Monday, February 27, 2012

COTT -- Lisa Lickel Interview

* guest post by COTT Senior Editor, April W Gardner

The lovely Lisa Lickel has stopped by today to talk about her frigid Wisconsin winters, her 1830’s ship’s captain house, and her growing list of published novels. Join us!

Lisa is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and fifty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she is a multi-published novelist, has written dozens of feature newspaper stories, magazine articles, radio theater, and edits two magazines: Creative Wisconsin and OtherSheep. She is also the senior editor at Reflections in Hindsight.

Lisa is the author of A Summer in Oakville, co-authored with Shellie Neumeier, Meander Scar, Healing Grace, and The Gold Standard.

Wisconsin. Brrr! What's the coldest weather you've endured?
Lisa: The thermometers read in the negative thirties. The temp has to be at least twenty below, not just wind chill, to call off school. Once it’s minus ten or colder, it doesn’t really feel much different because you still have to bundle up the same.

Negative thirties? It was 24 over the weekend here in Georgia. You should have heard the complaining! LOL I hope you have a warm house. Speaking of which, does your 160 year ship captain's house actually sit on the lake shore? Which of the Great Lakes would that be?
Lisa: Where we live is inland from Lake Michigan about fifteen or so miles from Port Washington. It’s midway-ish between Green Bay and the current state line. The LaCrafts came to Wisconsin in the late 1830s and bought land as soon as the surveys were registered. I’m not sure exactly what they did or where they lived before this house was built in 1853, but I know that afterward he gave up his ship, which I’m guessing was a steamer or clipper with a merchant run between New York where they were from and Port Washington. Abraham Lincoln stopped at Port and speechified once, ya know.

Sounds like Captain LaCraft had a rather long and frigid buggy ride back and forth to his ship! Since you have such long, cold winters it’s a good thing your job doesn’t take you outside the home (much). How did your writing career get kicked off? 
Lisa: I was a church secretary knowing my kids were leaving home for adulthood and my job wouldn’t last forever I took the very expensive Christian Writers Guild apprentice course. I began writing for my tiny little local newspaper, features and government meetings, etc., which was excellent practice for “write tight.” Meanwhile a novel I wrote for the guild’s very first First Novel contest under Jerry Jenkins did pretty well, I wrote a cozy mystery for Barbour and signed with an agent from the guild about the same time, fall of 2007. And so forth.

Ooh, I’ve always wanted to take one of the Christian Writers Guild’s courses. Good for you for taking plunge, despite the cost!
I hear you love to travel. Do you have any funny travel misadventures you're brave enough to share?
Lisa: Okay–my husband likes these travel books called “Moon Guides.” You should look them up – they’re fun. Sometimes a little out of date, as we discovered on one journey when we stopped at what was supposed to be a mineral springs spa in the middle of – wherever we were. The motel had just changed hands and the proud grandfatherly owner showed us around, leading the way down this huge scary hallway with, I KID YOU NOT, stained ceiling tiles drooping with insulation showing, rather actively inhabited cobwebs, just totally gross, to the last two rooms in the place which he had fixed up. Out comes a very happy smiling couple from one of the rooms, exclaiming their delight with the place; he opens the last door with a flourish to a very mildew smelling room, air conditioner running full blast and a bed with an obvious droop. I wondered…well never mind. Hubby felt sorta bad about leaving, but, I mean, really…would you?

You bet I would have left! Nope, no guilt there. And it’s too funny that the other couple were gushing over the place. I wonder if he paid his neighbors to say that? LOL
You've been on staff at Clash of the Titles since its birth. Which aspect the site do you enjoy most?
Lisa: Working with you, of course. (Aw! Thanks, sweetie. And, ditto!) Meeting all the fantastic authors and finding out behind-the-scenes things to do with their work. And what I truly find fascinating is exploring books from all the different angles, such as “Best Romantic Moment,” “Best Back Cover Blurb,” “Most Delectable Hero,” – okay, made that last one up, but…something in the future?

Hey, that’s not a bad idea! Raise your hand if you want to see a Most Delectable Hero clash! 
How many of your books have been published, and which one have you gotten most positive reader feedback on?
Lisa: That’s a nice way to put it, April. As soon as The Map Quilt releases in April, that will make full length novel number five; my first book, MQ’s prequel, is re-releasing later on. I received some nice comments on The Gold Standard, the first book, and I have the most reviews and intriguing public comments on Meander Scar, an unusual romance I did in 2010.

