Wonder Boi Writes

GCLS 2017 Recap

I know I haven’t blogged in ages, and I have lots of excuses for that, but they are mostly boring, so let’s skip that part and say I’m sorry as we move on to what I’ve been up to!

As usual, the Spangler family has been in full travel mode this summer with trips to Kansas city (Susie’s work), Chicago (my work), Lake Puslinch, Canada (family), and Central Illinois (family).

I won’t bore you with all the work and family details, but I’ll show you this picture of my adorable nephew because I love to show him off,

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and this one of my nephew kissing Jackson because I love how much they love each other.

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Now I will put on my author hat and update you on my trip to the Golden Crown Literary Society’s annual conference, because that was both work and play at the same time.

There are so many reasons why I love attending the GCLS con each year, and this year was no exception. Between readings and workshops and book talks, I went non-stop for days.  Some of the highlights of my official responsibilities in Chicago were two fantastic panels I got to be a part of.

The first was a panel in which authors of faith talked about our experiences being gay in our faith communities,  our experiences of being people of faith in the gay community, and how that lens affects who we are as artists. The panel consisted of Nell Stark, Georgia Beers, Alison Solomon, Rachel Gold, and myself. Aurora Rey moderated.  I know I’m probably biased, but I thought the conversation was open, frank, and affirming, both on behalf of my fellow panelists and the audience members. The feedback we got from other conference attendees suggested this topic is one we should be exploring a lot more in our communities.

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The other panel I got to take part in was on the editorial relationship, alongside Melissa Brayden, Georgia Beers, Susan X Meager, and the woman brave enough to edit all four of us, Lynda Sandoval.  Nikki Smalls was the moderator crazy enough to moderate.  This panel was tons of fun as we focused less on the nuts and bolts of editing craft, and more on the types of relationships that lead to productive teamwork between authors and editors.  Also, we laughed a lot, which might, in fact, be one of those relationship keys!

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Then in addition to my author work at the conference, I also got to wear my social media director hat as I interacted with my wonderful Bywater colleagues. We have occasionally joked that trying to wrangle everyone’s events and social media accounts while juggling my own author appearances on- and offline is like herding cats, but thankfully someone snapped this great picture to show what that job actually looks like in action.

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Seriously, if anyone ever asks me to come in for career day, I’m just going to send them this picture.  So much love and joy and smile-for-the-camera and gentle redirections that could turn into chiropractic adjustments if need be.

The last of my must-do’s for the conference every year is the annual awards ceremony.  I have been honored to present awards to my fellow authors for several years in a row.  This year I got to be part of the crew that presented a Goldie to my awesome friend and role mode KG MacGregor for her book Trial By Fury.

Then, shockingly enough, I ended up back on the stage after I won one of the contemporary romance awards for Perfect Pairing.  I would like to say that I made a dramatic and moving acceptance speech; however, as it had been so long since I’d won anything, I stopped writing acceptance speeches a couple of years ago.  And in my excitement, I think I managed to bumble through only a short bit of thanks that went something along the lines of Jesus, Bywater, Susie, Jackson and the GCLS readers. Not my finest moment, but I did get my picture taken with the famously awesome Susan X. Meager, who also won a Goldie in the Romance Category.

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Side note: Susan and I are both from neighboring, tiny towns in Central Illinois, so two-thirds of the  romance winners that night were from the same 15-mile stretch of farmland where they grow corn, beans, and apparently, lesbian authors!

I also got to share my awards-night fun with my friend and Bywater colleague Ann McMan, who won the prestigious Director’s Award for all the amazing graphic design work she does in service of the organization.  Here we are with our Bywater management team, Marianne K. Martin, Salem West, and Kelly Smith.

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From there on out it was fun and friends as we danced the night away! What follows is a few of my favorite photos from the rest of the conference.

Here’s a shot of me with my Bywater buddies. Isn’t that an awesome group of kick-ass women?

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And of course there’s my besties, Melissa Brayden and Georgia Beers, because it wouldn’t be a party without them.

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This one is with my friend Jane. She won the first dance with me via the author auction, though by next year I suspect I’ll have to pay to dance with her, because I hear she’s got a book of her own in the works.

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And here’s me having selfie time with the epic Nikki Smalls, who is not just a fun friend to dance with, she’s also a member of the all-volunteer board of directors who helps make GCLS the smashing success that we know and love.

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And while we’re on selfies, here another, this time with one of my all time favorite funny women, Fay Jacobs, who writes not only hilarious memoirs, but also a fantastic one-woman show called Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay.

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One more selfie with the Dirt Road Books crew.  If you don’t know them, you need to be sure to check them out at https://www.dirtroadbooks.com.

