The Artist’s Corner – Visionary Editor, Kori Frazier Morgan

Prior to meeting Kori Frazier Morgan, I heard her name mentioned several times by fellow writer, Don Ake. Then I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the writing group Don facilitates, The Write Stuff. She was quite professional and pleasant. I, however, wasn’t in the right place to receive what she talked about. Finally, at the annual Christmas party hosted by The Write Stuff, Don insisted that I sit down next to Kori and talk with her. He even cleared a chair beside her so we could speak uninterrupted face to face. Well, all I know is that I can only avoid so many divine appointments before the lightning bolt successfully strikes through my thick skull. Kori was exactly what my novel needed, and I am so thankful to God for her. She’s also what I needed, and she came along at just the right time. Take a moment to meet this marvelous woman through her interview.

Welcome to the Artist’s Corner. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Kori Frazier Morgan. I grew up in Kent, Ohio and now live in rural northeast Ohio with my husband, Curtis, who is a machinist and craftsman. We have three pets—two cats, Anastasia and Moe, and Gus, a basset/beagle mix. I hold a B.A. in creative writing and professional writing from Ohio Northern University and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Aside from reading and writing, I enjoy long-distance cycling, watching movies, seeing live theatre, and listening to vinyl.

How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write?

I have been blessed to pretty much work in some area of the writing field since graduating from college in 2007. I have created educational content, taught writing classes, and worked as a copywriter and content developer. Even when I worked in retail, it was at a bookstore, so I was still operating within the writing world. All my jobs have helped me get better at writing and learn new things.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you develop your love of writing?

I have enjoyed making up stories and writing them down since I was a kid, but I didn’t start to really think seriously about writing as a career until eighth grade, when I found out that creative writing was something you could study in college. Up until then, I just thought it was a cool hobby. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers in middle school and high school who helped me develop my talents. I worked on the newspaper staff, took acting and communications classes, and loved being in AP English and history courses, where writing essays was a big part of the class.

Have you ever worked as a freelance writer?

All the time. Every day. In 2012, I left academia to pursue freelance writing full time. I returned to the classroom for a few years to teach at a career college and later worked in marketing, but I can’t say I’ve ever totally left the freelance world. Now I run a small business (more on that later) and freelancing is a big part of my life.

What genre do you write?

I have primarily written fiction in the past, but I am now working on a collection of flash nonfiction essays. I also run a weekly blog, Creativity Matters, as part of my business, Inkling Creative Strategies.

To which writing communities do you belong?

I am a member of The Habit, a worldwide community of Christian writers. We work together to study writing, encourage each other, and help each other to become proficient in our craft. The fellowship at The Habit is extraordinary. People care not just about helping you write excellent work, but about you as an individual. We take writing classes, share our writing on a forum, and have virtual writing time on Zoom, where we hang out and work on our projects.

More in our immediate area, I’m part of A Writer’s Life NEO and The Write Stuff, groups based in the Akron/Canton area that meet monthly to critique members’ work. You can either bring something to share or just read and comment. It’s a very low-key, informal way to get some feedback on your writing and The Write Stuff goes out to eat afterward.

Who or what influences your writing?

I am a big fan of music and film. I listen to music while I write and try to put together playlists that help shape what I’m working on. My novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, is heavily based on my dad’s experiences as a member of the Northeast Ohio music scene around the time of the Kent State shootings in 1970, and I have a whole Spotify playlist devoted to the songs that are in the background of the story. When I’m not writing, I enjoy listening to everything from classical to classic country to hymns to Metallica.

My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption, which I’ve seen an obscene number of times. I think it is the perfect film for writers to study to learn about narration, character development, foreshadowing, and just how to deliver a satisfying story in general.

How have your favorite authors and/or books shaped your writing?

My favorite author is Flannery O’Connor, and my favorite book is her novel, Wise Blood. I love that she is a Christian author who is not afraid to look at the darkness of the human heart. All of her characters have to face the question of what we are to do with Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection on our behalf, but she does so in a way that resists sentimentality. Many of the stories conclude in a way that is open-ended, leaving room to speculate about what their answer might be. I’m not sure exactly how her work has directly impacted my writing. I just know it has.

What’s your dream goal as a writer?

I want my books to get to as many people as possible whose lives will be impacted by them.

Which authors/genres do you enjoy reading?

