters. It’s that fantasy of what could be, and what I hope God will one day bring into my own life.

Everybody has misadventures on the road to success. What is one of the wackiest things you’ve ever done to find your fifteen minutes of fame?

Hmmm . . . I’m one of those people who lives in a perpetual state of being anxious that I’m going to embarrass myself, so I try to avoid situations like that. I guess I’d have to say that the closest I’ve come to anything like this was when I got up in front of 500+ people at the 2008 ACFW national conference to give a devotional and told everyone that I was stalking James Scott Bell.

What is the best advice you can give a writer just getting started?

Above all else, finish your first draft. Spend more time working on your story—on developing the depth and breadth of your plot and characters—than on anything else. It’s less important to have a trunk full of rejections than it is to have a great story that will catch the eye of your dream editor/agent. And don’t rest on just one or two completed manuscripts. Once you send something out, start writing your next novel—and be planning the one after that. The best way to prepare for being a multi-published novelist is to write multiple manuscripts before you ever sign that first contract.

Please answer the question I didn’t ask but that you wish I did.

My great-grandfather was a multi-published author. John Caylor, Sr., held degrees from Howard College (now Samford University), Oklahoma Baptist University, the University of Alabama, and was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree from Louisiana College. He served as Editorial Secretary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he was editor of Home Missions magazine, which, at the time, had a circulation of 175,000. He was listed in “Who’s Who” in America, and was a much-beloved pastor. Amongst his published titles were America Needs God, In Evangeline’s Country, A Path of Light, Ways of Witnessing, and, my personal favorite, The Great “I am’s” of Jesus (published in 1957 by Zondervan). Unfortunately, DeeDaddy died of cancer several years before I was born. But I’m pretty sure it would have made him proud to know that I’m (sort of) following in his footsteps.

Finally, please leave us with your favorite Bible verse, inspirational quote or song lyric. Tell us what it means to you.

My favorite passage is Hebrews 12:1-3:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (NASB)

To me, this is my Christian journey in a nutshell—I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for those who’ve gone before me, who now surround me, and who will come after me; I must persevere in the tasks God has set before me—and I can do so only by living on faith in Jesus, who endured so much more than I will ever be asked to go through.

If you want to be a writer and are ready to take the first steps, you absolutely MUST begin your journey with a visit to Kaye’s website. She has a passion to unselfishly encourage beginning writers (like me). I can tell you first-hand that when I made up my mind to become serious about honing my writing craft,  I visited Kaye’s blog and found just what I needed to give me a clear understanding of the expectations of a serious writer. 

http://kayedacus.com/

I also highly recommend the Middle Tennessee Christian Writers group, which meets every second Saturday of the month in Nashville, Tennessee. If you live in the Middle Tennessee area, you should consider a visit. You’ll meet wonderful people who share your passion for writing and your love for Jesus Christ. 

http://mtcw.wordpress.com/