How I Roll

One of the Facebook pages I follow, Novel Encounters, is about several historical romance novelists.  (I only read historical romances.  I’m still working on writing one that popped into my head, which of course doesn’t fit any historical period I know of.  Maybe if I call it a historical fantasy romance adventure…) This week they were asked to describe their writing process, and since all of them are different, it has been fascinating to see how they think and create and do the practical details of bringing their stories out of their brains and onto a published manuscript.  It got me to wondering just how I would describe how I create.

This  is how it usually begins:

I do mental movies of novels. I write a few chapters. Then I go do something else, usually another mental movie of a different story. I come back, read what I’ve written, vaguely feel there’s something not quite right, put it back and run through the movie in my head and discover much has been left on the cutting room floor and many scenes added.

I start thinking in scenes, detailing them in my mind. I think, maybe I should make a note, then it might not change. Now I have a general – well, not outline, really, but mostly a time line of actions and conversations – and as I look closer at each scene, I begin wondering about details like landscape, environment, odors, temperature, what side characters are doing while the main characters are busy at the front of the stage, clothing, food, shelter, etc.

I then begin to look at early scenes and wonder if they should become backstory instead. For example, mentally, I have had several stories begin at the birth or in one case, the rape conception of the main character. Then as the story developed, I began to think it might be better as backstory to be mentioned casually in a conversation between characters. Suddenly what was becoming a very long timeline of scenes shortens and I begin to feel the story is workable.  Crazed sessions of unstoppable typing ensue.

That is how my novels begin.  My short stories come from somewhere I’ve never been able to track down.  For all I know, God just puts them there.  Many times I finish typing and have to read them over to figure out what I wrote.  My two collections in print and ebook right now, Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle, are like that. I have a third collection to be titled Angels With Attitude, just about ready to go.  Of course, I’ve been saying that since 2014, I just discovered.  Sheesh!

I am going to try the Scrivener program since it seems to use many of the methods I do for setting out a story idea.  I have heard some published authors can’t stand it, others just love it.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I’ll go work on that collection of short stories and try to get them out.

The Importance of Self-Education

When I was a senior in high school our school newspaper sponsor, our English teacher, assigned me the job of editing the various articles that would be posted in the local town newspaper.  I’m pretty sure I got the job because I was the best speller.  We posted little ‘what’s been happening’ paragraphs by each grade’s representative reporter and occasionally published poetry.  One introverted girl who rarely spoke offered a pretty decent poem once that I thought would be excellent with just a change to a couple of words.

When I suggested it, though, she blew up.  You would have thought I suggested sacrificing her first born child on Satan’s altar!  It was my first negative reaction to my editing, and I decided if she wanted an inferior version of her work, then so be it.

Later, when I submitted some of my fiction for critique by editors and agents, I understood her reaction.  My writing is my baby!  Nobody knows my story – or poetry – or anything else – like I do.  Nobody can improve my deathless prose (and rhyme)!  Of course, none of it sold.

Then at work, I was assigned to teach some of the worst training material I had ever been forced to use.  I complained so much that of course, they then assigned me to revise it.  Trust me, there is nothing like technical writing for educating a writer.  I was paid to write it and therefore was forced to do it the way my supervisors wanted it, or be able to successfully argue that my way was better.  Since my supervisors generally had college degrees in education, they tended to win more often than I did, until I got some real experience and self-confidence under my belt.

It was very humbling to realize how much I didn’t know about the technical aspects of writing.  I never got to go to college and graduated from a very small rural school that was unable to provide much of an education.  During my first session of revising the training material, I was totally unprepared for the supervisors’ total dismissal of it and their orders to rewrite it.

I was astonished to discover they wanted me to return and write more training material, but one supervisor told my team bluntly that even though we weren’t perfect, the others who wrote essays for their applications were even worse, and read a few anonymous essays to prove it.  Over the years, my technical knowledge combined with my improved writing skills gained me the name recognition necessary to be allowed to unofficially edit many of the technical procedures we used in our jobs. When I sent in a needed correction to a section because it was either incorrect or made no sense as written, it was accepted without argument.  Many times, it was the way it was written that was the problem.

As a teacher of adults learning new complex procedures for dealing with our job, I quickly discovered that a huge problem was the technical language used.  The instructors, including me,  were experienced and used to the terms and acronyms used on the job.   Since I encouraged questions from the students, not to mention being able to read their expressions, I realized that learning a new language had to be the first step in every training session for new employees.

Once I retired, I didn’t worry about teaching new terms and acronyms to bewildered students or trying to simplify complex procedures into a step by step list that could be easily followed.  I was relieved, thinking that finally, FINALLY, I would have the time to concentrate on my fiction and see about finally getting published.  I began reading various professional writing blogs to see what was selling, by whom, and why.

It didn’t take long before my forehead began wrinkling just like my former students. What were all these terms these writers were using?  Sure, I could look them up in a dictionary, but they didn’t make any sense in the context they were used in the article I was reading.  Nuts.  I had to go back to the basics and learn THEIR language.  Why bother?  Because one very old saying still holds true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

If you want to write without worrying about being paid for your efforts, you can do it however you wish.  If you want someone to give you money for it, it has to please them. If they ask you about it and you don’t understand the question, it’s up to you to learn the language they are using.  Very few professionals in the publishing business have the time or interest to educate an amateur for free.  They don’t have to.  Writers, even incredibly talented writers, are a dime a dozen.  Sure, some editors probably bitterly regret passing up J. K. Rowling, but life happens.

Don’t think that self-publishing offers a way around that problem.  I have a Kindle, and about 1500 ebooks so far, to go with my print library of several thousand soft and hardbacks.  With ebooks especially buyers can return the book if they don’t like it soon after they buy it.  Most can be previewed and if they are badly written the books may never be bought.

I once bought a book that started out sounding terrific, then evolved into such excruciatingly bad prose, I gave up on the rest of the book.  I was furious.  The book was only about a dollar, but I was angry because the promise of an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and plenty of action was ruined by poor grammar, worse spelling, and ridiculous punctuation.  The only time I have seen worse writing is work by writers who don’t believe in using capitalization, paragraph breaks, or punctuation at all.