I like literary fiction, memoir, and books about theology and spirituality that will help me grow in my faith. I also love studying the Bible. It is God’s inspired Word and contains everything I need to learn more about Him and receive His direction for my life.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading The Door on Half-Bald Hill, a novel by Helena Sorensen. Helena is a member of The Rabbit Room, an organization I support that provides encouragement and edification for Christian artists of all kinds.

What have you published and where?

I have published two books: Bone China Girls, a poetry chapbook, and The Goodbye-Love Generation, both through my independent imprint, Bezalel Media. Numerous individual pieces have also appeared in literary journals such as Shenandoah, SN Review, Switchback, Rubbertop Review, Blanket Sea, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and more.

Describe your journey to publication.

I have been writing professionally for more than 15 years, and the landscape of publishing has changed tremendously in that time. I am an independent author and do the majority of the work to publish and promote my work. During my MFA program in the late ‘00s, we were told that self-publishing was not a legitimate way to publishing a book and that going that route would destroy your credibility. As a result, even as time passed and it became more accepted and prevalent, I was reluctant to pursue publishing my own work.

Things changed after my chapbook, Bone China Girls, was still being rejected after five years. The book recounts the true story of the tragic death of a sixteen-year-old girl in the mid-’60s at the hands of teens and children in her neighborhood, and I felt that it commented on issues such as sexual abuse, bullying, and violence against women that were widely discussed and that I could provide insight into. I decided to publish the chapbook myself because I saw it as an urgent matter. The book’s message was important, and I simply couldn’t wait around for the gatekeepers to tell me I could share it.

I am an independent author and I enjoy publishing my own books. As a marketer and editor with a desktop publishing background, I have the majority of the skills necessary to do the work on my own. I would certainly not recommend this path to everyone—there are some truly hideous books out there that have resulted from authors taking on the responsibility when they are not equipped to handle being the entirety of their publication team. You have to be able to do it professionally in order to be taken seriously.

Have you faced any challenges with writing and/or publishing?

I have struggled with superimposing my own will on my work—trying to make my writing do something that, within the context of a particular project, it is simply not able to do. The Goodbye-Love Generation was like this. I had an agent turn it down when I was finishing grad school because it was a novel composed of short stories and not a traditional novel. As a result, I assumed there was something wrong with that format and spent ten years trying to make it work as a novel or abandoning it for periods of time because I was so frustrated.

Eventually, I realized that I had it right the first time. It was supposed to be a collection of interconnected stories. The fragmented nature of the story fits the characters’ own fragmented perception of the world and themselves. No other format would work to tell this story. Instead of just working with what I had, I let one person’s opinion dictate what I did with my book for ten years. You have to believe in your vision for your writing even if it isn’t what the powers that be seem to want.

Are there any comparative titles to your work(s)?

I am a big fan of two other authors who have written fiction about the Kent State tragedy. Sabrina Fedel has a book called Leaving Kent State that addresses the year leading up to the shootings from the perspective of a high school senior dealing with a friend who returns from Vietnam with PTSD and a debilitating injury. I was also thrilled to receive an endorsement for my book from the fabulous Rita Dragonette, whose novel The Fourteenth of September impacted my revisions. The book is about a college student in the ROTC nursing program who secretly becomes involved with an anti-war group on campus and is caught between her family’s traditional conservative values and her growing feelings that the Vietnam War is wrong.

Describe your research process.

I like to get immersed in places. When I was researching The Goodbye-Love Generation, I felt it was necessary to get the reader out of Kent for some of the stories and move away from the politically charged narrative of the shootings. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but some thread or another of my Google searching led me to Chippewa Lake Park, a now-defunct amusement park that played an active role in giving local musicians exposure back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It found its way into two stories in the book. That wasn’t something I planned on, but I think it brought an element of innocence to a story that is otherwise very violent and full of loss.

I also wrote some of the book at a cafe in downtown Kent across the street from the former site of J.B.’s, the bar where my fictional band, The Purple Orange, performs in the book. Downtown Kent is very different now than it was in the ‘70s but being able to imagine the characters there really informed how I described the setting.

Tell me about your newest business venture.

Inkling Creative Strategies is an author services company that offers editing, project development, consulting, typesetting and interior book design, mentorship, and more. My inspiration is the Inklings, the writing society that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other writers at Oxford started to encourage each other in their work. My goal is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers. We have been in operation for almost two years, and in that time, authors have released books, completed manuscripts, developed short stories, and started blogs. It’s been awesome to see how it’s developed!

Where can one find you on the Internet?

You can visit my website to learn more about Inkling Creative Strategies. On my website, I offer free writing tools, including workbooks and checklists, as well as the opportunity to schedule a free Zoom consultation.

