I had every intention of following up my Valentine’s Day post with another book giveaway, but things in Spangler land took a sad turn that evening. My family and I had to make an unexpected trip to Illinois to say goodbye to my father-in-law who passed away last Thursday. The next few days were spent grieving and going through the funeral process. We are home now, but we are still sad and exhausted. My father in law, Harry was a good man, a loving father, and a doting grandfather. In 16 years I never heard him say a cross word to anyone. He brought so much warmth to everyone he met.
We will all miss him terribly, and we would welcome both your prayers and your patience along that road to recovery.
One of the ways our family is starting to move forward is by staying busy. We’re also making an effort to spend time with people and on activities that bring us joy. Thankfully my work provides me with plenty of opportunities for both. One thing that made me smile this morning is that Bold Strokes Books has put my first two Darlington Romances on sale to help folks who just found Close To Home catch up on the earlier books in the collection. For 24 hours (from 10am Feb 21 until 10am Feb 22) you can get The Long Way Home and Timeless in ebook for $4.99. This is really awesome of them. I know my move to Bywater set the gossip mill spinning, but I continue to be proud of how strong my relationship has stayed with my BSB friends and colleagues. Their continued support both personally and professionally is yet another powerful reminder of how many good people there are in this business.
I also want to share the results of the online survey where I asked you all to tell me what kinds of blogs you’d like to see surrounding the release of Close To Home. By far the most popular option was “Stories behind the stories” type blogs with 80% of respondents clicking that box, so I promise to start working on that right away. More than 45% of you also said you’d be interested in a video recorded reading from the books, and just over 40% said you’d like a question and answer blog series so stay tuned for those in the coming weeks as well.
Finally, 50% of the survey respondents said the blog they’d most like to see here are book give aways, so let’s go ahead and do one of those right now!
In honor of my father-in-law, who despite his man health issues always had a smile and hug and a kind word for everyone please comment below, and tell me about someone who left a legacy of joy and love in your own life. It doesn’t have to be long, just a name or a short description, and you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of Close To Home, or an ebook copy of any one of my books.
I’ll pick a winner in a few days!
Anyone ever wonder why this is the only holiday with the name initials as an STD? Ponder that for a while.
First of all let’s kick off this holiday with presents! After compiling a list of everyone who commented on this blog here and on my various social media outlets we pulled a winner out of a randomized list and that winner is Ona Marae! And while we’re at it I never heard from last week’s winner Declan Smith. So Ona and Declan shoot me an email or hit me up on social media so I can get you your books.
And now for a present for the rest of you…Valentines Day Sales abound! Bywater is running 25% off all romances with the code BeMine. You can see their full list of romance titles here http://www.bywaterbooks.com/product-category/genre/romance/
I am all about romantic love. I have written 10+ books on the subject. But that being said, I like a holiday that celebrates love in the broadest sense. And there are so many kinds of love worth celebrating.
I celebrated my love for my son with pink, heart pancakes and Legos and extra Pokémon hunting.
I celebrated my love for my wife with steak and cherry pie.
I celebrated my love for my fellow humans in need by reaching out to several of them, offering help with meals and transportation and hugs.
Now I want to celebrate my love for some awesome people who helped restore some of my faith this week by their showing love to some kids they will never meet. I think that’s my favorite kind of love.
Over a month ago, a movie called Hidden Figures came out, featuring some amazing African-American women who changed the course of history via the space program. I was so excited to see it, but after a couple weeks of waiting, I began to fear that our local theater wouldn’t show the film. My initial instinct was to go to Buffalo, because that’s where we often have to go to see high-quality films, but instead I just shot the theater a quick note on Facebook asking if they intended to show Hidden Figures. They immediately wrote back, saying they had no intention of doing so. Instead of letting it go (I’ve been more politically persistent lately) I told them I always try to support local businesses, but if they didn’t show qualify films, they would force us to go elsewhere.