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Finally, one of my favorite photographs ever (thanks Brenda Barton!) is of me, Nikki, Georgia Beers, and Jackson all saying goodbye.

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Someone also took a picture of Georgia and I crying while Jackson hugged us both, but this one has smiles, so let’s leave it here until we’re all together again for GCLS 2018…in Vegas, baby!

 

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August 9, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Da Capo al Fine – Guest blog by Ann McMan

Hey Friends,

Today my good friend Ann McMan has done me the honor of writing a guest blog about her new release, Goldenrod and her journey back to Jericho! What follows are her unedited words, so read on, but when you’re done, be sure to click one of the many links to take you to your own copy of Goldenrod.

Da Capo al Fine – Guest blog by Ann McMan

Many years ago, the great Joni Mitchell commented on one of the frustrations that dogged her throughout her career as a songwriter. She talked about how fans would clamor for her to keep telling the same stories or writing the same kinds of songs—and she marveled at how this repetitive feedback was absent from her work as an artist. “A painter does a painting and he does a painting,” she said. “Somebody buys it and hangs it on some wall someplace. Or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft until he dies . . . but nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man.’ He painted it. That was it.”

Six years ago, under cover of darkness, I stuck my toe into the world of writing and hammered out an ambitious and meandering work of fiction called Jericho. Never in my wildest dreams—and believe me, some of them were genuinely wild—could I have imagined the success of that first foray into lesbian literature. Jericho took flight and found a home in the hearts of many devoted readers. I was and am happy about this, of course—but that quirky success arrived all wrapped-up with a shiny new set of hopes and expectations—often expressed energetically—that the story of Maddie and Syd would go on. And on. Forever and ever. Amen.

It reminded me of that iconic Xerox copier commercial where a solitary monk painstakingly illuminates a manuscript. When it’s finished, he bundles it up and scurries along the cloister to deliver the prized original to the Abbot—who examines the beautifully crafted text before handing it back to the monk, saying, “I’d like 10,000 copies, please.”

Cue pique, umbrage and ennui—what Ursula Le Guin called the “French diseases of the soul.”

Did readers really want me to write another Jericho?

Yeppers. There might have been energetic disagreement about climate change—but the answer to this question was a big ole 10-4.

So, I wrote a sequel. Aftermath. And I attempted due diligence by crafting a story that took the characters deeper and wider (I paid attention during Sunday school) than the original narrative. I pushed them for greater depth—and I pushed myself to be a better steward of their stories. I paid attention to things like structure and pacing, and I routinely snapped my fingers or clapped my hands to keep us all focused on the roadmap of our journey together. At the end, we all arrived at our destination mostly unscathed. Or so I thought.

Enter the voices. Again.

“What happens to Henry?”

I got this question a lot.

It even cropped-up one night as I was en route to the restroom at one of our favorite restaurants in town, Sweet Potatoes (which provided the inspiration for Nadine Odell and the Midway Café). Imagine my surprise. I lead a pretty incognito existence here in The Tar Heel State.

If you’ve ever gone camping you know the hazards that exist if you start mucking around in the embers of a dying fire. Will it refuse to cooperate unless you douse it with a quart of Gulf-Lite? Or will it flare up and singe your eyebrows? Will it flash and take off, leaving broad swaths of scorched earth in its wake? Or, as my dour mother always warned, will messing with it just make you wet the bed?

These things matter.

Dire warnings aside, I took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge. I found a big stick and started mucking around in the embers of a place called Jericho. Enter Goldenrod, book three in the Jericho series. Was it terrifying? You bet it was. Would the characters be willing to sit up and start talking? Who knew? And if they did, would what they had to say be worth hearing?

You’ll have to be the judge of that.

Suffice it to say that after a bit of prodding, talk they did. And oh boy, did that little pastiche of pastoral protagonists have some grand stories to tell. It quickly became apparent that Maddie and Syd had been hoarding ideas. And we got to hear from some new voices, too—notably, Buddy and Dorothy—who, along with little Henry, now occupy the narrative epicenter of this writer’s heart. Is it wrong or arrogant for me to say I love them—and that I’m grateful they trusted me with their stories?

I hope not.

If you do me the honor of reading Goldenrod, I hope you’ll let me know . . .

Oh. And in case my mother asks—I haven’t wet the bed yet.

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June 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Podcast Fun

Hey Folks,

I’m just here to spread a little bit of Friday fun for you.  Last week I got to chat with Tara Scott about one of my favorite things…books! Les Do Books gives authors a chance to just be readers for a little bit and I had a blast with.  The podcast is pretty safe for work and it’s even short enough to fit most lunch breaks, so go ahead and give it a listen to hear about three books I love!

http://www.thelesbiantalkshow.com/les-books-rachel-spangler-talks-lesbian-fiction/

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May 12, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Big news!

