Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I enjoyed Jennifer Slattery's last post on Faith, Friends, and Chocolate, a guest piece from author James R. Callan "Story Behind the Story."

"Write what you know" is a guiding force when writer's pen their novels. The more emotional the writing, chances are the author experienced a similar life situation.

Submitting chapters of my first novel to a critique group, I'd get back responses like, "that's too unbelievable." Though I was writing fiction, often I'd have to take real scenarios and fictionalize them to make them more believable.

Today, I'd like to share a except from my novel CROOKED LINES of an incredible experience that happened to me only once. I changed the names, a few of the details, but the dream, the voice,  and the woman were real.  

I fell asleep and later, woke from an incredible dream—clips of woman’s life a happy young girl, then the same person a beautiful teenager wanting to conquer the world, then I witnessed her sadness, her pain. Deeper lines etched a more hardened face. 
Then, like a reporter’s voice in a documentary, a calm loving voice spoke. “Tell her I love her. Tell her not to lie down and go to sleep.”

I stayed awake for hours thinking about the dream, certain Jesus had spoken. But who was she? Was I destined to meet her? Did she represent me?

The dream popped into my thoughts throughout the next few days, then one morning in the park, I looked up from the bench and saw her. The woman from my dreams watched Grace and the other children playing. My heart pounded. My arms tingled.

I rose and introduced myself. She invited me to sit beside her. Her kids were grown, she said, but she lived nearby and enjoyed watching the children play. Her attitude fit her name. Joy, upbeat and inspiring.

Living in the Bible-Belt, our conversation naturally turned to matters of faith, but an appropriate moment to share my dream never presented itself and she spoke as a woman confident of God’s love.

“Time for me to go to work.” Joy glanced at her watch.

“Where’s that?”

“A boutique not far from here.” She pulled a card from her purse and scribbled her phone number on the back.

“When your book gets published, call me. I’d love a signed copy.”

Later that evening, after I said prayers with Grace and tucked her in bed, she ran her finger across the wrinkles in my forehead. “Momma, what’s wrong.”

I kissed the top of her head. “I didn’t do something I was told to do. I’m going to do it now. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Momma. I love you.”

“Love you, too.” I shut off her light, grabbed my phone, and dialed the number on the back of the card. The woman’s voice didn’t carry the same happy tone from the afternoon.

“Joy, this is Rebecca. I met you today in the park. This may seem odd, but I must tell you something.”

“I’m listening.”

“A few days ago, before I met you, I dreamt about you. You were really sad. Then I heard Jesus’ voice. He told me to tell you something. He said, ‘Don’t lie down. Don’t go to sleep.’ He said to tell you that He loves you.”

“Hello? Joy?”

A gasp. A sob. She wept before speaking. “I’m holding a bottle of pills. I was going to take them all.”

“Oh no! Why? You seemed so happy earlier, so sure of God’s love.”

“Things aren’t always as they seem.”

“Do you want to talk?”

photo courtesy of morgue file
A deep heaving sigh came through the phone. “I’ve tried to believe what I heard about Jesus’ forgiveness and new life, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not worthy.” Her voice cracked. 
“Before I got the job at the boutique, I was in prison. My husband sold drugs, and I was implicated.”

“I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

“I accepted the Lord during a prison ministry program. I repeated the lines that I’d been told in prison, but it’s difficult on the outside.”

“How so?”

“I can’t hide from the shame of my past. And if I don’t divorce my husband, who’s still using, I’ll end up back in prison.”

“Joy, you are way more than the choices you’ve made. More than your mistakes. God showed me your beautiful soul and told me that He loves you. He loves you enough to die for you. Is that enough reason for you to live?” The words were coming freely, confidently, as if God whispered them in my ear.

She sobbed. “I’ve prayed for proof that He really loves me. Now, I know. Before the words were in my head, but now I feel them in my heart. ” A pause on the line, then, “Thank you.”

“I’ve not done anything, but you should’ve told me the truth earlier.”

“You seemed to have a perfect life. I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“Joy, things aren’t always what they seem.”

With our earlier fa├žades stripped away, we spoke openly about our lives and our struggles. We talked for hours about divorce, freedom, and the Christian faith and what God would want us to do about our situations.

In the morning, I phoned a lawyer.

Thanks for letting me share that excerpt. Crooked Lines is on sale today on Amazon Kindle for only .99.  Link  And it's currently #2 in an Amazon Kindle inspirational fiction category. Thanks for stopping by Faith, Friends, and Chocolate.  - Holly

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Story Behind the Story

There's one question I get at almost every author event, and that is, "Where do you get the ideas for your stories?"