Congratulations on the upcoming releases! Whoo hoo!! Each book an author finishes whether it’s ever published or not is a massive accomplishment. And I LOVED Meander Scar. I think I read it in one sitting, and I’ve never done that before. Ever. 
So tell us about this book you have coming?

The Map Quilt releases in April of this year.
Just how high a price does a family secret command?
Death in rural Wisconsin is only the beginning to new chaos in Robertsville. What do a stolen piece of revolutionary agricultural equipment, a long-buried skeleton in the yard, and an old quilt with secrets have in common? Hart and Judy Wingate, who met in The Gold Standard, are back to solve the mystery of The Map Quilt. Hart’s new battery design could forever change the farm implement industry. But after the death of Hart’s most confrontational colleague in a fire that destroys Hart’s workshop, the battery is missing.
Throw in a guest speaker invited to Judy’s elementary classroom who insists she owns the land under Hart’s chief competitor’s corporate headquarters, and a police chief who’s making eyes at Hart’s widowed mother, it’s no wonder Hart is under a ton of pressure to make sure his adventurous pregnant wife stays safe while trying to preserve his company and his reputation.
It sounds like a lot of fun. You're a talented author, Lisa, and COTT is privileged to call you its own!

Learn more about the talented Lisa Lickel at her site:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hiding Your Notes in Microsoft Word

I told you about how I use Microsoft Excel to summarize scenes in my novels, Where Love Once Lived and The Vengeance Squad. That made me think about how I use hidden words in Microsoft Word. At the beginning of every scene, I include the following information formatted as hidden:

·         Time (day of week, date, time of day)
·         Weather (temperature, rain, etc.)
·         Scene number
·         Scene setting
·         Scene goal
·         Scene conflict

If you're not familiar with hidden text, read up on it in Word Help. It can be quite useful. You'll also need to go to Word Options to turn on display and print for hidden text. If you want to see the manuscript without your notes either on screen or in print, modify the settings

Sometimes the date doesn't matter to a story. However, I included it anyway to add realism. I don't always include the year, but it helps to know the month and day. Same for weather. You can use the real weather for a particular day by looking it up online, or use some imaginary dark clouds or rain to add a mood if it helps your story.

One problem with using hidden text in this way is that when scenes are added, deleted or moved, the numbering has to be changed. However, if you do this in conjunction with the Excel scene summary I described previously you can make the change there first.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PLAY IT AGAIN By Tracy Krauss

Let's Make It a Bestseller!

Tracy Krauss, author of "edgy inspirational fiction" is launching her book, Play It Again, today and all her friends are helping the book hit the bestseller list on

But, the big winner will be the people who buy the book today. All you have to do is go to Tracy's website and enter your name and your Amazon proof of purchase and you'll be eligible for all types of prizes. Gifts include free e-Books, greeting cards, memberships, and many other gifts. In addition, you will be eligible for a drawing for even more free stuff.

Read the detail about how this works here:

About the Book

Plus, the book you buy to become eligible for the free gifts is worth the cost without all the extras.

An unlikely duo meet in Play It Again, a story of love, life and faith. Sparks fly when an ex-rock and roll junkie and a stuffy accountant rendezvous at a local resort, but neither are prepared for the emotional entanglements, family complications, and threat from the past that unexpectedly resurfaces. Set in the 1980s, this story brings two opposing forces together in a clash of romance and danger, while its musical undertones highlight the theme that God can turn anything into beautiful music. Play It Again is the much anticipated prequel to Tracy’s debut novel And the Beat Goes On. Find out where Mark Graham’s journey began in this, the story of his parents.

About the Author

Tracy Krauss is a high school teacher by profession, and a prolific author, artist, playwright and director by choice. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan and has gone on to teach Art, Drama and English – all the things she is passionate about. After raising four children, she and her husband now reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC where she continues to pursue all of her creative interests. Her first two books were both nominated for the ‘Indie Excellence Book Awards’ for religious fiction in 2011.
Today Only!!