For more information about my book, visit The Goodbye-Love Generation.

You can also find me on Instagram @inklingcreativestrategies.

What advice can you offer for someone seeking an editor?

I think an ideal editor balances being knowledgeable about the English language and creative writing with understanding the author’s vision. It isn’t about being correct all the time—it’s about collaborating with the writer to make their work exactly what they want it to be. Editing has to be an ego-free process, and you can’t be married to the rules. You need to show the author grace in terms of helping them execute their ideas. I would strongly advise writers to not take on an editor who is rigid and not willing to collaborate.

What’s your dream job as an editor?

I would love to see an author I work with just totally blow up with their work—get tons of readers and attention, and maybe even become a hit nationally. Not because Inkling might get some credit for that, or that even I would, but because I would have accomplished my mission of helping someone reach their full creative potential.

Where do you see yourself in the world of writing in ten years?

I would love to see Inkling grow enough that I can partner with other editors who share my vision. I also, of course, hope that I will continue to write and publish work that will make an impact on readers, whatever that looks like. I also fantasize about The Goodbye-Love Generation being made into an Amazon or Netflix limited series.

Those are great goals and dreams. Wishing you all the best in your pursuits!

God Gives Us Teenagers Because He Loves Us

I have a theory. I’ve been sitting on it for about six years, keeping it to myself as I mulled it over and tested it. I experience it in daily life especially when interacting with my teenager. It goes like this: I ask Joshua to do something, and he responds with “Oh joy, oh rapture” to let me know that he is not going to enjoy what I’ve asked him to do. I already knew that what I requested of him wasn’t meant to produce pleasure, but nevertheless, it needs to be done. A voice in my head whispers, “Kind of like I told you (insert request here) needs to be done.”

Another example is when Joshua asks me for something, and the answer is no.  I usually follow up with a tactfully pointed out, “Why would I spend money on (insert desired objection) when you don’t appreciate what I’ve already given you?” And the gentle voice in my heart says, “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Then there are the times when I give Joshua instructions for completing a task, and he does it wrong because he doesn’t listen and/or doesn’t care about the outcome. It takes him twice as long to finish (insert task here) and often things end up broken. I say, “Why didn’t you do it the way I told you the first time?” and the loving but firm voice speaking to my will sighs, “Exactly, beloved.”

My theory: God gives us teenagers to let us know what it’s like for Him when dealing with us. If I hadn’t heard His voice every single time I corrected Joshua, I would never have come to this conclusion. And because I’m the adult, the parent, the smart one who has lived more than twice as long as my child, I have it all together and nailed it the first time, right? Wrong.

I’ve grumbled, complained, whined, begged, pleaded, made deals, and sulked my way through life just like a teenager. God—being the great parent that He is—never backed down. Discipline and guidance came my way whether I wanted it or not. The lessons flowed from God to me to Josh, and still I didn’t catch on.

Until one day last week when I had a moment of brilliant insight. I had been moping because I received my first rejection notice concerning the novel I’m currently querying. Instead up getting right back up in the saddle and sending out another query, I sat in a chair at the kitchen table and sulked. It was a most unproductive day until my teenager came home. While Joshua may be a sluggard when it comes to picking up the dirty socks on his bedroom floor, he’s a drill sergeant when it comes to my writing.

“How many queries did you send out?” he asked. No “Hello, Mother, how are you? It sure is wonderful to see you.”

“None,” I replied.

“Get up.”

“What?”

“Get over to the laptop and send out a query letter.”

“I don’t want to.”

Without further comment, Joshua pulled out the chair with me in it, used a karate hold on me that put my arm behind my back, and led me to the computer at the other end of the table. Before you become upset thinking that he hurt me, please be assured that we laughed throughout the whole process. No bullying was involved as my son strong-armed me out of the doldrums and into positive energies. It worked.

Here’s the key: I knew better than to resist the karate hold because it was a real one he learned on his way to becoming a red belt. It didn’t hurt at all when Joshua helped me from the chair and gave the instruction to get back to work. If I had pushed or leaned in any direction against the hold, it would have been painful, and that’s when it hit me. God’s instructions only hurt when I resist them.

