The Dreaded Question: What Is “The Trade” About?

I’m about to put a new book on Amazon. The great thing about publishing books yourself is that you don’t have to box your book into a genre or sell it to an agent with an elevator pitch. The terrible thing about publishing books yourself is that by not having to pitch an agent or publisher, you might find yourself with something that’s also hard to pitch to readers. Can you describe it in 140 characters? Can you sell it to a captive audience during a short elevator ride?

What will you say when you hear the dreaded question: WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT?

My new book is called The Trade. It will probably appeal most to 15-17 year old girls. It’s set in a world like our own, pre-industrial. The main character, Jeba, begins the book as a slave, beading shoes. The problem is that I don’t want to give away any more than that!

Two themes in The Trade are beauty and sacrifice. Is that enough or do I have to tell you more? There’s a little bit of romance, but it’s not the main storyline. Is that enough? I wrote the book because I wondered “What would someone do if they found out that _______,” but I can’t tell you what’s in that blank without giving something away. Is that enough?

Am I confident that it’s a good book? I’m confident that the first ten pages are good, because they won a writing contest. As for the rest, it can’t be as bad as a few novels out there that managed to find a big publisher! (I won’t name names.)

It’s the worst thing in the world (okay, ALMOST the worst thing in the world) to have to tell people what your book is about. If I had enough money, I’d buy one for each of you so that you could find out for yourself. But I don’t have enough money, so I have to convince you to buy it. The Trade is about a slave, and it is about you. It is simple to read but deep in meaning if you take the time to contemplate. I love it, and I hope you will too.

 

Advertisements

One More Thing Before You Go Off to College

The other day I was sitting on a bench at the local junior college when a man approached me and introduced himself. There was no doubt in my mind what he was about to ask.

“I don’t know if you’d be interested, but we’re having a Bible study at six o’ clock.”

Yep.

I explained that I was just picking someone up and that I already went to church. I asked him what group he was with, and that’s when I got a shock. “[Blah blah blah] Church of Christ. We don’t have a church here yet, the closest one is in [blah blah.]”

And a rush of memories came back. 25 years ago, at another university, my roommate and I were invited to a Bible study downstairs from us. Beginning of the year freshmen, we said yes. When we got there, the Bible study leader read from one of the books of history, stumbling through the proper nouns and then guessing what each verse meant after he read it. I don’t fault him for that, I just thought it was a strange passage for someone who’s obviously never read the Bible before to choose for a Bible study.

But our neighbors were nice, so we went to a large group meeting in one of the lecture halls soon thereafter. Before the sermon, they played a video of one of them walking around campus asking people what they thought of their group, [blah blah blah] Church of Christ.* Every interviewee said some version of “Aren’t they a cult?” My roommate looked at me with alarm. We listened to the sermon about how the definition of a cult is a group that follows one leader, and if that’s the definition that they were proud to call themselves a cult following Jesus.

Soon after THAT, we got invited to their Halloween party at someone’s house. My roommate was freaked out by the cult people, but this nice girl named Marina was asking, and I guess I have trouble saying no or something, so I went. On the way, Marina, who obviously did not come from money (we were riding a city bus, my first time) told me that she’d given all her jewelry to the “church” and shyly added that she’d kept one pair of earrings because they were from her grandma. This didn’t seem right to me. At the party, everyone was very nice. Eventually, we all packed into the living room to watch a movie. It was some comedy. At one of the places in the movie that’s supposed to get a laugh, we all cracked up, and then someone said indignantly, “That’s not funny,” and a murmur spread across the room condemning the humor. “Not funny, no, not funny.” I kid you not.

Oh man, did I wish I’d had my roommate’s strength to say no to the party. I wasn’t entirely sure she was ever going to see me again. These people were programmed, and they were dressed like zombies and vampires.

Maybe cult is too strong a word, but all I know is that I never wanted to get on a city bus so bad. Maybe it wasn’t a cult, but all I know is that all these kids were fresh out of high school and sending someone their jewelry and letting someone else tell them when to laugh.

I was out of there.

So anyway, you’ll get a lot of advice when you go to college, but people might not tell you this one. Don’t accidentally join a cult.

*Some legitimate churches have Church of Christ in their name. Do your research on ANY group that invites you in. If you are interested in attending church while you’re away at college, call a couple of local regular churches and ask what college groups they recommend. Intervarsity is a legitimate one, and I’m sure there are others.

