Halloween

When I grew up, Halloween was a big deal. I never had a fancy costume, but my mom let me buy a new plastic mask at the dime store each year. I carried my candy in a big plastic jack o’lantern that had a smiley face on one side and a frowny face on the other.

The worst Halloween I ever had was the night my pony escaped. After getting home late from work, my dad had to drop everything to drive out to the farm where we kept him to get him back in the fence. There was no trick-or-treating with my friends that night. (And before you think you I was a spoiled little girl, bear in mind that I saved $25 in pennies, answered a farmer’s ad on Swap and Shop, and arranged for Jerry to be delivered in the back of a ton truck to my grandparent’s house all by myself. I was a determined child. I just didn’t realize then what a sacrifice my father made for me. I realize now.)

Because I was determined, I couldn’t imagine a Halloween without trick or treating, so I found a paper grocery bag, cut out eyes and a mouth, and visited the two neighbors to the left and right of Mom and Pa Bell’s house, which was across the highway from Jerry’s barn. For me, Halloween was never about the candy. I just liked the eerie feeling of the night. I liked the stories. But back then the monsters never really showed up, and there was something cozy about feeling scared and secure at the same time. Now the monsters are much more prevalent. If you don’t believe me, just watch the evening news.

Every Halloween my dad and I picked out a pumpkin, and as I got older, I would draw a face on it and carve it myself. I can still remember laying a newspaper on the rug and scooping out the pumpkin’s insides. Ewww. It was kind of gross and kind of fun at the same time.

Then I would set the pumpkin on our front porch and light a candle to place inside. I never wanted the night to end. I stayed up as late as I could, and my mom would carry the pumpkin from the front porch and put it near my bed for the glow and pumpkin aroma to lull me to sleep. I hated waking up to November 1 because I knew I’d have to wait another year to tell spooky stories and to look for ghosts.

Ghosts have always been my guilty pleasure.

I am an adamant believer in the spirit world, but I don’t believe ghosts are the spirits of the deceased. I used to worry that my ghost stories would offend fellow believers, but then I met Charles K. Wolfe, who was my English professor at MTSU. Thanks to Dr. Wolfe, I realized my love for ghosts was actually my love for storytelling and folklore. He encouraged me to embrace my own family folklore and oral tradition, and as a result, I wrote my first published article while a student in his folklore class. Many years later my story made its way into The Tennessee Folklore Sampler.

When I think about Halloween, I can’t help but think about my mom. Her birthday fell the day before. I always made a point to find her a fun Halloween birthday card because I knew it made her happy, or maybe it just made me happy. I credit my mom for turning me on to storytelling. She and I used to stay up late talking about the Bell Witch, and then she would knock on my bedroom wall when I went to bed later that night. She had a bit of mischief about her, but the joke was on her because I usually ended up wide awake in parents’ bed listening for the slightest noise.

Today I still collect stories—folklore, urban legends, ghost stories, whatever you wish to call them. And I ask my students to collect them. Stories ignite our creativity, preserve our family heritage, and serve as means of social control. Sociologists and folklorists tell us that “scary” stories help keep wayward teenagers in line and curious children from wandering away. Remember what happened to Hansel and Gretal!

In a few hours, I will be on the road to research for my manuscript Crossroads. It’s a dark, perhaps stormy night, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess where I’m headed. You’ll have to check the next blog to find out the details. Until then, happy storytelling.

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Curiosity

Isn’t it funny how you can accept a concept basically all your life but not “get it” until someone else’s words trigger a deeper understanding.

For me, that concept is curiosity.

My favorite grad professor made a statement in class this summer about how the key for students’ success correlates to their level of personal curiosity.

We teachers can’t teach curiosity, but hopefully we can make the information so inviting that the students want more. In educational jargon, the students become so engaged in the subject they’re studying that they delve into their personal critical thinking skills to go beyond the target goal.

Curiosity is the key to survival, for if we as a people fail to assert our curiosity, we will fall deep into a pit of apathy and lose all problem solving and initiative taking. Then we will fall susceptible to mind control and submission.

