Chariots of Fire—The Sequel?

978-1-4964-1994-1I can still remember the first time I watched the movie Chariots of Fire in the early 1980s. Belonging to a Reformed Presbyterian denomination steeped in Scottish heritage and sabbath-keeping, I was overcome with emotion at many points in the movie. And believe me, I’m no sports fan. The only time you’ll catch me running anywhere, I’m sure it’s because something in the kitchen is burning or I got up too late for church … again.

So what captured my interest in Eric Liddell’s story? His commitment to his faith, even when it was inconvenient, gripped me throughout the movie. What I didn’t understand then, though, was that his commitment went well beyond his victories in the 1924 Olympics. Those closing words on the movie screen in Chariots of Fire shocked and saddened me when I first saw them: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of Word War II. All of Scotland mourned.”

Those words were an abrupt shift from the previous scene of Liddell, climbing into the back of a car, after getting off the train that brought the U.K. Olympians home, amid the cheering throngs. Those words were sobering. I felt as if the real story still needed to be told—that the 1924 Olympic Games were only a blip on the radar of Liddell’s life. There had to be a story there that was worth telling.

Turns out I was right. And I’m so glad that Eric T. Eichinger and Eva Marie Everson have decided to tell the rest of Liddell’s story in The Final Race. When Eva told me about this project last summer, I immediately preordered it on Amazon and, in the ensuing months, checked for any updates on the release date. Mid-March couldn’t get here soon enough. And, I was not disappointed.

In The Final Race, there is enough of Liddell’s early life and those Olympic victories to remind me why I still place Chariots of Fire high on my list of favorite movies. The book corrects a few of the movie’s details (which I appreciated for their own sake) and adds a few more. But it’s beyond that point in time where this book truly shines.

The writing itself yanks you in and keeps you engaged, in ways that many nonfiction books never achieve. The writing is almost lyrical in spots, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I can easily get lost in novels for hours this way, but it’s a rare nonfiction book that pulls me inside so thoroughly. I’d been waiting for this story for a long, long time.

Liddell’s story beyond those Olympic Games was not an easy one. Without blinking an eye, he gave up the fame that his amazing athletic skill (and unorthodox style) had brought him. He saw the advantage in speaking up for his faith for a time after the games, pairing up with D.P. Thomson, but he always felt missionary work in China calling him. I’m in awe of Liddell’s ability to walk away from everything he’d come to know in order to preach Christ and Him crucified in a dangerous land.

And Eichinger and Everson do his amazing story justice as they tell it to us.

I’ve waited more than thirty years to hear the rest of Eric Liddell’s story—the part of his story that gave God as much glory as Liddell’s running victories ever did. Now, with The Final Race, I learned what really became of Eric Liddell. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and say, as I’m sure God Himself has been saying to him since 1945: Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

When in Doubt, Hire a Cartoonist

Occasionally* I stall on a writing project. Let’s face it: novels are big projects. So are humor books. They take up a lot of time, a lot of brain space, and a lot of caffeine. Juggling all three for months on end gets tiring. So, when I slow down, crawling toward a finish line I can no longer see, I need something to jump-start the project.

That’s usually when I email Mike.

Mike (a.k.a. Mike Ferrin, for the uninitiated) is my cartoonist. Some people feel they need an attorney on retainer. Or an accountant. I need a cartoonist. And let me just say right now that I love being able to say I have a cartoonist.

Once I’ve emailed Mike (typically this happens around 3 a.m. in a coffee-driven, adrenaline-based panic brought on by another plot hole I’ve fallen into), I wait for him to get on board with whatever harebrained idea I’ve conjured for the book’s cover. (This takes anywhere from two minutes to two-and-a-half minutes.) Then we get started on the artwork proper. By this time I’m so wrapped up in the ideas for the cover that I’ve completely forgotten that there’s supposed to be a bunch of pages with words on them inside.

And also by this time, there is a directly inverse correlation between how much time I’m spending on the cover for the book and how much time I’m spending on the text for the book. As the time spent in Scrivener writing the book withers, the time spent in InDesign fiddling with the eyedropper tool skyrockets.