Hey Folks,

I’m super excited about this announcement, so I’m not even going to make you wait for it.

My first audiobook just came out!  *Squee*

You can now get The Long Way Home in audio form from Amazon/Audible or iTunes.

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You can even hear an audio excerpt of it right here.

This is a big deal for me for a couple reasons.

1) I just really like audio books. My family and I travel a lot, and one of the ways we like to stay awake/engaged with each other on the long car trips is by listening to audio books. We’ve heard some gripping tales as of late, and I love the thought of someone getting to meet Beth and Rory while on a journey of their own.

2) My son is super impressed about this. He’s told all his friends, and he even told my doctor yesterday. As I mentioned, our family listens to a lot of audio books, and he loves them. I think he’s excited to think I’m on par with some of his favorite authors (shhh don’t tell him Rick Riordan sells a lot more audiobooks than I do), and I’m excited to think something I do still excites him. He’s quickly reaching the stage where his friends are way cooler than his moms, so I’m going to take all the wins I can get right now.

3) And this is by far the biggest one for me, at GCLS last year I challenged our community to do more for underserved populations, and one of the groups I highlighted was readers with impaired vision. Women who were born blind or are dealing with failing vision due to heath or age have too often been denied easy access to our work. Thankfully we have moved into an era when audio technology is more readily available than ever before. Our community needs to make it a priority to use it. Lesbian books have always been a lifeline for me, and I want to share that with as many people as possible. I’m grateful to Bold Strokes Books for giving me the opportunity to reach those women who haven’t previously been welcomed fully into our lesfic community.

And the best news is, The Long Way Home is just the beginning!  I recently signed a contract with BSB to have EVERY one of my releases with them made into audiobooks.  Next up is Timeless, so stay tuned to this blog for more information on the next audio installment of the Darlington romances!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll support this project by going and getting your own audio copy of The Long Way Home today.

 

April 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Love Is Growing Up – Paula Martinac Guest Blog

Hi friends,

I have a treat for you today. As most of you who follow this blog know, I write romance.  I am fascinated by the transformative power love has to shape our lives and how we view the world around us. I also happen to be in love. I was blessed to meet the love of my life at a young age and we’ve been a couple for 15 years. So it follows naturally that I field a lot of requests to write a long-term couple in my books. Now I’m not opposed to the idea in theory, but it’s yet to happen for me, but you know who has managed to write a beautiful book featuring a long term couple?  My friend and Bywater Books colleague, Paula Martinac!  Her new release, The Ada Decades, is an fantastic look at the type of couple our community has been aching for. I’m so impressed with Paula’s ability to weave such a powerful and timely love story I asked her to stop by the blog today and tell you a little bit about it.

So without further ado, here’s Paula.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Rachel Spangler for welcoming me here to Wonder Boi Writes! I’m a fan of her Lammy-nominated romance, Perfect Pairing. (In fact, I get hungry just thinking about it…) Rachel invited me to introduce you to my new novel, The Ada Decades, which follows a lesbian couple over the course of almost 50 years.

I’m a history nerd, and LGBT history is my particular passion. Call me weird (or maybe voyeuristic), but I like to imagine how women in the past found each other and created lives together. I met my wife at the L.U.S.T. Conference (as in, Lesbians Undoing Sexual Taboos), so there was no ambiguity for us! But how did lesbians of the past meet and indicate their interest in each other, without the benefit of a lesbian community?

That was one of the jumping-off points for my first novel, Out of Time, and it played a big role again in The Ada Decades, which I describe as a love story. At the start, there’s the romantic meeting of Ada and Cam, two women in their early 20s who work as a librarian and teacher in a North Carolina public school in 1957. They click, even though Ada – who has never been sexually involved with anyone, man or woman – doesn’t know what to make of their connection. They begin “dating” without being able to call it that, then cautiously express their love and eventually decide to embark on a life together.

And then comes the “long-term” part. As an epigraph for the novel, I chose a James Baldwin quote: “Love is a growing up.” Along with all the good times, Ada and Cam hit rocky patches that test their relationship, obstacles that many long-term couples, both gay and straight, encounter: problems with parents, trouble at work, jealousy over old loves, differences of belief, money matters, and the reality of “in sickness and in health.”

The writing of this novel was very immediate to me, even though Ada and Cam belong to the pre-Stonewall generation. I’m in a 25-year relationship, so my wife and I have encountered our own share of struggles over time. Writing about growing up and into a relationship came naturally.