Then several of my friends (many of them in pink hats) began to pepper the theater with similar comments, talking about how important the film was and how much money it was making. The theater reps said it wasn’t up to them. Their corporate office made the call on which movies to show. We asked them to please put a little pressure on them, and much to my surprise, they came back three days later and said after a lengthy discussion with their headquarters, they had been granted the right to show Hidden Figures for one week.
That was my victory. I was happy. I made a Facebook event for all my friends to go see it, and then in sort of a last-ditch bit of goodwill, I mentioned that if anyone knew of a kid or two who would benefit from learning about these amazing women they should bring them along, and I’d cover their tickets.
The response was overwhelming, and not in the ways I could have predicted. Within minutes I was getting messages from amazing readers and friends wanting to donate money to the cause. I was kind of taken aback. I didn’t think I had a cause, but within 48 hours, people had pledged several hundreds of dollars for students I hadn’t even located. By the next week the fund was over $1,000, and I was frantically contacting teachers I knew at local schools, trying to find someone to use the money for their kids.
Three days before the movie opened, I didn’t have a single kid in line and I was kind of freaking out, because I hadn’t really intended to try to organize a mass lesson plan. Then a friend from a local middle school called and said his school had agreed to pay for a bus if the theater could do a matinee showing. I checked with the theater, and they not only agreed, they offered to let all the students in for the kid’s price, the lowest one their system could handle. Then they one-upped that and said they would even extend the offer to any high school and middle school students for the entire run of the film, no matter if they came with a class or not.
By that afternoon the school I’d talked to said so many kids wanted to go that they were sending TWO busses. Another local middle school called to say they had approved a bus for some of their most vulnerable kids. Then I ran into a teacher at the store who said she was bringing her special ed class as well. The next day a middle school teacher from Jackson’s school emailed to say she was going to send out fliers to all her students, offering to meet them at the theater on Saturday to chaperone them through the screening. Then a high school teacher did the same thing for an evening showing.
Whew, all I wanted to do was see an important movie, but by the time it was all said and done, 180 kids had seen the show. What’s more impressive to me, though, is that I never asked for a penny! These readers and friends of mine were so generous, they had a fundraiser of their own good will for kids they have never met, at schools they didn’t go to, and in a town they will likely never visit. Without a single call for funds or any sort of public panhandling or coordinated effort, people quietly gave $1370. In fact, I had so many offers to cover tickets I turned away a few because we had so much more than we needed, but people kept coming out of the woodwork, wanting to help.
So here’s a quick accounting of the money, because aside from being blown away by everyone’s generosity, I’m also very humbled that you all would entrust me with this much cash!
$1370 raised. I was able to buy tickets for $180 students at $6.50 apiece, leaving $199 left over.
After talking to the teachers I worked with, we have decided to spend the leftover money buying copies of Hidden Figures, both in movie and book form for all of the local schools and libraries so students can keeping engaging the story for years to come.
First of all I want to thank you, all of you who donated money or offered to donate money or helped to spread the world or nudged me toward a much greater action than I’d initially wanted to take on. Your acts of love inspired me to believe in the goodness of people again. At a time when I was really down and angry, you all showed me the amazing love flowing through this community, and I am so humbled to be counted among you.
But I’m just one person and you all touched so much more than me and my friends. You helped 180 kids in so much more than just seeing a film. You let them see themselves in a positive light, you let them see that they can be anything, you helped them see beyond their own small-town perspective, you let them see what can be accomplished when good people come together. Most of all, though, you made sure they know that people care about them and want them to succeed. And you don’t have to to take my word for it, because the students themselves have reached out to tell you.
You guys were the change for these kids this month. I love you all, and that’s a big thing for me to celebrate this VD!
The continued outpouring of support for Close to Home is blowing my mind. This is the most feedback I have ever gotten from any of my books, and I know I owe that to all you who gave it a chance after the whole early release issues. Every time I hear from a reader I am overwhelmed with gratitude that you allow me to tell our stories for a living.