I can’t imagine a life without curiosity. I guess that’s why I like to write. But writers don’t have dibs on curiosity. If scientists and mathematicians don’t ask questions, we will never have the answers that cure diseases, create durable structures, or harness energy.

Lately, I’ve been very curious about God. I have a myriad of unanswered questions, but the one thing I know for sure is that God is love.

I want to tell a good story. I want to make readers laugh—and cry. I want to make readers think. I’m a writer, and I’m a Christian, but I’m not necessarily a Christian writer. I’m a writer who writes from the Christian world view. Perhaps, however, through my simple anecdotes, readers can learn how to find love, how to find God.

But how does a writer convey the message that God is love? Sometimes I have to explain it to myself.

Love is powerful. There is nothing anyone can do to stop love. God loves all people, even if they hate him and even if he dislikes their actions.

But he’s the rule maker. He’s in charge. If he doesn’t want to allow anger, hatred, bitterness, murder, etc. into his home, that’s his business. He prohibits these things because they destroy love.

I make the rules for my personal life: Don’t lie to me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my family. Don’t use me. Don’t manipulate me. Don’t control me. Don’t ridicule me. Don’t take me for granted.

If people choose to cross these lines, I can shut the door and keep them out of my life.

Likewise, there is nothing that can force love. Not presents. Not money. Not power. Not flattery. Not bribery. Not bargains. People try all of these methods to earn God’s favor, especially when they try to make their own rules while living in his house.

It’s impossible to force love. I can’t make another person love me. I don’t try. I will never beg or plead. Ever. I would rather walk away and keep on walking. Either love is, or it isn’t.

God doesn’t beg either, but because love cannot exist in an environment of evil, God made the Way for imperfect people to find a place in his home.

Again, you can’t force love, but you can leave the door open and wait for it to walk in. God has done that, but when he chooses to close the door, well, that’s up to him.

I’m a teacher. I know. I can’t make my students love me. I can’t even make them like me. It’s up to them. I’ll never beg or bribe them. I’d rather accept the truth than live a lie.

As a writer, my goal is to create characters that echo the same emotions and struggles that all people go through. It’s inevitable. When readers get into a book, they readily identify with one of the main characters and live vicariously through him or her or it. They feel what the character feels.

I think we all seek love, regardless of our ages, but teens, especially, crave love. Unfortunately, what they often settle for is not love—it’s a cheap counterfeit.

I don’t be a Pollyanna, but I like happy endings. My manuscripts are full of humor, of course, but what I really want to stand out in them is love—not just romantic love, which may be lust in disguise, but real love.

And what is real love? It’s not so hard to define.

  • Real love protects. The counterfeit hurts.
  • Real love puts others first. The counterfeit doesn’t care about others as long as its own needs are met first.
  • Real love forgives. The counterfeit holds grudges and reminds others of their failures.
  • Real love offers hope. The counterfeit delivers despair.
  • Real love is truth. The counterfeit is just one big lie.

You are the main character in your own life. Where is your curiosity taking you? Do you ever question love?

My Lucy gene

Some time ago, I heard that I was the topic of conversation among some of the women at the church I used to attend.

“Is she just weird?”

Well, instead of you speculating, allow me to clear up any misconceptions. The answer is yes. There is absolutely nothing normal about me.

I am a writer.

At first the comment really hurt my feelings, but then I realized that, hmmm, we writers are a special breed. We spend hours at a time with people who do not exist. Our characters talk to us, and we listen. And sometimes we don’t even know what we’re writing. We just grab on to the coat tails of our God-given creativity and go where the story takes us.

All writers, however, are not alike.

Some writers are uber serious. They may be historians or explorers or scientists. Most of these writers are gifted time travelers, and they can go anywhere and do anything their imagination allows.

Me? Not so much.

That gene isn’t necessarily found in my writer DNA. If so, it’s recessive. But my Lucy gene is dominant.

