Category Archives: Writing

My First Book Contract!

This week I’m thrilled to announce the signing of my first-ever book contract! On February 15, 2015, Mantle Rock Publishing is to release Whitewashed, the first in my On the Brink series, a three-book suspense series for older teens and adults. The books follow the journeys of three homeschooled girls—Patience, Natalie, and Christy—as they step out on the brink of adulthood and danger.

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Here’s a blurb for Whitewashed:

Seventeen-year-old Patience McDonough has a plan. Despite her parents’ objections, she will attend Verity College in Hades, Mississippi, and live with her grandparents. She’ll complete her degree in record time and go on to become a doctor. But things at the college are strangely neglected, her class work is unexpectedly hard, Grand gets called out-of-town, and Poppa starts acting weird—so weird she suspects he has Alzheimer’s. On top of that, she has to work extra hours at her student job inputting financial data for the college—boring! But soon her job gets more interesting than she’d like: she finds that millions of dollars are unaccounted for and that something creepy is going on in the Big House basement. She discovers secrets tying her family into the dark beginnings of Verity, founded on a slave plantation, and she is forced to question the characters of people she has always trusted. Finally, confronted with a psychotic killer, Patience has to face facts—her plans are not necessarily God’s plans. Will the truth set her free?

Gram’s Treasure: A Short Story for Children

images (4)Hannah scurried into her older brother’s room and plopped onto his bed, heedless of the text books and papers sprawled across the quilt.

“Guess what I have,” she said, breathless.

“Hannah! Look what you made me do!” Jake scowled at her and started erasing the pencil line that marred his math homework.

“Sorry, but listen to this,” she said, bouncing a couple of times.

“Quit shaking the bed!”

Hannah huffed but sat still while Jake finished his erasing.

“What?” he finally said, snapping shut his math book.

Hannah leaned forward. “I overheard Mama and Daddy talking—”

“You shouldn’t be listening to other people’s conversations,” Jake said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Hannah pursed her lips. “I wasn’t trying to listen. I was just washing dishes and they were talking in the living room. I couldn’t help overhearing.”

Jake lifted one eyebrow.

“Do you want to hear or not?”

“You’re the one who came busting in my room wanting to tell me something.”

“Oh, all right, I’ll tell you.” She blew out a breath. “Remember that load of boxes Uncle Benjamin brought Mama last week? You know, of Gram’s things?” Mama and Uncle Benjamin’s grandmother had died a few months earlier.

“Yeah, so?”

“There’s a treasure hidden in it!”

“Hannah, you’ve been reading too many stories.” Jake rolled his eyes.

“I’m not making this up,” she said, glaring at him. “Mama told Daddy she was sorting Gram’s cedar chest today and found the key to her greatest treasure.”

“What key?”

“This one.” She held out her hand, and a small brass key gleamed dully in the lamplight.

“Where’d you get that?” Jake’s eyes widened. “Did you steal it?”

“No! Mama left it on the end table.” Hannah’s neck heated as she looked down at the key in her sweaty palm. “I just picked it up.”

Jake shook his head.

“I’ll put it back after I find the treasure.”

“Gram didn’t have any treasure,” he said. “She was as poor as we are.”

“That’s what we thought,” Hannah said, “but maybe she just didn’t live like she was rich.”

“Yeah, well, I just don’t think she’d hide her money in some box without telling somebody.”

“Maybe she wanted us to find it after she died.”

“You’d think she’d have just given it to us if she wanted us to have it,” Jake said.

“But that’s boring,” Hannah said. “She probably wanted someone to find the key and then go treasure hunting.”

“I don’t know.” Jake leaned back against the headboard. “Where exactly do you think this stash is?”

She shrugged. “Don’t know, but I’ll figure it out. Want to help?’

“Can’t,” Jake said. “Have to help Dad tomorrow and then I’ve got all this homework to do.” He tapped the cover of his book. “Besides, you really shouldn’t have taken that key without asking Mama’s permission.”

Hannah bit her lip. “I’ll tell after I find the treasure. She’ll be so happy about the extra money she won’t mind about the key then.”

downloadHannah woke at dawn on Saturday, even though she’d stayed up half the night imagining the treasure. Would she find jewels or gold or a big pile of money?

And where should she begin her search? Maybe she’d start by asking a few questions.

Hannah dressed quickly and slipped down to the kitchen where Mama was preparing breakfast.

