Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Blogger Deborah Heal: Every Hill and Mountain

I'm becoming acquainted with author Deborah Heal through the John 3:16 Marketing Network, and was particularly interested in her Time and Again time travel-mystery book series since I'm writing my own time travel novel, Jordan's Shadow. I've started reading Time and Again, and I'm hooked! Deborah agreed to share some very personal insights from her faith and writing journey. And also the good news that the Kindle version of Every Hill and Mountain is on sale for 99 cents now through the end of November. Click here to buy it at Amazon.


I think of my novel Every Hill and Mountain as an assignment I turned in for the continuing education program I’m involved with. You know, that life-long business of becoming more sanctified. As slow as I’m learning things, I figure God may decide to keep me in school another hundred years or so before he lets me into Heaven.

By that, I’m not saying I will have arrived, become perfect, and thus will deserve to get into Heaven—not even after a thousand years. But apparently, God thinks it’s good for us to come smack up against our ignorance, stupidity, and foulness for a while in this life so we we’ll appreciate His perfection all the more in the life to come.

I have a friend of the New Age persuasion who does believe in the perfectibility of human beings. We had a conversation a while back about racism, in which I said everyone’s prejudiced to one degree or another. He got quite irate and said, “Hey, speak for yourself!” He claimed to be completely free of this fault.

But I know I’m right. No one reaches perfection in any aspect of his being. Not in this life. Whether I like it or not, I’m a racist to one degree or another. But I have come a long way through the years as God continues to work on me.

My first teacher on the subject of race was an aunt (God rest her soul). The lesson came when I was five or six and as a treat, she took me to shop at the Ben Franklin store. When we got out of the car, she called my attention to some people standing on the sidewalk across the street. “See those n***ers over there,” she whispered. “Watch out. They’ll cut your ears off if they ever hear you call them n***er.” The sad thing is, I think my aunt was really trying to help me.

It was the first time I’d heard the “N” word, and taking her teaching as Gospel truth, I solemnly promised never to use that word. For so many years I took it as the literal truth. My aunt’s anxiety was transmitted to me, but here’s the funny part: I couldn’t distinguish those people on the sidewalk from anyone else. I remember being so confused.

My racist education continued in the small rural town where I grew up. I don’t remember anyone slinging racial slurs in the elementary school, but maybe the subject of race never came up because the school was completely 100% bona fide white. My first experience meeting and speaking to a minority came when I reached high school in the late 1960s and was surprised to find four or five African-American students there. During that time, the news on TV was filled with stories about race riots in cities across the country, including nearby East St. Louis. I wondered (a bit indignantly) why those Negroes were so angry. After all, Lincoln had emancipated them, hadn’t he? The Negroes in our school seemed happy. Of course some of them seemed overly anxious to please and the rest just kept their heads down and mouths shut and worked on being invisible.

The African-American students at my high school never mentioned any reasons for discontent, and our teachers were completely silent about race issues. The rumor that Dr. Martin Luther King was a Communist made its way into discussions among students and around the family dinner table. And when he was assassinated, while we didn’t rejoice, we were relieved he wouldn’t be able to spread violence and his evil doctrines any more. I managed to graduate from high school and get on with adult life without ever once hearing anything about Jim Crow, disenfranchisement, “separate, but equal” or any of the other abominations the black community suffered through.

It wasn’t until I went to college that my ignorance began to be chipped away by the power of the written word. I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of using primary sources when I read Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” With no trumped up rumors and slanted newscasts between the writer and the reader, the truth came shining through on the page. I was astounded by his logic and moved to tears by his eloquence and gentleness. I decided that if he was a Communist, then I was an astronaut.

(Listen to a dramatic reading of Letters from a Birmingham Jail.)

