Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I Write Novels

God gave me the gift of being able to write stories. It's what I love to do best. And I try to write the stories that I feel God wants me to. My main aim is pleasing Him and reaching the readers who will be able to enjoy the stories, and maybe have something change in their own lives.

But sometimes, it's nice to have your work be recognized by others as being good. That happened to me in May. Maggie's Journey, that released in October 2011, received the Selah Award for historical fiction at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Thank you, judges, for the honor.

And today, a reviewer's site in Australia is featuring Maggie's Journey. You can read it here:
Anne Payne, a reviewer here in the US, had Maggie's Journey on her list of Top Books of 2011.
If you missed Maggie's Journey, here's a sample of the book:

September 1885
Seattle, Washington Territory
Margaret Lenora Caine sat in the library of their mansion on Beacon Hill. Because of the view of Puget Sound which she loved, she had the brocade draperies pulled back to let the early September sunshine bathe the room with warmth. Basking in the bright light, she concentrated on the sketch pad balanced on her lap. After leaning back to get the full effect of the drawing, she reached a finger to smudge the shadows between the folds of the skirt. With a neckline that revealed the shoulders, but still maintained complete modesty, this dress was her best design so far. One she planned to have Mrs. Murdock create in that dreamy, shimmery green material that came in the last shipment from China. Maggie knew silk was usually a summer fabric, but with it woven into a heavier brocade satin, it would be just right for her eighteenth birthday party. And with a few changes to the design, she could have another dress created as well.
Once again, she leaned forward and drew a furbelow around the hem, shading it carefully to show depth. The added weight of the extra fabric would help the skirt maintain its shape, providing a pleasing silhouette at any ball. She pictured herself wearing the beautiful green dress, whirling in the arms of her partner, whoever he was. Maybe someone like Charles Stanton, since she’d admired him for several years, and he was so handsome.

“Margaret, what are you doing?”

The harsh question broke Maggie’s concentration. The charcoal in her hand slipped, slashing an ugly smear across the sketch. She glanced at her mother standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her bosom. Maggie heaved a sigh loud enough to reach the entrance, and her mother’s eyebrows arched so quickly Maggie wanted to laugh … almost, but she didn’t dare add to whatever was bothering Mother now. Her stomach began to churn, a thoroughly uncomfortable sensation. Lately, everything she did put Mother in a bad mood. She searched her mind for whatever could have set her off this time. She came up with nothing, so she pasted a smile across her face.

“I’m sketching.” She tried for a firm tone but wasn’t sure it came across that way.

“You don’t have time for that right now.” Florence Caine hurried across the Persian wool carpet and stared down at her. “We have too much to do before your party.”

Of course her mother was right, but Maggie thought she could take a few minutes to get the new design on paper while it was fresh in her mind. She glanced toward the mantel clock. Oh, no. Her few minutes had turned into over two hours. She’d lost herself in drawing designs again. No wonder Mother was exasperated.

She jumped up from the burgundy wingback chair. “I didn’t realize it was so late. I’m sorry, Mother.”
Florence Caine took the sketch pad from her hand and studied the drawing with a critical eye. “That’s a different design.”

Maggie couldn’t tell if she liked the dress or not, but it didn’t matter. Designing was in Maggie’s blood. Her grandmother was a dressmaker who came up with her own designs instead of using those in Godey’s Lady’s Book or Harper’s Bazar. And, according to Mother’s sister, she never even looked at a Butterick pattern. Aunt Georgia had told her often enough about all the society women who wouldn’t let anyone but Agatha Carter make their clothing. They knew they wouldn’t be meeting anyone else wearing the exact same thing when they attended social events in Little Rock, Arkansas. Not for the first time, Maggie wished she could talk to her grandmother at least once.

With the news about people being able to converse across long distances with something called the telephone, someday she might talk to her that way. But Maggie wanted a face-to-face meeting. Knowing another dress designer would keep her from feeling like such a misfit. Mother kept reminding her that she didn’t really fit the mold of a young woman of their social standing in Seattle. At least, Daddy let her do what she wanted to. She didn’t know what she’d do without him to offset Mother’s insistence, which was becoming more and more harsh.

