The Magical Book

When I was a second grader, my school held a fundraiser to fill some empty shelves in the school library. Rather than just asking parents for money, the school had each child select a volume from a table filled with new books, take it home and ask Mommy and Daddy to puhleeeeze buy their sweet little offspring a book. After reading their new acquisition, the child would to donate the book to the school library so it could be enjoyed by all.

As class 2-A herded past the book tables, my ADHD brain locked on to a book wearing a bright yellow dust jacket with the title in bold red letters:100 Pounds of Popcorn by Hazel Krantz.

The cover illustration closed the deal: Four kids making a huge mess while popping mass quantities of popcorn. The random messiness made those kids seem more like me, and the fun they were having made me want to be more like them.

Sold.

However, when the day arrived when we were to donate our books, it became apparent that I hadn’t been properly briefed on the etiquette of school fundraising, for I committed the mortal sin of refusing to surrender my book to the librarian.

I’d already developed somewhat of a reputation by then (in 1962, ADHD was still known as “Rotten Little Brat Syndrome”), so when I made a bit of a scene over the librarian attempting to steal my book, the case was automatically escalated to the principal’s office. I’d already spent so much time there that I wouldn’t be surprised if even today there’s a chair in the waiting area bearing a brass name plate in my memory.

When my case came up on the principal’s docket, I stated my position in clear and certain terms: It was my book. I’d chosen it from the book table with my own grubby little paws. I paid for it with cash my mother gave me to buy a book. I’d even written my name inside the cover with a red pencil (though I don’t recall if I wrote it before or after they pressed me to donate it). I loved my little book, and the librarian couldn’t have it. End of discussion.

The battle escalated, as such battles are wont to do. When gentle reasoning failed, the principal hinted at the possibility of eternal damnation (being a Catholic school, they  could get away with that), and when all else failed, she pulled out the biggest weapon of all: a call to my parents. That threat almost worked, but one glance at my book’s cover renewed my resolve to endure any punishment required to win my case. After the threatened call, my father grudgingly agreed to buy a second copy for the library. He later extracted the price from my hide.

What drove me to fight so stubbornly for that book?

Reading 100 Pounds of Popcorn had revolutionized my eight-year-old life. Before that book, I thought everyone in the world was just like me. I had no idea that other families were different. In the pages of 100 Pounds of Popcorn, Hazel Krantz transported my tender heart to a world very unlike the one in which I lived.

To most, the Taylor family would seem unremarkable. A father, a mother, eleven-year-old Andy and his eight-year-old sister Sally Jean. On the way home from the beach, they see a huge bag of popping corn fall from the back of a truck, and being a moral, law-abiding type Mr Taylor tries to return it to its rightful owner. The owner isn’t able to retrieve the bag before it would spoil, and offers to let the Taylors keep it if they would like. Andy sets out to start a popcorn business with the help of his kid sister and several friends, and they all learn the hard way that there’s a lot more to selling popcorn than they thought.

Okay, so it’s a nice little story. How did that revolutionize my life?

The first time I read that book, I waited with tense anticipation for what I knew would happen. I waited, but what I expected never came. I read it again, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Then I read it again just because I didn’t want to leave the magical world.hidden in those pages, a world  where Andy’s father never yelled at him, never threw things in anger, and never once hit his wife or either of his children. Andy made some mistakes and learned lessons the hard way, but his father never called him stupid or any of those other names I’d expected. And Andy never once had to stop and discern whether his father was drunk or sober and adjust as needed to avoid his wrath.

In the pages of 100 Pounds of Popcorn, Hazel Krantz gave me a most wonderful gift. A glimpse of a world where children were free to be children, to learn and grow and live with all the hope and possibilities they could handle. I couldn’t explain it then as I can now, but that brief visit to normality changed me. It awakened my ability to dream, to imagine, to envision a better world than the one in which I’d existed.

Is it any wonder I fought so hard to hold on to such a magical book?

When God started talking to me about writing for children and young teens, I didn’t want to discuss it. I didn’t want to go back and revisit the wounds of my childhood. A dear friend and mentor (and highly successful children’s writer) finally took me aside and told me that those wounds equipped me to write things that nobody else can write, not even her. She then gently but firmly kicked my backside and asked me to quit making excuses and start doing what only I can do. (Thanks, Nancy. I needed that.)