Later my brain was exercised with the biographies of Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, and Booker T. Washington. Other books in the curriculum for this white woman’s continuing education were To Kill a Mockingbird and Black Like Me and Growing up Black and The Emancipation of Robert Sadler and Dick Gregory’s autobiography Nigger and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The written word had made a powerful impact on my thinking, and I took that lesson into the classroom when I became an English teacher at other small rural, all white schools. I wish I could report that my students were much more sophisticated in their thinking than I had been at that age. The majority of them probably were, but I’m sad to say that in virtually every class that I taught To Kill a Mockingbird and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (much less mentioned Black History Month) two questions inevitably would be raised by students:
1. Why do we have to learn this? After all we don’t have any African-American students at our school.
2. Aren’t we the ones being discriminated against now, and isn’t everything hunky dory for Blacks now?
Their attitude caused me to shed a tear or two, but also to be reminded of how much my own sinfulness causes God to sorrow. But like Martin Luther King,
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
In other words, I long for the day when all God’s children will be freed from the bondage of ignorance and sin. On that day, we’ll be past all the striving and--with equal access—turn our attention to where it should have been all along, on God's glory.

My amazingly photo-shopped professional portrait. It sure is nice to have a photographer in the family.

Deborah Heal is the author of the Time and Again virtual time travel mystery series, which has been described as “Back to the Future meets virtual reality with a dash of Seventh Heaven thrown in.” She was born not far from the setting of her book Every Hill and Mountain and grew up “just down the road” from the setting of Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy. Today she lives with her husband in Waterloo, Illinois, where she enjoys reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. She has three grown children, three grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout. She loves to interact with her readers, who may learn more about the history behind the books at her Website , Twitter, and Facebook.

Time Travel Trilogy by Deborah Heal
These are her literary babies. She's expecting another in the spring of 2014.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What do you think of my cover copy?

I was just asked to provide the "back cover copy" for Summer's Winter. Here is what I've come up with. What do you think? Would this make you want to read it? Confused? Typos or mistakes? Thanks for your help!

At age ten, preacher’s daughter Jeanine fell in love with young movie star Jamie Newkirk and the character he played—Danny Summer. Jeanine believed God Himself promised Jamie would be part of her life—that he would rescue her from boring rural Georgia. A talented writer and musician herself, she was going to be powerful and accomplished like this boy. She was destined to be a part of Jamie’s world.

For the next eleven years, Jeanine was obsessed—with Jamie Newkirk; with Danny Summer, the character he played; and with the entire Summer series of books and movies that were released throughout her childhood. When the author, Hannah Raney, died in a mysterious fire without finishing the series, Jeanine was grieved like the rest of fandom. But she believed Jamie was still promised to her.

But eleven years later, she’s graduating college and about to settle into the dreary nine-to-five life with no word from Jamie or God.

And then Jamie bursts into her life in an amazing way. Incredible things start to happen. There are plans to resurrect the Summer series, and Jeanine is right in the middle of it all. Jamie seems to be falling for her, just as she’d dreamed. And yet…

She never dreamed of all the dark undercurrents. Jamie is hiding out in Georgia following the suspicious death of his former girlfriend. And isn’t it odd that he found his mother dead of a supposed suicide in that same house two years before, and that both women had the same strangely-shaped burn on their bodies? And who knew there would be so many sinister characters involved in Jamie’s life, and in the Summer series? There’s his young co-star, Charlie—the Summer author died in an unexplained fire at his house. And Jamie’s stepfather, Elliott, and uncle Richard seem to be in a vicious competition for control of the Summer series and of Jamie’s life.

Jamie is obviously guarding deep secrets—about his family, about the deaths of his mother and Paula. The media and the public have declared him guilty. Jeanine longs to prove his innocence. Unless she can, Jamie’s dark secrets may shatter her dreams, her faith—and her life.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My Huge Decision and an Announcement

In my last post, I told you that I’ve been trying to decide whether my decades-long pursuit of publication is perseverance or insanity. I told you I’d let you know what I decided. So here it is…perseverance or insanity?


Yep. I think it’s good to keep striving toward a worthy goal, even for a long, long time. That “definition of insanity” proverb, however, talks about the craziness of repeating some unhelpful action over and over. That’s where I’m making my mistake, at least recently.