“Mama,” Hannah said, trying not to finger the key in her pocket, “where’s all that stuff Uncle Benjamin brought you last week?”

“Gram’s cedar chest is in my room, but we stored everything else in the cellar until I can get time to look through it.” Mama flipped a pancake then set aside the spatula and turned to look at Hannah. “Why do you ask?”

The cellar! Hannah shrugged, holding in a grin. “Just wondered.”

Mama opened her mouth like she was about to say more, but the bacon started smoking so she turned back to the stove instead.

Hannah was too excited to eat much. Mama and the little ones were headed to Aunt Rebecca’s for the morning, and Dad and Jake had to patch the barn roof. That meant Hannah could search for the treasure as soon as everyone left.

An hour later, Hannah hesitated at the top of the cellar stairs, flashlight in hand. Mama usually sent Jake down there because Hannah hated the cellar. But you have to go, she thought, for the treasure. Straightening her spine, she started down. Her footfalls rasped on the bare wood steps, echoing through the dank darkness below. Hannah shivered and clicked on her flashlight then shone the light around, hoping the skittering sound she heard was just her thumping heart.

“You have to be brave,” she told herself then flinched at the sound of her own voice.

When Hannah reached the concrete floor, she peered around the room and wished her flashlight’s beam was stronger. What if the batteries died and she got stuck down there forever? Hannah shook her head and took a deep breath. The stale, cold air coated her nose and throat. She moved toward a stack of boxes, hoping they were labeled.

Baby clothes was scrawled across one box top. Probably not Gram’s. Hannah moved around the stack, farther from the stairs. Just before she reached another pile of cartons, something soft and sticky coated her face. She screamed and danced around, swiping at her head. Hannah’s flashlight dropped to the floor, and she stomped down on it. It rolled and she flailed wildly, grabbing at the cartons to steady herself. Hannah managed to stay on her feet, but just as she stooped to pick up the flickering flashlight, the pile began to totter.

“Oh, no,” Hannah said then covered her head with her arms as the boxes tumbled down around her.

Sudden silence made her peek from her sheltering arms. The flashlight spun in dizzying circles at her feet, highlighting the mess she’d made. Clothes and quilts and keepsakes lay scattered around the floor. Hannah sighed and squatted to start picking up, but the flashlight stopped spinning and the beam shone on a cardboard box. Gram’s Things.

Mouth hanging open, Hannah reached into the carton. “Ouch!” She jerked her hand back and sucked on her pricked finger. More careful this time, she picked up the light and searched the interior. Hannah moved aside a wool blanket and some fragments of a shattered vase then spied a wooden box. The wood looked old and was carved with flowers and letters. She moved the beam closer. “My Treasure,” it read. And below that was Gram’s name.

The treasure box!

Hannah bounced in excitement then calmed enough to lift the box for a better look. Beneath Gram’s name were some words: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” On the front was a brass lock with a tiny keyhole. She fumbled for the key in her pocket and stuck it into the lock. It fit. Pulse racing, Hannah turned the key and opened the lid. What would she find?

Just an old book. Tears filled her eyes. What kind of treasure was that?

“Hannah?”

Whirling around, Hannah saw Mama standing at the foot of the steps. Hannah’s eyes darted from her mother’s face to the jumble on the floor. Uh, oh. Why was Mama home so early? Now she was in for it.

“What happened?” Mama gestured toward the chaos.

“Um.” Hannah cast around in her mind for a good excuse. Nothing. She didn’t even have a treasure to offer.

“Did you get hurt?” Mama asked, and the gentle words made Hannah gulp back sudden tears.

She dropped the book on the floor then ran to her mama. “I’m sorry,” Hannah said, throwing her arms around Mama’s neck. “I didn’t mean to make such a mess.”

“What are you doing down here?” Mama’s hand made soothing circles on Hannah’s back.

“Treasure hunting.”

“Treasure hunting? In the cellar?” Mama pulled back and studied her face. “Why?”

“I heard you telling Daddy you’d found the key to Gram’s treasure.” Hannah turned to pull the key from the lock and held it out. “I took it so I could find the money.”

“Hannah,” Mama said, her eyes sad, “do you love money so much you would take what doesn’t belong to you?”

Sniffling, Hannah shook her head. “It wasn’t just for me. I was going to share with you and Daddy, so our family could get the stuff we need.”