Shortly after I returned home from the conference where that discussion occurred, I spotted my ragged, dog-eared copy of 100 Pounds of Popcorn on my bookshelf, took it down and read it again, just as I’ve done hundreds of times before. And I remembered the magic.

And then I started writing for tweens and early teens—because somewhere out there, there’s a boy or girl who needs that magic.

Writing Lessons from Angry Birds: Boomerang Bird

Like many of my peers,  I’m semi-addicted to Angry Birds. I used think of flinging birds and obliterating bad piggies as a mindless waste of time (we all need a little of that once in a while), but I can honestly say that playing Angry Birds has improved my writing—enough that I could write off the cost as a business expense if the Android versions weren’t free. Those cute little birds are very effective writing teachers. Seriously.

Angry Green BirdOne of my first Angry Birds Writing Reminders featured that Toucan-inspired guy to the left known as Boomerang Bird because of his interesting ability to double-back and hit things from behind.The first time I encountered Boomerang Bird, the spiffy introductory graphic told me what he could do, but without  revealing his deeper capabilities and nuances.

Boomerang’s behavior after tapping the screen is dependent on his exact speed and trajectory when you tap, and there are so many nuances that in the beginning he rarely did what I expected. With time and experience, I’ve gained some instinctive knowledge of exactly how to launch Boomerang bird and exactly when to tap to get the desired results. I also learned a few things the introductory graphics didn’t mention.

Which brings me to the writing lesson.

Know Your Characters

When I began writing fiction, my characters were so flat you could read right through them. I recall one critiquer who asked point-blank if I’d taken time to get to know my characters, asking a lot of obscure questions I couldn’t answer.  I thought she was nuts. After reflecting on the conversation and recalling the character development process I learned in the theater, I got the point. Since then, I’ve talked with many successful novelists about their character development process. Some journal, some do detailed character profiles, and others (myself included) use method acting principles to get inside characters’ heads and see what makes them tick. I’ve talked with successful novelists who spend months getting to know their characters before writing a single word of their manuscripts. Others just free-write and watch what happens, with the understanding that their first draft will be mostly dreck (which they normally are, anyway).

Whatever method works for you, do it with all the gusto you’ve got. The resulting character depth is like the difference between a plain, flat greeting card and a pop-up card with music and motion.

Just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

I was stuck on one level of Angry Birds for weeks, so stuck I considered deleting the game and trying to forget the thrill of obliterating those bad little piggies. I simply couldn’t get that Boomerang at the top of the birdie lineup to turn around the way I wanted and hit that sweet spot.

Out of pure frustration, I launched Boomer straight into the leading side of the pile and watched in amazement while it all crashed, pummeling the pig population and producing three stars. In a flash of realization, I understood why I was having problems with one of my characters.

I’m writing a series with a couple of characters that have unique and unusual abilities. The easy way out as a writer is to let my characters use those special abilities, but after my Boomer Bird revelation, I rewrote a few pages and forced one to not use them. The entire dynamic of the inter-character relationships changed dramatically, and as I dug into the character I found that she was afraid to use her special ability in that situation. It made her vulnerable. Her best friend (my protagonist) picked up on that fear, but interpreted it as anger and rejection, adding even more tension to the friendship, along with layer upon layer of character depth.

Like real life, we don’t know what a character might be capable of until we corner them and force their hand. Take away a man’s job, a mother’s children, or a Pastor’s church and you’ll discover a whole range of hidden strengths, weaknesses, motivators and flaws. It’s those hidden things that make characters interesting. Next time you’re face-to-face with a bland, boring character, boot them out of their comfort zone and see what happens.

Just don’t be a piggie about it.

 

Reflections on Writing for the Ages

It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from the Writing for the Ages workshop at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs. I’m just now beginning to process the week, thanks to a hyper-busy day-job at a company that changed ownership the day after I returned to the office. I knew that change was coming, and the timing of this trip couldn’t have stunk worse if it tripped over a skunk. I almost pulled out of this workshop, but something told me I needed to be there. That something was right. Writing for the Ages was the best four days of my writing life. Ever.

This was my first trip to Glen Eyrie, but it won’t be my last. It’s an amazing place. The staff—all the way from the bottom to the top—were wonderful, friendly, helpful people who approached the work with servant’s hearts. They said they prayed for us by name before we arrived, all through our stay,  and would continue to pray for us after we left. I believe them. They did a masterful job of creating an atmosphere where we could relax, learn, and reconnect with our calling as children’s writers.