Finally, I’ve learned my lesson. Will I always apply it to my life perfectly? Probably not, but that doesn’t let me off the hook from trying. Just as I expect Joshua to strive for new levels of maturity in his life so, too, am I expected to stop behaving like a child, grow up, and pass the lesson forward.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes a walk on the darker supernatural side in The Angel’s Game, his second installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Zafón’s Gothic tale is actually a prequel to his successful first book in the series, The Shadow of the Wind. If you haven’t read the first book, I highly recommend you do as it is still the best in the series in this writer’s opinion.

Still, The Angel’s Game is not to be missed as it returns the reader to Barcelona, Spain, this time in the 1920s, as well as the bookshop Sempere & Sons and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It also plunges the reader back into Zafón’s flamboyant style of storytelling with lots of dark and shadowy nights shrouded in mist.

The novel is the classic “make a deal with the devil” tale where the protagonist, David Martín, accepts an offer from a mysterious publisher to write a book that will present the world with a new religion. In doing so, Martín regains his health and earns an incredible amount of money. Soon, however, Martín discovers that he is not the first person to undertake this offer, and like his most recent predecessor, he fears he is losing his mind to the endeavor.

The Angel’s Game isn’t deeply theological or highly intellectual.  At its heart, it’s just great storytelling. Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible will recognize the references to the angel of light (one of the Adversary’s favorite ways to deceive mankind), the 6.66 pages a day our protagonist must write to achieve his goal (does that one even need explaining?), and the character Andreas Corelli (the name Old Nick chose to use for this sojourn among men) saying he’d been kicked out of his father’s house after a disagreement (which stands to reason when one challenges God for supremacy).

However, there are some questions that arose for me while reading. One of the thoughts on my mind was whether Zafón had written himself and/or his own wishes into the story. Is he speaking through Martín when the protagonist comments on how writers sell their soul for the dream of publication? Is Zafón, a writer of successful pulp fiction like Martín, consumed with the same desire his character is to write something he believes to be more worthy? And when a peripheral character tells Martín he has seen the angel brooch Andreas Corelli wears on Martín’s own lapel, is Zafón intimating that the demons writers struggle with come from within?

Another theme that Zafón floated was God as both good and evil, two halves of the same coin. I found this reinforced at the end of the book when Andreas Corelli, usually dressed in black, appears in white and offers Martín a blessing and a curse neatly packaged as one gift. But Zafón will have to forgive me if I feel no sympathy for the devil when he says, “…for once you will walk in my shoes and will feel what I feel.” Nor do I trouble myself believing the devil would ever admit he’s wrong such as Corelli did.

All this led to my second thought in which I speculated that Zafón was either a disgruntled former member of a particular belief system or he had written under the impression of said belief system. Or maybe he chucked religion all together and just created an intricately woven story sure to keep the reader up all night. Whatever the case me be, The Angel’s Game is a good story. The slightly far-fetched portions are barely noticeable when the book is taken as a whole, there is a slump in pacing near the end of the book, and the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as The Shadow of the Wind, but none of these factors are enough to keep me from pressing on with the series.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 21

A little over a month ago, I started a new section on my blog called Quotation Station.  It began as a blog post of its own explaining the difference between a quote and a quotation.  The idea was that I’d schedule writing-related quotations for my followers to appear on Friday morning.  They were to be a friendly handshake as we parted ways for the weekend, a final communication before my family began our electronics and social media blackout for Shabbat.  Everyone seems to like them so far.

Last Friday’s post included a quotation from Charles Bukowski stating “Writers are desperate people, and when they stop being desperate, they stop being writers.”  This particular quote fit my writing life so well.  At any given moment of the day, I have felt desperate about my writing.  Desperate to complete it, desperate to come up with new things to write for my blog or a literary journal or a novel, desperate to be published, desperate, desperate, desperate.  All that desperation added up to a lot of miserable living.

What struck me as interesting was that I’m not alone in this practice and belief.  But it also made me question it especially since one of my repetitive prayers was for peace in my life.  Desperation and peace cannot cohabitate, so which did I really want?

Further adding to my desperation was something a wise friend said to me a little over a week ago.  She asked how I was, and I ended up unloading a lot of desperation on her!  Thankfully, she’s not the kind of person to regret having asked.  At the end of our conversation, she suggested that I write from my abundance.  What does that even mean?

About a week after her suggestion, another wise friend gave me a pamphlet of Weekday Morning Prayers and the Bedtime Shema.  I started reading them in the morning and evening, and what an amazing effect they’ve had on my life in just three days.  My peace increased and my desperation diminished.

But wait, my desperate writer’s mind yelled, if you’re not desperate, you’re not a writer!  Turned out desperation was a clingy companion.  However, I was really rather tired of being desperate, and I was not at all willing to surrender the peace I’ve been praying for.  Also, I could keep writing what I loved when I wanted to write it.