The gifts are available only for purchases made today, so don't put it off. Go to Tracy's website first to read about the book and the prizes. Order the book from Amazon (this can be done from Tracy's website), and then enter your purchase number from Amazon. You'll get an excellent book plus all the prizes and the opportunities for more through drawings. Some prizes are limited, so hurry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

COTT--Winner of the Almost Kiss Clash

*guest post by Raquel Byrnes

The Almost Kiss clash has been a whirlwind of romance, breathless moments, and possibilities! Your responses to the excerpts were amazing.Both books were great examples of riveting Christian Fiction available out there, but there can be only one winner and I am happy to announce that book is...
A Thyme for Love by Pamela S. Meyers!
Pamela's winning Almost Kiss excerpt was full of sparks and surprises. 

Here's a small snippet of the great scene:

...Marc tipped my chin up with his index finger. “April, you’re sweating.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed my forehead. I had nowhere to look but into his eyes and, once there, I couldn’t pull my gaze away. Good thing I didn’t want to. His eyes went to my mouth and he leaned closer. I lifted my chin in anticipation. So much for the boss’s orders... 

He brought his mouth closer, and the tiny elevator started to spin. Then everything went black.

If you missed it, drop by Clash of the Titles to take a peek at One Breathless Moment...

We received positive reader response for this spunky romance.

"Great tension! I was riveted to every word!"
"Love the anticipation and butterflies in the almost kiss scene..."
"The setting was marvelous, the tension leaped off the pages."

A Thyme for Love is a wonderful example of the awesome Christian fiction available. 

This week, an exciting new Unpublished Novel Clash begins. It's hosted by our very own April Gardner! Make sure you come by for another chance to vote and WIN a free book!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Using Excel for Your Scene Summaries

I use an Excel spreadsheet while writing for a simple scene summary worksheet. The fields included are:

·         Chapter number
·         Scene number (computed after scene 1)
·         Number of pages in chapter
·         Number of words in scene
·         Total number of words (computed)
·         Day
·         Date (computed after scene 1)
·         Day of week (computed)
·         POV
·         Location
·         Scene Goal
·         Conflict

To simplify change, I only enter the date of scene 1. The rest are computed. That way, I can modify the starting date until all the scenes fall into place. So, I've added a new field before Date called Days. It is the number of days from scene 1 to the current scene. With this information I can easily compute the date and day of week of the scene.

While writing The Vengeance Squad, I wanted Chris and Tex to go to Massachusetts while it was snowing, so all I had to do was play with the starting date until the date for the scene in Massachusetts was at the right time of year for snow.

At the beginning a new book, I often want to insert additional scenes and sometimes delete scenes. Using the spreadsheet makes it easier. With Excel, you can use conditional formatting if needed. I use it to highlight chapters that are too long or too short.

It's not easy to explain worksheets in text, so if you're interested, I'll be glad to send you a copy of what I ended up which includes the formulas and conditional formatting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Smoking Grapevine and Other Memories of Growing Up in Austin Texas

In Where Love Once Lived, one of my characters lives in the Clarksville area of Austin, a neighborhood reserved for blacks only back when I lived there. I lived on a white street, but my backyard was adjacent to the backyard of a black family. I don't remember anything about the parents of that family, not sure I ever saw them. But, I did talk to the children. We would often meet at the wire fence and stare at each for awhile until we finally got into a normal childhood conversation. I'm not sure how old I was, but since my family moved from there in 1946, I had to be about nine years old.

In future posts I'll tell you more about living near Clarksville because it made a big impression on me. However, today I would like to tell you about the move to South Austin. Back then, and to a certain extent now, South Austin was like a separate town from Austin. I remember telling my girlfriend goodbye because I was moving so far away I knew I'd never see her again. Lajuana Jolly. I bought her a necklace so she'd always remember me. As it turned out, we were together again in high school, but by then our love had died.

Checking Google Maps, I see that it is only 2.3 miles from the Clarksville area to where we moved on Josephine Street. Today, I walk further than that for exercise.

The nearest grocery store from the Josephine house was on Kinney Avenue and it was the size of a two-car garage. Maybe smaller. Mother would send me to the store nearly every day to get groceries. We had a charge account there. They would give me whatever was on the shopping list and then Dad would go in on Saturday to pay for the week's purchases. I would often sneak a candy bar on to the list so I didn't mind doing the shopping.

One day, a neighborhood friend went with me and he showed me a shortcut to the grocery store through a wooded area. Right in the middle of the forest he stopped and pulled out a knife. I didn't know what was going on and thought I better get out of there. But before I could move, he grabbed a thick piece of grapevine and cut off a few inches of it, stuck it in his mouth and lit the other end just like adults did with cigarettes. He took a few puffs, coughed, and passed it to me.

