Monday, March 19, 2018

Lesson Learned From Vanity Press

I made the huge mistake of publishing my first book through a vanity press -- meaning I paid (not cheaply) to have my book published. Royalties are terrible for my book Like A Cedar In Lebanon, another way vanity presses take advantage of the unsuspecting writer. 2012. My baby. My blood, sweats, and tears went into this book. It is a moving, touching story. But, in terms of the craft of writing, I was nowhere near ready for publication. I was ripe for the picking for a vanity press.

I love the story Like A Cedar In Lebanon. Someday I intend to clean it up and re-release it myself. The publisher overpriced the book. Way over-priced. Who would buy an overpriced book from an unknown author except for family and friends?  I got great reviews from family and friends, but I got a few great reviews from strangers.

Books quit selling a while ago, so imagine my surprise to get a check for almost $5 a few days ago. Wow! That represents the sales of several books because my royalty percentage is so low. Very low.

Curiosity piqued, I check out Amazon to see if there are any new reviews. Nope, nada. Then I checked eBay. Don't ask me why. Okay, you can ask me. I checked eBay because my book has been listed on there. Last night someone on eBay was selling this book for $708.41. That seller is not on there today. Did he sell it for that? I doubt it. But six others are selling it for $20-$50.  *sigh*

I indie published my subsequent books In An Eveningtide, Of Splendor and Ashes (sequel to In An Eveningtide), and The Girl Under The Porch. In An Eveningtide has several listings on eBay.

The president of one of the local writer groups I belong to asked me recently if I have submitted any of my books, meaning to an agent or publisher. I replied no, and she asked why. I could've answered because I like indie publishing, but the truth is I lack the confidence. Plus, I want to write about real life issues that Christians face, and frequently fail at. I don't want someone tell me I need to soften it or eliminate it altogether. I simply can't write sweet stories. Actually, I can, and might sometime in the future, but right now I don't want to.

If you're asking yourself what's the point of this blog, it's to warn you to avoid vanity presses at all cost. Run from anyone who asks you to put up hundreds of dollars to publish your books.

On another note, the Kindle version of Like A Cedar In Lebanon is only $1.99. It's the only pricing I had any say in. I make a few pennies on the Kindle version. So, please check out my book -- with all its mistakes. It is a good story.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Surprises of Ancestry/Lineage Tracing Through DNA

Scanning my emails two nights ago, I see from Ancestry: New message from-----. The sender (she) said DNA shows that we’re 2nd cousins, so we must have the same great-grandparents. She says her mother was adopted and would love to meet her birth father. She gives the name of a cousin of mine, one I’m not close with. She says they only have a name, and she believes he is her grandfather.

Gulp! I send her a reply simply saying, “Hi, cousin. Nice to meet you.”

Obviously, we’re related because DNA doesn’t lie, right? But, is my cousin her grandfather? Was this my vault to open? This cousin is a friend on Facebook – in fact, my maternal side of the family has a closed group Facebook page for family members only. We post old pictures, ancestral heritage data, current family events, and such. We had been posting yesterday about an uncle who had a brief first marriage most of us knew nothing about.

I had an “aha” idea. I sent this cousin, who had started the Facebook thread about the uncle, a private message, copying the message from “she” on Ancestry. Yesterday messages flew back and forth between me and my cousin, and me and “she.” By the evening, I was also getting messages from “she’s” mother, who, if the claim is true, would be my cousin’s daughter.

By bedtime me, she, and she’s mother had become Facebook friends. (You get the point – I’m not giving out names). I felt a kinship with the two of them. I was ready to claim them as relatives even if they didn’t come from the loins of my cousin. I didn’t doubt they came from the loins of some family member, but who?

By this morning I find out my cousin has laid claim to being the father and grandfather. My cousin is in his 70’s, so kudos to him for doing the right thing. He’s a nice guy anyway, so it made me happy.

This blog post poses a question. How often will this happen? Especially in an era when it’s easy to find out our ancestry. Spit into a tube, and voila! Another family member – he’s in his 80’s – did his DNA through Ancestry and had a similar experience. Someone contacted him because the database showed a connection. After research, he discovered a sister, who left home for a while as a teenager, had a baby and gave it up for adoption. It was hush-hush, because that’s what they did back then. The secret was no longer a secret, thanks to Ancestry.