You’re just being lazy, my writer’s mind whispered which I instantly knew to be a lie because leading up to the conversation with both friends, things have been falling in place in my life in a wonderful way.  Not to mention that the two chapters I’m somewhat blocked on in my new novel no longer freak me out.  I’ll sit on them for a while and not add to the blockage by stressing my mind out with desperation.  I’ll trust that in good time, the right words will come to me.

What all this boils down to for me is change.  I’m not good with change especially when it’s sudden.  Not that what I was experiencing was sudden, but it could have been if I hadn’t been so resistant to changing for the better as well as admitting that it was better.  It’s better that I’m no longer running on the gerbil wheel of desperation for all the things I mentioned above.

So now I’ll explore the abundance in my life, and I’ll write from there.  I’ve discovered an abundance of talent given as a gift from God.  I’ve discovered an abundance of time which is another gift.  I have an abundance of great books by authors who I admire; I’ll follow their example.  I have an abundance of wise friends whose counsel I’ll seek when desperation desperately tries to re-enter my life/writing life.  I have an abundance of support from my husband, William, who has supplied me with great storylines, helped me work out problems in my plot, and won’t let me stop writing when I’m in the desperation dump.

I have no doubt that desperation will attempt to raise its ugly head in my life.  It’ll evolve and reappear as envy, writer’s block, or self-doubt.  Fortunately, my arsenal is well stocked with abundance.  And in case I forget that, please, dear friend, do not hesitate to remind me as you are part of the abundance in my life.

Write Happy!

Make the Right Choice

Every moment of every day, we have to make a choice.  Each of us will choose what we will allow into our lives.  This decision affects what we do and what we say.  There are many influences vying for our attention.  Some of them are good, and some of them are bad.  Yet in the end, the responsibility for how we act and what we say falls to each individual.  Such were my thoughts as I read Angie Thomas’s book, The Hate U Give.

One of the points about the book that was extremely disturbing was the reference to Black Jesus.  Besides the obvious fact that Jesus was a Jew, I found this to be heartbreaking.  Too many times in history deities were created in man’s image because that made them easier to control.  This also allowed the person creating his/her ideal deity off the hook from following what God/Jesus actually said and did.  Jesus’s message never had anything to do with skin color.  He also didn’t blend doctrines from made-man religions, such as the characters in the book do, to come up with Chrislam.  Even more chilling was when Ms. Thomas blasphemously compared spray-painted signs reading “black-owned business” to the blood of the Lamb as a means by which the stores wouldn’t be burned during a riot.

Also disconcerting were the broad, sweeping generalizations Ms. Thomas made regarding white people.  Through her story, we learn this is the very thing she scorns when it comes from white people.  Yet the duplicity was overwhelming.  Throughout the book, the protagonist, Starr, made gross assumptions about white people and police officers as if she could not only read their minds, but knew for a fact what they thought and believed.  In her mind, that made it true.  The sad fact was that Starr’s behavior and opinions were learned.  The cycle of hatred was instilled in her life because of prejudiced statements she heard her father, Maverick, repeat.

Ms. Thomas would also have the reader believe that doing wrong is noble as long as it is for the right reason.  The character Khalil lost his mother to drugs; he saw it destroy her life.  This, however, was not enough to keep Khalil from selling drugs to other people in his own community.  He had a job but walked away from it to sell drugs.  Per Khalil, the money was for food and utilities.  It was also for Jordan sneakers and gold chains.  This reminded me that we are our brother’s keeper all the time.  Not just after the fact.  If the whole community could pull together to collect money for Khalil’s funeral, why couldn’t they pull together to buy food and pay for utilities?

The profanity in the book was appalling.  Maybe that’s the way some people talk, but for a teenager, I found it to be inexcusable.  It’s used so casually, and it doesn’t add anything to the story.  Neither does the promiscuity portrayed, especially among the teenagers.  I suspect Ms. Thomas would like for you to believe that everyone is doing it, so that makes it okay, but I disagree on both points.

The book promoted lawlessness and compared police officers who want to make a difference to slave owners.  It endorsed disrespect for any authority figure of a different race and condoned violence and chaos as an acceptable response to disappointment and as an outlet for anger.  It failed to address the problems within the community which are taking more lives than police officers, it denounced anyone who told the truth, and it threw morals and ethics to the wind.  In short, the lessons to be learned are that different laws should apply to different people based on race and whatever feels good for you to do is what you should do regardless of the harm it may cause.