God spoke to my soul through so many different mouths that week, seemingly random but so superbly coordinated it had to be God putting the right words in the right mouths at just the right time to reinforce his call, encourage me on my journey, and speak clearly about His purpose and plan for me as a writer and as a child of God.

On the last day of Writing for the Ages, my friend and unofficial mentor Nancy Rue looked me in the eye and asked if I’d gotten what I needed from the event. I said yes, but I found it a little difficult explain what God had whispered into my heart that week. Nancy shared a few precious words of encouragement with me that were like the cherry on top of the affirmation sundae God served me over the course if those four wonderful days at Glen Eyrie.

It was a God thing. It had to be. In the face of so much encouragement, my natural self would have puffed up like the Hindenburg. Instead, I experienced a profound and surprising sense of humility.

I left Glen Eyrie with God’s thumbprint on my head, my heart and my feet—humbled, blessed, and thoroughly aware that any success I experience writing for children has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the God who called me. And He did call me.

 

 

Conquering The Vortex

vortexEvery now and then when I have to run into work after hours—just for a second, a quick in-and-out where you’d leave the car running if you weren’t paranoid about having it stolen—Sharon will say, “Don’t get caught in The Vortex” as I’m walking out the door.

And, I understand exactly what she means.

And, it often doesn’t stop me from getting sucked in.

But, at least she tried.

I admit it. I’ve got a nasty tendency to get sucked into things. It’s a product of my non-linear ADD brain chemistry. If you’re a linear person and you’re already shaking your head like my fifth grade teacher, let me just say that the ADD community forgives you. God loves everyone, even linear people. It’s not your fault. Seriously, it’s okay. We’re used to it.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. The Vortex. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain at a possible “quick trip to the office” on a Saturday morning to reboot a problem satellite receiver:

9:50 AM: Arrive at office. Window of opportunity to reboot is from 10:00 to 10:06, so I have ten minutes.

9:51:00 AM: Log on to computer intending to check the errant receiver and see if it’s still misbehaving.

9:51:30 AM: Paper I left on keyboard reminds me I didn’t file my expense report, just as intended.

9:52:00 AM: Open Excel, pull receipts off the cork-board, begin entering into expense form.

9:54:15 AM: Realize I’m missing a receipt from one of my online vendors. Open browser, surf to their website.

9:54:30 AM: Promo on vendor’s home page reminds me  need to buy some USB cables. Click promo. Prices look pretty good, but can I do better?

9:54:45 AM: Staying on-task, I log into my account and send the missing receipt to the printer.

9:55:00 AM: While receipt is printing, browse to competitive vendor’s website to comparison shop.

9:57:30 AM: Competitor’s prices not bad. Try a third vendor just to be sure.

9:59:45 AM: Third vendor has best prices. Order a dozen.

10:00:15 AM: Discover why third vendor’s price is so good. They don’t have any in stock.

10:00:30 AM: Google USB cables looking for price as good as third vendor.

10:02:00 AM: How many cheesy discount cable places are on the internet? At least 3,437,294.

10:05:30 AM: Find better price, but product looks like poor quality.

10:06:00 AM: Click back to original vendor. Price doesn’t look so bad after all. Place order.

10:07:30 AM: Print receipt, walk down hall to network printer, right past rack full of satellite receivers.

10:07:45 AM: See errant satellite receiver’s blinking alarm light. Check watch. Say something neither edifying nor uplifting. Next opportunity to reboot satellite receiver is 11:00 to 11:06 AM.

10:09:00 AM: Back in office. Since I have fifty-one minutes before I can try again, I might as well get some work done. Finish expense report.

10:14:00 AM: Check email. Order confirmation says USB cables are out of stock, back-ordered six to eight weeks.

I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. You get the point.

The Vortex is one face of a multi-headed creature living inside the ADD brain. It can be an ugly face—A very ugly face—but before you go all condemnation on me, I have to point out that the same brain chemistry that supports The Vortex also supports another face, a beautiful face, a face that is a pure and wonderful gift. I call it The Elevator, because just as The Vortex pushes you down, The Elevator lifts you up.

The Elevator is the face of those wonderful spurts of creative energy that lead us to new inventions, new ways of solving old problems, and new ways of thinking, interacting, and managing our world. The Elevator gives us new stories to tell, or radically different ways of retelling classic stories that make them new again. The Elevator lifts us up to places where we can see things that nobody else has seen. A ride in The Elevator is one of the most exhilarating experiences a person with ADD will ever know. In fact, it is The Elevator that causes me to be a bit offended at the very term Attention Deficit Disorder. In The Elevator, ADD isn’t a disorder. It’s a gift.