Surely, you know I’m referring to Lucy, aka Ethel’s sidekick and Ricky’s wife. Maybe you have the Lucy gene too. Take this little test to find out for sure.

  1. You have a voracious appetite for adventure, but you never consider the consequences of a plan gone awry.
  2. “No” is never an option. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen, never considering what could go wrong.
  3. You often find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
  4. Grace is not your middle name.
  5. You have a limited sense of direction.
  6. You are a poster child for victims of Murphy’s Law.
  7. You have a history of getting stuck in awkward situations.
  8. You kind of dig going incognito.
  9. When things get out of control, you don’t ask for help. You always try to solve the situation yourself.
  10. No matter how bad a situation gets, your intentions are always good.

I’ve definitely got the Lucy gene. I’ve had it since I was a little girl. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t write serious drama. I can’t help the crazy predicaments I get into. But they make good stories. Take, for example, these situations.

  1. I am a problem solver. When I was moving from one apartment to another, I needed boxes, so I decided to check a dumpster. Little did I know that undercover detectives had set up a sting that night to catch drug traffickers. You know those scenes in the cop shows where the police jump out of nowhere ready to fire on the suspects? Yeah, well. At least I was not cuffed and fingerprinted.
  2. I always want to make a good impression on the job. I’m usually on my feet in front of the class all day. However, the one day I sat at my lectern to grade while my students worked, my principal came to my door. Both of my feet had fallen asleep. He motioned me to come to door, but I couldn’t move. I was stuck on a stool, and I was too embarrassed to tell him why I couldn’t go talk to him. All I could do was smile and wave and sit there. And sit there as he stared me down from the doorway. And sit there until he went away.
  3. When I was in college, my friend and I wanted to sneak into the boys’ dorm to play a prank on our boyfriends. We decided to go incognito, so we dressed in men’s flannel shirts and used our eyebrow pencils to draw beards on our faces. Three words—stupid, stupid, stupid.
  4.  I had a near death experience when I rode a horse at full gallop up a hill on ridge and my undergarment became hooked around the saddle horn and I was strapped to the horse and couldn’t move. All I could think was, “Of all the ways to die, why does it have to involve underwear?”
  5. I volunteered to sponsor a rock concert during Homecoming. I was a hero. I was the only adult in charge of 500 hormone-raging teenagers. They turned off the lights. They cranked up the music. The crowd went wild. The mosh pit thrashed. And a single red light stood out among the crowd. OH MY WORD! Someone had brought a cigarette into my concert. I had to take him down. I grabbed the culprit and yanked him over the back of theater chair and put him on the ground. I am five feet tall. I single handedly took down my cameraman who was taking pictures for our newspaper. The red light glowed from his camera. Thank goodness, Steve did not have to go to the hospital. He forgave me–I think.
  6. I sent two boys from the newspaper staff to dig a hole to plant a tree for our memory garden. One of the boys, a practical genius, calculated a more efficient way to plant the tree. He walked to the rental place next door and came back with a backhoe. So there was my student digging a hole on a methane field. This incident happened long ago. It really wasn’t my idea. (Please don’t fire me.)
  7. I had hall duty one morning and thought it hilarious that two dogs had found their way into school cafeteria. It was really funny until I realized the dogs belong to me. My half Bassett, half Beagles had tracked me all the way from home to the exact place where I was working that morning. I had to carry Beau and Dixie back to the car, one tucked under each arm, and these were hefty dogs mind you. I smelled pretty bad by the time I returned to school.

So, do you still think you have the Lucy gene?

Don’t fret. Just roll with it. And if there are any Ethels out, come see me. We’ll find an adventure and come back with a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

I like vampires

Hook the reader from the start.

That’s what my writing mentors have taught me. So, yeah, I have a thing for vampires right now. I’m a little late. Dystopian survivalists seem to be the “thing” now, but I’ve been carrying around Twilight for months. I want to read it. I want to learn from it. I want to discover the secrets of how it became an icon in popular culture.