I am sure this has happened more than a few times. If you haven’t invested in finding your ethnic background through one of several offering such services, be prepared. It may happen to you. 
And, of course, this is loaded with material for a book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Choose To Forgive

My plan had been to write a blog post every week for 2018. Eight weeks into 2018 and I’m just now starting. What can I say? Life has a way of waylaying our plans.

Because I write Christian fiction based on actual life experiences and events – mine or others I know – my blog posts for the next 44 weeks will be about those things that have influenced my writing.

Forgiveness. Easy to say but not so easy to do. But, oh, the freedom in forgiveness. In December 2016, my dear friend and former pastor’s wife, Betty, went home to Jesus after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. The last week of her life, I went to the care facility every day to spend time with her and her family and friends who visited.

A young man our family had a history with showed up one evening. He hung back, talking with Betty’s son. “He’s afraid you will be upset he’s here,” someone said to me.

I was taken aback. It never occurred to me to be upset. Apparently, for years he had carried the weight of the wrong he had done against me, one of my daughters, and my family. The truth was that I had forgiven him years ago. So, I hugged him, conversed with him about his health – he had had a recent heart transplant – and I left later with a feeling of joy mixed with sadness. He had carried an unnecessary burden for so many years.

Needing a new heart, then having heart transplant surgery, is sure to cause a person to ponder his or her life. I’m sure this young man – I say young, he’s nearing 50 – thought about his mistakes and people he may have hurt.

We first knew him when he was a freshman in college. He encouraged a romance with my 12-year-old daughter that eventually led to her running away with him when she was 17. This story has many facets, details I won’t go into, things that shredded my heart during a time I was dealing with my divorce after 22 years of marriage.
I forgave. The young man – a talented musician – has been happily married for many years with a beautiful wife and three children. My daughter has been happily married for years – a pastor’s wife with three children.

He was there at Betty’s memorial service, on stage playing his trumpet with Betty’s son and others, honoring Betty with some of her favorite worship songs and hymns.

Considering eternity, what does it matter? With God’s help, I chose to forgive. If there’s someone you need to forgive, determine to do so. This wasn’t the first and only time I had to forgive a deep hurt. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s so worth it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Remembering Betty Owens

     Church. Some love it, some hate it, and some are indifferent.

     In 1974 I was a 26 year old mother of five, moving to a new neighborhood. I was broken, flawed, and so shy, I hardly spoke. I hadn’t always been so broken.
     I had been attending Bethel Pentecostal Church of God since I was 14, but that year I decided to attend Victory Assembly of God, a small church closer to home in my new neighborhood. Attending Bethel and Victory were decisions that would be pivotal in my life. At Bethel, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for the first time. At Victory, the course of my life was set.
     Betty Owens was the pastor’s wife at Victory. She would become my friend, mentor, and family. Looking back, Betty was flawed and broken too, but she hid it well, having overcome much because of her faith. She took me under her wing, encouraging me to get involved and develop in ministry within the church.
     The church grew and so did I. Betty believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Whenever I told her I couldn’t do something, she’d say, “Of course you can. I’ll show you and help you.”
     Over my thirty plus years in that church, many things happened. In 1974 my oldest child was 9 and my youngest was 1. My children grew up. I remember Betty during times when we didn’t have enough food, or I couldn’t provide Christmas, or pay for my kids to go to camp. Betty would rally the church to help. I was embarrassed sometimes, and Betty would tell me that’s what church people do.
     Betty was there for me during some of the most difficult times of my life – times when circumstances almost destroyed me. My struggles in a bad marriage. My divorce after 22 years. My 15-year-old daughter having a baby, making me a grandmother at 32. Another daughter giving a baby up for adoption. Another daughter rebelling and leaving home. Betty was my shoulder to cry on, my encourager, and she never failed to pray for me and my children. Or give us a lecture and a piece of her mind.
     Betty loved to laugh and have fun. She was often the instigator whenever our ladies group pulled pranks or got into shenanigans, and I have pictures to prove it. She coordinated all my daughters’ weddings, and Pastor Leroy performed the ceremony. They oversaw many of my grandchildren’s dedications.
     Because of Betty’s and Leroy’s example and support, I have children in ministry today.
     We got older – Betty and I. It happens. Even as her health deteriorated the last several years, she always managed to look beautiful. She was a classy lady. It grieved me to watch Parkinson’s destroy her body. In December of 2016, Betty went home to the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) she had dedicated her life to serve.
     That last week of her life while her children, Becky, Philip, Sheila and I were talking about Betty going to heaven and what would she be do there. I said she would help Jesus set up for the marriage Supper of the Lamb.
    Has your influence made someone a better person? Changed the course of their lives? Brought hope? 
    There will never be another Betty in my life. I can never repay her for all she was to me and my children. But, I, and every one of us, can be a Betty in someone’s life. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why I Write

It was 1981. I was in my early 30’s, a young mother of five children. I was active and involved in church with a life filled with crises. My marriage had hit bottom, my oldest child – a fifteen-year-old daughter – was pregnant, there was never enough money to meet our needs. The list could go on, but you get the idea. 