A Hundred Answered Prayers

The idea for this blog entry came to me not as a blog entry, but as an anthology with many contributors from my town. I thought maybe the concept would take wing, and people from towns all over the world would create their own “A Hundred Answered Prayers” (A Hundred Answered Prayers in Denver! A Hundred Answered Prayers in Dublin!) and God would be glorified. Alas, people who were excited to share their answers to prayer in Bible studies were less enthusiastic about opening up to the world. I can’t blame them. And so my anthology ended before it began.

After a while, I realized that I could probably remember a hundred times God had answered my own prayers! If I’d kept a prayer journal over the years, I could blog them all right now! Unfortunately I never did keep a prayer journal, so I’m going to list some of the amazing answers to prayer that have stuck with me and come back and add others as they happen or as I remember them.

Tell me one of your answered prayers in the comments! Together I know we’ll get to a hundred and a hundred hundred.

Here are mine.

Healing

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. —James 5:14

My sister told me I’d better get to the hospital to say goodbye to Dad. He’d been sick for almost a year, misdiagnosed with “anxiety and depression” and now told that he only had a few days to live. They were pretty sure it was liver cancer. Only awaiting the biopsy results.

Dad said that he was okay with going to heaven now; I wasn’t to worry about him. But I cried, put my hand on him, and asked God to heal. My dad was my softball coach, never mind that it had been twenty years ago. He taught me The Lord’s Prayer. He carried my band instruments. He loved dogs and birds and March Madness and Mom’s cooking and panning for gold. He was my dad!

I felt terrible leaving Mom alone at the hospital. I shouldn’t have left. I listened to Tree63 and cried all the way to my other sister’s house, spent the night there, and drove home the next day, whereupon the first sister called.

“Dad’s going to be okay!”

“What?” Isn’t it funny how we’re surprised every time God answers a prayer? “What,” I said.

“It’s an infection.”

The kind of infection doctors call each other in the room to see. The kind of infection none of them had ever seen in someone who was alive. But an infection nonetheless. Prayer answered mightily. 12 years later, my dad is still on his feet.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy  —Psalm 103:2-4

My daughter had abdominal migraines (possibly called cyclic vomiting syndrome) when she was little. Pretty much there’s no stopping it. Every couple months she’d wake up in the night (sometimes not totally wake up, which was scary) and barf every couple hours until around noon the next day. After a couple years, it started happening about every month. Then it happened about every 12 days a few times.

I think she was about six. I told her, “We’re going to pray about this EVERY night. We’re going to pray hard.”

And so we did, every night, with total faith and desperation.

12 or so days passed, and it happened again. I had a private talk with God. “What are you doing?” I asked. “This was a really good opportunity to show her that You answer prayers!” (Yes, I talk to God like that sometimes.)

So I told my daughter about the Bible saying that we should be persistent in prayer. We kept praying every night.

Meanwhile, my daughter kept asking for the Pedialyte popsicles we always kept on hand for rehydrating after her episodes. I’d always told her we needed to keep them in case she threw up, but I decided what the heck, I’ll just buy them all the time. She started eating about three a night, and guess what. She STOPPED having her episodes.

Did God heal through Pedialyte pops or just heal some other way? I don’t know, because she’d been having Pedialyte every day since and has only had one or two barfs over the decade since. (Pedialyte is not meant for constant use, so use caution, but we were desperate.) My daughter still gets headaches, but with an Advil here and there, she’s doing okay. If this were the only prayer God had ever answered, I’d be forever grateful.

While you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. —Acts 4:30

For a year or so, I woke up at night with my arms, face, and chest numb. I got so worried that I went to my doctor and asked if I might have a circulation problem. He assured me that it didn’t sound like a circulation problem but didn’t know what it was. Then, at our annual church picnic in the woods, I stretched my arms up and behind me to try to make my chronically uncomfortable (though not painful) back more comfortable.

CRAAACCCKKK

My spine zipped from the middle all the way to the top. No more discomfort. No more numbness. Thank you worship time. Thank you God!

Social Situations

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. —Psalm 34:17

Okay, this one’s kind of funny. When my daughter was a baby, there was another baby in the nursery who liked to shriek. They weren’t crying, they weren’t being bad, they just liked to shriek. This startled my daughter every time and she bawled uncontrollably.

That’s not the funny part.

