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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

For writers: How to deal with “Too Many Characters” Syndrome

For readers: A peek into the warped brain of a storyteller

http://suzannewoodsfisher.com/author-spotlight/author-spotlight-with-beth-white/

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Guest blogging today at More To Life Magazine! Where life intersects fiction…People ask me all the time, “Where did the idea for the novel come from?” Well here’s the truth….
https://mtlmagazine.com/the-story-behind-the-story-in-beth-whites-novel-a-rebel-heart/

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Sometimes I stop and answer questions about the writing process. Here’s one that posted yesterday at Interviews and Reviews:
https://www.interviewsandreviews.com/interviews/beth-white-interview

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This morning I get in my car and decide it’s a twenty one pilots kind of day. How do I know that? See that guy in the middle of the photo? That’s how I know.

Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be composing fiction. I have a book due to my publisher in a few months. But sometimes a different kind of writing is in order—like the day before Mothers Day, a day when I’m reflecting on important things like influence and legacy and sheer teeth-gritting faith. Let’s see if I can pull those things together with a few snap-shot stories.

About thirty-three years ago, I was in my late twenties, angsting over wanting to have a child, having trouble trusting God with His will. I was taking a fertility pill called Clomid, and I remember one morning dropping one of those expensive tablets. It rolled under the refrigerator, I couldn’t reach it, and I sat down on the floor and burst into tears. How was I going to get pregnant if I couldn’t take my last dose of the month? Anybody ever been there?

A couple of years later (after the miracle happened and my beautiful baby boy was born in the same hospital I was born in), I was lying on my sofa, asking myself a super-serious question. If I’d known this baby was going to eat and cry (and not sleep) twenty-four-seven for six months—with no end in sight—would I have cried over that pill under the refrigerator? No kidding. Ryan was finally down for a nap, I knew I needed sleep, and I couldn’t sleep because my body wouldn’t relax, knowing he was going to wake up and howl any minute. Anybody ever been there?

Five years later, I get a phone call from Cottage Hill Christian School. Ryan’s in serious trouble. His kindergarten class was in the sanctuary practicing for graduation, and one of the custodians interrupted, hopping mad because some imp kept unplugging his vacuum cleaner. Yeah. Funny now. Pretty embarrassing at the time. Anybody ever been there?

Not long after that, I’m singing in the choir at Dauphin Way Baptist Church, trusting my kids to the care of our wonderful friend Rita Catchot during the service. I can see Ryan lying full-out on a pew, apparently asleep (but at least quiet) during the sermon. On the way home, he proceeds to relate the entire contents of the sermon (which included the plan of salvation) to his dad and ask if he can give his heart to Jesus. A year or so later he casually informs us he’s told his sister she needs to get saved too, and explained to her how she can do that. So she did. I hope you have had that experience. Very cool.

And then middle school. Ye gods and little fishes! Can we just skip that period? There’s the rotten raccoon tail nailed to a bedroom wall. There’s the arrow shot across our backyard fence, sailing into the open window of an apartment—thank God the only thing it hit was a mattress. There’s a very clever and cruel poem written to lampoon a science teacher. A cake dumped out of a second-floor church window onto a car below. A dive off a Tennessee riverside cliff into six feet of water. My prayer life took on a certain level of desperation laced with disbelief. Really, God? Is this your idea of a joke?

High school brings more hair-raising adventures. Car wrecks. Crazy girlfriends. A laser pointer (apparently a weapon) deployed in a basketball game. “Borrowed” school keys. Expulsion from Christian school. Public school locker room fights. Hacking the family computer. We try homeschooling, which becomes a blur of reading and discussing some magnificent classic literature, fighting our way through trigonometry and chemistry (both of which ultimately require tutors—thank the Lord for Sharon Whatley and Mike South), me completing and publishing five novels, and taking some truly wonderful field trips together. Then, to our relief, Cottage Hill Christian Academy allows Ryan to complete his senior year and graduate. Cottage Hill Baptist Church, what a ministry you had to our family!

