Posts by: mary

Redemption

By on February 2, 2017

When the story of my journey to publication last left off, it was circa 2007 and my initial attempts to find an agent or publisher ran smack dab into a brick wall. And while most of the agents I contacted left me dangling, some actually did me the courtesy of a basic “I-like-your-story-idea-but-have-decided-to-go-in-a-different-direction” rejection letter.

Several months earlier, I heard a literary agent speak at a chapter meeting of the Colorado Christian Fiction Writers Association about how to acquire an agent to represent one’s writing to publishing houses.  Afterwards I approached him and asked what I needed to do to get my book into his hands. “Let that lady over there take a look at it first,” he replied, pointing to a woman standing nearby. He went on to tell me that she was an excellent editor who could help me transform my manuscript into something worthy of his consideration. So, I made my way over and introduced myself to Marjorie Vawter, thus starting a writer/editor relationship that has lasted to this day.

Margie read my manuscript and, while she told me it was something worth pursuing, at 300,000 words, it was a behemoth that no publisher would consider. Sure, it was long, but it was no War and Peace! Even so, the markets had changed and no one would publish such a long story from an unknown author.

The solution was clear—my one big book would have to be broken up into three shorter books. And as it so happened, the story had natural transitions at around 100,000 and 200,000 words which would make a trilogy the perfect solution! The possibility made my heart palpitate.

I thought I had found the formula for success, but when all those rejection letters trickled in, my heart sank once more. Would I ever realize my dream of becoming a published author? I believed in this story. I had poured my heart and soul into it. From those summer days in the basement of my youth when the story of Arwyn was birthed to the afternoons spent pounding away on my typewriter, to get it onto paper, to that moment I realized it was my calling to once more take up my pen and fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming an author, giving up was simply not an option.

I brushed the tears away, grit my teeth, and began to look at the feedback a couple of those agents had been kind enough to include in their assessment of my book. I began to see a pattern—they had found it difficult to determine from whose point of view my story was written. My model, J.R.R. Tolkien, had written in omniscient point of view, meaning that he got into the heads of many of his characters, and while that may have worked very well back then, nowadays readers like it when a story is told from the perspective of one or two.

I had only one option—I had to re-write the entire series from Arwyn’s point of view! Such a possibility seemed daunting, exhausting, and I wondered why in the world I would go to all that trouble AGAIN!

There was really no debate. The thought of getting into Arwyn’s head and telling her story through her eyes I knew would take it to new heights, even as it went deeper into this character I had grown to love. After all, in many ways she was me, at least the kind of woman I would hope to be. And that made it much easier, invigorating even, to summon the verve to re-write all 300,000 words, because the entire revision process was so much more than changing “she” to “I” and “her” to “my”. I had the opportunity to dig deeper into her psyche. And that’s what therapists do, right?

The thought of making all the necessary changes made my head spin, especially as long-neglected projects continued to mount. Before I could begin the huge revision, I had to take a step back from writing. I needed a break to do other things for at least a couple of years. But little did I know that my life would soon take a very unexpected twist, plunging me and my family into a year-long adventure in Europe.  Throughout our travels, I paid particular attention to the way my meandering footsteps echoed along ancient cobblestone city streets, the way the spires of fairytale castles pierced the sun-drenched Bavarian sky, the mind-blowing manner in which a bunch of higgledy-piggledy buildings could cling to the side of a cliff, where they had been suspended for eons above a thrashing sea, and the way baby lambs scurried to their mothers as my crew of five noisily invaded their meadow. Europe had a way of tugging at my soul, whether it was the call of my ancestors that echoed in my veins or the oldness of everything that hearkened back to a romantic ideal, I found myself falling more in love. And inspired. So much so that I could barely contain the words that flew onto my laptop’s screen in the evenings as I sat in our rented villa in the verdant rolling hills of Tuscany. I was re-writing Arwyn’s story but doing much more than changing the “hers” to “mes”. I was giving it a soul.

For you see, at some point during my hiatus from writing, God was whispering to me, gently nudging me to the realization that this story was about something more, way more. After all, what good would it do to write a story that does not genuinely reflect who I am at my core?

Up until then, Arwyn was for the most part a remnant of that squeaky clean heroine of bygone days when I looked at the world through rose-colored glasses. And, in truth, the distinction between the “good” and the “bad” characters was quite clear. But that’s not the way people truly are.