According to Aunt Georgia, the business Grandmother Carter started was still going strong, even though her grandmother had to be over sixty years old. Maggie planned to go visit her relatives in Arkansas, so she could tour the company. She hoped her journey would happen before she was too late to actually meet Agatha Carter. Her deepest desire was to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, since she had inherited her talents.

The sound of ripping tore through her thoughts. Aghast, she turned to catch her mother decimating her sketch. She lunged toward the paper, trying to save it, but Mother held the sketch just out of her reach.

“What are you doing?” Tears clogged her throat, but she struggled to hide them.

Dribbling the tiny pieces into the ornate wastepaper basket beside the mahogany desk, her mother looked up at her. “Just throwing it away. You had already ruined it anyway.”

Anger sliced through Maggie’s heart, leaving a jagged trail of pain. She still wanted to keep the sketch. She could use it while she created another. Her plan was to ask her father to help her surprise Mother. The design would set off her mother’s tall stature and still youthful figure. She planned to ask him for a length of the special blue satin brocade that would bring out the color of Mother’s eyes. The dress would make Mother the envy of most of her friends when the winter social season started in a couple of months. Now she’d have to begin the drawing all over again. So many hours of work and her dreams torn to shreds.

“Darling.” That syrupy tone Mother used when she was trying to make a point grated on Maggie’s nerves. “When are you going to grow up and forget about your little pictures of dresses?”

Little pictures of dresses? The words almost shredded the rest of Maggie’s control. She gripped her hands into fists and twisted them inside the folds of her full skirt.

They’d had this discussion too many times already. She gritted her teeth, but it didn’t help. In a few days she would be eighteen, old enough to make decisions for herself. Whether her mother agreed or not.

She stood as tall as her tiny frame would allow her. “Those aren’t just ‘little drawings,’ Mother. I am going to be a dress designer.”

The icy disdain shooting from her mother’s eyes made Maggie cringe inside, but she stood her ground.
“Margaret Lenora Caine, I am tired of these conversations. You will not become a working girl.” Mother huffed out a very unladylike deep breath. “You don’t need to. Your father has worked hard to provide a very good living for the three of us. I will not listen to any more of this nonsense.”

--Lena Nelson Dooley

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Much Can You Really Control?

The short answer to this is: Not Much! The broader question I would ask you is: What are you afraid of? I've been a social worker for 32 years. I've been employed as a counselor for nursing students for the last 16 years. I've discovered that people who feel like they need to control others, or cling tightly to that which they believe they have control over, are really fearful.

None of us can really control anyone else. We can guide and give advice. We can encourage and nudge, but we can't make anyone do anything. Rather than trying to control others I'd recommend you look inside yourself to explore what it is that frightens you.  Here's a list of things I've wish I could control:
  1. The safety of my family.
  2. The raise I get every year if I'm fortunate. :)
  3. How many people buy my books.
  4. How many people like my books.
  5. How much I have to pay in taxes.
And that's just the beginning. Can you imagine what kind of shape I'd be in if I tried to control just these 5 issues? I'd probably stroke out! I know I don't want to live my life like that and I sure don't want to live afraid of all the things that can go wrong in this non-sensical world we live in.

So instead of controlling try:
  1. Praying
  2. An attitude change
  3. Talking out problems with others
  4. Setting boundaries
  5. Surrendering
When was a time you realized you didn't have as much control of your life circumstances as you thought you did?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mortality and Morbidity -- What Happens When Authors Die?