Now, I know not all of my books have cartoon covers—and therefore didn’t need Mike’s services—but I’m at a point in my career where most of my books have utilized Mike’s services. Part of that’s because he’s so much fun to procrastinate with… I mean, to work with. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Um, yeah. But part of it is that I hear people talking about branding. It sounded painful at first, till I realized what they actually meant. Turns out it doesn’t involve cattle at all. Huh.

Anyway, Mike’s cartoon artwork for six of my book covers has become part of my brand. And I wasn’t even trying to have a brand. I just wanted an artistically talented goofball to talk me down off the creative ledge. Again.

So, this is my long, drawn-out way of saying that, although I have a completed first draft for each of the next two books in the Red Ink Mysteries series, I’m plodding through editing them and not really enjoying it.

But I love working on covers, so… Mike got that late-night email a while ago and is finishing up the artwork for Charlotte’s Website. And, along the way, he entertained me, made me laugh, and got me excited about the project again.

I predict both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website will be available by summer 2018. And that’s due in no small part to an amazing cartoonist named Mike Ferrin. Thanks, Mike!

Charlotte-Cover-Test-HiR-FINALFRONT     TTHA-CoverTest-Feb2018-HiRes-FRONT

______

*By “occasionally,” I mean nearly every week.

 

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

The Writing Process

Well, how exciting is this? (That was a rhetorical question, so don’t even bother answering it.)
I was tagged by thriller author Catherine Lea to write about my writing process. I eagerly jumped at the chance … only to realize when it was too late that I really don’t have a process.
But let’s walk through my “process” anyway — if only as a negative example to the rest of you who might want to actually be successful someday…
I’ve got the bits and pieces (very large pieces, in most cases) of ten novels now. About half of those are actually written all the way through (in first draft form, at least). The rest are in a state of confusion or frustration, percolating in a [figurative] drawer somewhere until I can work through a sticky plot point or add a few more interesting characters to bolster the boring ones I currently see on the [figurative] page.
But, all but one of those novels has started at midnight on November 1 of any given year between 2004 and now. You see, I am at heart a terrible procrastinator. And, the only thing that has nudged me out of that slump has been National Novel Writing Month, which starts each year precisely at midnight on November 1 and ends with a whimper at midnight at the end of November 30.
At the end of every November, I have at least 50,000 words written on that year’s new novel project. Half the time I keep writing and finish the novel. The other half of the time — well, that’s where the [figurative] drawer comes in.
The two novels that are on the verge of seeing daylight (Secret Agent Manny and also The Scarlet Letter Opener) were both in the best shape at the end of their respective Novembers. So, those will be the first ones published.
A few other projects have special places in my heart but need a little more work — in particular, Do-It-Yourself Widow (which placed as a runner-up in Jerry Jenkins’s Operation First Novel contest a few years ago), and also Gray Area (the only non-NaNoWriMo novel in the bunch, which placed as a semifinalist in that same Jenkins contest a few years before that). We’ll see how quickly I can tidy those up.
Right now, as I work on Secret Agent Manny, my writing process looks like this:
  • Get up to feed hubby breakfast at 6 a.m.
  • Wave to hubby as he leaves at 6:45 a.m.
  • Head back to bed at 6:46 a.m.
  • Sleep until it adds up to something close to 7–8 hours of sleep.
  • Get up again, this time to feed myself breakfast and coffee.
  • Catch up on DVRed TV shows from previous night, if needed.
  • Head up to home office and go through bajillion emails from companies I have unsubscribed from thirteen times already.
  • Answer the 2–3 valid work emails.
  • Go back downstairs to grab veggies for guinea pigs, Bob and Frid, who have been wheeking at me from across the office ever since I got upstairs. Realize that I have just reinforced the wrong habit of coming upstairs without the veggies by doing it yet again today.
  • Look at clock. Panic that it is nearly noon already.
  • Shower. Dress.
  • Sit back at desk. Go through the half-bajillion new emails from other companies from whom I was sure I had unsubscribed back in 2010.
  • Continue with paid freelance work for other writers: typesetting, proofreading, copy editing . . .
  • Tell self I should take time to do my own writing once in a while.
  • Stare longingly across the office at the writing desk I set up two years ago — you know, the one I dust faithfully every week.
  • Sit at writing desk boldly. Feel invigorated and empowered.
  • Open diary program and tell it all about my day, which sounds suspiciously like the last entry in the diary program, from 2011.
  • Give myself a self-imposed deadline for finishing first draft of novel.
  • Talk myself out of self-imposed deadline because it’s not like I’m going to fire myself or anything.
  • From the office window near the writing desk, glimpse mail carrier coming up the sidewalk.
  • Squeal in delight that the mail is here, scaring Bob and Frid, and run downstairs to get the mail.
  • While I’m down here, do a load of laundry, start dinner, and mow the grass.
  • Weep uncontrollably at my own mortality.
****
And this is precisely why Secret Agent Manny isn’t done yet.