“I see.” Mama gave her a small smile.

“But Gram lied, Mama.” Hannah released a sob. “She didn’t leave a treasure at all. Just a worthless old book.”

“Show me,” Mama said.

Hannah picked up the book and handed it to Mama, who studied the cover, then smiled.

“Hannah,” she said gently, “you did find Gram’s greatest treasure, and it’s far from worthless.”

Hannah blinked. “What do you mean?”

“It’s her Bible, and the wealth of wisdom Gram gained from it far exceeds anything money can buy.” Mama’s eyes filled with tears, but her smile remained. “I appreciate that you wanted to help your family, though you know taking the key was wrong, but Hannah, this Book holds more value than the most precious gold or jewels in the world.”

“How?” Hannah sniffled.

“Gram believed like the Psalmist, “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.”

Hannah’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t understand.”

Mama smiled. “Here.” She placed the book in Hannah’s hands. “Gram’s Bible is yours now. Read and find out why it was her treasure.” Britancy_vse_huzhe_znayut_bibliyu

Driving Practice: A Short Story

Treatment_and_Control_clip_image004Nauseated by the stench of Mississippi tar, I focused on the yellow lines and tried not to let the heat shimmers blind me. Cars whizzed past, and a long line of vehicles trailed mine. I gripped the steering wheel in sweaty palms, refusing to speed up.

“Look, Julie!” my older brother John hollered from the passenger seat.

Startled, I whipped my head his direction, expecting to see a log truck coming at me from a side road. All I saw was a stand of pine trees. Perfectly normal-looking pine trees.

I frowned. “What?”

“The kudzu.”

I glanced at him. He had a dumb smirk on his face. “What about it?”

“The kudzu’s growing faster than you’re going.” He cackled.

I rolled my eyes. “Shut up.”

“Julie, I know you’re new at this and all, but, going 40 in a 55’s about dumber than dirt.”

A car packed with high school kids flew by, gunning the engine and yelling rude comments about my driving abilities. I put my hand up to hide my face and came away with a glob of melting makeup. So much for my perfect look. I’d give about anything to have air-conditioning in our beat-up Chevy. “I can’t help going slow. It’s not like driving out by the house.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to go faster. You’re fixing to get us run over.”

In the rearview mirror, I saw a convertible full of bikini-clad girls about to pass us. John shrank low in the seat.

I scowled at him. “Mama shouldn’t have sent you with me to the store.”

“Hey, y’all,” he called out to the girls, obviously deciding he couldn’t ride low enough to hide. He smiled big at them while hissing at me, “Mama doesn’t really need milk. She wanted you out of the house. You’re too big a baby to hear her and Daddy arguing over the bills.”

“Liar. Mama’s watching her stories.”

“Not lying.” John looked so sanctimonious I wanted to smack him upside the head. “Bet they can’t afford for you to get your license. Insurance is too high for little girls like you.”

My eyes widened. Stinging sweat trickled into the left one. A word I shouldn’t even know rose to the tip of my tongue. “It’s your fault if they can’t. You keep wrecking our cars!”

“Probably won’t have money for church camp neither.”

Church camp. I’d been planning for months to go to church camp.

Of course, I’d been planning for weeks to get along with my brother this summer. So far it didn’t look like either one was happening.

Mama had talked to me about this summer. Said she hoped John and I could get along better now that he was at Delta State most of the time. Said it was time to stop fighting like two crawdads over a scrap of baloney. Said to give a soft answer instead of a harsh word, quoting the Proverb she’d used on us since we were little. Daddy never bothered much with Scripture, just threatened to whip our tails if we didn’t quit bickering.

I rounded a curve and spotted the run-down convenience store where Mama said to buy milk. I clenched my teeth, watching car after car come at me. How was I supposed to make a left turn in this traffic? My heart pounded. “There’s no room to turn!”

“Calm down, stupid. Wait for a break in traffic then turn.” John snorted. “Didn’t you learn anything in drivers’ ed?”

I gulped air, slowed, saw an opening, and started my turn.

A horn blasted.

I jerked the wheel left and jammed down my foot. I shut my eyes. “Oh, God, please let me make this turn, amen.”

The car slammed into the ditch. I opened my eyes. Strands of brown hair dangled from a crack in the windshield. My forehead stung. “John? You okay?”