Oh, yeah. I also think Johnny Depp and Dark Shadows revamped my interest in the vampire culture. Pardon the pun. My mom and I used to watch the show together when I was a little girl. The movie brings back fond memories.

I’ve been working with a group of very talented writers in my creative writing class. Each of them has his or her own blog, and we have a group blog page called the Bluelight Lounge. You can find it at this address:  bluelightlounge.wordpress.com . There is a link to all the writers’ blogs on the page for easy access to their work.

Our assignment this week was to write a blog about reading, so I figured I should follow my own rules and write about reading too.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money, and I was an only child. I spent a lot of time alone. Fortunately, my mom let me get my very own library card, and I was off on new adventures at the public library. Most people in my town won’t remember this, but the public library used to be on the square in an old building. I still remember the smell of the books. I still remember carrying out every dog book I could find. I loved dogs, and I read everything I could about them, including fictions stories—all the Lassie stories and the books about Ginger Pie. And horses. I read everything I could about horses, but I found most of those books in my school library.

I wasn’t a good reader. I was a bad reader, bad in that I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not necessarily what my teacher assigned to me. So, yes, kiddos, I get it when you sneak a book in your lap and turn the pages when you are supposed to be listening to me teach. Sometimes a good book is just too difficult to put down.

The Outsiders remains my all-time favorite, but I like mysterious stories with a twist of the supernatural. I think that’s why Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness changed my life. It opened my eyes to another world beyond the veil. Right now I’m hooked on the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. Odd is a twenty-year-old fry cook who sees dark shapes that show up at places of mass destruction. Are they demons or omens of death? We don’t know. Odd’s visions are a gift—or a curse. Whatever the case, he deals with it with his ever so funny, dry sense of humor. Oh, yeah, he also sees ghosts. Elvis shows up every now and then. And who can resist Elvis?

When I went to the ACFW conference, I naturally had to visit the Revell table at the bookstore. (Hint, hint. I would be ecstatic to see one of my novels with a Revell logo on it.) This year I didn’t have much cash to spend on books, but I could not resist picking up a couple of Revell novels by Mike Duran: The Resurrection and The Telling.

The back cover blurbs hooked me. “When Ruby Case raises a boy from the dead, she creates an uproar in the quiet coastal town of Stonetree. Some brand her a witch; others a godsend.” I can’t wait to open the first page of The Resurrection. So what’s the answer? What is Ruby?

The Telling is Duran’s second novel, and the back blurb is equally compelling: “Zeph is also blessed with a gift—an uncanny ability to forsee the future, to know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets. He calls it The Telling.” Wow. Zeph sounds like someone I know. I can already imagine the movie playing out in my head.

But right now my two favorite books are The Edge and Crossroads, my manuscripts in what I hope will be a series.

I was talking to a friend of mine about how our children were growing up. We’ve devoted our lives to helping their dreams come true. Now she and I, both writers, want to complete our lives—to find and develop our calling. And I believe the answer lies within books—God’s book, the Bible, of course, and the stories He has given us to enjoy our own creativity and to create books to inspire other people.

CONTEST! 

What’s your calling? What are you reading? How has reading changed your life? Please offer some feedback. I will randomly choose from the comments and send the speaker a book from my library. But if you are chosen, you must send me a private email with your contact information so that I can get it to you.

Happy reading!  You have until Saturday, October 13, to join in the conversation. Please let me know what you think. Your words, your writings, truly encourage me, and, hopefully, I, in turn, can encourage you.

Going postal

Dearest Readers,

I have another confession to make. I hate being the bad guy. I will if I have to, but it is not something I relish.

Today I was the bad guy. I didn’t choose to be, but sometimes life just puts you in unfortunate situations.

See, it all went down this way. I am on fall break, my VACATION from school. It’s been a stressful year so far. I had to take 12 graduate hours during the summer—no break. I missed the first week of school because I was still in grad school. Then I developed bronchitis, almost pneumonia. Whatever. I was really sick.