I don’t want people criticizing my work for poor writing, so I am learning to write like the authors of books I like to read.  I hope someday to have my work praised by well-known professionals, and if I have to learn their language to understand their criticism, to be able to answer their questions about my work, and to discuss my work in order to improve it, I’ll do it.  I have the Internet.  I may live out in a rural area and still not have transportation and money to get to college classes, but I can still educate myself.  I must, if I want to engage in the conversations I want to, with professional writers and editors and publishers. It’s my responsibility to find a way to make my dreams come true.

 

Not Just a ‘Writer’

I’m not just a writer.  I’m a storyteller.  I started telling stories before I learned my alphabet.  Once I discovered how to read and write, I learned that I could write something on paper and I could show it to others who had not heard me tell the story.  But writing my stories came later when my family could afford the extra paper and pencils.  Poverty sucks.

When I was a child, I was very introverted.  My family members were the only people I could tell my stories to.  When I was in elementary school, recess was an ordeal of loneliness until I started worldbuilding in my head.  It took a while to realize I was interacting with my imaginary world.  I would come out of it to see the other children staring at me.  I had been walking around, miming various actions and moving my mouth silently.  Finally one of them asked me what I was doing, and I began telling him about the sandwich factory I had built.  For some reason – hunger, maybe? – I was fascinated by the thought of automated assembly lines surrounded by machines slicing and stacking and wrapping meat and cheese sandwiches.  I had never seen an assembly line, but I guess we had been studying something on the subject.  Where were all the sandwiches going? I didn’t know and didn’t care.  It was the process that fascinated me.

The other kids thought I was nuts, but they began talking to me more, and I slowly made friends.  It helped me get through school.  Then we moved, and I had to make new friends. Since I was still introverted, it was difficult.  In the fifth grade, our English teacher discovered I had written a story.  I think it was about a horse since she had been reading a chapter a day from a novel about a horse to the class.  My story had several chapters as well, and she read a chapter of it every day to the class.  They did not seem impressed.  But they were happy they did not have to face a quiz about it, so I got no criticism.

I continued writing, the plots changing as I aged.  In the tenth grade, I was writing a teenage romance.  I had a thick spiral notebook dedicated to it.  A couple of weeks before the end of school, our history class teacher had pretty much finished everything on his curriculum and just told us to keep it quiet during class.  I immediately hauled out my notebook and began writing on my story.  The seat to my left was filled by a hulking football player.  He was a nice guy, but physically imposing.  I didn’t realize he was reading the page I was writing until I filled the page and started to turn to the next with my left hand.  He pinned my hand to the desk and leaned over.

I was speechless with shock and mortified by the immediate teasing coming from his friends behind us.  He ignored them and me and finished reading the page.  Then, still silent, he took the notebook away from me, flipped the pages to the story’s beginning, and read the whole thing.  I sat there too terrified to protest.  Luckily he caught up before the end of class.  I had no idea whether he’d let me have it back.  I had no idea what he was thinking as he read it.  It was a teen romance, written by a girl who had never had a boyfriend.  Would he make fun of me? Would he tell me it was trash?  Would he think it was about him?  It wasn’t, but would he be able to tell?

Just before class ended, he finished and handed the notebook back.  He looked at me, a warning clear in his expression.  “Finish it before school is out for the summer,” he said. “I want to read the end of it.”  He got up and left the room, still majestically ignoring his friends as they swarmed after him, demanding to know why he had held hands with me and then read my notebook.  I finished the story.  I did NOT want to find out what would happen if I didn’t.  After he finished it on the last day of school, he finally announced his opinion of it.  “A good story,” he said with an approving nod.  Nothing else, but I didn’t need anything else.

I lost my introverted nature over the next few years, but I never lost my love of story telling.  I wrote stories, I wrote poetry, I wrote songs.  I sent two books to publishers, and the editor told me that the beta readers had really liked them, but it wasn’t quite what the publishers really wanted at the moment.  I had learned about genre publishing by then, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad the beta readers had all liked my work.

One day I got the chance to have a science fiction/fantasy work of mine critiqued by a couple of professional writers and several amateurs as part of a science fiction convention.  You paid a fee, you sent in a chapter or short story, and received a copy of their work for you to critique.  I was always taught that if you need to offer criticism, make it constructive or leave it alone.  I learned that not everybody felt that way.

Science fiction and fantasy is such a broad genre most people have their own preferences for a certain kind.  Some have strong likes and dislikes of certain subjects.  At our session, we were supposed to go around the table, offering our critiques of one writer at a time.  The writer under the microscope was not allowed to argue with someone’s opinion, or defend their writing, or even speak until the end.  When mine came up, one amateur writer hated the whole story because it was based on a parallel world.  I didn’t worry about his opinion because that was his only criticism.  He just didn’t like parallel worlds, so he blew off the whole story.  Another young man loved my story.  He told me he couldn’t wait to read the rest of it.  I’m hoping to finally get that thing published soon, so maybe, wherever he is out there, he’ll be able to.

The other amateur writers were more focused on the technical aspects, like grammar and punctuation, and didn’t really have much to say about the story itself.  My work had been totally different from theirs, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then one of the pro writers, a white middle-class suburban mom type, complained that my characters were not believable.  “A teenage prostitute?  Where were her parents?”  Yes, she said that.  Everybody stared at her for a minute, and she looked like she couldn’t figure out why.  I don’t even remember the rest of what she said, I was so flabbergasted by that naive remark.

The other professional writer was a Canadian who wrote urban punk fantasy.  He tore my story to shreds, slapping the manuscript copy on the table.  “Nobody talks like that!” he snapped, and proceeded to vigorously point out how terrible everything else was in my story.  I was speechless about that, too.  Everyone looked vaguely embarrassed as he wound up.  When he was finished and I was allowed to speak to all of their critiques, I just smiled at him and told him I’d work on the dialogue.  I was from the rural southern United States, and he was an urban Canadian with a teenage daughter.  Maybe he didn’t get to listen to the kind of conversations I listened to.  I ignored everything else he said since it sounded like opinion, which didn’t worry me.  I was just pleased that one young man, who was my target audience for that story, really liked it.  That meant I had done it right.