50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading Contest! Go Vote!

Okay, friends! Please vote for my second book, Fork in the Road … and other pointless discussions, in this contest, where it’s been nominated in the Comedy category.

And, please feel free to share this link (and the instructions to vote for Fork in the Road in that Comedy category) on your own timelines! Voting ends in mid-May, but vote early so you don’t forget.

Apparently you may vote up to five times in each category, so feel free to vote early and vote often!

 

Vote for FORK IN THE ROAD HERE!

 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

This entry originally appeared last week on the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference blog here:

St. Davids Writers blog – My Post

But it will remain relevant for at least the next 43 days or so…

——

So, I’m sitting in our old, drafty Victorian house, reminding myself that, during the spring and fall, it’s a lovely place to be – not too hot, not too cold, gentle breezes blowing…

But this is January, one of the coldest ones on record here in Western Pennsylvania, and half of the fifty-three windows in our house are missing the outside storm window. The twelve-foot ceilings look stunning on warmer days, but today they’re just taunting me. I know all the heat we’re paying for is hovering somewhere up around that twelve-foot-high mark instead of down here near my five-foot-high head.

I have proofreading to do. I have student papers to grade. I’m behind on my reading. And, I really should be writing.

But all of those activities involve sitting still in the house at these ridiculous “polar vortex” temperatures. That means three or four layers of fleece clothing, two pairs of socks, warm slippers, fingerless gloves (though I may switch to gloves with fingers or mittens if it gets much colder in here), and a space heater under my desk.  And don’t forget the lap blanket.

When I start to see my breath around the computer monitor, I get up and jog downstairs for another hot cup of coffee.  I sail right past the thermostat. I don’t want to see how warm it isn’t in our house. But, if things don’t improve, I may have to use the hot coffee to thaw out my toes. Can you get frostbite inside your own house?

Several Facebook friends keep posting how many days it is until spring … every day. Instead of being an encouragement to my soul, I find it a mocking, deliberate attempt to make me regret buying this house.

And then this morning, I wake to find my husband downstairs with every light in the house on. He’s traipsing up and down the cellar steps with a flashlight, and he’s got out the manual for the thermostat he hurriedly put in last year when the other one went kaput. With temperatures outside hovering around -5 degrees Fahrenheit, I don’t want to hear him say he has to replace the thermostat again. I brace myself for that hot-coffee bath I may have to take today. I put the phone number for the local burn unit near the phone.

He tells me that he missed a setting for two-stage heating when installing the thermostat last year. This house has two (count ‘em, two!) furnaces, and we had assumed that they just weren’t efficient enough to keep up with this cold snap. But no, what has really been happening is that one poor furnace has been on for days at a time with no let-up, because the thermostat was never telling it to use the second furnace when it needed to.

And let me tell you, it needed to.

So now, with the weather forecast now set to hit 41 degrees in the next few days, and with a touch of the thermostat’s touchscreen, we are finally warming up in here. I may be able to sit at my desk and write today without having to worry about my fingertips freezing to the pen like that kid’s tongue to that pole in A Christmas Story. That novel may inch closer to “The End” today after all.

Kinda makes you feel all warm and toasty inside, doesn’t it?

Figuratively speaking, I mean…
.