I’ve been going at it the same way all these years. I write, I get feedback, I rewrite. I submit. I’m told that my writing doesn’t exactly fit one genre or the other. I study guidelines, I rewrite, I try to make my stories fit a genre or a publishing company. I get feedback. I submit. I’m told my writing crosses genres. It has science fiction elements in women’s fiction. It’s too literary to fit a genre, too popular to be literary. It’s too Christian for the secular publishers, doesn’t have enough Christian content for the CBA. I start over, trying to make my poor little square pegs fit into the round holes.

If I were walking down a path, trying to reach an urgent destination, and I fell into a hole because I wasn’t watching where I was going, it would be virtuous for me to get up and keep walking, even with a sore ankle. But if I still didn’t look where I was going, if I continued to let myself fall into holes and break my bones instead of just keeping my eyes open and walking around them, that would be crazy. Not only that, it wouldn’t get me to my ultimate destination, because I eventually wouldn’t be able to walk anymore.

I’ve been trying the same things over and over for MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS, trying to get published. And I’ve hurt myself in the process. I’m starting to hurt my writing. It’s time to try something new. I’m going indie.

Yep, the dreaded “S” word. Self-publishing.

It’s not what I dreamed of. It’s not how I thought my writing career would go. But for a lot of reasons, I feel that’s where God is leading me—at least with one novel. I feel like He has taken my hand and is trying to lead me around that hole I keep falling in.

A year or so ago, I was at a gospel music concert by an amazingly talented band. The church was small but packed. I’ve seen this band numerous times. They’re talented enough to make a lot of money, and they always pack people in. People also frequently get saved at their events. One of the singers was giving a mini testimony and said that she didn’t worry about pursuing fame or fortune or huge audiences. She just asked God every day to send her where her music could be used to reach the people He wanted her to reach—two or five or a thousand, it didn’t matter.

I felt as though God had reached down and shaken me. Doesn’t the Bible say something about not hiding your light under a bushel? What if this incredibly talented woman never sang or gave her testimony because no one was paying her to do it? What if I continued to hide the testimony that I pour into my writing, waiting for someone to pay me for it? Would God really bless that kind of pride?

I know a lot of my writer friends will be disappointed in me. I’ll have more to say about how I came to this conclusion and about just what I’m planning to do. But in the meantime, I’ll leave you with another thought: When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him what he should do to be saved, Jesus told him to sell everything he had and follow Him. But another time, when Jesus cast demons out of a very afflicted man, the restored man was so grateful that He wanted to follow Jesus and go with him. Jesus told him to return to his home and tell what the Lord had done for him—to stay put.

The Lord doesn’t want every one of us to follow the exact same path. He has plans for all of us—different plans. This path I’m embarking on is scary, but I think it’s the right one. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Perseverance or Insanity?

I’m sure you’ve all heard this saying, right? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

But wait a minute…that’s perseverance, isn’t it? Frankly, I’ve been using so many precious resources of time, money, and energy for decades trying to publish a novel—always failing, but expecting a different result next time—that this is important for me to consider.

As I attempted without success to find out the author of the quote, I came across a blog by therapist Ryan Howes, blasting this pithy little proverb: “Repeating the same constructive behavior over and over, hoping (one day) for a positive result is difficult but virtuous. It's the effort made by eating oatmeal every morning, brushing your teeth after every meal and daily journaling. It's weekly therapy, consistent workouts and taking time for spirituality. It's Rudy trying over and over to get into Notre Dame. Or Mother Theresa tirelessly serving the poor.”

Howes does admit there is perseverance (above) and something destructive called perseveration—like repeating useless actions in an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or repeating unhelpful behavior patterns. He says it’s an important distinction to make, because “perseverance is a strong, valuable quality. Perseveration is a troubling issue needing clinical attention.”

So…have I been strong and virtuous through the years? Or do I need help from a good psychiatrist? And help for what? To keep me striving on toward my goal—or to help me stop an unconstructive and often stressful drain on my resources?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, particularly over the last year, and I’ve made a huge decision. One that I hope everyone will support me in. I’ll let you know about that decision next time.