Despite growing up thinking I had to be the perfect Christian girl, the perfect preacher’s daughter, after being undeniably confronted with my own sinful nature, I had long since abandoned the notion that I could in any way maintain the illusion of perfection.  My fancy Disney princess dress I put away in a closet, replaced with outdated jeans, tousled hair, and a ripped t-shirt. But underneath it all, I was still God’s little girl, and He loved me. His heart had bled when I turned my face from Him years before, and like the story of the Prodigal Son, His mighty arms were there waiting to catch me when I came stumbling back.

Spoiler alert: As I pondered what my trilogy was really about, one word came to mind—redemption. As you, dear reader, will see in Books Two and Three, my characters will have their personal struggles. Yes, even Arwyn will have to forget whose she is. Not that it was easy to have my beloved heroine struggle with the darkness inside her own heart, but in the end, it was necessary. Otherwise, she might as well be made into a cheap plastic doll in a fancy dress and too much make-up that sits on the shelf at the local Wal-Mart.

It would still take a couple more years following our return from Europe before I would at last hold The Healer of Guildenwood in my hands. As I began every day, preparing myself for the page or two that would come from it, I always asked God to give me the words I would need for that day. And He always did. A phrase here. A scene there. A subtle aspect to a character I’d not yet considered. And even now as I look at the big picture of my trilogy, I am amazed to discover surprises within the words that I had never noticed before. Folks, this couldn’t have been my own doing. I’m just not that smart.

And so it was that just as God had redeemed my life far beyond anything I ever expected or deserved, so too would that be the theme of The Soultrekker Chronicles.

The Soultrekker Chronicles? Yes, Lord, that is a great name for my trilogy.

Thank you for the story.

Thank you for the words I needed to write that story.

And most of all, thank you for picking me up, mess that I am, brushing me off, and for how you are weaving a brand new princess dress for me that will neither fade nor tear nor ever be stained.

Eleven Reasons Why Michigan Skiing is Actually THE BEST!

By on January 11, 2017

Skiing in Michigan- everything it’s cracked up to be, and more!

Over Christmas break, my family ventured up north to Bellaire, Michigan for a long ski weekend. Since moving to the Midwest from Colorado nearly three years ago, we had long held out against what we feared would be disappointing ski conditions after being spoiled for so many years by the glorious powder of Colorado snow. And, as it is rumored that several Michigan slopes are actually built on old landfills (gasp!), going through the immense effort of suiting up the boys, loading up the car with skis, boots, helmets, and poles, and then paying for all those lift tickets hardly seemed worth it. But when friends of ours suggested we all spend a few days together on the ski slopes up north, we knew it was time to take the plunge and discover for ourselves what Michigan skiing is really all about.

A brief history of my rise to skiing prowess:

It’s not that I’m a ski snob. After all, my ski career started in humble circumstances—in the mountains of North Carolina. Funny, because I was also born in the mountains of North Carolina, which just proves that good things start there. Twenty-some years later, I found myself back in those same mountains at Cataloochee ski area, donning those awkward, uncomfortable ski boots for the first time.  I was with my boyfriend at the time, also a beginner skier, and after about an hour or two on the bunny slopes, believed we were ready for the chairlift.

The one thing I failed to understand was that there was a drop-off point mid-mountain for all the beginner skiers, the place where I was expected to unload myself from the chairlift and GET OUT OF THE WAY before the next group either unloaded or continued on to the top of the mountain where the expert ski trails were. Say what?

Before I knew what was happening, my boyfriend leapt from the chairlift and went crashing onto the ground, me watching helplessly as he flailed about, a tangle of skis and poles, appearing smaller and smaller as I continued my ride up to the top. For a moment, I panicked. I glanced down at all those expert skiers below me, and suddenly the slope appeared to be at least an 80 degree incline. I was going to die!

Then it occurred to me: surely I could simply ride the lift down to the bottom of the mountain. No worries! I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I started noticing that all the chairs coming back down the mountain were—empty!

The higher the chairlift climbed, the more panicked I became. I had practically worked myself into a frenzy when the top of the mountain came into view. The drop-off point approached. I froze. I knew nothing else to do but to start screaming: “I can’t ski! I can’t ski!”

Once more, I watched the drop-off point pass me by, and with that the ski lift came to a screeching halt. By this time I was dangling about 10 feet above the ground and two burly men who ran the top of the lift scrambled out of their nice, cozy shelter to come to my rescue. I begged and pleaded for them to let me ride the lift back to the bottom, but they would hear nothing of it. They had their rules. I’m not exactly sure how they got me down (I think I was slipping in and out of consciousness at this point), but I think it involved some rope and a ladder.