Hell on Wheels

Over the weekend, I found an old picture of a roller skating party I’d had back in 1973, at our local favorite skating rink at Bushkill Park in Easton, Pa. (I didn’t find the actual photo … I found it on my mother’s Facebook page. Times have changed.) After a discussion of the picture when I reposted it, I thought I’d put up the story I wrote about the skating rink for my first book, Head in the Sand … and other unpopular positions. I have sane individuals who can vouch for the truthfulness of the facts in this story:

———-

It’s a story I’ve told my kids a hundred times. “Tell us about the skating rink when you were a kid, Mom!” They’re all grown now, but they still love hearing about that skating rink. What makes the story so much fun is that you just can’t make up stuff like this. I swear it’s all true, but I’m not sure the kids believe me in their politically correct, lawsuit-happy world.

In the 1970s, everyone in my elementary school had a skating party at the local skating rink—often around our tenth birthdays, which is about when I had mine. We all took the rink’s many quirks in stride, not knowing any better and not having the perspective of age or wisdom. Especially wisdom. So, none of us thought anything of asking the front desk clerk and owner, ancient and tiny Ma Long, for our size skates for each two-hour party rental, only to be handed a pair of skates that looked like something Cro-Magnon Man would have used had he invented the wheel a little sooner. The leather was always worn, the wheels were misshapen and some funky, faded color we couldn’t identify, and the laces were frayed and missing the aglets necessary to lace them up properly. I spent hours at birthday parties sitting in the anteroom of the skating rink, with skates already on my feet, trying to get those frayed laces through those dozens and dozens of holes in the leather. I can see us all now, lined up on the benches, licking our fingers and trying to use the spit to twist and twirl the lace ends to get them through those stubborn holes. Thinking about the germs we must have ingested doing this makes me ill now, in a retroactive sort of way.

Once our skates were on, we’d get up and sway and wobble our way to the railing, watching the other kids already skating around the wooden floor of the oblong rink. Getting into the flow of traffic was like merging onto the turnpike at rush hour in a Chevette with a burned-out clutch, but somehow we all managed to get onto the rink in one piece. I usually ended up doing a butt-kiss with the floor within the first trip around the rink, but at least I always had company. If I was lucky, I’d start a chain-reaction and ten of us would end up sprawled on the floor together, with everyone forgetting just who started it. It soon became clear that the inexperienced skaters had to find a way to cut across traffic and head into the empty center of the rink. But cutting across traffic was taking your life into your hands.

Two features of this particular rink stand out in my mind: the music and the bathrooms. The music playing over the antique speaker system consisted of only four songs: “Paper Roses” by Marie Osmond, “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” “Soldier Boy,” and one other song I have mercifully forgotten. This panoply of musical goodness was piped into our eager ears from four scratchy 45s playing on a tiny record player set up halfway around the far side of the rink in a small room that also contained a life-sized plastic reindeer and a chair. Why we never questioned this arrangement of objects still baffles me.

Ma Long left her post at the front desk and shuffled onto the rink, around the outside edge (to avoid getting whacked by overly enthusiastic ten-year-olds), and over to the record player to put the four 45s back up onto the spindle after the last one was done playing. And, at her rate of speed—wearing her wrinkled apron, three layers of cotton skirts, stockings, leggings, an old button-down sweater, and a pair of slippers that must have been family heirlooms by now—well, she barely made it back to the front desk before she had to turn around and shuffle back to the record player to pull the four songs back up onto the spindle again. I think the chair was over there for her to rest and catch her breath before starting back. I still have no idea what the plastic reindeer was for.

This wasn’t the oddest part of the skating rink. The crowning achievement of this rink’s design was its bathrooms. Someone in his infinite wisdom designed this rink with the bathrooms accessible only from the skating floor itself. So, if you were sitting in the anteroom still lacing up your skates halfway into the party and found you had to relieve yourself, you still had to skate your way onto the rink (no street shoes allowed on the rink floor!), into traffic, and whirr about 345 degrees around the rink counterclockwise before hitting the bathroom door. And, I do mean “hitting” the bathroom door because, in another brilliant architectural move, the bathroom doors swung outward onto the rink floor. Any child who had attended more than one party knew not to skate anywhere near those doors, for fear of getting slammed in the face. Which, by the way, happened frequently.