To show my appreciation I’ve got two things going for you. First is the reader appreciation survey at https://www.quicksurveys.com/TolunaAnalytics/Report/1358389 It only takes two minutes to fill out so if you haven’t done so yet, please let me know how to give back to you in ways that make you feel the love!
Second, I want to give you a chance to win free books! This week, since we’re talking about a Darlington Romance, why don’t you comment here or on social media about your favorite Darlington character or moment? And if you haven’t read any of the Darlington Romances (The Long Way Home, Timeless, or Close To Home) then you can just mention a character from any of my books.
I’ll prick a winner at random next week, and that person will receive an autographed copy of Close To Home or an ebook copy of any of my other novels.
Thanks again, and happy weekend reading!
Just a quick note to remind you I still have my reader survey up and running. If you haven’t had a chance yet to make your voice heard, please do so. I am listing!
And now, I had several requests to see my sermon from last Sunday so I am going to post it here. If you’re not a sermon type of person go ahead and focus on the survey. I will not be offended at all. This one is addressed specifically to those people who claim to walk in faith, because that’s who the scripture is addressed to. I was preaching to the choir if you will.
The lectionary reading this week was from Isiah 58. If you haven’t read it recently it’s worth a refresher because it’s so good. It comes from the prophet Isiah talking to God’s chosen people and telling them they are not living lives of true worship. I found the message especially fitting right now. So here’s what I had to say about it.
P.S. These are my unpolished notes. I’m sure the commas are in all the wrong places and there are plenty of typos, but this was only ever written to be preached aloud.
It’s no too late to turn this car around
Have I ever mentioned I went to a Southern Baptist School while growing up in Florida? I did. The pastor there looked vaguely like Jimmy Johnson the football coach, with these big rosy cheeks and slicked back sliver hair and he has the most powerful voice. It could be low and smooth and then ratcheted up to boom out his points from the pulpit, and of course every prayer was delivered in the evangelical fashion with a thick southern drawl.
“Jesus, we just wanna thank you Jesus….”
As a kid I loved to listen to him talk. As an adolescent I learned that the message wasn’t always one of love. As I reached adulthood I learned I wasn’t welcome in those circles at all. They had all the trappings of a powerful ministry without any of the love worth worshiping. I haven’t been back in a Southern Baptist church since then. I’ve been blessed to be part of so many other more welcoming denominations with much kinder theology, but I will admit to occasionally missing the style of charismatic preaching I witnessed early on. I’ve often wished for the chance to combine those two worlds and see some of that fire and brimstone passion paired with a radially loving message.
Then two weeks ago, the day after the inauguration, I checked on my lectionary reading for this week. In my Bible at home the first line of the passage from Isaiah reads “Shout out, do not hold back. Lift your voice like a trumpet, proclaim to my people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins.”
Whewee. I could feel that old fire and brimstone a stirring in my veins. Do not hold back…proclaim to my people their rebellion. They seek me daily and delight to know my ways as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.”
In this passage God is really ripping in to people who claim to follow him. He’s talking through the prophet Isaiah directly to his chosen people saying, They delight in my ways as if they were a nation that actually did what I told them to do.
And then God goes on to imitate the people of Israel and their whining. “Why have we fasted and you don’t see it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you take no knowledge of it?”
Then God plays both sides of the conversation booming back, “Behold! In the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers…You fast only to quarrel and to fight. Fasting like this will not make your voice heard on high.”
In other words, you pretend like you’re doing these things for, me but you’re just using your religion as a chance to fight with each other and oppress the people below you. God is blasting the people who claim to follow him and saying in no uncertain terms that while they might say the right things and it might even look like they are doing the right things on the surface, God sees through it. God is not interested in their empty words or gestures. God could care less that these people are fasting and praying. He tells them point blank that none of those things will make their voices heard in heaven.
And let’s be clear these fasts the people are taking part in do not sound like fun. God admits the people go without food, that they wear sackcloth, that they lay on ashes. That’s not messing around. That’s not a quick Our Father or bowing your head before a meal. I think most of us who saw someone starving themselves and rolling around in ashes while wearing only sack cloth we would say that person is pretty serious about their faith.
