Monday, June 19, 2017

The Illumination, Book 4 in The Awakening Series (and my 100th post)

More than the other books in The Awakening Series, writing the fourth and final book, The Illumination, required pulling together many threads. It was like a giant puzzle as well as a novel.

That made it fun. And challenging.

It was also exciting because at last Tara Spencer comes face-to-face with the forces that caused her supernatural pregnancy. She learns the truth about her child's origin—and her own—and everything rests upon what she decides to do about it.

Completing and launching the book also made me sad because I’ve spent so many years thinking and writing about Tara and the people around her.

Some, like Thomas Stranyero, began as minor characters and turned into pivotal actors in the drama. Others didn’t make it to the end. But all of them became real people to me.

All of this makes it fitting that this is my 100th blog post. I didn't plan it that way, but if I had, that's what I would have wanted.

If you haven’t yet read The Illumination , you can find it in paperback or ebook editions (Kindle, Nook, Kobo (Canada), Kobo (U.S.), iBook, or GooglePlay formats).

The audiobook is coming soon.

If you have read the series, thanks so much! Reader reviews, emails, and comments are what kept me going throughout, especially when I was also managing a law practice.


P.S. Haven’t had enough of Tara? You can get bonus materials from the series, including deleted scenes and my handwritten notes as I was plotting The Illumination here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Did The Virgin Mary Influence The Supreme Court?

In 2014, three corporations argued to the United States Supreme Court that paying premiums for health insurance made them a cause of abortions. Everyone - the Court, the government, and the corporations - agreed that the insurance didn't cover abortions. But it did, as the Affordable Care Act required, cover IUDs and emergency contraception.

The shareholders of the corporations believed those methods of birth control were the same as abortions and argued requiring them to provide this insurance violated their religious freedom.

The Supreme Court agreed.

The five justices in the majority were Catholic. The corporations' religious objections mirrored those of the Roman Catholic Church.

How The Virgin Mary Influenced The United States Supreme Court looks at whether Catholic views about the perfect woman, sex, and birth control influenced the Court's decision. The Kindle edition, which is free 4/6/17 through 4/8/17 (and always free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers), talks about:

  • What the gospels say about the Virgin Mary (not much);
  • The Catholic Church’s view of the “perfect” and “pure” woman as both virgin and mother; 
  • The amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by the 67 Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists; 
  • The reasoning of the justices who wrote the majority opinion and the principal dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

How much did the Catholic view of women and the Virgin Mary really influence the Court?

Download the Kindle edition today and see for yourself.

P.S. Don't have a Kindle? Order the paperback edition here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Still Loving Books In The Digital Age

My hallway being taken over by books.
I've always loved books. But I have to admit, now that there are now so many television series that tell season-long stories, it sometimes cuts into my reading time. (Recent favorites: Agents of Shield and Jessica Jones.) I enjoy watching a good series almost as much as I do reading books.

Why only almost? It has to do both with loving to read words on a page (or an ereader) and with how loud the world seems to have become.

A cheap vacation

Reading a good story, watching a TV series, or sitting in the dark in a theater to see a movie or play all can pull me into a different world for hours. But books add a layer by, ironically, doing less. Reading requires engaging my own imagination in a way that a movie or series doesn't. I picture how the characters look, hear the sounds, and smell the scents the author describes. Because I'm so absorbed in imagining, it feels like I'm getting a cheap mini-vacation from life.


Reading a book also demands complete attention. I can and do listen to audiobooks and podcasts while doing other things. I really like that. Good audio can make you look forward to routine tasks like sorting laundry. But it also means that we're all dividing our attention more and more. In contrast, when I read a good book, I focus on it. For the first five minutes, especially with a new book, that can be a challenge. But after that, everything else leaves my mind. I truly relax. I notice I sleep much better if I read 45 minutes to an hour before I go to bed. It seems to clear out the day's concerns, almost like a long meditation.


So many things compete for our attention these days and they're all loud. TV commercials, video clips (and more commercials) on the Internet, and cars honking is if that will make traffic jams magically disappear. Books, whether on paper or on my Kindle, don't yell. They don't shriek. They don't even whisper. They are silent. And I love that.

What about you? What do you love about reading?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Con, Ghostbusters, and What Women Wear

This past weekend, I attended Comic Con Chicago. The panels I made it to were fun and informative, including one with X-Files cast members, one by the creator of the Facebook Page Ladies Geeking Out on gender and geek culture, and another on the intersection between film, books, television, and video games.