What happens when an author dies and his latest book is only halfway finished? Here is a post I shared on my blog regarding a health scare that left me wondering what happens to an unfinished work. In view of the death of my favorite author of all time, Ray Bradbury I would like to share this post with you.
Mortality versus morbidity.
Strange words unless you are in the health care field.
Morbidity is the bad things that happen during a disease.
Mortality is death, pure and simple.
Some diseases have high morbidity but low mortality. They have really bad symptoms but you can get over them. Some diseases have low morbidity and high mortality because you die so quickly, you don’t suffer.
A month ago my nephew, Ronald Ennis, M.D. died suddenly at the age of 48. He was a pathologist in Dennison, Texas and was well respected and well loved by his friends and family. Ronald is one of those rare success stories of children who have a difficult childhood but rise above it to excel. Ronald was one of the kindest people I have ever known. Even though he lived hours away in Dennison, Texas every Christmas he would come to see my mother and daddy and bring them a fruit basket. He loved my mother and father.
I’m not sure what happened to Ronald. His father’s family history is rife with early deaths in the fifties of his uncles from heart disease. And, his father has had heart disease. So, it seems he took a shower and was getting ready for work and just dropped dead. His wife and daughter found him. This is never a good thing for any wife or child to remember. But, I will recall and remember Ronald fondly as one of the nicest, most motivated, hardest working people I ever knew.
That is why this past Tuesday while walking in the heat I felt the call of mortality. No morbidity, just mortality. I started having chest pains during my walk and they were not getting any easier. I’ve never had such pains and I stopped to ask a yard man if I could use his cell phone. Within 45 minutes, I was in the ER with a dozen or so health care personnel swarming over me. I knew I had already beaten the odds. Most massive heart attacks never survive the first thirty minutes. My chest pain was getting better on its own before I ever got the first shot of morphine. But, quite a bit of thinking occurred during those hours.
Have I really done for God what I should do? For, I believe with all my heart and mind and soul that only work done for God that has eternal consequences and that touches people is worth your time and effort. All else will fade.
Do my friends and family know I love them? I’ll never forget taking my kids to Sears when they were preteens and having the check out lady ask them if I had told them “I love you” today. I was proud when both of them said yes. For, that is something I say to my kids every time we talk. “I love you” can be the hardest words to utter and yet the most powerful.
What will be my legacy? We all wonder if we will be remembered. I was in the middle of finishing up a major rewrite on my fourth book. I left the manuscript open and unsaved when I went for a walk. What would happen if I did not return to finish it? Would anyone know what I was trying to say in my book? Would anyone care? I realized that the most important legacy a person can leave is to know that I responded to God’s invitation to join Him in His work, not MY work. I learned a hard lesson when I went through my depression and my daily prayer is that I do what God wills for me to do today! I hope that is what people will remember about Bruce Hennigan. I know my books will never be “literature” and will never be required reading. But, through my writing, God has used me to touch people’s lives and has used those words to change people.
Am I about to die? As I was placed on the cardiac catheterization table, I was crying. I am a physician. I know all too well every conceivable outcome and consequence. I know the morbidity and the mortality! I prayed a simple prayer. “God give me the courage to face this with the faith and knowledge that Your will is done whether I wake up after the procedure; wake up after surgery; or wake up in heaven.” And, as the nurse was giving me my Versed, I knew that I would remember nothing of the subsequent test and would awaken an hour or two later hopefully in my hospital room with good news.
As the Versed kicked in, nothing happened. Nothing. My memory did not fade. I recalled everything that happened. I remember my cardiologist telling me each step of the procedure and I felt the contrast in my aorta and in my coronaries. I recalled him saying everything was normal. I recall him asking me if I wanted to have pressure applied to my groin puncture of an angioseal (a plug that does not require holding pressure to stop the bleeding) and how painful it was when he put in the angioseal. I recall him squatting down so he could look me in the eye and tell me my test was normal and he was going to go tell my wife. I did not have to wake up. I was awake and, frankly, grateful for it. For, I heard and saw the professionalism and care of the team that took care of me.
That evening, as my wife was taking us home from the hospital, I marveled at how good God is. I had faced my own mortality and found that everything about my heart was stone cold normal. But, why hadn’t that been true for my nephew? Why hadn’t he had the chance I had? I cannot know God’s will and I cannot know God’s plans. But, this one thing I do know. I must make every moment; every opportunity count for God. He has given me more time and that is the one precious gift we can give back to Him. So, I am hoping that I will now finish this book and, hopefully, more books.
Morbidity 1.
Mortality 0.
If you are planning a gift to the American Heart Association, give in memory of Ronald Ennis, M.D. He was a good man!