There were many interesting childhood times while I lived in the Josephine house. I wish I could put them in the book along with the Clarksville story. But, I'll tell you more here in the future.

Smoking grapevine is not smart, but it is not as serious as what our children and grandchildren face today. Did you have similar temptations when you grew up?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Is Christian Fiction?

While analyzing Christian Fiction to get a handle on what it is, I remembered this review of Dee Henderson's The Witness I wrote for in July 2006. I thought it would be useful to include here because I want to talk more about this thing called Christian Fiction. I titled the review, The Middle Drags:

I must admit this is the first Dee Henderson book I've read so I didn't know what to expect. I bought it because it was said to be a Christian romance thriller. It begins with a bang and I couldn't put the book down for the first quarter or so. Then, it seems to go into slow motion for the next fifty percent or so. Then it kicks in again for the close. I was okay with the resolution of the story, unlike other reviewers. I didn't spot the lack of editing as some have reported, but I was distracted by the use of "couple" without "of" after it. I had never seen that before and it appeared a number of times.

I watched for the Christian view, and felt it was subtle. Not preachy at all. Just a few personal prayers, some discussion of one's belief in God. I noticed that there was no swearing or the use of alcohol or drugs. This I appreciated.

I plan to read more of her books.

I'm looking at other Christian Fiction to see how it is different from mainstream fiction because I want Where Love Once Lived to qualify for sale by members of the Christian Booksellers Association. However, I don't intend to make changes to it at this point in time, but I have made it fit the guidelines to the best of my understanding. I'll tell you more about this is a future article.

Have you read novels labeled Christian? If so, which ones? What did you think of them?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bicycling Memories of Austin, Texas

A year or so ago, I pedaled around Sun City in Georgetown, Texas for my health. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have gone quite so far the day after donating two pints of blood. Also, if I had it to do over again, I would have eaten breakfast first or at least had some orange juice. I thought about all this while parked on the side of the road trying to decide if I should call 911 or just fall down and hope someone found me.
After some deep breaths, staying close to the flower garden at the woodworking shop in case I had to throw up, I managed to get past the nausea. I had already thought of a way to hold on to the branch of a tree for support if needed. But soon, I felt better and was back on the bike heading for home.

Perhaps I was delirious, but as I rode the rest of the way (mostly downhill, by the way), I had vivid memories of bike riding as a kid. I remember sneaking off when I lived near Clarksville in Austin, so I couldn't have been more than nine years old. My friend, Bobby Bayer, went with me. We told our parents we were just going to see someone a few blocks away and we ended up in deep South Austin. I felt terribly guilty for lying to my mother. But not guilty enough to keep me from repeating the trip several more times on other days.

Those memories and reminders of the guilt I felt, made me think about Brian, the male protagonist in Where Love Once Lived. Don't forget I said I may have been delirious at the time all this was going through my head.

In the novel, Brian had been brought up in a Christian family and attended church every Sunday. What's more, he loved to go to church and continued to go while he was away from his California home attending the University of Texas. Then, he committed a sin and, even though he knew better, the guilt is so strong he believes he is being punished by God. His punishment is to be in a loveless marriage.

He drops out of church for the next thirty years. This is all leading up to my wanting to tell you this is not a biographical story. It didn't happen to me. I was brought up in a Christian home and while there were some times in my life where I missed church because Sunday mornings were the only time I could rest, I never left the church completely the way Brian did in the story.

I am still friends with some of the people I met at church as a youth and we still get together frequently. I continued to be involved in church in college and while in the marines. After marriage and kids there were times when I wasn't involved as much as I should have been, but that didn't last long. I may tell you about that period of my life someday, if I'm ever delirious again.

How about you? When did God become a major part of your life? Have you ever dropped out? What brought you back?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spotlight On Michelle Massaro


*guest post by April W Gardner
"I often cry when I am in prayer for my children. When eternity breaks through the here and now and the only request left in me is please, God, bring my children into the Kingdom." -Michelle Massaro


It's my immense pleasure to introduce a lovely woman to you today, and offer an opportunity to get to know her! Michelle Massaro is my right arm at Clash of the Titles. I'd be lost without her, but she's so much more than just assistant editor at COTT.