And still the struggle wasn’t over. I’d love for Ryan to tell this story from his perspective, but from my side it looked like pure and unadulterated rebellion. Testing every boundary to see what would stick, what would hold fast, what would remain true. My most horrific memory from that period—and this was, I guess, about ten years ago—is listening to my cherished son state that he had had enough of our rules and he was off to join the army. If we wouldn’t take him to the recruiting office, he’d walk there. The irony escapes none of us, haha! And then when the army rejects him because of a kidney stone, this brilliant kid fails out of his first semester of college and loses a full scholarship—because he simply won’t go to class. The only things remotely interesting, it seems, are computer programming and history!

God intervened somehow with a series of events leading to Ryan living with his Aunt Dianne in Houston. They saved each other, and that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say—within a year he’d joined the Navy, reconnected with a high school friend named Nicole Salter (now his lovely wife), and begun to get his act together. Funny how the voluntary act of submitting to discipline is different from that imposed from the outside. You can’t convince me that God didn’t design us with free will, and you can’t convince me that He doesn’t have ultimate control over his creation. Those two things go together, intertwine, pull in a magnificent tension that our brains can’t comprehend.

Because, you see, in all the seeming chaos of mothering this difficult, insanely creative and intellectual young man, growth and shaping and preparation was going on in my own life as well as his. Nearly every day, as a public school teacher, I encounter difficult, abused, smart-alec, violent, fragile, funny, overeducated, spoiled, talented kids. I can respond and interact with a supernaturally calm confidence because a) God has walked with me through some pretty harrowing stuff and b) the truth of His Word never fails. Never. I mean that. Biblical principles hold true.

That day Ryan angrily strode out of my house, headed to somewhere in north Alabama to join the army, if I could have pictured what would happen on May 12, 2018, I might not have been so distraught. But that’s the thing. Brokenhearted infertile young woman, sleep-deprived young mom, frazzled older mom, worried mother of a prodigal…you’re not allowed to see beyond the moment. And that’s a good thing. Because things can get worse before they get better. Faith is hard.

But hang in there. Trust God and let Him hold you. Lean in.

Today Ryan is a romantic, tenderhearted husband and father, a great disciplinarian, holds down two jobs and has served his country with distinction and honor. And he gives me books and music at every opportunity. And teaches me how to safely handle a firearm. And takes me to lunch for Mothers Day.

So why twenty one pilots? About a year ago Ryan gave me an iTunes gift card (may have been last Mothers Day) and said, “Mom, you need to buy this album Blurryface. You’ll love it.” At first I didn’t. Had to listen a few times to get the lyrics and get used to the rap sections. Now I’m obsessed. It’s happy, hopeful music, with a core of faith that runs just below the surface, intelligent literary references and clever lyric construction. Most of my 60-year-old contemporaries wouldn’t like it. But my 31-year-old son understands me deeply. And when the sun is bright on a spring day and I get to meet him and his family for lunch, I drive with the volume wide open on a song with these lyrics: “She asked me, Son, when I grow old, will you buy me a house of gold? And when your father turns to stone, will you take care of me? I will make you queen of everything you see, I’ll put you on the map, I’ll cure you of disease.”

At lunch we chat with the children—Roz has brought a fuzzy stuffed kitty with red mittens she named Meow-head—and look up the poem about three little kittens who lost their mittens on a phone and read it outloud (who knew it has such a weird twist at the end?). We talk about movies and books, including the one I’m writing. I outline my current plot, ask him for his take, and he promises to think about it (he’s quite talented with suspense storylines). I’m so grateful I didn’t give in to despair and frustration in earlier years. I’m grateful that God really does work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purpose. I’m grateful He loves Ryan more than I do, knows him better than I do, wants his good more than I do. I’ve got a metaphorical house of gold, and I feel like the queen of everything I see.

Grateful I am. Happy Mothers Day!

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Beth 1/1/18

I’m supposed to be composing fresh material for untitled Book Two of The Daughtry House series, so of course I’m going to spend the last afternoon of 2017 doing something else. My children and grandchildren have vacated the house for their own pursuits, leaving me a little melancholy and reflective. Which, I guess, is how you’re supposed to feel on the last day of the year. To ward off the blues, I’m eating sweet potato fries with ranch dressing, one of my favorite things on the planet (right up there with banana pudding)—one of the many tricks I learned from my daughter this year. She’s handy that way.