The answer can be quite complicated (the merging of life and frequent dips into a world of my own creation), and I'm sure the answer is different for every writer questioned. Today my friend, mystery writer, James Callan, shares his inspiration for writing mystery novels.

As an added bonus, he's giving away a copy of Cleansed by Fire, kindle or print version, to one lucky reader residing in the continental US randomly selected from the comments left on today's post.

The Story Behind the Story
by James Callan

Most of the time, the mysteries I write center on a single idea I read in the news or heard about some other way.  The two books in my Father Frank Mysteries series are perfect examples. Here is the “story behind the story.”

Photo by Salvatore Vuono
taken from freedigitalphotos.net
The first, Cleansed by Fire, came from the news. A few years ago, east Texas had a rash of church arsons. The police ultimately caught the two young men responsible, but no motive ever came out, except “Could we get away with it.” 

I wondered about this for a long time.  What would be a motive to burn several churches? The result was Cleansed by Fire.  In it, the fires were carefully planned to cover up a more sinister plot.

The second in the series is Over My Dead Body.  This came from a more personal experience.  The Keystone Pipeline, in the news for the last two years, now passes through our property.  We resisted, but with an eminent domain court order on their side, they clear-cut a swath 150 feet wide and a third of a mile long through our trees, bulldozing down hundred-foot tall pines and fifty year-old oak and hickory trees. Other people filed appeals in the courts trying to stop the appropriation of private land for a private company.  Not what eminent domain was supposed to do. But the pipeline went through, at least in Texas.

I wanted to write a book about this. But I write murder mysteries and there was no murder involved with these protests. And, I didn’t want to name Keystone in my book. So, I switched to a private company using eminent domain for a shopping center, and a tough old man willing to fight it in court. He’s found dead, apparently from an overdose of his heart medicine. The police rule it suicide. Case closed.

But his pastor, Father Frank, does not believe the man committed suicide. Neither does a woman in his church. As they try to find evidence to refute the suicide theory, they find themselves under attack both physically and psychologically.

Over My Dead Body releases on Kindle May 5 and in paperback on May 11.

I don’t want to keep you too long, but here is just one more book and how it came about.  Some years ago, I read an old Texas folk tale about a wagon load of precious metal that was lost and never found. I wondered how an old folk tale could affect the lives of people today.  After letting the idea rattle around in my brain for awhile, I began writing A Ton of Gold.  That idea turned into a 94,000 word suspense novel. 

The secret to gathering story ideas is to listen to what goes on around you.  And then ask yourself the famous writer’s question: What if?  Every day’s news contains the genesis for a book, probably many books.  Just pick one out. Then ask, “What if?”

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years. He has had four non-fiction books published.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in 2015.

Visit him online at his website, blog, Amazon Author Page, connect with him on Twitter--@jamesrcallan, or find him on Facebook by keywording James Callan
Over My Dead Body, is available HERE!

A large corporation is taking land by eminent domain.  Syd Cranzler stands in its way, threatening a court battle. After a heated meeting with the corporation representative, Syd is found dead from an overdose of heart medication.  The police call it suicide. Case closed.

But Father Frank, Syd’s pastor, and Georgia Peitz, another member of the church, don’t believe Syd committed suicide and begin to look for clues of what really happened. Will this affect Georgia’s romantic interest in the lead detective?

When the priest is attacked and later almost poisoned, they convince the police to investigate further. Immediately, Father Frank becomes the target of rumors and speculation he might have had something to do with Syd’s death.

The more clues Father Frank and Georgia uncover, the more danger they find themselves in. Can they find the real killer before they become victims?  

This is the second Father Frank mystery, following Cleansed by Fire.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Foundations—Where Do You Find Support for Life?

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

Foundations - where do you find
support for life?
There are times when life comes at us hard and fast.  Crisis’ appear and pressure mounts. When these situations arise, it’s the foundation of our lives that gives us the support we need.

When we rely on circumstances (income, possessions, even friends) for support, our foundation will crumble when we need it most. Money doesn’t help when someone you love is hurting, possessions give no comfort when you’ve lost someone, and people do let us down.

So where do we turn when times get tough?

For me, I rely on God to carry me through. And the vehicle I use is my faith—faith in God, in His character and especially in His love for me. But faith is like a muscle. If you haven’t spent time strengthening it, it can give out on you.