Michelle married her high school honey, Mike, and they now have four amazing children. They are passionate Creationists and attend Living Truth Christian Fellowship in Corona, CA where they have taught Jr High studies and where Michelle is involved in the worship ministry. Michelle is also a homeschooling parent and an aspiring author of contemporary Christian fiction. She loves coffee, peanut butter M&M's, and new eyeshadow. Her blog hosts weekly Story Improvs, where readers are encouraged to jump in and add to the plot. Above all, she is a follower of Christ Jesus, unashamed to stand upon the Word of God from beginning to end.

Michelle, I love your blog's sub-header. It says "Follow my journey toward publication. Laugh, cry, point and stare-- it's all good. I'll leave a trail so that you, my fellow author, may have a straighter path to finding your own elusive publishing contract. Adventure awaits. Let's travel together..." 

Like they say in court, you've opened up a line of questioning. So! 
Regarding laughter...
Every time I watch Forget Paris, I laugh hysterically over Ellen driving down the road with a pigeon stuck to her head. Which movie makes you laugh hardest? 
Michelle: Wow. This was tough because I don't belly-laugh often enough at all. But one movie that comes to mind is Meet The Parents. Some might be offended because there is some inappropriateness in there, but I can't help it. It's funny! There are so many quotes that get me going. Greg's prayer at the dinner table for one: "and we thank you oh sweet sweet Lord of Hosts...for the ...smorgasboard you have so aptly lain at our table this day and each by day by day...".  LOL, I'm laughing just remembering all the hysterical lines from that movie!

You have me laughing, too! Visualizing Greg milking a cat... LOL
Regarding tears...
You and I are women. We're allowed to cry anytime, anywhere. It's our prerogative. I cried yesterday at the sight of traffic stopping for children exiting a school bus. It's a touching scene--the world coming to a halt to protect our little ones. When was the last time you cried, and what was it over?
Michelle: It is a touching scene! (Thank you! I feel better now.) I cry all the time. Seriously. Usually nobody is around to see but I probably shed at least a couple tears nearly every day. I often cry when I am in prayer for my children. When eternity breaks through the here and now and the only request left in me is please, God, bring my children into the Kingdom. But I also cry over physical weaknesses, regrets, longings, and even Disney movies. In elementary school I bawled over the movie Annie and begged my mom to adopt some orphans. Today I teared up watching a scene from Mulan (when she resolves to take her father's place in war), and my eyes stung listening to pianist Yiruma's Kiss The Rain for the first time.

Raise your hand if you teared up during that little speech! Must move on to happier thoughts before I drip on the keyboard.
Regarding pointing and staring...
Our lives are so much more exposed now with Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and all the rest. It seems we can hardly say or do anything privately any more, which can be a blessing. And a curse. What's the funniest social networking faux pas you've committed to date?
Michelle: This was hard too. (Great questions, April!) The closest thing would be when a secular writer I know posted about her new release on Facebook. She had some trouble with Amazon tagging because of the somewhat offensive cover image and turned to her FB friends for input on its appropriateness. I commented with a gentle opinion on why I thought Amazon might have tagged it the way they did, hoping to speak for the conservatives out there without being abrasive. What I hadn't considered, was that by commenting, her book image would appear on my wall in my "recent activities" and moments later my MOM left a scathing comment below mine asking why on earth I was posting this image. I messaged her privately to adamantly explain that I wasn't the poster, I was weighing in on the matter. I deleted my comment and told my mom she should do the same because obviously it was then going to be on her wall too. Oy vey! Lucky for me, the incident was small-scale and rather private. I suppose I've gotten off easy so far. But it's never easy being "caught" by Mom.

That's too funny! Mom's are great at catching us with our hands in the cookie jar, no matter our age! 
Tell us about that trail you're leaving for other writers. What was the last thing you posted about on Fiction Fridays?
Michelle: I've always posted things I learn and experiences I gain whether that's contest feedback, craft techniques, social networking (alot of that with COTT), or opportunities to pursue. I sometimes use Fiction Fridays for hosting Story Improvs where readers get involved and write a story together one line at a time. Last week I posted an update on where I've been and what I expect in 2012 and I ended with a story prompt. This one is a little different than the Improvs. In this one, I challenged readers to take the prompt and expand it on their own blog, then send me the link. I don't know how many will join the challenge and play the game, but it would be fun to see what different authors do with the same prompt. Wanna play? You can check it out right now:

Oh! Sounds like fun. Y'all make sure you head over there and jump in on the action. You've been with COTT since the beginning as a vital staff member, but looking through the eyes of a reader/voter (which you also are!), which part of COTT do you enjoy the most?
Michelle: I'd have to say I most enjoy getting that slice of a story I've often never heard of, and then getting to hear how it came together from the author. It's more personal and more focused than scanning amazon for sample chapters. And I can vote! Most of us love having a say in things and I'm no exception, lol. Being able to interact with the authors of the books I'm voting for makes me feel like I'm stepping into an elite circle of friends and as a reader, that's huge.