Also I’m waiting for my toenail polish to dry so I can put on my socks, and my feet are cold. But, you know, priorities.

This has been a very strange year. Second year of a new teaching job, which basically means the honeymoon is over. Everything is upside down and reality sets in. A classroom in a more than fifty-year-old building has collected its share of peeling paint, resident rodents, arthritic air-conditioning units, and 1970’s-era television sets in the closet. Teenagers act like teenagers, grownups say the wrong thing and refuse to back down, and policy makers create paperwork. Teaching is no different from any job in the universe. It’s just all packed into 10 months of the year.

I have nothing to complain about. In fact, I’m blessed beyond measure to have a front-row seat to watch young artists take leaps and fly. To see the “Oh, I get it” look in an intelligent pair of eyes. To reap the fruit of laughter and camaraderie where hurt feelings and anger had threatened to take root.

Back to the strange part. I wrote A Rebel Heart this year, turning it in in early August (a full year after its original due date). Started over three times, and pretty much hated it until I was in the last chapter, which is not the ideal way to tackle a book. Of course I now love it, and the fact that it was so emotionally draining is a good sign. At least I hope so. The Reconstruction Era in American history was a defining time, a confusing time, a forgotten time. I learned a lot, winced a lot, and found some heroes I never knew existed. I hope my readers will be challenged and uplifted. I hope they’ll identify with my hero and heroine. We’ll see.

Then there’s my journey with personal discipline. I read through most of a Chronological Bible. Mainly I just chugged it every day without trying to contemplate too much. But I did find pieces winding themselves into my everyday walk, often informing and explaining and smoothing the quandaries in which I’d find myself. Or creating mysteries for further contemplation.

And I continued into a second year of daily exercise and balanced nutrition. I found this system in June of 2016 through the examples of my two youngest sisters. I’m a notorious lazy-butt, but the physical energy and general sense of emotional chill that settled on my undisciplined life made a believer out of me. Beachbody.com, if anybody is interested. I started with 21 Day Fix and have moved on from there. Really, habits matter. I lost 25 pounds and 3 dress sizes. I’m 60 years old, and this is the best I’ve ever felt in my life. Yes, it’s a sacrifice to get to bed by 9 PM and get up by 4:30 AM to work out for 30 minutes before work. But the alternative is unthinkable. Seriously. People ask me how I get everything done, so there you go.

Next day…Here we are in 2018! I look at my calendar for the year, already largely planned, and it’s frankly overwhelming. I’ll finish Daughtry House Book Two at the same time I’m launching The Rebel Heart. I’ll assist in producing a high school musical. I’ll take students to All State Chorus, County Honor Choir, Show Choir, State Choral Performance Assessment, and Solo and Ensemble. I’ll keep up with a variety of family and church events and activities and hopefully read a few good books.

Some of that will go smoothly, perhaps even brilliantly, but I always brace myself for the unexpected. The weird. The disastrous. The joyous.

Bring it on!

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Don QuijoteSometimes you run across some little piece of writing that is so useful and at the time so entertaining that it’s worth stealing….I mean, reposting—with the author’s permission of course. So if you’ve had a frustrating day and you want to feel better about yourself, or perhaps you are what my son calls a “gear head,” or maybe you simply want to avoid the slowest way in history to repair your car’s window mechanism, this is for you.
You’re welcome.

Dear Don Quixote la Mechanica: I have two car locks and two windows that need new regulator assemblies. Would you please post a tutorial on how to install them?

Sure! Honestly the hardest part is getting the door panel off without breaking the clips, and removing the plastic insulation without tearing it to shreds. After that it’s mostly just nuts and bolts.

First, make sure you don’t buy a regulator with the motor attached, if you can reuse the old motor. You just have to be careful putting the new one in the door, so that you don’t yank any unseen electrical wires. On that note, it’s worth the extra minute to disconnect the negative lead from the battery terminal. We won’t talk about how I learned that step. Also there should be one of the 6 or 7 bolt holes in the door that has a spot where you can put the bolt on the regulator first, then push it through from the back of the inner door and drop it down in a notch. Do this one first so you can hang it there while you do the rest of the bolts. We won’t talk about how I learned that either. Then reatach the window to the regulator. That’s pretty much it.