I have had other comments since on many different stories I have written.  One lady told me about one story that she laughed and then she cried and then laughed again.  I said good because I had as well while I was writing it.  One lady told my church that she had not finished one of my books yet, but felt that it had changed her life, and urged all of them to read it.  Whoa!  I’m not sure I meant to do that, but she seemed happier, so I was glad.

Strong ego?  You bet.  I love to read what I write.  I like getting good reviews, but bad ones don’t bother me.  I may have to publish my own books, and I don’t make money at it yet, but I’m enjoying myself.  I get to tell stories, and that’s all I want to do.

Conversations With God

I had an interesting conversation with God the other day.  No, not a prayer.  I have conversations – you know, the kind where I say something, He says something, I say something…

People often give me a funny look when I say God talks to me, as if they expect me to start waving a sign saying stuff like “Prepare to meet thy Doom!” or something.  Nah.  The folks at my small church gave me that look when I first joined them, but since I’m a cheerful sort and often have humorous conversations with God that I remark on, they’ve relaxed.

I’ve had these conversations for as long as I can remember.  My parents, bless their hearts, just nodded and said stuff like, “How interesting.”  They were used to my storytelling, which started about the same time, and they might have thought that was just another story.  But it’s not fiction to me.  To me, God’s voice is as real as my mother’s, more trustworthy than anybody I know, and I never have to ask Him to speak up, stop mumbling, or clarify whether something He said was sarcasm or a joke.

A little girl, hearing me say God told me something, asked what God sounded like.  “Ever had a friend stand behind you and say something over your shoulder?” I asked her.  “He sounds just like that.  You don’t see Him, but you can hear him clearly.  You know His voice because you hear Him all the time. That’s what He sounds like.”

Some people say God speaks to them through the Bible, others say they have visions.  That happens to me, too, but I also get the audio version, which is better for me, since I can ask questions and get immediate answers.  I don’t always LIKE the answers, and sometimes He tells me my brain doesn’t have the words to understand the answer.  Like calculus, I guess.  I still don’t get that, either.  Algebra barely got through.

The conversation I had the other day was fairly typical.  He’s never really been able to get me to learn two things: self discipline and patience.  Especially patience.  Ever heard that old joke?  “Give me patience, NOW!”  That’s me.  My sister and I were cleaning all the Christmas decorations out of the house and putting them back into storage for another year.  We got the storage bins out of the storage building outside, filled them up, opened the door to take them back to the storage, and discovered a downpour occurring.

“Come on, God, give us a break!” I complained.  “Cut the rain off for just half an hour, can’t You?  Just give us enough time to get these boxes back into the storage building and You can let it rain all the rest of the day!  What do You say?” No response, and the rain just seemed to come down harder.  A couple of minutes passed, and finally my sister and I both shrugged.  We’re not sweet enough to melt in the rain, after all.

We lugged the plastic bins out of the house and into the storage building, getting incredibly soaked in the process, and no, we didn’t melt.  But just as I shut the storage building door and locked it, the rain stopped.  Perfectly timed.  I shook my fist at the sky.  “God, that’s not funny!” I shouted.  My sister just shook her head and laughed.  But God replied quite clearly.

“No, it’s not funny,” He agreed, sounding annoyed.  “If you had shown enough faith to wait a mere ten minutes, you would have been completely dry, wouldn’t you?”

I hate it when He makes a point so true I can’t argue.

A lot of the writing I do is at His order.  For instance, I’ve never been much into angels.  I just never paid much attention to the subject, other than the mentions of them in Bible stories.  But when I started writing a Christmas story for the Sunday School teachers in my church every year (I’m the Sunday School director) I discovered there were angels in every story, and so when I published the first collection of Christmas stories “Once Upon A Christmastime” I put an angel on the cover.  “Standing Next To A Miracle”, my second collection of short stories, is about the people who were friends and family of the people in Bible stories of miracles, but my third collection, coming out shortly (I’m planning, anyway) is all about angels.  “Angels With Attitude” it will be called.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything like any of these short stories.  I was planning to be a novelist, and already had a long list of novels I was planning to write as soon as I retired and finally got the time to sit back and pound the keyboard.  But when I finally do, what comes out?  Short stories about angels and Bible characters.  Huh.  I never know what will emerge.  I’m quite often surprised.  I usually can’t remember them, so I have to go back and reread them for myself.  I only half-jokingly remarked to my church members that I was ghostwriting for God.

This past Christmas was a hard one for our church.  Our church treasurer and a dear friend to many died of illness.  At her funeral we discovered a young man who had grown up in our church had died in an accident on his way back to his parents’ home the night before.  It was during his funeral a few days later that God spoke to me.  I never know until just before Christmas what the gift story will be about.   I always just wait for inspiration to strike, find stuff to go into gift bags that goes with the story, and type like mad when it hits.  But this time I got it during the funeral, and I was appalled.

You see, there was a story I had been planning to write for the “Angels With Attitude” collection, but I hadn’t got it on my computer yet.  God told me this story would be my Christmas gift.  I didn’t want to put it in a Christmas gift.  It’s a good story (I believe) but horribly inappropriate for any member of my church at Christmastime during our grief.  I was even more appalled when I discovered a short while later that the husband of one of the Sunday School teachers had just been diagnosed with a nasty form of cancer.

The story, you see, is about an angel of death (yeah, not THE angel of death – he explains it in the story) appearing to a young cancer patient.  I argued fiercely with God.  Okay, not argued; protested is really the correct word, since argument is a two way arrangement.  God doesn’t bother to argue.  You do it His way, or face the consequences.  What happens to me is I am placed under unction.  I heard that phrase once and thought it sounded appropriate, since that’s the sound I make: “Unnnn!”  Essentially, that means since I agreed a long time ago to do what He tells me to do, He’s going to keep nagging me until I do it.  In the Bible they called it anointing.  Wonder if any of those anointed folk felt like going “Unnn!”