There are a lot of things I do to keep my faith strong. Here are just a few:
  • Prayer: Prayer is more than just a laundry list of wants. It’s an ongoing conversation and an outgrowth of the relationship we have with God. It’s hard to get to know someone if we don’t spend time with them—and that’s also true with God. By spending time with Him, we strengthen our relationship with Him and that in turn strengthens our faith.
  • Bible study: Again, this is part of nurturing our relationship with God. I learn more about God’s character as I read His word and see how He has interacted with His people throughout the ages. As I study the Bible, my faith is strengthened and I learn over and over again how much God loves me and loves each of us.
  • Godly friends: The friendships I value most are those that share the common values of my belief in God. We approach life from the same perspective and can help remind each other of the importance of faith.

When life gets tough, God uses that time to strengthen me and reveal Himself in a new and deeper way.

During those dark times, I’m like a seed, planted deep in the ground. I’m surrounded by darkness, by rough, rocky soil, pressing in on all sides crushing the life from me. But through that incredible pressure, the shell of my own strength falls away, and I slowly begin to push toward the light that I know is just beyond the darkness.

I’ve learned that no matter what my circumstances, God is always there. When I let Him, He provides an unshakeable foundation to support me no matter what comes my way.

Edie Melson—author, editor, and blogger—is a leading professional within the writing industry, as well as a popular inspirational speaker and mentor. She’s the author of While My Soldier Serves: Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military (Worthy Inspired). She’s also the military family blogger for Guideposts at While They Serve. In addition, as a respected expert in social media, Edie has the proven expertise to teach others how to plug in without sacrificing valuable writing time. Her bestselling eBook on this subject, has recently been updated, expanded and re-released as Connections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers. Connect with her on her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, which reaches thousands each month, and through Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Mother's Day Gift

This post, written by our friend Jennifer Hallmark, is for all the moms grieving little ones today.

Ten Candy Bars: A Mother’s Day Gift

By Staurt Miles found on freedigitalphotos.net
The alarm on her phone echoed in the dark room. Emma grunted as she slid her hand from under the covers and stretched it along the nightstand.

Her hand touched the hard case. Straining to see the screen without her glasses, she pushed the alarm off. “I shouldn’t have even set an alarm.” She looked down at Blizzard, her fluffy white cat. “I’m not 
going to church, you know.”

The cat stood and stretched, then jumped off the bed. He headed for the bedroom door, ignoring Emma completely.

“Fine. You leave too. Aaron’s not here either.” She sat up in the bed, scrubbing the sleep from her eyes. “I don’t care.”

But she did. Her husband, Aaron, had accepted overtime, today of all days. She puffed out a breath.

How could he?

Her mother’s words came back to her. He’s suffering too. Let him work it out in his own way.

She frowned. He always dealt with problems through physical labor; so the factory was a perfect choice for today. Couldn’t he think of her once?

She pushed herself from the bed and stumbled toward the bathroom. Blizzard sat in front of the bathroom door, bombarding her with loud mews. “Yeah, I know. You want breakfast. I’ll get it in a minute. Then I’ve got to leave and go somewhere. Anywhere.”

One look in the mirror caused her to groan. She wiped more sleep from her eyes, pulling the skin toward her hairline. As if that would stretch away the small wrinkles that had formed so early in her life. Another mew sounded at her feet. “Okay, okay. One cat breakfast coming up.”


Emma pulled the visor on the car down to knock the sun from her eyes. She willed her shoulders to relax. It was a beautiful day, all things considered. As she turned onto Mendel Street, the sign at the First Baptist church garnered her attention: Happy Mother’s Day from all of us.

A tear slid down her face, followed by another. She swiped at it, but it was too late. A steady stream of tears erupted and she could do nothing to stop it.


She slammed her hand on the steering wheel. She should be at church now, Aaron at her side, with a two-month-old bundle of joy. Instead, he was at work and Emma just drove, aiming towards the flea market on the other side of town. Church had too many reminders. The sermon would be about mothers and gifts would be handed out for the youngest and oldest mother. She clenched the steering wheel tighter. If only Mother lived closer. She could spend the day in the safety of her family home, sitting by Mother on the porch swing.

Mother understood. She’d had a miscarriage, actually two, before Emma was born.
The sign to her right pointed toward several large buildings ahead. Flattville Flea Market. A little bit of everything.

Emma parked at the end of the lot, then unscrewed the top from the bottle of water she’d stuck in her purse, draining half of it. She pulled out a mirror and wiped her eyes with a tissue. A touch of powder on her face and she almost looked normal; as normal as she could on a day like this one.

Emma strolled toward the first building to her left. This was always her favorite place to start, the one
By Ikuni from freedigitalphotos.net
with antique furniture and outdoor decorations. She would end up in the building with produce. She needed some fresh fruit and potatoes. The rest of the time would be mindless wandering, so she wouldn’t have to think.