Our quaint little old church didn’t have a speaker that worked in the “cry room,” so every week I had to pick up my baby from the nursery and sit outside with her. I felt very disconnected.

So I prayed for God to resolve this situation. I didn’t have the slightest idea how.

About a week later, the parents of the shrieking baby, whose family had attended our church for generations, up and moved across the country. Everyone in our small church was stunned and sad.

I felt a little guilty, and I missed the baby’s super sweet mom, but it’s also kind of funny.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28

I can’t tell you who this prayer is about. All I can tell you is that it’s someone my schedule didn’t allow me to avoid. Anyway, this person drove me absolutely bonkers. We all have people who grate on us, but this is the only person about whom I’ve prayed, “God, You say that all things work for my good. How is this relationship good for me?” I was actually on my knees, which I don’t always bother with. “Am I learning patience?”

You’d think that if God was going to speak to me audibly only three times in 43 years, he’d speak to me about something earth-shattering, but God chose this irritating social situation.

“I’m going to show you how a relationship can change.”

The funny thing is that I wasn’t at all surprised to hear God’s voice, but I WAS surprised at what He said.

So did that relationship change, you might wonder? It did. Maybe not as dramatically as I hoped, but it’s still changing.

Direction

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. —Psalm 32:8

I used to write Christian songs. I have a binder full of songs, most of which no one has heard. Two have been heard by successful Christian artists at songwriting conventions. At the conventions, my songs weren’t among those the clinicians seemed enthused about.

So as I sat on my couch playing barely-passable guitar and scratching out lyrics, I sometimes prayed, “God, is it okay if I spend my time this way? It will seem like such a waste of time if these songs don’t reach the masses or bring in any money for my family. I could be working during these hours or at least cleaning the house.”

I prayed like that a lot. I got discouraged and my songwriting dwindled.

I think I mentioned above that God has spoken aloud to me. Three times. Well this is the one and only time He spoke to someone else about me, that I know of.

My friend Joel approached me at church one Sunday. He said, “I was lying awake last night, the wife was asleep, and God spoke to me and said, ‘Ask Marie when she’s going to write some more songs and when she’s going to bring out the old ones.'”

I immediately started explaining. Again, funny how I didn’t bat an eye about God speaking audibly. It seemed completely ordinary.

“Well I’ve been busy” etc. etc.

“So you DO write songs?”

“Well, yes.” I’d assumed he knew.

“Whew!” he said. “I thought you were going to think I was crazy, but God told me to ask you so I thought I better do it.”

Those kinds of things aren’t coincidences, people! That conversation gave me so much freedom. If I want to devote time to something that doesn’t bring in money and might never amount to anything, I can relax and put my heart into it. Later, when I wanted to write a novel, I remembered Joel and let myself invest the time. And yes, I wrote some new songs.

Also, I thought it was funny that God asked “When” instead of telling Joel to say “Tell Marie to write more songs.”

Thought-Prayers

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. —Matthew 6:8

Sometimes I forget to pray for what I want. There was a time when my husband and I needed to find a new home. Our landlord wanted to move back in to our rental. I had a toddler and a broken toe and we wanted to buy so that we didn’t have to get forced out of a rental yet again and my husband’s public school teacher salary was barely enough to get a loan for a two-bedroom townhouse. It was a seller’s market, and that’s an understatement. Places were going for 30K over asking price the day they went on the market. We were running out of time, and places were getting snatched away from us north and south.

So I probably prayed. I don’t remember exactly. But I DO remember that when our realtor drove us to one townhouse I exclaimed “I used to wish I lived here!” I had not remembered the complex and definitely didn’t pray to live there. I’d only thought it fleetingly years before. I believe in being specific with prayers, but sometimes God hears the specific even when you forget.

We got our keys to that townhouse 8 hours before we had to be out of our rental.

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart. —Psalm 37:4

Before I had my daughter, I taught an after school band program. Then I stayed home with my daughter, and during her toddler years, I remember having the thought, “It would be perfect if I could find a band teaching job during the school day when she goes to first grade.” But I knew that would be hard because I didn’t have a teaching credential, only a music degree.

Then I forgot about that.

In the spring of my daughter’s kindergarten year, a principal called my house. She wanted to know if my husband (a credentialed music teacher) needed a part time school to make his next year’s schedule full time. I have no idea why she thought that (cough cough, God) but I said, “No he doesn’t, but I’ll teach.”