Seeing all the costumes reminded me of one of the big reasons I loved the new Ghostbusters movie. Not only did I laugh through all of it, I appreciated seeing women on screen dressed appropriately for their work. These women didn't head out to fight ghosts and monsters in bikinis, leotards, or skimpy superhero outfits. They were practical. They wore coveralls. I enjoyed seeing that added to the range of types of dress and characters portrayed at Comic Con.

Along those lines, at the geek culture panel, I learned about a great blog called Repair Her Armor. It's to help all those female superheroes out there forced to go into battle with so much skin exposed. Also, at the Hawkeye Initiative, you can see "How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing." It's hilarious and highlights the  differences in how these characters are drawn.

I also got to see the car from one of my favorite 70s TV shows. Do you know whose this is?

Post your answer below, and feel free to share your Comic Con experience.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Illuminating Day -- The First Draft Of The Last Book

My plan for this blog entry was to share with you my thoughts on the 2016 Ghostbusters movie, which I loved. I had notes sketched out on a yellow legal pad (because I really like writing on those). But then this morning I realized I was so close to finishing the first draft of The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening series. So here I am, typing this at 5:35 p.m. central time. I don't have a cool post, but I do have a first draft. A day ahead of schedule.

 I admit I had a little time left to write a blog post, but instead I went onto ShutterStock and starting saving images of lightning strikes and illuminated cities and silhouettes of young woman I might want to use in a cover. I can't post them because I haven't bought any of them yet, but you can view them here. The photo on the left, which I took, gives the barest hint of what I'm looking for. Not the Sears (now Willis) Tower, as that won't be featured. But a cityscape with sky behind it that looks a bit ominous. Probably including lightning strikes. 

One thing I'm sure I'll struggle with during rewrites is the last line of The Illumination. It's a lot of pressure, writing a closing for a four-book series. The line as it reads now is bad. (No, I won't tell you what it is.) But I'll deal with that, and a host of other challenges, including how to manage so many characters, in the rewrite. While I can't promise a final line that will be amazing--though that's my goal--I can promise it'll be better than what's there now. (No, really won't tell you.)

In the meantime, I'm heading out to see Ghostbusters again to celebrate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Breaking for a Historic Moment

Two posts ago, I shared my main goals for the rest of the year and included a timeline. As I write my first draft of the last book in my Awakening series, having that timeline out there for all to see has helped me return to the keyboard even when I'd really like to binge-watch the next three Agents of Shield episodes. (I decided to watch the series on the recommendation of two other participants in the creative retreat described in my last post.)

Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the Senate.
But yesterday I got an email from a friend who has raptly followed the conventions of both major political parties. The roll call was likely to be at about 4 p.m. central time, he told me, so if I wanted to see a historic moment, I should tune in.

I wrestled with taking a break for something that held no real suspense. Sure, there was a question of what, exactly, Bernie Sanders would do, but he'd already endorsed former rival Hillary Clinton. She was going to be nominated. And yet....

A woman nominated for president of a major political party is something that's never happened before in the United States. It's something that my mom, who was born just three years after women got the right to vote, didn't live to see. So I tuned in.

It took much longer than I expected. So long that I finally got my laptop and multi-tasked (something I generally avoid) by scheduling some advertising for August.

But it also was far more moving than I expected. Regardless of political views, hearing a woman born before women had the right to vote announce her state's delegates for the first woman to be the nominee of a major party...amazing. A Wall Street Journal article today talked about how far women have come, and yet I'm so often struck by how much as not changed. There are only 20 women in the Senate, for instance, despite having had the right to vote since 1920. Twenty.

Last night, though, I didn't think about that. I thought instead about how many girls will grow up in a world where it seems perfectly normal for a woman to be president. Where, perhaps, there'll be women running on both sides and no one will even comment on it.

For today, though, it is groundbreaking, so I felt the need to take one more break to write about it.

And now...back to work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Value of Retreating

One of many sunsets during the retreat.
In early July, I spent seven days at a creative retreat organized by Rabbit Hole (a company that designs live interactive gaming experiences). We stayed in a house on a river in Indiana with an outdoor grill, fire pit, and decks. While I set specific writing goals, I didn't think much beforehand about what being on a retreat means.

Today I looked up the dictionary definitions of the word "retreat." As a noun, it can mean a place of privacy that affords peace and quiet, an area where a person can be alone, an area for withdrawal for prayer and study, or the act of withdrawing or going backwards, especially to escape something hazardous or unpleasant (or enemy troops). As a verb, its meanings are similar and include pulling back or moving backward, withdrawing from enemy forces, or withdrawing to a quiet or secluded place.