He got His way, of course, but I added a letter outside the story to tell the teachers not to blame me for the story.  Apparently, God thought it was necessary for SOMEBODY to read it, so there it went.  I haven’t heard from any of them yet.  Maybe I’ll put an excerpt on my website and see what everybody else thinks of it.  Buy the book to read the whole thing.  Or look up one of the teachers I gave it to.  They might let you borrow it.  But I’d rather you buy the book.  You’ll like the other stories, too.  God said so.

Update: Just heard from a relative of the young man whose funeral I attended.  She said the story helped break her from her deep well of grief and begin to live again.  Whew!  Never try to second guess God.  I’ve learned to just ask to see the results of acting on His orders once in a while.  Got to get this third book published.

 

Dangerous Minds

I love my imagination.  It keeps me from being bored, it helped me survive an impoverished childhood devoid of books and televisions, saved me from shyness, and has shaped my life into something better than a boring rut.  But sometimes, just sometimes, it drives me nuts.

Case in point: We had to get our air conditioning system fixed in our house.  All that was needed was to reattach the ventilation ducts under the house where they separated.  It was fixed, no problem, the house cooled off, we were happy.  The air conditioning unit is next to my bathroom door.  My bedroom is across the hall.  I ALWAYS hear the air conditioner when it is blowing air.

Ever since the repair job, I hear voices coming from the air conditioner.  Sometimes they play music, that really irritating recorder music.  It is just coherent enough to make me originally think I was listening to the television in the living room, but not enough to really tell what is being said.  But it always sounds like several people having a conversation, or perhaps a news show.

The first time it happened I thought my sister was saying something while I was in the bathroom.  As it continued, I realized it was the air conditioner, and I have yet to figure out the cause.  The problem is listening to it at night.  In the dark.  All alone in my bedroom…

I don’t read horror novels (anymore) or watch horror movies (after a few deeply regretted ones).  Normally, I have very few nightmares.  I generally only dream of being overwhelmed when my calendar gets full.  But if I have a hard time falling asleep and start hearing that murmuring coming through my door in the dark…uhhhh.  Bad night ahead.  I’m trying to see if I’ll get used to them.  If I can’t, I’ll have to do something about some white noise or something.  Maybe ear plugs?  I’ll try something out.

Imagination can be a dangerous thing.  When I was a child, my sisters and I would spend many happy hours with our youngest aunt at our grandparents’ rural home.  We entertained ourselves during many summer days taking turns telling stories, or acting out various roles in an imaginary world. But one day our group imagination took a dark turn.

That was the summer of the Boston Strangler.  We rarely saw the television stories, but we listened to the radio and read the newspapers and listened to our parents talk about it.  The story was ripe fodder for our minds.  One hot day, the air was still, our grandfather, the only one left at home to watch over us, fast asleep in the shade.  The house was too cramped and hot to stay inside.  We wandered about from garden to sheds, to barn, trying to decide how to occupy ourselves.

The story began as a slow, sporadic commentary on how quiet it was, progressed to an uneasy awareness of how creepy the silence was, and began to speed along on an uncomfortable awareness of how many hiding places there were and how close they were to us.  We armed ourselves with sticks.  We fed each others’ imaginations like a mob feeds on itself.  In no time at all, we were clutching each other, darting eyes at one building after another, peering at shadows and straining our ears to hear any break in the silence.

The break came, of course, very loudly and suddenly.  A loose shed door banged, whether from a solitary breeze, a passing chicken, or a cat rubbing itself on it.  Who knows?  Who cares?  But suddenly we were several young girls screaming in sudden terror and running as fast as possible to our grandfather, the only available adult.

His natural and very normal irate commentary on being awakened from a comfortable nap by a bunch of silly noisy females calmed us down quickly.  We realized how we had frightened ourselves and laughed weakly, determining to never do that again.  But we stayed around Grandpa for the rest of the day.

That experience taught me a lot about letting my imagination control me.  It taught me a lot about mob psychology.  I don’t want to think what might have happened if we had access to weapons more dangerous than some big sticks.  Fear can turn to the flight or fight syndrome and not everybody runs, not every time.  This has become even more true the older I get.

I channel my imagination as much as possible nowadays into my writing.  I don’t want to dwell on something until paranoia begins to build, becoming dangerous to people around me.  Writing my imaginings helps to understand cause and effect, and the work of adrenaline on the mind.  Working out reactions to fear, anxiety, paranoia, and rage in fictional stories help me deal with tense situations in real life.  For someone who never goes looking for trouble, I’ve had to deal with a good bit.

Using my imagination in reading and writing has definitely helped me deal with real life.  I think that is why teaching a child to read and providing a large library is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  Television and movies can only do so much.  We should always talk to our children as well, discussing the characters’ actions and reactions and deciding whether they were appropriate or not.

Helping a child imagine how they would react in a scary situation helps them avoid panic when they come up against one in real life.  It also helps them avoid making bad decisions in less scary situations, like being pressured into sex, accepting a dare, or facing major changes in their lives.

God gave us our imaginations.  Imagination fuels creativity and comes from the Master Creator Himself.  But like every gift He gives us, it can be misused and twisted.  Read.  Write.  Create.  Work with your children. Don’t let them fall prey to a dangerous mind.

Be Nice or Else…

Have you ever seen that tee shirt for writers?  “Be nice or I’ll put you in my next book”?  I always laughed at that, because I knew exactly what they meant.  Some people annoy you so much you fantasize about killing them off slowly and painfully.  Wonder if any of George R. R. Martin’s associates wound up in his death scenes…

But people don’t need to be annoying to wind up in one of my stories.  I find people endlessly fascinating and often bring different people to mind when I’m writing.  I’ve had two criticisms of my work that just make me shake my head and shrug.  One was an online review of one of my short stories, where the reviewer remarked that the whole story was unbelievable because “people just don’t act like that”.  I told them I was sorry they had never met the sweet caring people in that story, because I had.