As she pushed through the door, the smell of old leather and wood competed with a whiff of freshly made popcorn. Her stomach rumbled. Blizzard was the only one who’d enjoyed breakfast.

A display of furniture from years past sprawled up the whole right side of the tin building. The first piece to catch her eye was a hand carved cradle. A lump grew in her throat as she walked to the object, running her hand over the smooth wood. This was the kind of furniture she’d wanted in the baby’s room. Her miscarriage had come early in the pregnancy, so she had not purchased anything.

Nothing to take back.

She’d dreamed though, and those dreams stayed with her. She flipped up the price tag. It was affordable.

Shaking her head, she strode through the rest of the building without looking and pushed through the exit at the end. A half dozen picnic tables were spread under two large oak trees. Emma headed for the first one and plopped down. A brisk breeze dried the tears on her face as they trickled down. This 
was not working.

God, where are you?

Emma pulled the water bottle from her purse and finished it. She had her back to the building. Someone tapped her shoulder, making her jump.. As she turned, a child took a step back.

“Scuse me. Would you like to buy a candy bar?”

The girl thrust a box of chocolates under Emma’s nose. “They’re only one dollar.”

Behind the girl stood a young woman with red hair twisted up in a bun, baby hoisted on her hip. “Katie. Say please.”

“Please.” Katie rubbed her nose. “We’re raising money to go to church camp. You can swim there.”

A smile broke through the tears. “You can? I’ll bet that will be fun.” Emma fished into her purse, retrieving a ten dollar bill. “I’ll take ten.”

“Really?” A huge grin filled Katie’s face.

Katie’s mother stepped closer. “We really appreciate this.” She peered at Emma, as she switched the baby to her other hip. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” She wiped her eyes.

The baby must have liked Emma’s glasses. He reached out toward them, emitting a loud baby giggle. That’s all it took to restart the tears. “No. I’m not okay.”

“I’m Sarah.” She sat beside her. “How can I help?”

Emma poured out her story to the stranger, while Katie stuffed ten candy bars into a sack. She started with the excitement of the pregnancy, and moved on to the spotting, the cramps, and the loss. Her struggle to deal with the grief she felt over someone she’d never met, and would never get to meet. Having to deal with Mother’s day with Aaron at work.

She accepted the baby wipes Sarah had dug from a small diaper bag and also the hug she offered.
“I’m sorry to dump on you like this.” Emma wiped her nose.

“No problem.” Sarah smiled. “I wish I could offer a wonderful word of advice, some magic formula to make you better. But I can’t.”

By phanlop88 from freedigitalphotos.net
The baby cooed and reached again for Emma. Her heart pounded against her chest as she caught a whiff of baby powder. “Could I hold him?”

“Of course.” Sarah handed the wiggling bundle to Emma. “His name is Justin.”

“What a beautiful baby you are.” Emma tilted her head back to keep her glasses out of reach. “No,
you can’t have my glasses.” Justin grabbed Emma’s hand and she marveled at the plump fingers as they clutched to hers.

Somehow, as she held Justin, a small piece of her heart mended with his touch. The doctor had said he saw no reason that would prevent her from becoming pregnant and carrying the baby full term. Maybe it was time to try again. To step out and let go, to trust God.

She handed Justin back to Sarah. “Thank you for listening. I’ll be okay.”

Sarah hugged her again and then she and her children headed back to the other building. Emma stood, stuffing the bag of candy in her oversized purse. She moved back toward the furniture building. It was time to move forward into all the goodness God still had for her.

And she had a purchase to make.

Jennifer Hallmark is a writer by nature, artist at heart, and daughter of God by grace. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the Internet, short stories in several magazines, and has contributed to four book compilation: A Dozen Apologies, Sweet Freedom A La Mode, Unlikely Merger (releasing this summer) and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage (releasing in late summer). She is currently shopping her contemporary fiction, When Wedding and Weather Collide.

Sweet Freedom:
For some, the fourth of July is a celebration of
freedom; for others it is a reminder of bondage. Of pain. Of fear. Of hopelessness. But there is a hope that is deeper, a love that is truer, and a freedom that no one can ever snatch away.

How can one take a step toward that freedom when the road appears shrouded with insecurities and doubts? These pages contain numerous stories: a woman longing to start again but bound by the failures of her past; a young man who, upon reaching adulthood, must face his fears of death; a woman offered a chance of true love but held back by crippling insecurities. 

Is God even there? Does He care…enough to reach down and pull these men and women from the messes they’ve landed in, some of them by their own hand? 

Freedom. Peace-saturated, joy-infusing freedom. 

We pray our stories demonstrate what it looks like in the day-to-day…and provide a little insight into how one grabs hold of that treasured state of heart and mind.