Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Whale of a Tale

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittal: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:1-2a)

Jonah is one of my favorite Bible characters. Not because he got swallowed by a whale and lived to talk about it. Rather, because Jonah’s humanity gets him into trouble at every turn. We all can relate to that.

But when God comes calling, you best not try to run and hide. Jonah’s excursion into the belly of the whale brought remorse into this stubborn man. Out of fear and respect, Jonah finally obeyed God’s command to preach to Nineveh. Remarkably, they heeded Jonah’s warning and repented.

Was Jonah pleased? No, their repentance made him angry. And that’s where Jonah’s true colors shine through. When we look closer, we discover that Jonah had a beef with God that ran deeper than his disobedience. He felt the people of Nineveh didn’t deserve grace. They were a very evil and wicked people. Not only was Jonah angry with the people, he was angry with God for forgiving them. He wanted Nineveh to be punished.

And he said so!

“That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassion God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Then the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”(Jonah 4:2a-4)

Like a child having a temper tantrum, Jonah didn’t answer. Instead, he sat down at the edge of the city to die.

Wow! I’m not sure I’ve ever been that angry. But there Jonah sat…waiting…

This is where God’s humor and grace come into play in Jonah’s life, as it often does ours. In his Fatherly way, God probably shook his head and said, “Time to teach him another lesson.” He made a vine grow to shade Jonah and, sure enough, Jonah was happy.

Talk about a person with mood swings.

Then God made a worm chew through the vine so it would die and sent a scorching wind to blow on Jonah. You guessed it. Jonah was angry again.

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”(Jonah 4:9)

God then chastised Jonah about his concern for a vine when Jonah had nothing to do with its existence, yet expected God not to be concerned for His people whom He had created.

What are you angry with God about today? Do you feel He has let you down in some way because His solution and yours don’t mesh? Search your heart and ask God to help you get through it. If you’d like me to pray for you, please email me using the link under my profile.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who Needs Friends Like This?

I know what you’re thinking. Laura’s gonna dish some dirt on someone. Nope. But the answer lies in what I’m about to share.
Meanwhile, I have another question. What do an alpaca farmer and an author have in common?
Periodically, I step back and assess the people who’ve come in and out of my life. Some exited and then returned many years later. I’ve found their friendship even more enriching the second time around. One such person is Beth.
I received a heart-breaking email from Beth a couple of years ago. We’d not communicated since high school in Florida. Twenty-five years later, she popped into my inbox. To my surprise, I discovered she lives two hours from me, and her brother lives five minutes down the road from me. Small world, huh? She persuaded me to join Facebook, and we scheduled a lunch date to catch up.
Just as I was walking out the door that morning, the phone rang. More bad news. Then Beth said something like, “You don’t want to have lunch with me. I’ll cry the whole time.” I said something like, “I can handle tears.”
So we had lunch at Sonny’s Barbecue in Commerce, GA, the halfway point between our homes. We ate, I listened, and surprisingly, Beth did not cry. We had a good time. The twenty-five years between us melted away. And the diversion was good for her.
We discovered common ground with our sons. My son was farther down the path in life, having conquered most of his early developmental problems. Her autistic son wasn’t faring as well, and Beth was going through a divorce.
A teacher-turned-flight attendant, Beth was in a transition phase of her life. She eventually returned to teaching. Describing her as a special needs teacher doesn’t do her justice. She handles some of the toughest kids in her school. Kids who, due to their special needs, have crumpled other teachers. Beth returns to the classroom in a few days for her second year with her “spirited” students, as she likes to call them.
God brings people in and out of our life. I like to think they are exactly the people we need at the exact time they appear. Beth returned to my life a couple of years after I lost my older sister Michelle. Beth had been good friends with Michelle in high school. Outside of my family, Beth is one of the few people I can chat with about Michelle and know she’s listening with her heart. Beth has also generously shared mementos of her relationship with Michelle from high school.
Encouragement at its best is a two-way street. While many people tell me I encourage them, Beth has enriched my life with her wit, her example, and generosity. None of this surprised me. What did surprise me was learning this upscale lady runs an alpaca farm.
So to answer the question—What do an author and alpaca farmer have in common?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Live in the Yet

“…my soul is downcast within me, Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning…Lamentations 3:20b-23a.

Life is a struggle. I’m in the midst of adding 15,000 to 20,000 words to a manuscript I’ve written. Some days the writing comes easy—other days, not so. In addition to my own struggles in life, I have to make my characters struggle. Big time. Otherwise the agent, editor, and, if I’m fortunate enough to reach this stage, the reader will put the book down. That’s the death sentence all novelists fear for their work.

What makes a writer want to write? Why invent adversity, hardship, and devastation for a fictitious character to suffer through when there’s more than enough of that in the real world?

Maybe that’s where the answer lies.

In creating nuances of characters that mirror life, adding in internal and external conflict, adversity, dark moments, and in the end, resolution, writers give their readers hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, their own problems aren’t insurmountable. For the brief period of time they’ve escaped into the pages of the book, someone else’s problems are bigger, and yet, in the end—resolution.