I heartily agree! Thanks, Michelle, for being so gracious to open your world to us for a little peek. It's been a blast! And now you must excuse me while I go dig through my DVDs for Meet the Parents. LOL
Michelle: April, thank you so much for this opportunity. I value your friendship and admire your work so much. I'm truly honored to be a part of Clash of the Titles.

We couldn't do it without ya!

Readers, do you have a question for Michelle? And don't forget, you can still comment on the Almost Kiss clash going on right now at Clash of the Titles!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Bookmobile Librarian

Liz Siedo, the librarian assigned to the bookmobile in Where Love Once Lived, and the one who rides with Brian everyday is a memorable character. She's always jolly, a bit nosey and opinionated, but everyone loves her anyway, except the head librarian who is a grump and who assigned Liz to the bookmobile to get her out of the library.

But, what most people don't know is that Liz's outlook is due to a strong belief in God. In reality, Liz has lived a difficult life. In this excerpt, Brian and Liz are alone on the bookmobile and he has admitted to her that he hasn't been in a church in more than thirty years and that he bought the bookmobile to impress Karen to try to win her back.

“It all makes sense now.” She paced in the narrow hallway of the bookmobile. “My husband, back in Holly Springs, North Carolina, was an alcoholic. I got counseling and begged him to get help, too, but he just kept drinking until it killed him. I took the insurance money and used it to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a librarian.”

“Good for you,” Brian said. “But I don’t see what this has to do with the bookmobile.”

“I’m coming to that.” Liz sat on the bench in front of his desk. “I heard the University of Texas had a great library science program, so I moved here.”

Brian wished she’d get on with it. They still had to set up for tomorrow’s runs, and he wanted to get home. He was thinking about calling Karen to see if she’d talk to him on the phone.

“So, you graduated and went to work for Austin Public Library.”

“Right. I hadn’t planned to stay here in Austin, but by the time I graduated, I was too involved in my church to leave. Besides, Michael liked it here, too.

“Michael? Who’s Michael?” He wished he hadn’t asked. This was taking forever. He looked at his watch.

“I haven’t told you about my grandson. He was living with us back home, and when I moved here, he came with me.” She looked sad all of a sudden. “That may have been a mistake. He’s in prison now.”

“Your grandson’s in prison? For what?”

“Driving under the influence,” she said. “Well, five convictions, actually. At least he can’t drink while he’s there. But getting back to what I was telling you. You know, why I think God put me here.” She pointed at the floor.

Brian checked his watch again. He didn’t have to be anywhere at a particular time, but maybe she’d take the hint and wrap up her story so he could go home. “Why?”

“It’s simple,” she said. “I’m gonna help you find God again.” She had a self-satisfied look on her face that was frightening.

Have you had the privilege of knowing a Liz?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Texas State Capitol Memories

Where Brian Donelson and
George McCullough Walked
A novel is fiction. It's not true. Pure imagination. Right? Well, yes, but... I suspect every novel contains some little something from the author's past. Where Love Once Lived is no exception. While I didn't make the same mistakes Brian did, there are events in my life I wish hadn't happened. But I trust God lead me to where I am today.

In the following excerpt, I describe a scene at the Texas state capitol that I had with my mother and dad and sisters when I was a child. Photos reminded me of the event for years after it happened. My dad tricked me into drinking the sulfur tasting water that day cementing the memory forever. I also remember a time when I wondered if people were staring at me and a fellow marine who happened to be black as we traveled from California to Texas.

When we finally reached my parent's house in Austin, I was concerned about their reaction since, as far as I knew, Bill would be the first black person in our home. However, he was accepted graciously. My dad even drove us the rest of the way to Houston, saying we were probably too tired to drive further.

In this excerpt, Brian had asked to meet with Mr. McCullough, the 78-year-old father of Brian's best friend Phil, because Brian wanted advice on being close to God. You'll have to read the book to find out more. I only included enough here to describe the setting.