I’m certain they were chuckling to themselves as they watched me, skis and poles flung over my shoulder, as I started back down the mountain on foot. If you’ve ever tried to walk in ski boots, you know how not-fun that is. Add to that being pummeled by snow-making machines, and I arrived at the bottom of the mountain looking like a red-faced snowman.

You would imagine such an experience would have made me think twice about ever attempting any mountain more daunting, but it only fueled my desire to conquer the art of shushing through the snow with the greatest of ease. The next winter, I graduated to the big time—Colorado!—the first of several ski trips out west I would take with my friends, Tom and Kathy, and several others who started out as acquaintances but quickly became good friends.  My friend Tom, being a Florida native, had hardly ever experienced snow before, much less put on skis, but when I mentioned that Kathy and I and some others were taking a trip out west, he said, “Cool! I’m in!”

Looking back, I’m very glad that Tom was there to de-emphasize my own skiing inadequacies.  Everyone else in our group was an experienced skier, and although Kathy was also more advanced, she, Tom, and I took a lesson the first day after we arrived in Breckenridge. The next day, we were ready to venture out on our own. The only issue was, in order to make it over to the lift that would take us up to where the easy, green trails were, we had to go up a different chairlift and then down a short but harder blue trail to get to it. Not that the sight of me going down this blue run was any prettier, but poor Tom only skied about three feet at a time before stirring up a cloud of profanity with every tumble he took. It got to a point that there was literally nothing I could do to help and I thought it best to spare him his dignity. So I left.

Kathy and I waited at the bottom of the run for a while until Tom finally arrived. He then proceeded to try to kick off his skis—not a great thing to do because, you know, they were attached to his boots.  And so, Tom ended up on the ground again. Kathy and I just looked at each other with wide eyes, knowing we’d best keep our distance.

Fortunately, Tom didn’t give up and we actually had some good runs on some of the more gentle slopes later that day. Yet right as we were beginning to feel comfortable, all three of us experienced a collective brain cramp while in line for the chair lift, rendering us several seconds late moving up to the place where we were to get on. Kathy, being slightly behind Tom and me, somehow ended up splayed out on the seat like Cleopatra, with me sitting on top of her. We miraculously righted ourselves in time, but there was no room on our seat for poor Tom who, crouched in a fetal position, went sliding into the ravine beneath the chair lift. Luckily, he was laughing. We all were.

The next year we went to Utah, but the year after that the couple who planned the trip had a baby, so I ended up going skiing instead with a church singles’ group to Steamboat, Colorado. The following year I was back to my original group, but by that time my skiing had improved so that I was no longer that “tag along” who everyone had to wait for because I was always the one falling. I was now keeping up with the best of them.

Oh, so many memories of blue sky ski days and blizzard ski days, of apres ski, of steamy hot tubs on snow-covered decks, laughing at my frozen-solid hair and scrambling in my bathing suit-clad body back indoors, of White Russians, spaghetti dinners, card games, and curling up with a good book by the fire. Those were the days!

Then I met my husband and the days of ski trips out west with that group of friends ended. But luckily my ski adventures didn’t—they just looked a little different.  I was fortunate enough to find a man who loved to ski as much as I did. We had been dating for less than two months when I accompanied him out west to eastern Washington for a Christmas week visit to meet his family, but most of the visit would happen at a rented condo at Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. We arrived at the mountain late in the afternoon after celebrating a belated Christmas that morning, and Rob, his step-dad, brother, and I were eager to hit the slopes. So, on a mountainside lit by artificial light, we endured a frigid evening in order to get in a few runs. After the first run, Rob had a big grin on his face after seeing for himself that I really could ski. And even though the sight of me shushing down the mountainside wasn’t a pretty one, his step-dad was also impressed. “She has no form, but she’s fearless”, Frank said later of my skiing prowess. He also commented to Rob, “She’s a keeper!”

And so, that’s how I won the hearts of my in-laws, and I can attribute it all to skiing. Since that fateful ski trip to Idaho, Rob and I have since skied in Washington, New Hampshire and Colorado. Colorado, because we moved to Colorado. But the weird thing was, we actually skied more BEFORE we lived in Colorado than we did while living there. That’s because we were busy raising three little boys, not to mention the prohibitive cost of lift tickets for a family of five as well as the weekend traffic on I-70. We did manage a few long weekends away in the mountains, babysitters in tote, but it wasn’t quite the same as those carefree ski trips of days long past. But that’s okay. It may be different, but it’s still GOOD.