Still, there was the difficulty of trying to understand challenges I haven’t personally faced, like working in the same place as your partner but having to hide your relationship because if people knew, you’d be fired. I thought a lot about how being in the closet didn’t have to define a relationship – how lesbians who couldn’t live openly could still create their own “families” and cultures of choice.

When Ada reaches eighty, she finds it perplexing that a younger generation of lesbians considers her a role model and hero. I write in the novel, “She had never thought about her life, or Cam’s, in that way…. They had just gotten by as best they could and been thankful for the years they had together.” For me, their love story is that they stick it out and make it work – and all before our community obtained the legal right to marry.

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March 22, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Story Behind The Story: Kelly

First of all, let’s kick things off with a book giveaway. Last week, in honor of my father-in-law, I asked you all to leave a comment mentioning a person who left a legacy of love and joy in your own life, and I got some great responses.  So I randomized them and picked a winner.  Melinda won a free, signed copy of Close To Home or an ebook of any of my other novels.  Melinda, please shoot me a quick email (Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com) with your details.

Now, on with the show. When I did my survey a few weeks ago, 80% of you said the types of blogs you most want to read here are ones that feature “the stories behind the stories,” so that’s what I plan to do here, and I want to start with Kelly.

Kelly has probably had the biggest evolution of any character I’ve ever written (though Nic from Does She Love You? would win a lot of votes in that category, too).  Kelly has quite an arc from the first time I ever met her in the opening chapters of The Long Way Home.  This is hard to do without spoilers, but as I started writing her, I couldn’t stand her.  I’m not sure why I didn’t like her. Maybe I felt like I needed a villain in this story.  Or maybe I was mad at people like her, people who conformed and hid and fed into the small-town status quo when people like me (Or should it be “people like Raine”?) were out there fighting an uphill battle everyday.  Then in one of those chicken-or-egg type of artist tussles, I made her look like, and to a certain extent sound like, someone I hadn’t gotten along with in high school.  I’m still not sure if I wrote a villain and made her similar to  my high school foe, or if I wrote someone like my high school foe and turned her into a villian.

The Long Way HomeThrough much of the first draft of The Long Way HomeKelly was irredeemable. I poured on her all of my residual frustration at everyone who ever followed the rules at the expense of another human being.  I made her sharp and unreasonable, and most of all, one dimensional.  Then came a scene in which she’s lost.  She sees something she always knew would happen come to fruition, and she’s hurt and angry, but she still does what’s right, at least in her own mind.  I never intended it, but she, in her own way, became the one person who could hold up the mirror to our protagonist.  It was just one scene, one little shift, and honestly she didn’t change much in that moment so much as the moment revealed part of her I hadn’t understood before.  She was no longer the person who just said mean things. She was a person who asked hard questions.

Then the unthinkable happened. My beta readers felt sorry for her, because my beta readers are good people who saw a humanity in her I wasn’t willing to admit to yet. Then my editor cut two scenes Kelly had been a big part of and asked me to incorporate the aspects of her that had been cut into other scenes.  I had to go back and take a look at Kelly as I’d initially written her, but with new understanding of her as important, as sympathetic, as human.  I realized that in a story where Raine/Rory has to overcome her childish understanding of her hometown and the people in it, I as a writer had failed to do the same. Kelly’s actions remained the same. Outwardly she was the same person I’d butted heads with in high school, but inwardly, and occasionally when she was alone with Beth, a tenderness had been revealed just enough to leave me wondering about who she really was, and many of my readers felt the same way.  Even my boss at the time, Radclyffe, wrote and said something along the lines that she liked that I’d been fair and sympathetic in my portrayals of life in the closet.  I wasn’t at all sure that’s what I’d wanted to do, but it was done, and I was left feeling a little unsettled.

Then, a few months after The Long Way Home came out, I met and became friends with 532890_10150893626976024_1644140352_n-2
Kelly Smith of Bywater Books.  Kelly Smith, or “Real Life Kelly,” as my wife started calling her, had recently published a book by my good friend Georgia Beers (Oy, this blog is getting very name-dropperish), and so we found ourselves in the same circles at literary events and we got along really well.  Well enough, in fact, for Real Life Kelly to give me some honest feedback on The Long Way Home. As we walked through Provincetown one fall afternoon, she told me she’d liked the book overall, but she hated that I’d named the bitchy character “Kelly.”  I laughed and said that was before I’d known her. She said she hoped that now that we were friends I would remedy the situation.