The conflict here is that we can’t have one without the other. Remove the chemistry that enables The Vortex, and The Elevator becomes a sweet memory and nothing more. The price of our Elevator ride is The Vortex, just as the price of riding in your car is insurance, fuel and maintenance. We can’t remove The Vortex, but with a little help and a lot of work we can manage it.

Vortex Management

There are no magic check-lists that will keep your Vortex at bay. If there were, I’d be selling it and making a pile of money. You need to find what works for you, and when you find it do it with all you’ve got. Here are a few tools that have worked for me:

  • Understanding.

When I was diagnosed with ADD and began to learn about my brain chemistry and how it works, a whole lot of things about my life began to make sense for the first time. Once I understood that I wasn’t bad, just wired differently than the majority, I could begin to see patterns in my life, ways I’d adjusted and self-medicated and learned to cope with the difference—and ways I hadn’t. This is an area that can be difficult to work on alone. You might need a coach, whether professional or amateur, to help you see yourself. Understanding how you’re wired will equip you to make the most of what God gave you.

  • Nudges.

What I’ve come to understand about The Vortex is that all I need to do to be sucked in is do nothing. In the scenario above, I was sucked into hunting mode. All it took to pull me out of that was a reminder. Understanding how easily I can be sucked in, if I had arranged in advance for a reminder that my window to reboot had arrived, I could have accomplished the reboot the first time around. All it would take is something as simple as an alarm on my phone, or listening to the satellite feed so the silence at the top of the hour would get my attention.

  • Proximity Effect

I’ve learned that there is a direct relationship between proximity and focus. In other words, the farther you are from the thing you need to keep in focus, the harder it is to maintain focus.

Duh.

In my office, I could neither see nor hear the offending equipment I’d come to reboot. If I’d chosen to pass my time working on something close to the receiver, the odds of forgetting the primary mission would drop exponentially.

  • Triage

My friends at Merriam-Webster tell me the word triage means “The sorting of patients…according to their need of care.” In other words, when you go to the ER with a sprained nose, the guy who’s bleeding all over the floor gets first priority. I use triage in my work every day, prioritizing broken equipment, technical requests and deadlines constantly. I’ve learned that a little triage can go a long way toward keeping me on-task and out of The Vortex. In the example above, I didn’t have to go into my office. I could have seen what I needed on the front panel of the receiver. If I’d never opened the office door, I probably would have done the reboot on schedule.

Management=Results

Imagine the scenario above with these simple Vortex management tools applied:

9:50:00 AM: Arrive at office. Window of reboot opportunity is from 10:00 to 10:06, so I have ten minutes.

9:50:30 AM: Stop at office door. TRIAGE: Is there anything in there I NEED to reboot the receiver? No. Don’t even go inside.

9:52:00 AM: Arrive at satellite rack. Observe blinking error light. Check other readouts. Check time.

9:53:00 AM: NUDGE: Patch audio from target receiver into speaker, so end of program will remind me to reboot if I become distracted.

9:55:00 AM: PROXIMITY: Error light on rack a few feet away catches my attention. I investigate.

9:57:30 AM: Error not a big deal. Clear error light.

9:58:00 AM: PROXIMITY: Standing near rack, Take out iPhone, check mail, browse Facebook feed.

9:59:00 AM: Bored. Fling angry birds at pigs to pass the time.

9:59:50 AM: End of satellite program audio reminds me why I’m there.

10:00:00 AM: Reboot receiver.

10:00:30 AM: Fling more birds.

10:03:00 AM: Check receiver. Reboot complete, everything is happy.

10:06:00 AM: Listen to satellite-delivered program on car radio while driving home.

10:12:00 AM: RESULTS: Arrive home and thoroughly surprise Sharon, who expected my “quick trip” to take hours.

If it seems a little too easy, that’s because you’ve never done it. It’s not easy at all, and there are days when it’s nearly impossible—but it will always be impossible if you don’t try. I’m not parroting that “You can do this if you’ll just buckle down and try harder” thing linear people are so fond of bashing us with. If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me in my childhood, I would have squandered all that money long ago.

Here’s the thing: those linears are half right. You—and I—can do it. We just can’t do it their way.