When we found out that we would be moving back east, one of my biggest regrets about leaving Colorado was that we would be leaving behind some of the best skiing in the world. Which brings me back to last weekend’s trip up north. It was with trepidation that we tested Michigan skiing against all the history we have in other places. The bar had been set high and our expectations were low, but I’ll let you in on the surprising secret we discovered—Michigan skiing is actually the BEST of all! Does this surprise you? If so, let me explain:

  1. I’d rather ski down a run called “Belle’s Bottom” than “Devil’s Crotch”.

There is actually a ski run out west called “Devil’s Crotch”—and it’s hellish. It makes that expert slope in North Carolina look like a day at Daytona Beach.

  1. People will be impressed and think you must be an awesome skier when you tell them you ski black runs, even though a black run in the Midwest is in actuality not nearly so impressive. But your friends don’t need to know that.
  2. You don’t have to worry about getting caught in an avalanche.
  3. You don’t have to worry about getting hit by a howitzer setting off said avalanche.
  4. No altitude sickness, which means no dizziness, no headaches, and your skin doesn’t feel like Death Valley.
  5. You don’t have to work out for months to train for skiing in the Midwest.

I did about ten lunges in my kitchen while making dinner the night before our trip, and I was good to go.

  1. There’s less chance of dying from falling off a ski lift because you don’t get any more than fifteen feet off the ground.
  2. You don’t have to worry about getting chased by a mountain lion or waking a hibernating grizzly.

On the other hand, you may get bitten by a Wolverine.

  1. Old guys run the ski lifts in Michigan, and they tend to blast classic rock from their radios, songs like “Danger Zone” and “Take It Easy”.

Try shushing down the slopes with “Billie Jean” stuck in your head and you may find yourself creating a new style of skiing that would make Michael Jackson proud.

  1. There are no high-speed quads, so you’re much less likely to get a nasty wind burn, and sunburn isn’t an issue as it’s cloudy 90% of the time.
  2. Although you won’t see any majestic peaks, there’s a chance you may catch a glimpse of a Great Lake, especially on one of those rare days when the sun is actually out.

 

A rare Colorado blue-sky day in Michigan!

So, you see, even though Michigan may not have big, Breckenridge-style villages with cute shops and dozens of apres-ski bars and restaurants, and maybe the slopes are a little icy, and maybe you can get to the bottom of the longest slope in less than three minutes, but it’s alright.

Hey, you have to look at the bright side.

 

Deck the Halls with Buon Natale!

By on December 24, 2016

It’s pretty obvious that one of my favorite creative endeavors is writing, but in recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that much of my creativity is visual in nature. In fact, I took one of those online intelligence tests several years ago, and it turns out I’m off the charts when it comes to visual/spatial smarts; which tells me I should’ve been an architect, or a designer. Even as a kid, I was always dreaming up fun, kid-friendly house floor plans, and I loved seeing how other people lived in and decorated their own spaces.

I do feel a rush of satisfaction when I create something with my hands that is a delight to the eyes. It’s the same rush I felt when I first discovered scrapbooking. There’s an artist inside me that has never quite accepted the fact that I draw stick figures at about the level of a third grader. With no talent when it comes to drawing, I’ve had to find creative outlets in other directions.

Decorating is one of those outlets, and doing so on a budget provides an added challenge. This time of year, as visions of twinkle lights dance in my head, I make multiple trips to Michael’s and Hobby Lobby for the best deal I can find on garland and ornaments. Every year I add a few more items, and over the years I have amassed quite a collection. Add this to the Christmas decor I inherited from my parents, and it takes an entire small storage room to house all of my Christmas decor.

I’d like to share some of my favorite decorating ideas in hopes that you will be inspired. After all, most of my ideas have come from others, with a few tweaks here and there to make them my own.