Diversity is good.  I prefer to think of it as our individual uniqueness because what makes us unique goes far beyond skin color.  When these differences are used to point the finger and lay blame, then they are being used for the wrong reasons.  Instead of breathing life, this book spews death.  It perpetuates hatred over love.  It causes division instead of generating unity.  It aims all this negativity at teenagers who are, despite their own beliefs, still children.  I suspect this is done because teens are already a volatile mix of thoughts and emotions.  They rarely take the time to research what they hear and see to determine whether or not it’s true.  And without guidance, they may believe this one-sided story is true.

There are many more errors in The Hate U Give.  I took six pages of notes, initially intending to refute all of them.  Instead, I decided to break the cycle and speak peace.

On Kingdom Mountain

On Kingdom Mountain, set in Vermont in 1930, revolved around the character of Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, an incredibly eccentric mountain woman who carved birds, ran a bookstore, and was the last of her family to live on Kingdom Mountain.   At first Miss Jane’s forthright nature can be a little annoying; she reminded me of Anne of Green Gables on steroids.  Still, when she used her wits to deal with her cousin, Eben Kinneson, as they battled over the road he and the town fathers wanted to run over her mountain, I found myself rooting for Miss Jane.

Intertwined with the battle over Kingdom Mountain was the story of Henry Satterfield, the rainmaking aviator and grandson of a thief who stole Civil War gold and supposedly hid it on Miss Jane’s mountain.  A charming romance between Henry and Miss Jane ensued, and they worked together to solve the riddle of the missing gold, which was bound up in the mystery of her long lost uncle.  Unfortunately, the biplane pilot’s heart was set toward finding the lost treasure more than it was on making Miss Jane his bride.

My only complaint with the story was Miss Jane’s overwhelming lack of respect toward God.  Her words and actions on that topic were rooted in arrogance and ignorance.  Then again, if she didn’t agree with the writings of a secular author, she simply penciled out what they had written in a book.  So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that she would do the same with a Bible.  Her inflexible nature caused her a lot of heartache, yet she never seemed to learn from it.

Many interesting peripheral characters were sprinkled throughout (the dog-cart man, Canvasback Glodgett, A Number One, and Sadie Blackberry) as well as rich history on the era and setting.  Rooted in his own family history, Howard Frank Mosher has written an often hilarious, sometimes melancholy tale about a simple way of life up against the encroaching threat of modernization.

Being Strong for Melinda

trial-or-tribulationSharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.

Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.

Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?

With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.

Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.

“Sharon?”

She jumps and laughs wildly.

“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”

“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”

More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.

“I’m so tired, Shar.”

“You, too?”

Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.

“I just want this…I just want…”

“I know, dear. Me, too.”

Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.

“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”

“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”

“—I’m scared, too—”

“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”

“Can I turn on the light?”

Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.

“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.

They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.

“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.

“I know.”

“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”

“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”

“So, now what?”

“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”

“Agreed.”

“And if Melinda…if she…”

“Dies.”

“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”

“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”

“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”

“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”

“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”

It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.

“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”

“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”

“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”

Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”

“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”

“No, babe. For you.”

All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”

Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.

“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.

“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.

Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.

Bovine Fashion

Bovine FashionSeveral years ago, I believe it was around the time our son was still a baby, I learned that a new size had been created for women:  Size O. That’s amazing for two reasons. One, I’m pretty sure zero isn’t a size. In fact, zero is nothing. Two, I’ve been living among Americans all my life; I’ve seen how we eat. Who the heck is in need of Size O? I admit I may be incorrect about the date of invention of this stupidity. It may have occurred when I regained some weight when our son was eight, but whenever it took place, I remember it stood out to me because anything having to do with extra weight was a sore point for me.

I changed my initial impression when I realized that this was a brilliant piece of marketing, genius even. A little shifting of the numbers by clothes manufacturers and clothing designers could make a small percentage of women on the planet feel like the goddesses they believed themselves to be. Can you imagine the thrill of discovering you were now a Size O? The trickledown effect would be priceless as women sporting bigger sizes discovered they could wear a smaller size. Thank You God and Jenny Craig.

But wait, what about the plus-sized gal? Her clothing sizes didn’t seem to benefit from Size O. She was still segregated to the other side of the store, barred from the cute and darling world of Size O by a wall of clothing and mirrors. Oh sure, there were breaks in the wall where she could wander over to scan the jewelry, scarves, sunglasses, and shoes, but even her lingerie was kept in check by a plus-sized prejudice.