Discover how you’re wired.

Find the way that works for you.

Then, meet me in The Elevator.

 

 

Getting Out of the Fish

In recent weeks God, as He is wont to do, has drop-kicked me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve learned an important lesson in this experience.

If ever you utter the phrase, “Lord, I’ll do anything but <insert scary ministry thing here>,” God is quite likely to call you to do <insert scary ministry thing here>. In fact, you can almost count on it. It’s not that He’s mean and wants to put us into places where we’d be miserable; it’s that our “scary ministry things” are often linked to places where we’re ruled by fear and need healing. In my case, God’s called me to the thing that for years I’ve avoided: Children’s Ministry.

Over the years, I’ve staunchly held that my gifts don’t fit Children’s Ministry. I even suggested that if I were to attempt to work with children, I would duct tape them and lock them in a closet—which claim usually had the desired effect, causing those who disagreed with my assessment to back off.

What a load of crap.

The real reason I’ve resisted working with children is that I didn’t want to go back and dredge up unpleasant memories from my childhood. Simply stated, I am to Children’s Ministry what Jonah was to Nineveh. God has pursued me with incredible patience, just as He pursued Jonah. I can even look back and see a similar pattern in my resistance and rebellion, even a parallel to the “big fish” thing.

Let me tell ya, it stinks inside that fish. Not recommended.

Back in May, I made a life-changing decision to get out of the fish. When the Lord tapped my shoulder and said, “Let’s talk about writing fiction for tweens,” rather than my usual diversionary tactics, I answered with a simple “Okay.” Not that I’ll never again write adult fiction, but for now my focus is completely on middle-grade fiction. Oh, and for the benefit of those not familiar with the term, middle grade does not mean mediocre, as some folks I know actually thought when I first used the term. It’s writing targeted to the middle grades, generally 9-12 year olds. It is exactly what God called me to write. It proves He has a sense of humor. Those were some of the worst years of my life, and He’s called me to go back there and write from that misery.

Come to think of it, that’s not humor—it’s downright brilliant, making me go back and heal some wounds I never even wanted to admit to having. It’s stirred up some interesting memories and insights, some of which I’ll blog about here in the near future.

I took a giant step five weeks ago. I volunteered to help with our church’s Children’s Ministry on a more-or-less trial basis. For the past five weeks, we’ve done a re-run of our VBS program on Sunday mornings. Today, our Minister to Children asked how I felt about my experience and if I wanted to stay.

I said yes.

In fact, you couldn’t drag me out of that children’s wing with two cranes and a bulldozer.

Okay, Lord, you can go ahead and move the fish. I won’t need him anymore.

I’m “all in.”

Ancient Egypt and the Fourth of July

We’ve had a rare and wonderful couple of days around the Case complex. Rare, because I haven’t written a word in the past two days. Wonderful, because Sharon and I did something today we’d been talking about for months—we went to see the World of the Pharaohs exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center. It was either today or wait until Mr. Peabody fixes the WABAC machine, since today marked the closing day of the exhibit. We’ve been talking about going ever since the exhibit opened last September. At least we didn’t wait until the last minute. There were approximately 343 minutes left before closing when we arrived.

I wish I could share my pictures with you, but unfortunately no photography was permitted in the exhibition hall. Dozens of stern-looking men and women watched every move we made, lest someone whip out an iPhone and take an illicit picture of a rare artifact rather than buying a postcard from the Egyptian tchochke section of the gift shop.

To me, it’s always interesting to explore a culture different from my own.  Not everyone agrees with me, I’m sure. Take the folks who travel to foreign lands are get upset because the people there don’t speak American English. If you want to be surrounded by people just like you, why not stay home and give the more adventurous a little elbow room?

If there’s one thing I wish I had a picture of, it’s a sign that appeared near the exit of the final room of the exhibit, the room with the mummies and sarcophagi. They wisely put that room at the end of the exhibit so all the kids being forced by Mom and Dad to broaden their historical acumen had something to look forward to that kept them focused (sort of). The sign touched on a point of controversy that’s been discussed repeatedly over the years: By displaying these sarcophagi and the linen-wrapped human remains found therein, are we disturbing and/or disrespecting the dead?