Another criticism I received was on the beginning chapters of a novel I am working on.  During a writers’ circle review where we all reviewed each others’ work, the professional writer in charge seemed to be disgusted as he flung my manuscript to the desk and announced “Nobody talks like that!”.  My characters were American teens.  I was astonished, because I know several teens who talk like that.  But he was from a large city and had a teen who had interests far from the hobbies and interests of the teens I knew.  It was interesting to see that the one person in the group who would be the real target market for the book was thrilled with the story and wanted to see more. Hope he sees it when I get it published.

Everybody looks at the world through eyes filtered by their own experiences, upbringing, and opinions.  Readers tend to have broader points of view, and tend to be more open to differences in characters, but occasionally you see a distinctly narrow field of vision in reviews.  If you decide to write a review of any author’s work, try to keep your own point of view in mind.  Try to remember you don’t have personal knowledge of everything in the world.

I’ve met lots and lots of people, and I can see where all of them would fit into stories I’ve got in mind.  I once stood behind several scientists/physicists/professors/engineers (I have no idea which they were, but the conversation was fascinating as they discussed something using words of more than five syllables.)

My aunt Marty was one of my favorite people to listen to, since she had a very interesting life.  “I collect men as a hobby,” she said, explaining her multiple marriages and boyfriends.  She told us her best birthday moment happened when, depressed over being alone on her 30th birthday, she wandered into a bar to drown her sorrows.  When the bartender demanded her identification to prove she was old enough to drink, she was so delighted she grabbed him across the bar and kissed him.

I have a friend who has gone to a local Renaissance Fair for thirty years and became one of the characters there (a wench, often bawdy and outrageous) in a costume she made herself.  She also likes to attend motorcycle rallies and paint fairy land murals on children’s nursery walls for her friends.  She has a vivid personality and a sharp tongue and a loving heart.

I know several cowboys who are the strong silent type who are always willing to help and are devoted to their wives.  I have met the rich, the poor, the famous, and the unknown.  I know people who should be locked away in a dark room so they can finally stop hurting the people around them, and saints who make total strangers want to hug them.  I have met truly eccentric folk who made me laugh, gasp, and watch them closely.  I have known the depressed, the desperate, the broken, and the healed.  I have laughed with and at children and dried their tears.

I love meeting people.  I never know how the meeting will turn out, but I always find it interesting, whether I roll my eyes later or make a note to contact them again.  Even when their opinions don’t agree with mine, they are interesting.  Sometimes I get the chance to shock them out of their comfort zone, and seeing how they deal with that is intriguing.  We are all characters in the Book of Life, and we are all individuals.  God did a good job on us.  We are interesting.

Did you  ever feel a character in a story was based on you?

Complete Short Story

This is the latest Christmas story I wrote for the church ladies.  God is telling me to put it here instead of waiting to put it in my next book of Christmas stories.  Maybe somebody needs to read it.

TWINKLE, TWINKLE
By Peggy Perry @ 2014

“Wow, he looks…different,” the blond angel murmured as the next soul moved up to the front of the line.

His companion looked up from the book of newcomers to Heaven. It wrote itself as each new soul appeared at the Pearly Gates. “Apparently his soul was as tired as his body,” he replied. “According to the book, he has lived in a very chaotic time and place. He barely managed to hold onto his faith in the Creator.”

Most souls were bright and shining, joyful to be free of their bodies and earthly trials. This soul was almost gray, his eyes dull, his shoulders slumped, and his feet shuffling. He looked exhausted, hopeless, and uncaring of whatever might happen next. He was a shocking change to the other souls before and behind him.

“It will be interesting to see where he winds up in Heaven. Let’s get him into the Room of Choice.” The blond angel came to the soul and gently took his arm. “This way,” he said with a wave of his hand. The soul trudged beside him silently, head down, looking as if he still inhabited an exhausted body, just waiting to fall down.

The angel took him into the Room of Choice. The room was the entrance to Heaven just behind the Pearly Gates. It was a very plain white room with only a few objects on pedestals, a tall desk with a high stool, and a large door on the other side, currently closed. “This is the Room of Choice,” the angel began his usual speech. “Whatever you are drawn to will indicate your first assignment in Heaven. Some souls stay with that assignment, some move on to others, but this will determine where you go first. Now, what are you drawn to?”

He began to lead the still uninterested soul around the room. “These wings symbolize the position of messenger. The messengers fly to Earth and deliver messages from our Lord to mortal men. It used to be more common for humans to receive these messages through prayer, but men have lately been losing their ability to hear Him. He created messengers, and they stay busy. Do they look interesting to you?”

The soul seemed to be ignoring him, still looking at the floor. A tiny wrinkle appeared between the angel’s eyebrows. He had never had that occur, but he was beginning to be concerned. “The harp signifies music,” he continued, towing the soul to the next pedestal. “It can mean playing an instrument or singing. You will just be making music to glorify the Lord and make a joyful noise to add to the happiness of everyone in Heaven. What do you think?”

The soul made an unattractive grunting noise. The wrinkle on the angel’s forehead became a crease. He hurried the soul along. “The sword is for those who become the warriors of Heaven, fighting evil throughout Creation. Do you – ?” The soul recoiled from the sword with a horrified sound, and the angel recalled how the soul had been released from his body. It should not have mattered, though. Many who had died violently had become warriors protecting the innocent from the evil that had killed them.

The angel looked around. There weren’t too many other pedestals left. Some held cleaning tools. Heaven did not get dirty, but there were actually many souls who enjoyed keeping their area neat and tidy. They happily spent millennia polishing and straightening everything in Heaven. This soul really didn’t look the type for that, and he was not looking at the tools. The angel raised his eyebrows as he followed the soul’s gaze.

He followed as the soul moved slowly toward the desk. “Um, that’s not actually one of the choices. That’s just the desk we sometimes sit at while waiting to take our shift at the Gates…” He trailed off as the soul climbed onto the stool, wiggled a bit as he got comfortable, and placed his hands on the desk.

The soul finally raised his face and stared at the angel. “This is it. This is what I want. This is my assignment.  It says so right here.”