I also had a newspaper to publish, a new class to develop, a new email system to learn, a new grading program to learn. Papers to grade. MOUNDS of papers to grade from four preps. I found myself struggling to keep up.

My most stressful incident  had to do with boarding an airplane for the first time, well, a big airplane for the first time, not counting the kiddie rides at the fair or the four-seater I rode with my parents when I was a terror-stricken elementary school student. That plane ride changed my whole outlook on flying, and I found Biblical scriptures to back my belief.

Matthew 28:20. “Lo, I am with thee.”

That’s what God said. Low. Not way up there. Right? The Bible offers no proof we have any business soaring around the clouds on wings attached to high-powered engines that can suck up ducks and eagles and then send the craft crashing to the ground. Nope. Scripture does not back that.

Nevertheless, I flew.

All my life people have told me what to do, and I usually listen and do as told. Not this time. For years I remained adamant that I would not step onto a plan until I felt the time was right.

I had a plan. I am going to Ireland—someday. I figure the world is in great turmoil, and perhaps the rapture will happen soon. My plan was to fly to Ireland and to “live” Ireland for a short time and then to fly back. If the plane crashed, well, then, I would have crossed off my Number One item on my bucket list. I was at peace with that.

I have never felt at peace about stepping aboard a plane otherwise.

But then something very cool happened. I was named a Genesis Finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers contest in the Young Adult category. I had to attend a gala in Dallas to find out the results. I didn’t win, but that’s okay. The experience was worth it all. I am confident God has a plan for my writing. Many other cool things did happen.

Being named a finalist, however, put me in a dilemma. If I went to Dallas, I would HAVE to fly, and I would have to miss my son performing with his band at the county fair. Flying was no problem. I had a definite peace about that.

“Lo, I am with thee.”

I made up my mind long ago that the only time I would step on a plan was when I felt a peace about it. For the first time I felt peace, and I wasn’t even flying to Ireland. However, I was really sad, to the point of tears, that I had to miss Michael’s performance. I have always been there for him.

I have coached his Little League teams, his Upward basketball teams, and his soccer teams. I’ve put on catcher gear to help him when he tried to pitch. I have thrown footballs for him to catch. I have escaped with him from wild animal attacks on nature walks. We’re a team. I have always been there for him.

But this time I had to go by myself and let him go by himself.

I walked through the airport doors alone and made it all the way to security where I had to empty my pockets. I almost made it through without incident except for the can of Mink hairspray I was packin’ in my carry on. I had a choice—toss it or check it. I tossed it. Grumble. That stuff isn’t easy to find, and it was  a new can. I don’t like throwing away money.

Oh yeah, my jean pockets were too sparkly too. The scanner didn’t like that either.

Once I made it to my waiting area to board, I was scared, just a wee bit, but I was ready. But then they announced that my scheduled plane had problems. In other words, it was broken.

Broke? Broke was not what I was expecting to hear.

I had to board another plane. At this point I was in official freak-out mode. When I get nervous, I either sit in a catatonic state, or I talk nonstop. My students think something is “wrong” with me when I go into nonstop talk mode. But most journalism advisers understand—they too have experienced the “I gotta make deadline, but the computer’s crashed, the picture’s not there, we forgot to write that story, and Dear Lord, please, don’t let me get fired over something I missed” panic attacks.

So in my non-stop talkative mood, I started interviewing people waiting in line. We were in Nashville, so there were lots of people with guitars. Naturally, I sought them out. I listened in on their conversations and then inserted my comments into their conversations. I don’t usually do that, but, hey, MY AIRPLANE BROKE!

I noticed a couple of guys having a nice chat. One of them carried an acoustic case, so I turned my antenna in that direction and heard one word—Ireland. And so I interrupted.

Fortunately, these guys were nice and told me they had just returned from a gig in Ireland. And what style of music did the guitarist play? Country blues.

Ah. The anxiety levels dropped considerably. Good enough. I felt as if it were a sign. It was time to board the new plane.