Unless, like me, you realize after all this work that half of one of the plastic clips that attaches the window to the regulator is still attached to the old regulator because it’s stupid and it broke and it’s stupid. Then you have to completely remove the window from the door and move it to your SleepNumber brand work bench. My window’s sleep number was 3 but yours could be a 7. Good thing it’s adjustable.

Next, pull the clip off the window, and then use a solvent, a heat gun (pronounced “hairdryer”), and a putty knife to remove the glue that was holding the clip in place. Most of the old glue should now be conveniently attached to your skin for easy transport to a disposal location. Clean the window thoroughly to remove any residue. Next you have to put a new clip in exactly the right spot on the window where you just removed the residue that would have shown you where the old clip was attached. Pro tip: the new clip can be found on the same aisle as unicorns and fairies at your local parts store, which I thought was poor inventory management.

Anyway, now you have to use an acrylic based epoxy to secure the clip to the window. Let the fancy glue cure for 2 episodes of Seinfeld, then put the window back in and reattach the clips to the regulator. Extra bragging rights are awarded if you manage to do all this without breaking the window. Don’t forget to re-plug in any electronics that you had to unplug in the process before you put the door panel back on. Again, I don’t want to talk about it. Now you’re done. I think.

Wait, why won’t the car start now? Oh yeah, the battery. Ok, now you’re done.

Hope this helps.

DQM

Ryan, I owe you a bag of jellybeans.

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51V-JziXCuL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Dinner Most Deadly, the fourth full-length installment in the John Pickett Mystery series by Sheri Cobb South, lives up to its predecessors (In Milady’s Chamber, A Dead Bore, and Family Plot) in its lively plot, engaging characters, and spritely dialogue. I have read and enjoyed all of South’s work, and this one does not disappoint.

Dinner Most Deadly continues to twist the romantic tension building between handsome young Bow Street Runner John Pickett and Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, whom we first met as Pickett’s number one murder suspect in In Milady’s Chamber. Cursed with a self-admitted penchant for involving herself in complicated murder plots, Julia suffers through her friend Lady Dunnington’s awkward dinner party, only to have it end with the urbane and unsavory Sir Reginald Montague being shot dead.

Pickett, who has demonstrated a particular talent for detective work related to the beau monde, is called in to investigate. Along with a plethora of uncooperative suspects, Pickett has to deal with the humiliation of annulment proceedings (having accidentally married Julia in Family Plot), the flirtatious advances of Lady Dunnington’s pretty housemaid, and his own determination to maintain a platonic relationship with the lady of his dreams. Meanwhile, Julia struggles to uphold her promise not to implicate her friend Emily’s estranged husband in the murder, while keeping the integrity of her friendship with Pickett—who insists on holding her at a frustrating arm’s length.

Sheri Cobb South

As always, South injects wry humor into what could be dark subject matter (murder, after all, being the plot center) and casts Pickett’s gallant self-deprecation into charming relief against the self-serving attitudes of the society toffs vying for Julia’s favors. There is real tension and maturity in Pickett’s perfectly normal red-blooded desire for a relationship (physical and emotional) with a lovely, bright, and sweet woman—a desire held in check by the societal boundaries that separate them—but South still manages to keep the sexual content at a PG level. I found the treatment of the awkward annulment proceedings to be more funny than titillating—a tribute to South’s skill as a wordsmith.

The murder mystery plot is deftly handled, kept lively and logical, though I confess it was less interesting to me than the romance (I like mysteries well enough, but I wouldn’t call myself a raving fan of the genre). I guessed the perp early on (I probably watch too much NCIS and Forever), but it was fun to see character motivations unreel as Pickett interviews each witness.

I recommend Dinner Most Deadly as a satisfying romantic mystery, particularly for those who enjoy romantic tension, sympathetic characters, funny dialogue, and brain-teasing plots in a historical setting. If you haven’t already read the previous three books in the series, I highly recommend starting with In Milady’s Chamber. Dinner Most Deadly can be read as a stand-alone novel, but it will be more enjoyable read in continuity.

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