In different ways, all these definitions applied. I consciously decided to withdraw for the week from unnecessary email, most social media, and business concerns.
Michelle (no longer a baby) taking a break on the dock.

I also withdrew, without really planning to, from other aspects of life. For instance, from being concerned about how I present myself. Rabbit Hole was founded by my niece Michelle Lilly and her friend and business partner Eleanor Hyde. I've hung out with Michelle since she was born (she was a super-cute baby, by the way, not that I'm biased), and the retreat included other writers, musicians, and artists who are family or are friends of Michelle. All had come to work on their own projects (games, plays, music, art), not to evaluate or do business with me. Which meant I packed and wore what was comfortable and weather appropriate without a lot of thought about how I looked. I brought only one pair of shoes--sandals with a gym-shoe like sole. In other words, I could ignore the lines most women walk every day, such as do I look:
  • too young (skirt too short; hair too long; dress, skirt, leggings, or jeans too tight; sweatshirt or T-shirt too big/too loose)
  • too old (too much gray in hair; skirt too long; blouse buttoned too high)
  • too sexy (blouse cut too low; skirt too short; heels too high; hair too wild)
  • too conservative (shoes too flat; make up too sparse or too polished; hair too straight and neither too short nor too long)
  • too serious (not smiling; arms at sides)
  • too silly (smiling too much; gesturing too much). 
I just wore what I wore and looked how I looked. How relaxing was that?

A cemetery a few steps from the house.
It also felt wonderful to be free of scheduling. As I wrote in my last entry, I live by schedules because that's how I make sure I get things done. But because I dropped out almost everything other than fiction writing, I felt confident I could write the number of words I wanted to write without a fixed plan. So I never set in alarm for when I would get up, and I went to bed when I got tired, rather than at a specific time.

Also, Monotone, Indiana is in a different time zone than Chicago, where I live. My laptop stayed on Central Time, the clocks in the kitchen were set to Eastern Time. The clocks in the bedroom were all blinking because apparently the electricity had gone out at one point. My iPhone kept switching time zones, which probably had to do with cell phone towers. All of this gave me a wonderful feeling of time being fluid, and of having no pressing demands.

A zombie game we played (similar narrative to Walking Dead).
Retreating means not only pulling away but moving toward. I was looking for peace and to jump start my creativity after a few busy months getting my third supernatural thriller released, finishing a semester of teaching, and writing an appeal. My plan was to relax by immersing myself in fiction writing (I'm working on The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening Series), and I did that. But I also completely enjoyed simply being in a place with all these people who love telling stories, and care about telling stories, as much as I do, and who tell them in very different ways. Michelle, Eleanor, and I spent about eight hours playing a game called Her Story. It required using keywords to search for video clips of an interview of a woman who was connected to a murder. By finding and watching the clips, which could not be seen in chronological order, we pieced together the woman's life and what had happened. So it was both a game an an alternate, non-linear way of figuring out a mystery/suspense story. As the next series I plan to write will be mysteries/legal thrillers, I not only had fun, I learned about my genre.

The house, which Rabbit Hole found through AirBnB, had a VCR and a bunch of videotapes, including the original Star Wars trilogy. So one night we stayed up late and watched Star Wars. (I admit it; I went to bed before Empire Strikes Back.) That, too, was a great experience that took me back to how I excited I felt about that movie when it came out, and the sense of wonder it engendered.

These surprises and others (including the neighbors' over-the-top fireworks displays on July 3, 4, and 5) reminded me that while focusing on productivity and sticking to schedules has served me well my whole life, it's also important to be flexible and try new things. Not just to foster creativity but to have a happy and fun life.

One of the cloudy days on retreat.
Finally, I appreciated how responsible, considerate, and cool everyone at the retreat was. Depending on the day, we had between 3 and 8 people staying in a small two-bedroom house. Everyone brought or bought more than enough food to share, washed dishes when they saw them piling up in the sink (no dishwasher), cleaned counters or tables when needed, and cooked. Those who stayed up late or got up early were mindful that others were sleeping. And we all checked with one another regarding workspaces and whether what we were doing might disturb anyone else.

The only downside for me was that while I loved taking walks, sitting near the river, and watching sunsets over the water (see photos), many, many, many bugs also enjoy the same, and are not at all put off by eco-friendly bug spray. I am pretty sure I got more insect bites in one week than I've had in the last 10 years. And I am absolutely going back if Rabbit Hole hosts the retreat again next year.

When is the last time you went on a retreat? If you haven't been on one, would you like to? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.