Our full-figured gal didn’t have to wait very long for the fashion gurus to re-emerge from their drawing boards with an even bigger piece of stupidity. Their intentions were good. So good that Satan was able to re-pave major portions of the Highway to Hell that receives much foot traffic from politicians. But I digress.

Picture this: I’m shopping in the plus-sized department, excited that I’m reaching the lower numbers as I shed weight, when I encountered a brand new clothing size.

“What is this?” I asked the young, thin, chipper sales clerk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the tag in the shirt I held.

“Oh, that’s our new size.”

“What is it? It looks like a word.”

“Oh, that’s OX.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“OX.”

I stared for a few incredulous seconds before I held the tag up and showed her. I spoke slowly to make sure she understood.

“Do you see that word right there?”

“Uh…”

“Do you really think I’m going to feel better about myself having the word ox in my clothing?”

“Well, it’s a new size. Really. It’s smaller than X.”

“That’s funny, because X used to fit me just fine. You do realize the only thing that has occurred is a shifting of sizes?”

The poor child looked at me blankly. And truly, I didn’t mean to take it out on her. I guess I just wanted a little respect and better selections for full-figured women everywhere. Not insults to my intelligence in the form of OX.

Arrogance, Confidence, Faith

Monk 1Wade walked past the monk twice from about forty feet away. He didn’t make eye contact with the man but could tell from his stiff posture that he wished to be left alone. The park seemed like a curious place to encounter a monk until Wade thought that he probably enjoyed normal activities like regular people. What a stupid thought, he chastised himself. Normal, regular. He’s just a guy in a robe. Sure Wade wouldn’t run into him at the club, but—enough. Just go talk to the guy.

But first, Wade stood in the shade of a large oak tree and ground an old acorn cap into the grass with the heel of his boot. Casual, with hands in his pockets, he affected the pretense of seeing the monk for the first time. His performance met with tight lips and long sighs. Perhaps that’s how these religious types acted. Damn it, Wade, there you go again. Stereotyping when you really need this guy’s help.

Screw it. Wade pushed off from the oak, scuffing the sleeve of his black leather jacket. He walked toward the monk with shoulders back, head held high. When he remembered this wasn’t some dude hitting on his girlfriend, his balled fists returned to his pockets, posture relaxed, eyes searched the ground for acceptance or rejection.

“Can I sit down?”

The monk closed his magazine and rolled it in a tube. Perhaps he’d smack Wade across the nose like a bad dog.

“I don’t hear confessions.”

“Oh, that’s cool, because what I need is advice.”

Wade plopped onto the bench, squeezing the monk over, turning to observe in profile the man’s Santa beard and bald pate. A lanyard with keys and a YMCA keycard jangled as the monk repositioned on the seat. These items, together with the glossy magazine and flip flops, made Wade wonder if this guy had been a monk long enough to offer solid advice. He was old, but how much cooler it would have been if the monk had stopped at this point during his own spiritual walk, toes dusty from the journey, meditating over a prayer book. Wade recognized an ad for Chevy trucks on the tube of magazine pages.

The monk sighed again and crossed his legs, revealing calves covered in lamb’s wool. Wade grimaced but diverted his stare by reading the graffiti carved into the tree trunk behind them. His fingers grazed over Sarah and Andrew’s eternal pledge of love. His cheeks reddened as he traced a swear word. He would have preferred the monk start the conversation with bless you my child but settled for hands folded as if in prayer.

“Okay, so last week my friend, Duke, came to me, and he’s all excited and talking about this great deal he wants to share with me.”

Wade paused, testing the monk’s interest level by trying to catch his eye. The older man offered a nod and twiddled his thumbs much to Wade’s annoyance.

“Anyhow, it’s all about this opportunity to buy in to this new club they’re building downtown. You know this town is, like, primed for new business,” —the monk shrugged and raised his eyebrows— “and I have my share and then some already saved.”

The buzz of a cicada was the only sound until the monk understood it was his turn to speak.

“Yes, well, what’s your question?”

“Should I spend the money? Invest in this place?”

So it was to be a game of twenty questions. The monk seriously considered pointing the young man with a shorn head and tattoos creeping up his neck in the direction of the Catholic Church two blocks south. Surely the priest would be better suited to the task at hand. Instead he gathered his robe about him and crossed his arms, shifting his weight onto his left thigh to gain space between himself and the young man.

“Is this what you saved for?”