I laughed again, but Real Life Kelly turned serious and said, “I mean it. That character has the potential to have a great redemption story. She could be a complex character to unravel. There are real people out there just like her. They are human. They became how they are for a reason.” I said I’d thought a little bit about that but doubted anyone would really be able to root for someone like Fictional Kelly, especially after the things she’d said and done to Beth (who seemed to be universally loved by my readers). Real Life Kelly got a giddy glint in her eye and said, “Oh yeah, you’re going to have make her pay for that, really put her through the wringer, break her down in a big way, but it’ll be fun, and it’ll be interesting.”I admitted that putting a character that reminded me of people who had been tools in high school through the emotional wringer did sound enjoyable, but I had other books to write first. And I did.

Timeless 300 DPII wrote several more books before even considering a return to Darlington.  And even when I did, Fictional Kelly didn’t factor in prominently. She does make an appearance in Timeless, though it’s a blink-and-you’d-miss-it kind of moment.  However, due to the fluid timeline of the book, I actually got to picture her at the age of 20 for just a hot second.  I got to imagine a flash of the beginning of something I’d gleefully ended in The Long Way Home. To see her then, little more than a girl, and still so dedicated to doing things the right way. The moment itself might have been fleeting, but it was enough to open up another little piece of my heart and mind to this woman I didn’t want to like.

And yet I moved on to other books, but between each of them as I’d consider possibilities for my next project, my wife would say, “How about Kelly’s book?”  The term “Kelly’s book” became common in our house for its double meaning, the book Real Life Kelly suggested, the book that lets the world finally see the whole picture of Fictional Kelly.  But each time I had the chance to write it, something stopped me.  Looking back now, I suspect I wasn’t ready to let go of my anger at her and what she represented for me. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right place as a writer to tackle a project as complex as Fictional Kelly would be.

It wasn’t until I had been working for Bywater for a while that Real Life Kelly asked again about Fictional Kelly.  I’m not sure what it was about the timing or the setting, or maybe I’d just grown weary of fighting the urge, but I agreed to at least sit down with her (Fictional Kelly, that is) and really listen.  I’d like to say she just poured out her soul to me.  She didn’t. She wrestled me, and she wrestled Elliot for months just like she always had.  Tiny flashes of something human only occasionally peeked out from under piles and piles of frustrating anger, professional excuses, and emotional brick walls. I’m not sure Fictional Kelly had changed a whole lot, but maybe I had. As a writer, as a person, I was more willing to ask the harder questions and more willing to listen to the answers.

close-to-home_2-600x913That isn’t to say the process of writing Close To Home was a pretty one. I almost abandoned the story halfway through because I was still wrestling with Fictional Kelly, and despite putting her in a heart-wrenching situation, I still hadn’t fallen in love with her the way I’d fallen in love with Elliot. I told my new Bywater colleague Marianne K. Martin over lunch, once again in Provincetown (Important things happen in Ptown.), and MKM shared some of her wisdom about writing complex characters by suggesting I find one good thing in Fictional Kelly, one positive that rings true for her in all situations, even when she is behaving badly by all outward standards.  As much as I hated to admit it, I knew right away what the things was.

Kelly does the right thing, always.  Not always the nice thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the reasonable thing, but the thing she believes is right in the long run, or the big picture. She might have bad reasons or faulty logic, but she always does what she thinks is expected of her, what she would expect out of others, according to her high and often skewed personal standards.

I went home and reread what I’d written, and Marianne was right. When I focused on that driving thread, I didn’t always love Kelly, but I understood her.  From there I learned to recognize the strength and conviction it had taken to make the decision she’d made, even at the same time I disagreed with them. And once I could do that, it was much easier to respect her motives while still hating the outcomes. It also made it easier to throw her in to Elliot’s path because much like I’d learned to recognize something fundamentally good in her, I also understood that someone who is focused on doing what’s right would have no choice but to see the same fundamental goodness in Elliot.

From there on out, much of my wrestling with Kelly mirrored Kelly’s own wrestling with Elliot, so much so that by the time I finished, I actually ended up liking her quite a bit, both as a character and as a metaphor for my own journey as a person and as a writer.

She’s still complex, she still grates on my nerves, she still challenges me, but somewhere over the last three books, she stopped being a product of my high school angst and became a real person, at least in the fictional sense.

At some point over the last eight years, she grew up.

Or maybe I did.

March 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Catch Up Post and Sale

Hi All,

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.

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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!

 

February 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Happy VD

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.

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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/

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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.

Backstory:

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.

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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.

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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!

February 14, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

More Thank You Books

Hello All,

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!

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February 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Sermon on Isiah 58

Hi All,

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.

(Breathe)

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?

(Breathe)

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.

Amen

February 8, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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