“You know,” Mr. McCullough said as he and Brian walked through the capitol grounds, “a few years back, ever’one would be staring at us.”

Brian was six foot two, and Phil’s dad was five two or three at the most. Mr. McCullough had just gotten off work at the Driskill and still had on his white shirt and bowtie. Brian wore shorts and Birkenstocks. Still, Brian knew Mr. McCullough was talking about race, not stature or clothing. Mr. McCullough was from a time in history Brian could never fully understand, but he’d read about how blacks suffered. It was a time of segregation.

The Water Fountain and Bench
Mr. McCullough looked around. “When I was jus’ a kid, nine or ten I’d say, my parents brought me here.” He motioned toward the spot where they sat. “My daddy told me to drink from a sulfur fountain that was here. Said it’d be good for me and make me healthy. But there was a problem. Back then, you see, we had separate drinking fountains. One marked ‘white’ and one marked ‘colored.’”

He paused, but Brian waited for him to continue. “There was only one sulfur fountain and it wasn’t marked one way or ‘nother, colored or white.” He laughed. “Didn’t matter. We sneaked a sip when no one was about. Only once, though.” He shook his head and made a face. “Terrible stuff. Smelled like rotten eggs.”

I would love to hear from you. Do you have family memories about visiting places like the state capitol? What caused the memory to stick in your mind? Have you experienced racial segregation? Have you ever felt people were staring at you because you did something out of the norm? Please comment below or email me:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Yankee Go Home

While searching through some old files, I found this letter I wrote to the editor of the Austin American-Statesman. The tear sheet didn't show the date, but based on my age and the reference to a May 8 news item, it had to be 1981. Here is what I wrote:

As a 46-year-old native of Austin, I would like to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. James Michener for the actions of two Austin drivers. According to the May 8 Houston Chronicle, James Michener and his wife were told to go home (referring to their Pennsylvania car tags) on two separate occasions while driving in Austin.

We used to have a slogan here, "Austin, the friendly city." I wonder what happened to it?

Sid Frost

Reading this now, nearly 30 years later, I wonder if the reason they were told to leave town might be because of Mrs. Michener's race. In Where Love Once Lived I included a marriage between a young couple, one black and one white, and how this marriage affects their parents. I have no first-hand information about mixed marriages, but I've always had an interest in equality and what it would be like if race didn't matter.

How about you? Do you think we'll ever have racial equality in this country?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Selecting the Best Bible Reference

Since Where Love Once Lived is a Christian novel, I looked for a bible reference to place at the beginning of the book to give the reader a hint as to what the book is about. During my search for the right passage I found three and decided to include them all. The references below are to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

I picked this reference because both Karen and Brian had someone to forgive before they could move on with their lives. Karen needed to forgive Brian and Brian needed to forgive himself. But there is more to it than that. After the two broke up, Karen turned closer to God and Brian turned away. Karen knew in her heart that God had already forgiven her for what she perceived she had done. Brian felt he wasn't worthy of God's forgiveness, and he started seeing God as vengeful. Luckily for both characters, they find forgiveness.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”—Romans 8:28.

This verse was selected because Brian's happiness and his ability to achieve his goals improved when God came back into his life. Brian's love for God grows until in the end he realizes it is the love of God that he had been seeking all along.

“And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”—Isaiah 30:21.

I liked this verse because it describes how the bookmobile librarian Liz and Brian's best friend's father George continually prod Brian. No matter where Brian goes or what he does, Liz and George remind him how wonderful it is to walk in the way of the Lord.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bookmobile Memories

Recently, while rummaging through some old files, I ran across this letter to the editor in the June 17, 1998 issue of the Austin American-Statesman:

The June 12 article about bookmobiles by Mike Cox brought back some wonderful memories of when I worked as a part-time driver in the early 1960s while attending UT. We also were responsible for stocking books, checking out books, keeping the generator going for light and air conditioning that sometimes worked and cleaning up.

We went to schools, retirement homes and several small towns and communities outside the city limits. We set up shop at locations where branch libraries were eventually built.

The librarian I worked with mostly, Jean Siedo, made the job a pleasure. She knew the regulars on our route and selected books from the main library stacks for them. She delivered books to the rooms of some of those who were not physically able to come to the bookmobile. She treated everyone with respect, regardless of age, race or economic situation. She encouraged and counseled when needed. A few times I saw her give food and money to children who had little. I'm sure that was not part of her job description, but I respected her for everything she did.