I loved Jesus. When plagued with despair and depression, times when my faith was shaken, I clung to God – sometimes by a slender thread. I remember standing in the church kitchen on a Sunday after our ladies had served food, set up and took down the fellowship hall. As president over our women’s group, I had been busy. In a quiet lull, my shoulders slumped with the enormity of the problems I was facing. 

One of the church ladies walked into the kitchen. I pasted a smile on my face and engaged in small talk. Few people knew everything, but most knew some of my struggles. Mary gazed at me with compassion. “You are such an inspiration, Leola. No matter what you’re going through, you never miss church. You stay strong in your faith.”

I thanked her. She left the room. I gritted my teeth, fought back tears, and mumbled, “I don’t want to be an inspiration anymore, God. I just want the pain to go away. I want to not hurt anymore. I want my life to be okay. Why? Why is all this happening to me?”

There have been a few times in my life when the spirit of God has spoken clearly to my spirit. He did then. He simply said, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.”

For years, I thought the “calling” God referred to was this thing or that thing. I’ve always been involved in ministry in the church. Years after God spoke that to me, I worked nineteen years in the ministry of Teen Challenge. Maybe that’s what God meant.

Do you feel called by God to be a writer? It was a dream re-birthed in me before I retired from Teen Challenge. I can truthfully say it’s what God has called me to do at this stage of my life. So why hasn’t my writing journey been what I anticipated it would be? Especially since God reminded me, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.” I know now that all my experiences in life, the good and the not-so-good, have set the groundwork for my writing. 

The voice of our writing is usually an extension of our life experiences. I write/want to write about real life issues Christians face. As my own experiences weave in and out of what I write, I understand that although God isn’t responsible for the things that ripped my heart out, He has used it to bring depth to my writing that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I’m truly convinced God has called me to write. So why do I have so many days where I just flat out don’t want to write? Days I ask myself what’s the use. Who’s going to read my stories or books? 
You know what? The enemy of my soul tells me those things. I’m responsible to write. God gets it to whoever it’s meant for. 

God, I pray for those who are struggling right now. Whether it’s in their personal life or in their writing journey. Remind us of your faithfulness. Remind us that what you have birthed in us will accomplish your purpose if we stay true to the calling. Your love, your mercy and grace are sufficient. You reign over our lives in splendor and majesty. Thank you, father God.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Excerpt From "In An Eveningtide"

Can a woman who has loved a man her whole life forgive him for his betrayal? Can she bring herself to marry him knowing he has never truly loved her?

In An Eveningtide: page 184

Betty couldn’t sleep that night. She tried to pray and couldn’t. She was angry at God. All of her life, she had been the good, sweet girl. The people pleaser. Always doing for others. Why had God let this happen? Hadn’t she prayed her whole life about Josiah? Hadn’t she begged God to make him love her?
She hated Josiah for not loving her. But hadn’t she always known that?  She had lived in fear that he wouldn’t marry her. Now he wanted to marry her. Probably to help hide his affair. She would show him. She wouldn’t marry him.
She groaned, and bit her lip until she tasted blood. Who was she kidding? She couldn’t live without Josiah. She didn’t want to live without him. But the girl – the woman, whoever she was – if Betty ever found out who it was, she would tear her to pieces with her fingernails. What kind of person would try to destroy a good man like Josiah? Only an evil person.
Betty balled her hands and pounded them into her pillow. She was glad she lived alone as her sobs filled the air. She knew Josiah would never fall in love with an evil person. Whoever she was, she must be beautiful and alluring and sweet for Josiah to love her.  Even when Josiah was her husband, would she, whoever she was, still have his heart?
No, not if Betty could help it. She would be the best wife in the world. She would be everything Josiah wanted her to be. She would make him forget this other woman. He would love her. She would make it happen.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

In An Eveningtide