Schools are desperate for part time music teachers, so she basically said “GREAT,” gave me a cursory interview, and off I went. Oh, it was one of the few places that didn’t require a credential, and it was a dream of a school environment. Organic garden, cooperative staff, the works. Deuteronomy 8:18.

Sometimes we forget to put the desires of our heart into a “Dear God, in Jesus’ name” format, but God knows. He always knows.

Abilities

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” —Exodus 4:10-12

God has given me strength in ways that I don’t want to go into in this blog. But here’s a particular instance that’s easy to share, where God helped me be more than I am. I was getting ready for another beginning of the year band parent night. Every year I stammered through my list of vital information, always forgetting something even though it was right there on the list I’d made and stared unseeing at.

In short, I had the same public speaking problem many people had. I didn’t feel like throwing up, but I was far from eloquent and only passably informative.

One night, I LOST MY NOTES minutes before the parent night began. I tore through my trunk, my purse, everywhere. There was so much information to give the parents, and I knew I’d forget half of it. All I could do was pray.

This is one of those answers to prayer that some people would explain away with psychology. But I tell you, no one but an all powerful God could have made me the most comfortable I’d ever been in front of an audience. A switch was flipped, and I was never nervous speaking in front of people again. And I didn’t forget any more information than usual!

Peace

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. —Colossians 3:15

I used to have terrible nightmares.

One night before bed I desperately prayed for peace in my dreams. That night I dreamed that a man at my church handed me an envelope that said “Col. (something I couldn’t remember)” In the dream I thought, “Who’s this colonel the envelope’s addressed to?” But when I woke up I knew the dream referred to the book of Colossians, which is abbreviated Col. and is a letter Paul wrote to the people of Colossae.

I read Colossians over and over. The man in my dream also told me to stay on the worship team, which I made sure to do.

No more nightmares!

Deepest Desires

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7

When my dad was sick, he was so weak that he hardly participated in conversation at family gatherings. At some point I realized that I hadn’t heard him laugh in a very long time. We didn’t know if he was dying, but I remember praying to hear him laugh one more time.

I think my daughter was about to turn four. Not long after that prayer, we were at my parents and she and I were playing Uno on the floor, my dad sitting in a chair a couple feet away. My daughter “shuffled” the cards (have you seen a three-year-old shuffle?) and dealt them, and I got a hand full of one color. “I thought you shuffled these,” I said. She shrugged exaggeratedly. “I KIND of shuffled them.”

My dad, tickled, said “Ha!”

Your Turn

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! —Matthew 7:9-11

Of course I have many more answers to prayer I could list. Some aren’t interesting to read about, some are too personal, some would divulge private information about others, and some, sadly, I know I’ve forgotten. Yes, there have been times when God hasn’t answered a prayer the way I wanted, but many, many more times he has answered in miraculous ways.

I’d love to hear one of your miracles in the comments.

 

Dealbreaker (a song)

I drove through the little town of Penngrove on this hot summer night. When I got home, I wrote this silly song.

There’s a second hand store down in old Penn Grove

And in August when it feels like you’re sittin on a stove

It’s the only place lit red and green with Christmas cheer

They haven’t taken down their lights it’s been half a year

 

On our first date we drive that Penn Grove street

I see those Christmas lights and say “They’re kind of sweet”

I go to squeeze your hand but you are starting to frown

You say “I hate when lazy people don’t take Christmas lights down”

 

It’s a dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it don’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

You can chew your food like a cow chews its cud

You can ditch me for your friends and come home covered in mud

You can leave your dirty clothes in piles on the floor

But I won’t have you humbugging the second hand store

 

It’s a dealbreaker

A dealbreaker

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it doesn’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

So you’re not too bothered by what nazi protesters* did

and you can’t spare twenty dollars for a foster kid

but a Christmas song in April makes you flip your lid

It’s a dealbreaker honey cause it don’t seem right

That you can’t take a little Christmas on a hot summer night

 

*This was supposed to mean nazis who are protesting something. I may have to change it.

Things I Learned When I Decided to Write a Novel

As I format my next novel for CreateSpace and prepare to take an indefinite break from novel-writing, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in the last eight years.