I’ve found myself thinking about that question for the past several hours, long after leaving the exhibit. I’m far from an expert on the religion of ancient Egypt, but I know they believed in an afterlife.  I believe in an afterlife too, though not at all the same kind of afterlife they did. I think, however, that the ancient Egyptians wanted the same thing most of us want: to be remembered. I can think of no situation sadder than a life ending and nobody wanting to remember that life,  or mourn, or grieve their loss.

Therein is a thread that connects us all, regardless of our religious belief (or lack thereof): we want to be remembered after we die.  Any honest author will admit that they dream of writing something so powerful that it continues to speak for generations after they’re gone. Medical researchers dream of discovering the cure to some fatal disease and having that cure bear their name long after they’ve breathed their last. Even the steelworkers who erect our modern skyscrapers take pride in knowing that over which they’ve labored will outlive them.

The sign called attention to an inscription on the wall of the room where the actual remains were displayed. It was a blessing that called on their gods to bless those individuals whose mummified remains I had just viewed—a blessing that listed the name of every individual whose remains we’d seen.  I could not recite that blessing without violating my own belief that I should not pray to false gods or idols, but I respected that blessing. As long as the names of those people are spoken and respected, they have the kind of afterlife they craved, an afterlife in which they are not forgotten.

In processing all this, it’s occurred to me that just yesterday we celebrated the day when America declared its independence, a day that began the first of many wars fought to achieve and maintain the freedom most Americans take for granted. One of our most sacred freedoms is the right to choose our religious belief and affiliation. While it’s become a popular sport to look down our noses and badmouth people who don’t believe exactly the way we do, I think it’s important to remember that the same blood that was shed to protect my right to embrace Christianity with both hands and both feet protects the rights of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and whatever-else-ists to believe what they believe. I may respectfully disagree with what you believe, I will fight to the death to defend your right to believe it.

May we never forget the names of those whose blood has defended our right to respectfully disagree.

Another Ridgecrest Farewell

I’m concluding my week at Ridgecrest in the same spot where I began—Rocking Chair Ridge. As nice as the new Johnson Spring complex is, this is still my favorite place at Ridgecrest. Every time I sit in one of these chairs, I can’t help but think about the lives that have been changed over the years in this very spot—including my own.

Every time I come here for a conference, God shows up. This week has been no disappointment. I’ve done a horrible job of tweeting, Facebooking, and whatever the latest cool social networking thing is that popped up while I wasn’t watching. I didn’t even tweet-feet, though I did post a picture of Vonda Skelton’s feet on the BRMCWC Facebook Fan Page, just for fun. Though I may have been social-network challenged, I’m certain my time went for all the right things.

What I did do this week is study the craft of writing suspense and thrillers at the feet of award-winning novelist Steven James. I also made a few hundred new friends, hugged a lot of old friend’s necks, and refilled my writer’s soul by hanging with all those fellow word-wrangling addicts.

And as always, there were surprises.

After a gentle but firm nudge from the Holy Spirit, I spent three days in Nancy Rue’s class on writing for tweens and teens. I knew it would be wonderful the moment I walked through the door and saw TOYS! I tried to avoid it, but the inescapable fact is that ther Lord is nudging me to dedicate a portion of my writing life to novels for tween boys (9-12 years old). I feel thoroughly inadequate for that task, which puts me in a good place. If I’m to have any success, God’s gonna have to show up and I’m gonna have to get out of His way.

I had one final surprise today, the sort of moment I’d attribute to coincidence if I believed in coincidence. At lunch today I sat at a random  table with a young woman who I later learned was Andrea Gutierrez, associate editor or Thriving Family magazine. I learned that we have some common friends, and also that Thriving Family is a potential target for some articles I’ve written in the past but haven’t done much with lately. I’ve been so fiction-focused that I hadn’t even considered article writing lately, but the queries will be flying before long. Coincidence? Not hardly.

One last item from Ridgecrest: a word about those wonderful Ridgecrest volunteers. I love red shirts anyway, but after this week I love ’em even more. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with retired folks who come to Ridgecrest and volunteer their time to help the ministry. The volunteers are easy to spot. Just look for the red shirts, and you’ll more than likely find a volunteer. These folks come here from all over the country at their own expense to serve without pay, and their faithful service added so much to the week for all of us. The photo shows my absolute favorite volunteer of all time, an eighty-something lady named Marvella. She’s volunteered to serve at every writer’s conference and retreat I’ve attended here at Ridgecrest, and without her I’d have never found my way that first year. We all love you, Marvella. I look forward to seeing you here next year!