But God is not amused.
He asks them, is that the fast I chose? Is that the day is that is acceptable to the Lord?
Clearly this is a rhetorical question for the people of Israel at this point. Right?
It sort of reminds me of when I was little and my grandpa would take us to Disney World. He’d pile all the grandkids into the back of the station wagon at five am, and drive us across the state for hours. It never failed, by the time we neared the parking lot, we’d all start to get twitchy. Someone looked at someone wrong, someone leaned too far into someone else’s space. Then the kicking would start and before long everyone was pushing everyone else. Right around the time we saw signs for Disney Grandpa would pull the station wagon over and say, “It is not too late to turn this car around! Do you want to go home?”
We did not want to go home. We did not have to tell him that. He was clearly offering us the keys to the Magic Kingdom, and we didn’t want to miss out. We would all sit a little straighter in our seats while he then gave us the talk about the rules for getting through the gate. “No running off, no grabbing things without asking, help the littler kids, hold hands, don’t pester your brother. You’re at Mickey’s house for Godsakes, behave yourselves.”
I kind of hear my Grandpa’s voice in this passage from Isaiah as God says, “Is this the fast I chose?”
Clearly for the people of Israel the answer is no.
So then God lays out the ground rules for them to get it right.
Is not the fast I that I choose to loose the bonds or wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke.
Is it not to share your own bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless and poor into your house, to give clothes to the naked, and not to hide yourself from them.
Those are the terms for being God’s people.
God has already taken them out of slavery in Egypt and still they doubt Him.
God has led them through the dessert and still the broke Her commandments.
God has given them a land they can call home, a land they can be proud of, and yet they refuse to love their neighbors the way God has loved them.
God has given them prophets to show them God’s way, and they reject them in favor of mindless religious rituals.
God has led these people right up to the doors of the Kingdom, but God will not push them inside.
God is done accepting their devotion a religious order, to ancient traditions, to personal sacrifice. God has had it up to here with them, and now he’s letting them know that their prayers will no longer be heard unless they first answer the call of the least among them.
Jesus, I just wanna thank you Jesus…
Folks, this is God’s equivalent of “It’s not too late to turn this car around.”
To truly follow God they have to feed the poor, they have to shelter the homeless, they have to welcome the stranger, and free every person from the yoke of oppression.
God says, then and only then will the light break forth like the dawn. Only then will their prayers for healing be answered. Only then can they call on God and have God say “Here I am.”
The passage says “Only if you pour yourself our for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted will the Lord satisfy your desires. Only then can you restore the breach.”
Think about that.
Only when you satisfy the desires of the afflicted…Only then will you be worthy to bridge the divide between who you are and who God has called you to be.
This is God’s fire and brimstone passion being used to deliver a radical message of love.
Sometimes I wonder if that Southern Baptist minister I grew up listening to ever read this passage. I wonder if our politicians have? I wonder if the average, every-day American has. Mostly though I wonder if most Christians have really heard this passage. Because that’s ultimately who the passage is addressed to. God is talking to the people who claim to follow Him. God is talking to the kids in the back of his station wagon, because we are the ones standing at the gates to the kingdom and asking to be let in.
We are the ones asking God for help, asking for guidance, asking where God is in this world we’re living in. So in return we are the ones who must first answer God’s question, “Is this the fast I chose?”
And in our case the question is not rhetorical. It is not limited to any one day or any religious act. It is the question being whispered to us every minute, in every encounter, on every issue. The questions is not who did you vote for, the question is not what party you are a member of, the question is not what church do you go to, or what prayer did you last pray.
The question is whether or not at every opportunity, with every chance to act, did you side with the poor? Did you feed the hungry? Did you welcome the stranger? Did you invite the homeless into your house? Did you do everything in your power to break the bonds of oppression wherever they may be found?