1. People will think you’re writing about yourself no matter how many times you say “It’s fiction.”

2. The rule about getting rid of any unnecessary words can be taken too far.

3. Maybe Nicholas Sparks isn’t so bad after all.

4. Critique groups are a Godsend.

5. Finishing a manuscript isn’t actually that difficult.

6. Rewriting is actually that difficult.

7. Just because your friends who said they wanted to read your manuscript never get around to it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. At least, that’s what you have to tell yourself if you don’t want to cry all the time.

8. Facial expressions are impossible to describe.

9. John Gardner and Sol Stein are the best at writing about writing.

10. Agents are stupid anyway.

11. CreateSpace is awesome.

12. CreateSpace doesn’t put writing on the spine in books under 131 pages.

13. The local bookstore doesn’t sell books with no name on the spine.

14. Just because your friends don’t buy your book doesn’t mean they don’t love you. At least, that’s what you have to tell yourself if you don’t want to kill yourself.

15. It’s neat to hold your own book.

 

Are Women Less Dedicated to the Band?

One of my male musician friends recently listed reasons he thought there might be fewer women in jazz and rock bands. Reasons other than sexism, that is. One of the reasons he listed was that sometimes women might not be as dedicated to the band.

This stuck with me. My intuition was that the same behavior he overlooked from a man he’d see as a black mark on all womanhood. But who knows, right? That’s why this topic is so infuriating. All we can do is suggest that they might have a biased view, and then they say “That’s not true,” and you have no way to prove it.

What I can do is tell you about my weekend.

The last few days have brought record-breaking heat to the Bay Area. A few days before yesterday’s gig, I messaged my band leader and said, “This gig is indoors, right?”

“Indeed,” he responded.

But the day before the gig, the band member who set up the gig mentioned that we’d have “shade.”

Crap.

I don’t do well in the heat. Three hours in a parking lot in 103 degrees and a smoky sky sounded pretty unbearable. I thought about backing out. The worst part was that I’d bailed on our last gig because I got rear ended a couple hours before it and wanted to stay home and make sure my daughter didn’t develop any problems. I found myself not only thinking “I don’t want to seem like I’m not dedicated,” but “I don’t want women to seem like they’re not dedicated.” This is a well-documented problem. Basically if you’re not a white man, you’re saddled with this ridiculous notion that you represent the whole group, whatever your group may be.

Anyway, I showed up. It was unpleasant. Most of the people who came to the event crowded into the small air conditioned tasting room, and the few who sat outside were too weak from heat to raise their wet-noodle arms to applaud. We joked about putting recordings of applause through the speakers. I said some delirious things and probably played some delirious notes. We sold one CD and got one five dollar tip. One woman told us we were troopers. I had a headache the rest of the day. Thank God the band leader set up a mist fan in front of me and the guy subbing in the band brought a giant bottle of water to share.

Subbing? Why did we need a sub, you ask? Oh. One of the guys backed out of the gig.

Dog Poop in Crissy Field Saves America

This post is part of a series about things that are saving America for me.

Yesterday I was in a huge funk. No one was buying my books, I wasn’t awarded the grant I wanted for my jazz class, a white supremacist had recently killed a young woman in Charlottesville, and Trump was still president. A huge funk is probably an understatement, but let’s not go into that.

I’d heard that some right wingers were coming to Crissy Field, a park in San Francisco. Since right wingers don’t really need to rally because they control the executive branch, the legislative branch, and soon the judicial branch, we all know what the rally really is.

Enter artist Lil Tuffy (Tuffy Tuffington on Facebook) and his event “Leave your dog poop on Crissy Field.” 400 people planned to attend the event the day before the rally and let their dogs poop, not cleaning it up until after the rally. I live too far away to participate, but we commenters had a grand time describing the food we’d feed our dogs that morning and imagining Nazis stepping in a pile, being disgusted, and taking another step right into another pile. It seemed the perfect solution. No one had to be at the rally and endanger themselves, but our disgust would be known to the “right wingers” and, when they got home, their mothers.

Soon, people started to comment about the sanitation problem. Some were easily unveiled as anti-leftist trolls, but some were simply San Franciscans concerned about disease. Talk about party poopers. Friends, our country is at a crossroads. Can we all lighten up and imagine a slippy, slidey, poopfest to take our minds off of the seriousness of it all?

I wonder if this is part of Lil Tuffy’s performance art. Watching a hilarious idea get shit on while the Klan removes its mask and the EPA gets gutted. By all means, let’s not let our dog poop sit overnight. That might ruin America.

Well, thanks Tuffy. America was saved for me today if only for a little while.