Sometimes I wish we still had bookmobiles.

Sid Frost

I had forgotten about that letter to the editor. I wish I had reviewed it before I started writing Where Love Once Lived. If I had, I could have added more details about how my character helped others to the point where she was surprised with a special gift from her patrons. Also, I may have used a different name for the character. I used Liz Siedo, and I wouldn't want anyone to think the fictional character was really the live person Jean Siedo. Even though their actions to their patrons were similar, I made up the rest.

Have you met someone like Jean Siedo who impressed you the way she did me?

Amish Clash!

*guest post by Delia Latham
It's been an edge-of-the-seat, flashing-swords kind of Clash between Vannetta Chapman and Beth Wiseman. These gals elicited some genuine response! It is beyond clear that both authors are well loved, and that their writing touches hearts.
This was an Amish clash, and if you missed it, you'll definitely want to check out the excerpts, as both were excellent examples of GOOD Amish fiction.
Beth Wiseman's The Wonder of Your Love elicits a whole tangle of emotions, with a dreaded meeting between an Amish woman and her deceased husband's Englitscher mistress.
If you missed our interview with Beth, be sure to stop by and check it out.
Vannetta Chapman's Falling to Pieces, on the other hand, paints a poignant picture of loss and confusion after the death of a loved one, all wrapped up in a stack of gorgeous Amish quilts.
And here's our interview with Vannetta.
I'd love to post every reader response, because I didn't see a single negative one in the overwhelming number we received…but in the interest of space, I had to choose just a few:
Please don't stop writing...because your gift transports me to another place, away from all the stresses of life and encourages me!

I love Amish Fiction. Both of these excerpts make me want to dive into these ladies' lives.

Hearing an Amish story takes me back to my childhood in the mountains of Kentucky. We read by lamp, the Bible mostly. Everything we ate we grew in the garden and canned on a wood stove for winter. The outhouse was about fifty yards from the backdoor. Thanks to both of you for taking me back. God Bless.
I love the Amish Clash as I love to read Amish stories. Having been in the homes of Amish people and corresponding so many years, my home has a room with all Amish figurines and dolls. Keep writing Amish fiction.
Keep writing! We all need encouragement to live more simply like the Amish!
I was drawn into the stories immediately, and now those characters are going to be following me around all day!
We are so grateful for this feedback from our readers! It's your involvement that gives Clash of the Titles its purpose.
So, which sword-wielding author came out on top?
As much as I'd love to name both of them (since they're so obviously both WINNERS!), we can only have one victor per clash. That victor, this time around, was:


A brand new clash is now underway, and it's the kind that will curl your toes. Head over to Clash of the Titles and vote for the best Almost Kiss!

Friday, February 3, 2012


In the last entry, I told you about how Brian decides to wait until he and Karen are in the gardens before telling her he is moving to Germany. Here's an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived that tells what happens next:

When they reached the end of the ramp and were on a flat surface, he took her hand with fingers laced. Her pulse felt synchronized with his as it traveled up his arm. He searched her eyes to see if she felt it, too. She smiled and pulled him closer. They walked silently until they got to the barren area he’d told her about. White jagged rock told the story of what it was like here when workers cut the limestone blocks from the earth. Several huge blocks stood nearby, serving as examples. The rocks smelled musty.

“This is what the whole area looked like when Matt bought it.”

“Quite a contrast,” she said, not letting go of his hand.

Brian looked at her in the light of the garden. She was so lovely.

“Yes. Think of all the dirt Matt hauled in to cover the rock and prepare for new growth. It’s even prettier here in the spring when the flowers bloom.” He wanted to be the one to show her the flowers. “All this used to be outside the city limits. The quarry was closed for years, the land marred like this, until Matt came up with the idea of building the garden and restaurant.”

“Great idea,” she said. “He reclaimed the land here, brought new purpose to it.”

“Yes. He’s modest about it, though. He said he got the idea while visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada. I haven’t been there myself, but he said they restored the land there and made it into a garden.”

It was cooler in the garden, so Brian pulled her close. Was it to keep her warm or to feel her warmth? Whatever the reason, it felt natural to hold her close once again. The thirty years they were apart seemed like mere days. He held her tighter, knowing this would be the last time they’d be together.

Of course it wasn't the last time they were together, but Brian didn't know it at that time. He hadn't trusted God yet.

Have you felt God's transformation of your life?