Bewildered, the angel went to look over his shoulder. There had never been anything on the desktop before. Now it held a book just like the one on the desk at the Gates, except this one had different wording. Instead of a brief description of the souls arriving in Heaven, it held notes of their assignments. The latest read: “Finn Morgan. Assignment Supervisor. Job description – Aid newly arrived souls in choosing their assignments and calling the correct escort to take them to their assigned area.” A small hand bell sat beside the book.

“But…” The angel was interrupted as his fellow angel from the Gates led another soul into the room.

“Hasn’t he chosen yet? It’s time for the next soul to make their choice.”

Finn held up his hand. “I’ll take over now. This is my job from now on.”

Both angels stared at him. “But you’re not even really in Heaven here. Don’t you want to go in?” the blond one demanded.

“No. Now go away and let me do my job.” Finn pointed at the new soul, a woman who was stroking the harp. “You like that harp?” She nodded, and he continued, “Good. Go over to the door and wait for your escort to the Hall of Music. They will instruct you from there.” He picked up the bell and rang it, and the door opened silently to reveal a smiling angel who took the hand of the soul and led her away.

Finn looked at the two astonished angels. “Don’t you two have a job to do? Who is welcoming the new souls?” He flapped his hands at them, shooing them out. “Go. Leave me to my assignment.”

Without the passage of time in Heaven, there was no telling how long Finn spent behind the desk. He loved his job. He didn’t even have to leave his stool. With no demands of a human body, he didn’t have to eat, drink, sleep, or even go to the bathroom. He didn’t have to come into personal contact with the souls, either. He just directed them around the room, explained what each object meant, and rang the bell when they made a choice. He didn’t have to talk to the angels, even though they looked in on him occasionally.

He did the same thing over and over. It was such a wonderful change from the chaos of his life on earth. He didn’t have to worry about someone attacking him. He didn’t have to worry about loving someone and having him or her suddenly die of plague or accident or attack. He felt calm and comfortable for the first time in his existence. He didn’t want to go through the door into the main area of Heaven. He had looked through the door and shuddered at how many people and angels were dashing around in there, moving, always moving. It was too close to what he had left behind.

No, he was quite happy to sit alone behind his desk and avoid talking to anyone but the occasional soul and angel for eternity. He was content. Too bad it wouldn’t last.

Finn looked up from his book as an angelic hand rapped noisily on the desk. Glancing around, he saw no new soul wandering among the pedestals. “What is it?” The book was blank, too, not mentioning any new souls to supervise in their choice.

“You have a, ah, a, well, I guess you could say special soul to supervise. She’s going to need some help.”

“Well, where is she? Why does she need help?”

The angel looked down at his side before bending over and lifting. Finn heard a grunting noise he was sure the angel didn’t make, then a pair of small pudgy hands grabbed the top of his desk and a small head popped into view.

Finn’s mouth dropped open. He recognized the moon shaped face, the almond shaped eyes, the flat wide nose, and the thick lips with the thick tongue partially protruding. Several souls with the same appearance had come through, but they were always glowing with joy and happiness, with huge billowing wings and a bright halo. One of the angels processing them had told him they had wings and a halo already because they had been messengers of God’s love on earth already. Most chose another area and went to learn something new, often musical.

In his time on earth, such children usually died early, unable to thrive and care for themselves, and the parents had no time or energy to care for them. Sometimes they left the children in the wild for predators, removing the problem from the parents’ mind.

This child looked as if she were about ten years old, and her wings were stunted and unmoving. Her dull halo sat crookedly on her head instead of hovering above her like the others’. Her white robe was actually almost grimy and looked like she had been wiping her hands on it. She was a mess.

He looked up at the angel. “What happened to her? She looks terrible! Why does she need help?” He slapped at the pudgy fingers reaching for the bell. “Don’t touch that!” He scowled as she ignored him and reached for the bell again. She grunted and frowned as he held it out of her reach. She began working her way around the desk holding on to the edge, heading for the shiny bell.

The angel shook his head. “Her wings don’t work. She can’t fly, and for some odd reason her feet don’t touch the ground. If you don’t tow her around, she just sort of hovers. Why she looks like that, I don’t know. All I know is, she doesn’t talk, doesn’t seem to be able to hear, or if she can, doesn’t understand, and she can’t move around on her own.”

Finn scowled and moved the bell back to the other side of the desk just as the little girl reached for it again. “Whatever, just take her around to the pedestals and let her make her choice and get her out of here! Hey! Stop that!” He swatted at her hand again as she turned her attention to the book and grabbed at the pages. Some of them started to tear before he worked her fingers loose.

He looked up to see the angel heading back for the Gates. “Where are you going? Get back here and help her make a choice!”

The angel looked over his shoulder and past his wings. “No, no, you’re the supervisor of choices. This is your job. I’ve done mine.” He skipped out the door and it closed firmly behind him.

Exasperated, Finn slipped reluctantly from his stool and towed the little girl behind him. Shreds of the pages were still gripped tight in her hands. He pulled her over to the harp. “Here! You like music, don’t you? All the others like it.” He remembered she couldn’t lift herself and raised her up to get a good view of the harp.

Her eyes went wide and her mouth opened further. She grunted rapidly and reached toward the instrument. Satisfied and relieved at the quick solution, Finn headed back to the desk to ring the bell. There was a nasty twanging noise behind him and he spun around. To his horror, she had broken several strings and was making happy noises as she ripped more strings loose. He leaped for the bell on his desk and shook it fiercely. He stopped and stared at it as he realized it was silent. Upending it, he discovered the clapper was gone.

He hurried back to the cheerful little vandal and towed her back to the front door. As he reached automatically reached for the handle, he discovered it was gone. “What? How? Why?” he sputtered, wondering if he were somehow having a nightmare. He pulled the little girl partway to his desk, then remembering, left her hanging in midair as he moved swiftly to look at the book to see if anything had been written about her.

The book was to the point. “No souls may go back through the front door. Processed souls may not leave the presence of the Supervisor of Choices until an assignment has been made.” Finn grabbed his head and groaned.