I lugged my carry on, and a nice person helped me store it in the overhead. I was too short and too wimpy to load it myself. I hugged my laptop for dear life, but the flight attendant made me store in upon take off. I got it back asap.

My security blanket.

The flight itself was a breeze. I even asked to sit by the window. I looked out and saw a patchwork quilt of earth below. I saw the topside of clouds. It was all cool.

Landing was fine.

It was all fine.

Until I got back home and flipped on the TV and saw all the reports of American Airlines plans having problems with the seats coming unbolted.

Well, it just figures.

So what does all this have to do with me being the bad guy?

Not much. Not really.

I didn’t fly today, but I had a minor mishap in my doctor’s parking lot. I kind of crashed. Not bad crashed, just itsy, bitsy, “I still feel like crying” crashed.

You see, I had a check up today, and I overslept. My doctor’s office has a new rule that says we have to be there 15 minutes prior to the appointment time. Well, I got there by the appointment time, but I was not 15 minutes early.

The poor lady in front of my looked as if she should have been in the hospital, and she was three minutes late according to their clock and missed being 15 minutes early. She was going to have to reschedule. So was I.

I was ready to be the bad guy. To take my punishment. To reschedule. But I felt so bad for her. She was distraught. They finally relented and let her see the doctor after receiving permission from the office manager.

Me? No, I was sent away.

I was upset because I had failed. I had messed up. I always feel bad when I mess  up. I was distracted a wee bit. And then it went from bad to worse as I was leaving. I backed up my truck and felt a slight crash.

I took out a mail truck.

To make matters worse, by-standers jumped out of their truck. They checked to see if we were all right, but they were ready to identify me should I try to make a run for it. They told the nice mail man they would tell the police everything that happened. They liked him. They didn’t like me. I was the bad guy.

Criminal. I felt like a criminal.

To make matters even worse than that, the mail man had come into the doc’s office in such a happy mood. Leave it to me to dent his good cheer.

And then the police came. And the rescue squad. And I couldn’t find my insurance card. And I didn’t have my phone. And I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. The policeman was really nice—a former student. I pictured myself in the back of this squad car. I was hoping for dear life I was a nice teacher to him.

I was ready to pose for my mug shot. Be finger printed. Get cuffed. Get maced. Get clubbed. Wait for the noose around my neck. I was ready for whatever I had coming to me. I felt pretty bad.

All I could do was tell the mail man, “I’m sorry I ruined your day.”

So here I am—the bad guy. Not much I can do about it now.

And as I write this, I’m thinking, “What in the Sam Hill do flying and crashing have to do with each other?”  Well, obviously if it’s the airplane that’s both flying and crashing, there is a connection. But flying in plane and denting the door of a mail truck really have nothing in common, except maybe for this scripture.

“Lo, I am with thee.”

Maybe I’ve been misinterpreting that scripture. See, my nickname forever has been Tee, but when I had my short run of kick (my butt) boxing classes, my friends gave me a new nick name—Jet Lo. You know, kind of like Jet Li, the martial arts champion?

So, I can hear God saying, “[Jet] Lo, I am with thee. Up. Down. High. Low. Good days and bad. I’m right here. Always.”

I am still stubborn enough to believe I will know when God calls me to do something. I don’t have to be guilted into doing something I don’t feel a peace about. But I’m also reminded that God understands my fears, my hurts, my triumphs, my let downs, my failures. He loves me just the same.

As a writer, I hope I can convey that message to my readers. There’s only one thing I really want to get across—love, love, love. THAT’S what I feel called to do. And a little laughter doesn’t hurt either.

So, my dear friends, take it from me, the Fearless Flyer. a.k.a. the Mail Man Mauler, God has got you covered. All you have to do is believe it. Go seek the truth, the whole truth, and believe it. It doesn’t matter if you are the good guy or the bad guy. God loves you just the same. Seek him and find out for yourself.

I wouldn’t say if it weren’t so.

Sincerely yours,
Jet Lo