Those fortunate enough to make it to the door without getting a concussion had to grab the handle with both hands to keep from sailing right past the bathroom. This usually meant you’d end up hanging onto that door handle for dear life, with your legs having given out under you, your butt just inches from the floor. Once you got yourself upright again, it was no easy feat to get the door open while on wheels. And, what awaited you once you got the door open was a treat beyond imagination: The bathroom floor went downhill at a twenty-degree angle.

Picture, if you can, uncoordinated ten-year-olds letting go of that door handle and careening downhill on skates—improperly laced—toward the far wall at the bottom. Smack! The trick then was to grab the handles of each toilet stall and pull yourself back uphill to the first available stall.

You’ve never truly lived until you’ve used a toilet on roller skates at a twenty-degree sideways incline. You always ended up leaning into the downward wall of the stall while trying to be as delicate as possible going about your business. They should have made it an Olympic sport.

Once you found a way to get straightened back up and out of the stall, you somehow had to skate across the downward grade to the sinks. Putting four porcelain sinks in a downhill bathroom used by young girls on wheels was a stroke of marketing genius. How this place got insurance is beyond me. You had to grab one faucet to hang on and wash your hands with the other without accidentally turning your feet anywhere near the downward angle of the floor. I don’t know how many lives must have been lost when girls tried to clutch at the metal faucets or porcelain sinks on their way back down the incline of the bathroom floor.

And, of course, once you were done washing your hands, the worst part of the escapade awaited you: the long, desperate climb up the floor and back out of the bathroom. Clutching the faucets of the four sinks carried you only so far, and then you were left with about five or six feet of bare uphill floor and no more handles before you made it back to the door. Some brave souls clung to the wainscoting with their outstretched palms, but I was too afraid to attempt something so futile and risky. I always dropped to my hands and knees and crawled up to the door, grabbing the inside door handle and pulling myself up. And I have a funny feeling those floors didn’t get mopped all that often, so there went the whole concept of washing your hands.

The last part of the adventure was trying to open the door without killing someone. (Remember: The door opened outward onto the rink.) Most of us opened the door slowly . . . carefully . . . sliding out sideways without opening the door very far and hoping we didn’t get bombarded by oncoming skaters. Did I mention we were on wheels?

After an hour of this fun and frivolity, it was time to have the mid-party birthday cake and soda! All thirty of us headed for the anteroom and sat on the rickety bench chairs lining the wall, waiting for Ma Long’s assistant to shuffle past us in her own deteriorating slippers, asking us each what kind of soda we wanted. This assistant was rumored to be a woman, although she had the gravelly voice of a chain-smoker and wore a skirt and pants at the same time, along with a moth-eaten sweater or two. Or three. I don’t know why she bothered to ask what flavor we wanted because we all eagerly yelled, “Chocolate!” There’s nothing less nutritious and tasty than an old, cheap, generic chocolate soda that hasn’t been properly refrigerated, but we didn’t care. We never got this stuff at home.

1521575_10202762994857477_1098396141_n

Once we were stuffed with birthday cake and chocolate soda that had separated like oil and water, we headed back out to the rink for the second hour of the party. We avoided the show-off who could skate backwards and brought her own skates (with actual laces and those rubber stoppers in the front). We avoided skating anywhere near the bathroom doors. We went by the record player and the plastic reindeer and waved, secretly hoping the thing would wink or move. We veered away from Ma Long as she shuffled past us to change the records. And, if she was feeling as frisky as an eighty-year-old again, she might turn on the disco ball that hung at center rink and shout into the scratchy microphone, “Turn around and skate the other way!” The combination of the flashing disco ball and the sudden change in orientation made us confused and a little nauseous. There’s nothing safer than thirty queasy schoolkids on roller skates in a dark room with blinking lights.

***

Ma Long passed away many years ago, and I don’t know if the rink is still standing. Perhaps safety violations have caught up with it over the years as humorless parents decided you shouldn’t have to climb out of a bathroom on wheels or risk getting hit with a flying door. But I’m betting there’s still a case of that chocolate soda in the back room somewhere. Dust it off and pass me one, would you, for old time’s sake?

***

“Hell on Wheels” is from Head in the Sand … and other unpopular positions, published in 2010.