And in real life—well, I’m reminded of a piece of advice a friend once gave me.

Live in the “yet.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Among my fiction and non-fiction writing projects is ghostwriting. When people discover I ghostwrite, they are curious as to what this means. Ghostwriting is basically what it sounds like. You write someone else’s story for them.
Many people employ ghostwriters because their expertise lies in a particular field and not writing. Some people are too busy to pen a story themselves. Some are too emotionally involved in their story to write it. Others have a good idea or creative bent but don’t have the skills to write a marketable story or article alone.
About fifteen years ago, I discovered the significance of ghostwriting, quite by accident. I love to research historical figures, particularly authors. At that time, my interest and research centered on author Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was fascinated by her ability to weave a story and the rhythm she created with her words. Pure magic! As a wannabe writer, I put her squarely on the pedestal I felt she deserved to be on while I continued to delve into her life.
Imagine my devastation when I came upon a book entitled The Ghost in the Little House which purported Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, in fact, wrote the Little House books.
Almost despondent from Wilder’s fall from the pedestal, I was nevertheless drawn into the story like a moth to the light. By the end of the 450-page biography, I was convinced that Rose had indeed ghostwritten the Little House books. Both tragic and enlightening, the biography revealed Rose’s ghostwriting career was vast. Laura wasn’t the only one she’d done this for, and it was during a time period when things of that nature weren’t discussed. Rose took great pains to retype her mother’s work and kept carbon copies of all the correspondence between them, along with Laura’s handwritten manuscripts and letters. Perhaps somewhere in her core, whether on an unconscious or conscious level, she hoped the secret would be discovered in the future by thorough researchers. She realized the significance of the work she produced and the effect the books would have on generations to come.
Not that Laura was without skill. Under Rose’s tutelage, she had a successful newspaper career for many years before tackling the Little House series. But after reading excerpts from Laura’s original manuscripts, I realized the magical rhythm displayed in the books was not hers.  
During the middle of writing the series of books, Laura believed that she had mastered the art of storytelling through Rose’s coaching. She implored Rose to let her submit her own work directly to the publisher. Weeks later, in frustration, Laura sent the manuscript to Rose.
“Do anything you please with the d*mn stuff if you will fix it up,” said Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series, to her daughter Rose, who, according to (William) Holtz's startling research, was the de facto author of her mother's books. Drawing on diaries and letters, Holtz, a professor of English at the University of Missouri, details Lane's life (1886-1968) in an engrossing study that highlights her troubled relationship with an apparently cold and manipulative mother. At 17, she fled her parents' farm in Missouri, married (and later divorced) Gillette Lane, and then traversed the globe, supporting herself as a journalist in New York, Baghdad and Albania…Guilt drove her back to the farm to help her parents until publication of the Little House series, under her mother's name--but heavily rewritten and edited by Rose--freed her financially. –Publishers Weekly (Amazon)
A more recent book, Little House Traveler, is a culmination of three previous Wilder books gleaned from her writings, letters, and journals. The following is a review that reinforces the premise of Laura’s writing not being the same as what appears in her Little House books.
Young readers may be surprised that these candid jottings, largely unedited, are not at all like the polished prose in the Little House books. Here Wilder fixates on the cost of goods and services, is quick to criticize, and isn't above telling her husband that his mountain driving is terrible. Despite such surprises, this offers an amazing look at a beloved author, as well as a fascinating account of travel before interstate highways and air-conditioning. -- Kay Weisman (Amazon)
Rose didn’t get credit in her lifetime for the Little House books, and it was late in her life before she benefitted financially from her mother’s success.
Nowadays, ghostwriting is openly embraced in the literary world. Ghostwriters enjoy seeing their names on the books they have written on behalf of others. Stroll down the non-fiction or biography aisles in your local Books a Million, Christian bookstore, or Barnes and Noble. Take a look at the book covers. Many have “with” another author in addition to the main author on their covers or on their title pages. The “with” signifies the ghostwriter, without whom the book wouldn’t have been possible. I’m proud for my fellow ghostwriters when I see this. Sometimes, more obscure recognition of the ghostwriter can be found in the acknowledgements. With smaller projects like articles, typically, the ghostwriter is not credited.
I’ve experienced both sides of the coin in ghostwriting. Sometimes I receive recognition for my work, sometimes not. But I’m sad that Rose never got to enjoy the accolades for what would have been her greatest literary accomplishment.
Though I’m over my sympathy for Laura, I still enjoy the stories from her life and what they represent in bringing American history alive and enjoyable to read. Her life and struggles were valid—ones generations have learned from and will continue to. In my mind, I choose to remember her as the wide-eyed girl in the Little House books, and the strength I gained from her as a woman possessed with a steadfast spirit in the face of devastating adversity throughout her life. The pedestal no longer exists.
But if it did, Rose would be the one standing on it now.