 

Dining Room Table Centerpiece

My dining room table centerpiece is one of my favorites, a combination of both new and re-purposed gold and

Dining Room Table Centerpiece

silver blingy decor I’ve collected from HomeGoods, Hobby Lobby, and Pier 1. Just spread it out along a table runner, add some battery-operated lights, a couple snowglobes with dreamy winter scenes and voila! you have a festive centerpiece. If your table centerpiece now makes the light fixture above the table look drab, dangle ornaments from a garland draped around the chandelier. And for added warmth, forego glaring chandelier lights for a strand of battery-operated lights strung throughout the garland

 

Festive Chandelier

 

“Garage Sale” Tree

You may have a tree that has collected all the kids’ homemade ornaments and all the other mismatched ornaments you’ve received over the years, the one that looks like a garage sale. Twist a big mesh ribbon around the tree from top to bottom, add a few floral picks, and your garage sale tree suddenly looks like it could be featured in the latest issue of “Good Housekeeping”.

 

Formal “No Touch” Tree

So, last year I did splurge and bought new ornaments for a more formal, coordinated tree, one that sits in a front window in the only room in my house that remains pristine due to my strict no food, no shoes, no dog policy. And, as it’s more a library and museum filled with all the nick-knacks I inherited from my parents, it’s also the quiet place I go to regain some sanity.

 

 

Snowman Scenescape

 

 

I’m a big fan of snowmen, and these particular ones I’ve had around for years in various spots all over my house. But I think they’ve found a permanent home in this kitchen window, framed by the splendor of a wintry outdoor scene. The candlesticks I inherited from the previous owner of our house and, adding the red candles and cool dangly white candle rings, along with a strand of battery-operated, snowflake-shaped lights tucked underneath some white Buffalo snow fluff, I’m ready to go walking in a winter wonderland. The sparse garland hanging in the window is decked out with red, green, and white clothespins, from which I hang Christmas cards. I just have to make sure the cards don’t get too close to the candle flames!

 

My “Memory” Tree

This little tree is simple, but it’s my favorite. It has been a tradition in our family to buy a souvenir Christmas ornament wherever we go during the year. With the exception of the year we spent in Europe, when we added at least two dozen new ornaments, most years  we’ve added two or three to the point that we are starting to run out of room on this little tree for additions. Most of the time we don’t want to waste our money on some junky souvenir that will just end up collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. The beauty of buying ornaments as souvenirs is that they typically cost very little, take up little room in your suitcase, and once a year provide a reminder of wonderful family memories. Even junky souvenirs can be turned into cute ornaments with a little string.

 

Christmas Village

I’ve been collecting pieces of the Department 56 “Christmas in the City” series Christmas village for years, and now I have the perfect place to display it- on the top of a bookshelf in front of my basement window. Above it, from an old, rustic, reclaimed wood ladder suspended from the ceiling dangles five lanterns lit with fairy lights and candles. (Are you seeing a theme here?) It’s magical. Sometimes I wish I could miniaturize myself and go hang out in the Christmas village, returning to a simpler time when people went caroling, rode in horse-drawn sleighs, and skated on frozen ponds.

 

 

 

Woodland Scenescape

As I mentioned in a previous post, we recently remodeled our basement, giving it a more Tuscan/Italian flair (Italy being another passion of ours), along with some more practical renovations that actually keep us from shivering when we go downstairs to watch a movie or play games. One of the additions was a peninsula fireplace with a large shelf, a space on which to unleash even more creative energy. And, as our basement tends to be rustic, it made sense to continue the theme on the mantle with a cute woodland scene, complete with creatures purchased from Pier 1 and, of course, more twinkle lights and faux birch candles.

Tuscan-themed light fixture

Christmas lights aren’t just for Christmas anymore. After all, why keep the magic for just one time of year? After a long deliberation on how to make our basement bar more cozy, nothing short of adding an expensive soffit over the counter would give it that warm pub feel. Even so, this was supposed to be an Italian-themed renovation, not English. It was then that I discovered the perfect solution on Pinterest: suspend an old ladder made of reclaimed wood from the ceiling, add to it some old rustic baskets I already had in my kitchen cabinets, some fake food from Hobby Lobby reminiscent of an Italian kitchen, some grape cluster lights also found at Hobby Lobby, and I had a perfect, yet inexpensive light fixture for over the bar! All my contractor had to do was add a plug-in for the lights in the ceiling, and it was good to go.

God’s Handiwork

Of course, no amount of my creativity could ever come close to God’s masterpiece I see all around me. As I stroll through God’s living room, decorated with ornaments of delicate white in an unfathomable array of intricate shapes floating dreamily down from the heavens, demure swans gliding gracefully along the surface of a lake, oblivious to the cold that nips at my nose, and evergreens arrayed in wintry white, I am reminded once more that my attempts to create something of beauty is simply a reflection of His creativity in me.

Buon Natale to you and yours!