Setting his jaw, he went back to the child and towed her to the pedestal holding the sword. “You’re destructive enough to be a warrior,” he muttered to her. “Look, it’s nice and shiny! You like shiny things, right?” She certainly did. Unfortunately, when she reached for the shining object, she only managed to knock it off the pedestal and it landed across Finn’s foot. Without a body, it didn’t hurt, but he was startled into knocking the pedestal over and could only watch helplessly as the pedestal broke into several pieces.

His mouth worked, but no noise came out. He hastily pulled her back as she tried to reach for the sword and pulled her to the wings. He made a helpless sound as she swung past him as he stopped and sank the fingers of her free hand into the white feathers of the enormous wings. Of course, they came loose in her hand, leaving a gaping hole in one.

A gurgling noise escaped him as he pulled her back. Looking wildly around, he noticed the door handle was still present on the inner door that led into Heaven. Desperately he pulled her over to it and flung it open. The same busy crowd was hurrying by there. He had stopped thinking by now and only wanted to rid himself of the destructive guest who had introduced chaos back into his life. Grabbing her arm, he put everything he had into flinging her into the crowd intending to dash back inside and slam the door shut. Instead, he went right with her.

They crashed together against a solid body. Finn slid to the ground and then tried to protect his head against the child’s pumping feet. He looked up as he grabbed her feet and swallowed hard as the unmistakable features of an archangel met his gaze. Finn began babbling an apology, but the archangel only shook his head. Angelic arms wrapped the child up securely and prevented her from reaching for his halo, wings, or sword.

“Did you forget the rule in the book, Finn? A processed soul cannot leave your presence until she is assigned to an area. If you want her out of the Room of Choices, you have to stay with her.” He gazed down at the child, who had grown quiet and was nestled into his chest. “I suggest that if you want her to be less destructive, you keep her close to you and restrain her arms.” Before Finn could blink, the archangel transferred the child into his arms and positioned his limbs in a secure hold.
Stepping back, he snapped his fingers and another angel came up beside them. “Finn is not familiar with this side of the Gates,” he said calmly. “Guide him wherever he wants to go.”

“My pleasure!” the angel said with a beaming smile. She looked at Finn. “Where would you like to go first?”

“But what about the other souls who need to be assigned?” he wailed.

The archangel, who had started to rise as his wings began to stroke the air, paused. “There are angels to take care of that, just as before you arrived. She is now your assignment. No matter how long it takes.” With a crack of split air, he shot straight up and disappeared from sight.

Finn sagged and then straightened his shoulders as the guide looked at him inquiringly. “I guess maybe we can show her the musicians and singers. She was very, um, interested in the harp. I thought that was her choice, but I wasn’t able to call for an escort, and well, ah, shall we go?”

He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard the angel giggle as she led them away.

The little girl absolutely loved the music. She loved one of the angel’s harps to death. Well, to destruction, maybe. Finn marveled that such a small child was so skilled in destroying such a sturdy object. The angel only laughed, and with a few motions of his hands, turned the mess of wood and strings back to a thing of beauty.

Finn sighed with relief and resolved to hold the child tighter. He was cautiously optimistic when she relaxed against him and cuddled as they listened to glorious music ring out. But after a while, just when he was feeling almost cheerful, the guide approached him and whispered in his ear.

“I’m afraid there’s a small problem, Finn. Could the two of you please come with me?”

Curious and anxious, he held the little one tighter as she tried to return to the music. When they were out of hearing range of the music (which, Finn thought later, was rather odd, since he had always been able to hear the music, even sitting at his desk), the angel shifted a bit uncomfortably. “Normally, the music director would love to have you in the audience. However, her glow is very distracting since it’s so concentrated in a small person, and the angels were starting to lose their places in the music. The director asked that you not come back until you can teach her to control her light. Is there somewhere else you would like to try?”

Finn frowned as he looked down at the child. “Glow? What glow? What are you talking about?”

The angel’s eyes widened. “You didn’t notice the way she lit up the music hall? Did you have your eyes closed?” She looked back and forth between the man and child and finally shook her head. “Why don’t we go see if she’s interested in something else?”

It was not a successful journey, although Finn grudgingly admitted later that it was very…interesting. He saw a great deal of Heaven, and observed all that went on. The child was interested, too, but Finn learned to hold her close and tight. Who knew an archangel’s sword could break? Weren’t those supposed to be even demon proof? He still wasn’t sure if even the Creator Himself could fix what she had done to several messengers’ wings when they ignored his warnings and treated her to a toss back and forth between them. And oh, my, what she had done with the cleaners’ tools…

Nobody minded. They just laughed, fixed what she broke, and patted her on the head or kissed her cheek. They started calling her Twinkle. When he asked why, several mentioned the way she glowed when she was happy. He still couldn’t see it.
He had no idea how long they wandered around Heaven, observing everyone at work, meeting numberless angels and souls. They finally found themselves back at the door into the Room of Choices, and Finn said farewell to their guide. He looked in the room cautiously, and felt relieved to see it fully restored. He wrapped up Twinkle before she could launch herself off the doorway and aim for the pedestals again. Carrying her over to the desk, he blinked as he saw the desk was wider and a second stool next to his. A smile began to stretch his face as he noticed the straps that would hold Twinkle firmly in place.

On the desk next to his book was a drawing pad, pencils, and crayons. Since time had no meaning in Heaven, these objects from a time far distant from his were not out of place. He just hoped she didn’t try to eat them. Twinkle seemed to know what to do with them. Grunting, she reached for them and was drawing all over the pad before he could get her completely strapped in.

Before he could take his seat, she tore off a colorful sheet and waved it at him. When he took it, she pointed at the white blank wall behind them and grunted some more. “You want me to hang it up there?” he asked, and blinked as light flashed in the room when she smiled. The light went back to normal as she turned back to the pad.

He looked at the colored lines and shapes but could make no sense of them. He looked up at the white wall and shrugged. The walls did look rather plain. Wondering how to attach the picture, he held it up to a likely place and dropped his hands swiftly as the art suddenly attached itself to the wall. “Heaven!” he muttered, and went back to his stool.