“Nah, the money was supposed to be for a down payment on a house. But I have almost double what I need and could easily save it again. Faster because this club’s going to make money.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Well, Duke’s cousin has experience with this sort of thing in New York. He knows all about running and promoting these kinds of places.”

“And yet he’s here.”

“True. I never thought of that. But I’ve seen the plans for this place, and it’s going to be awesome.”

“Sounds as if you’ve already made up your mind.”

The monk titled his head, blinked slowly, hoping to signal the end of the conversation.

“That’s it? You don’t, like, have any sage advice for me or something?”

The monk’s eyes widened at Wade’s use of the word sage. That’s right, old man, I’m not illiterate. Wade bent to pick up a twig, used it to pry mud from his treads. It was time to really impress this guy.

“I even prayed about it because I’m undecided, you know, and even though I didn’t promise or nothing, my girlfriend knows that money was supposed to be for a house.”

“You prayed?”

“Yes.”

“To whom?”

“Like, God, you know? And then here you sit, so I figured you’re part of my answer or something. Of course, you weren’t the first person I consulted. That was my accountant. God, my accountant, then you.”

The young man settled back on the bench with his arms stretched along the back. He probably expected the monk to turn toward him for the rest of the conversation. If only a throbbing headache hadn’t crept up the back of the monk’s neck. The heels of both hands ground into the monk’s eyes, blotting out the sun and shooting sparks through the blackness. There was absolutely nothing of interest in this whole laughable matter.

“Why on earth did you consult your accountant?”

“Because I’m totally sure this place is going to make money, and I needed to know how to handle it all. Investments and stuff.”

“If you’re sure, why are we having this conversation?”

“Well, Padre,” —the monk didn’t bother to correct him— “that may be the true heart of my dilemma.”

The monk raised his hands, palms up.

“Am I being arrogant by saying this club is going to fly, or is it just confidence that I can make it work, because I’m not afraid of a little hard work?”

“Is there a third option?”

“Oh—yeah.”

“Oh…really?”

“I can tell you’re skeptical, Father Brown,” —the punk laughed at his own joke— “but I don’t want to do anything against, you know, the Big Guy in the Sky.”

Wade tossed a glance upward, nodded knowingly.

“What I’m saying is I’d like to think I’m exercising a little faith about this situation.”

“Faith? Did God tell you you’re going to be successful?”

“Well, not directly. That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“I can assure you He didn’t tell me anything about it.”

The inside of Wade’s cheek received a serious gnawing as he absentmindedly worked his finger at the edge of his nostril.

“I see.”

Perhaps this is over, thought the monk. Tension tightened the young man’s body when he leaned his elbows on his knees, ran his hand hard over his face. The monk clutched his robe and placed both feet on the ground.

“Does it surprise you to know I’ve committed my plans, like, to God, Padre?”

The monk’s stomach knotted at the loosely quoted scripture.

“Yes, well, my son,” —the endearment did not roll off his tongue easily— “it is a club. There will be drinking, and people dancing, and smoking—well, not smoking inside anymore—but still, the women will no doubt be dressed very scantily. Besides, you did earmark this money for a house. Now that’s a real investment even in this lousy economy.”

“So what you’re saying is that my prayers for success can’t be answered? That I’m some kind of arrogant ass to think I might have a shot at this?”

“I’m just, just cautioning against pride, and, well, I’m not sure a club is God’s will for you.”

“But you don’t really know what His will for me is, do you?”

“Well, no. I’m sorry, but—I just don’t know who you think I am. What do you want from me?”

“Nothing, I guess. It was a long shot, you know, even talking to you.”

Wade stood and brushed off the front of his jeans as if crumbs had fallen on his lap. He listened to the drone of a single, persistent cicada calling to someone and receiving no answer. Sunlight beyond the canopy of branches beckoned, and he stepped into the golden warmth.  Without looking at the monk, he said, “Thanks anyhow, man. I know it was, like, a lot to put on you, you not knowing me and stuff. It sounded like a good opportunity, is all. But now I’m not so sure.”

With shoulders rounded, Wade walked away, his arms swaying like abandoned swings.  He headed for the parking lot before veering his course and setting off down the road.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the unusual picture.

 

By Bread Alone

1433270193628Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.

But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?

These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.

I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.

Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread

1 ½ cups warm water

2 tablespoon yeast

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)

3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups flour (slightly packed)

In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.

Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.

Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)

Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.

This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.

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The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:

HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

hamotzi_0

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who brings forth bread from the earth.

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