Brothers and Sister do we choose the fast of our own glory, or do we choose the one God asked of us? Are we living a faith worthy of being heard on high?
I don’t have the answers for everyone. At the end of the day I’m not really a fire and brimstone preacher. I do not presume to know enough to tell other people what’s in their hearts. I can only try to use my own voice to echo the questions God asks in this passage. I can ask them of my representatives, of my neighbors, and of church and I can ask them in the mirror every morning.
But only you can answer them for yourselves, and I encourage us all to do so every single day, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it’s never too late to turn this car around.
I am starting the week off right by giving away a FREE book.
Thank you to all of you who commented on my last blog, either here or on social media. I read and appreciated every single one. Once again, you all bolstered my faith in this awesome community and made me want to give back.
So first thing this morning we picked Declan Smith’s name out of the metaphorical hat, and Declan is going to receive a free, autographed copy of Close To Home, or an ebook copy of any one of my previous books.
But it hardly seems right to do just one give-away when so many awesome people reached out to offer their support after the whole early release debacle, so I’ve decided to do one give-away every week for the month of February! Stay tuned to this blog for more info and extra chances to win.
But wait, there’s more! Since I really love interacting with y’all, I’m always looking for new ways to do so, and I figure, what better way to find out how you want to be interacted with than to ask you? So, I’ve created this poll for you all to weigh in on some ideas I had, and you can add your own. Let me know which ones you’re most interested in, and I’ll do them in the coming weeks!
I’ll leave the survey open for one week, so lay it on me, and then please share widely!
The title says so much of what I am feeling today. The outpouring of support after my last blog has been amazing. You have commented and emailed and shared the post on Facebook and bought copies of Close to Home and left some wonderful reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Mostly, though, you have tugged at all my heartstrings with your messages of love.
I can’t tell you how good it feels after 10 days of worrying and waiting to finally wake up to such an emotional turn-around. I’m so proud to be part of such a beautiful and caring community. I hope you all know I don’t take my responsibility to you lightly. I will never forget the love you have shown my family over the last few days.Thanks to all of you, Close to Home jumped into the top 25 of Lesbian Fiction on Amazon. Thanks to you, I feel like my hard work is going to be seen by the people I wrote it for. Thanks to you, I’m breathing easier about my family’s financial forecast. Thanks to you, I feel connected to something bigger once again.
And thanks to you, I popped the cork on the bottle of bubbly I didn’t get to enjoy the first time around. My wife and I were so bolstered by your wonderful responses, we decided to have a “do-over” on the release of Close To Home, on the actual release date, and because you all were such a part of that moment for me, I wanted to share some totally nerdy feel-good photos of that celebration with all of you.
First up, the guests of honors arrived, finally. Getting the book box never gets old.
There’s the new baby, with the proud mama. Isn’t that Ann McMan cover beautiful?
And now for the celebration to begin. Why yes, yes, that is pink moscato, and don’t even mention taking my butch card. You can have it. I’m gender fluid, and I like pink champagne!
And because I love you, and I feel like you rewarded my honesty and openness in the last blog, I am going to continue that streak by showing you this picture, too!
Go ahead and laugh, but you all know this is the face you make when opening champagne. It is hard and frightening. That’s what makes it fun!
Also the drinking-it-part is fun, because I’m someone who drinks only 3 or 4 times a year max, so one pretty glass was more than enough to make me profess my undying love to all of you for making this do-over celebration so fantastically happy for me.
So here’s to all of you wonderful readers. I couldn’t have done it without you. Cheers!
Seriously, though, you give me so much more than I can ever give you. I promise to take your votes of confidence with me into my next book and the next one and the next one. I have already pledged to give you all 8 books in the next four years, but I promise not to let up on that promise.
And in the meantime, one thing I can offer you (since the book box finally arrived) is a chance to win a free, autographed copy of Close to Home! Just comment below or on my Facebook for your chance to win a free copy of Close to Home, or if you already have that one, a free ebook copy of any one of my 10 books!
I’ll let Jackson pick the winner on Monday.