When a new soul entered the room from the Gates, he looked at the bell on the desk suspiciously. Sure enough, the clapper had returned. The book now showed the soul’s name. After a short trip around the room, the soul chose the harp, and Finn rang the bell with a feeling of relief. Just as he was about to direct the soul to the inner door, Twinkle ripped a page off her pad and grunted urgently, waving the paper at the soul instead of Finn.

The soul looked bewildered. “She wants you to take the picture. Is it a picture of them, Twinkle?” Finn asked. He and the new soul blinked as light flashed in the room again. When the light died down, Finn handed the paper to the soul. “Do you want her to hang the picture on the wall?” He had learned the hard way to ask very simple yes or no questions. When Twinkle smiled and bounced in her seat, the light flashed again. “Just pick a spot on the wall and hold it to it,” Finn told the soul. “It attaches itself.”

The soul smiled at the picture and picked a spot near the first. “Looks good. Go to that door now, and an escort will take you to your destination. Welcome to Heaven.” Finn waved the soul along and waved at the angel, one he had met at the music hall. After the door closed, he looked at the picture Twinkle had first done. There were two objects in the picture, unlike the second, which had only one. “Hey, is that a picture of the two of us?”

Light flashed so brightly he had to rub his eyes. “Wow. I can finally see why they had to ask us to leave the music hall. Can’t you dim that down a little?” Light flashed again, just as bright. When his vision came back, he saw that she was silently laughing. “Guess that answers that question.”

He discovered he enjoyed chatting to the new souls now, explaining the picture that Twinkle drew of each of them and helping them choose a spot on the wall. He got used to the flashing as Twinkle expressed her happiness. The room became a busy place as angels dropped in through both doors to chat with him and visit with Twinkle, and post their pictures on the wall as she drew them. The once serene, featureless room became a riot of color as Twinkle’s artwork covered the walls.
His own spotless robe became as messy as Twinkle’s when her waving hands swiped him with the colors and pencils. He just shrugged when newcomers looked at it. “I’m an artwork in progress,” he told them with a chuckle.

His cheerful new world suddenly crashed when two archangels with solemn expressions appeared in the room in the midst of a laughter-filled conversation with several angels and a new soul. “We have come for the soul called Twinkle,” one said gravely. Twinkle’s light flashed at the sound of her name, but Finn barely noticed. He didn’t like the expressions on the archangels’ faces. Was that pity?

“What do you mean, come for her? She can’t leave; she hasn’t made a choice yet! She has to stay with me!” Glancing around for support, he discovered the other angels and the soul had vanished.

“She has no ability to make a decision,” one archangel said quietly. “It has been made for her.”

Finn’s heart would have stopped if he still had one. “Made for her? Why can’t she stay here? She’s happy here! I’m happy to have her here! Why can’t that be the choice made for her? Where are you taking her? What can she possibly do?”

“She is to be a messenger.” Angelic fingers waved toward Twinkle, and her straps and stool and art supplies vanished. She floated up and toward the archangels, but Finn grabbed her robe and clutched her to him desperately.

“No! She can’t be a messenger; her wings don’t even work! All she can do is hover! And she can’t speak! How can she be a messenger?” His frantic hands suddenly held empty air, and the archangels held Twinkle’s hands between them.

“There is a purpose for the existence of all of God’s creations.” The words echoed in a suddenly empty room. Finn fell across the desk, crying out in despair. The little girl had made him finally feel alive for the first time in his existence and they had taken her away! How could he go on?

He was rubbing his hands over his face wondering where the joy of heaven everybody kept talking about had disappeared to when the door to the Gates burst open and the two angels handling the processing dashed in. They snatched him out of his seat and headed back to the door. “Come on! You have to see this! It’s fantastic!”

They ignored his protests. Sullenly, he fell silent and tried to block the music swelling through the air. What was so special about beautiful music? They wouldn’t even let poor little Twinkle listen to it because they couldn’t deal with a little light. His eyes clenched shut in renewed pain, but the sudden flare of light burned through anyway, making his eyes water furiously. Everyone around him was exclaiming and cheering while rubbing at their eyes. He finally managed to get a little sight back and shaded his face as the light continued.

“What happened? What is that?” he demanded.

“It’s Twinkle, of course!” an angel nearby shouted joyfully. “Haven’t you been paying attention to anything? The Messiah has been born to man and the Star shines over Him to show the world where He lays!”

Finn stared, open-mouthed, toward the light. Very dimly, within the glare, a smiling, moon-shaped face appeared. Her arms were out wide to her sides and her almond shaped eyes were wide with excitement and joy. Finn thought he could almost hear her joyful grunts.

One of the archangels appeared beside him. “She was an obvious choice,” he murmured. “She couldn’t move except to hover, and she shines when she’s happy. Apparently she likes babies as much as music.”

The other archangel appeared on his other side. “She brings a message of happiness and hope to everyone, even you. You were never supposed to be isolated, but you chose to be alone rather than move on and mingle with the family of God. Dealing with her taught you that being around others could be a good experience, and chaos is only bad when you are alone in the midst of it.” He looked down at Finn. “Don’t waste what she gave you, Finn. Don’t go back to hiding from everybody. Twinkle won’t be there in the sky forever. Don’t make her dig you out of your hole again. Cherish what she taught you, and teach it to others. There are many others like Twinkle you can visit as well.”

Finn blinked hard several times. “Will I be allowed to keep her pictures?” he asked humbly.

Both archangels smiled. “The pictures will remain on the walls. They do brighten the place up, don’t they? Almost as much as she brightens the heavens now for humankind. Go, Finn, and spread her light to everyone you meet. Show each new soul you meet what heaven really is before they even enter in; a place where love abounds and joy and peace are a daily gift. Someday the Messiah will bring that to earth, but until then, humans will find fulfillment here. Just as Twinkle did, and I think, you finally have.”

Finn looked back at the new star shining over an earthly stable, and imagined he could already see humans being drawn to the light. He smiled at the archangels. “I probably can’t light up the Room of Choices like Twinkle, but maybe I can make it brighter for new souls.” He looked at Twinkle’s bright glow once more. “Shine on, Twinkle,” he whispered, and blinked as the light flashed.

The End