He lit into me good. “You’re not supposed to turn into the ditch! What’d you do, hit the gas instead of the brake?”

Tears blurred my vision. “I didn’t mean to! Some idiot was laying on the horn.”

John got out, stomped around to my side, and hauled me out.

I stared at the smashed car.

images (5)“Stupid girl driver, you totaled it!”

“Pig!” I stomped my foot and instantly regretted it when my head throbbed. “You’ve totaled three cars in three years.”

John’s eyes blazed blacker than the tar on the highway, but he shut up.

A man in a Mississippi State T-shirt ambled over from the store. He stared at the car and shook his head. “It’s hotter than heckfire out here, folks. Come on in and call your daddy to carry y’all home.” He returned to the store.

John tugged my arm. Heartsick, I followed him through the dingy store to a back room.

“You can sit here, girl.” The man pointed at a filthy chair beside a littered desk. “Y’all can use that phone.” He indicated a telephone in desperate need of Lysol spray. “Ain’t long-distance?”

John shook his head.

The man left, muttering, “Girl plowed straight into the ditch. Don’t make no sense.”

Mortified, I plopped down and wept, not even worried about my mascara. God, how’d I get myself into this mess?

Pride goeth before a fall, Mama’d tell me. Daddy’d just say, that’s what you get for making fun of your brother’s wrecks, thinking it ain’t gonna happen to you.

I knew it was true.

But why didn’t you stop me from wrecking, God? I asked for help.

A rough hand patted my arm. I looked up.

“You alright?” The almost-gentle expression in John’s eyes shocked me speechless.

“You broke the windshield with your head. Might have a concussion.” He sounded like he actually cared. Was this my brother?

I sniffled. “Why are you being nice now? You were hollering something awful before.”

His ears pink, John turned away and picked up the telephone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Calling Daddy.”

“So you can tell him what a stupid girl driver I am?”

He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I said that.”

“Yeah, right.” I hiccupped.

“I know how you feel, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

He grunted. “You said it yourself. I wrecked three cars in three years. It’s humiliating.”

Thinking of all the times I’d been mean to him about those wrecks, I cringed. “I’m sorry, John.”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.”

He dialed our number and spoke into the receiver, “Daddy, don’t worry now. We had a little accident, but we’re okay.” He offered me a reassuring half-smile.

I smiled back at him. We really were okay. Thanks, God.

Approaching the King

the-chronicles-of-narnia-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-profileThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has been a favorite among children and adults for generations. C.S. Lewis’ fantasy tells the story of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—four children who live with a professor in the country during World War II. Through a wardrobe in his house, they discover the magical world of Narnia. They soon find that the White Witch has trapped the land in eternal winter and enslaved the Narnians. Edmund goes to her side, and his siblings must try to rescue him. But Mr. Beaver makes it clear that only Aslan can save him.

Not being Narnians, the children don’t know of Aslan, so the Beavers attempt to describe him. Mr. Beaver says, “I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the Sea…. Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

Naturally, the children feel skittish about encountering a real lion.

Susan asks, “Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” says Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

Lucy asks, “Then he isn’t safe?”

“Safe?” says Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

When they meet Aslan, the children do approach with fear and trembling because he’s not at all safe. But, as Mr. Beaver says, he’s good—so good that he dies in Edmund’s place, taking the penalty due a traitor to Narnia. But then Aslan rises from the dead and conquers the White Witch, freeing Narnia from bondage.

This story mirrors King Jesus’ interaction with us. We’re enslaved to sin, unable to do anything to save ourselves, but Jesus took the punishment we deserve by dying on a cross in our place. Then He rose again, breaking the power of death over us, so that we can live.

Jesus is the Son of God, the Lion of Judah. We must approach Him with reverence and awe because He’s not to be trifled with. Like Aslan, He’s not safe. But He’s good. He’s the King.

Will we dare approach Him today?

PhD Dropout

download (1)For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a voracious reader. As a little girl, I curled up for hours with Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Agatha Christie mysteries. In all those blissful hours, it never occurred to me that I could one day write a book myself.

Throughout school, I excelled in my Literature classes and eventually majored in English at Mississippi College, with the plan of becoming an English professor. I took a couple of Creative Writing classes, but still never thought I could write a full-length book.

After earning my MA, I headed to Baylor University and started my PhD in English. One semester into the program, I dropped out. Not because I couldn’t handle the class work, because I loved my studies (though I did not love teaching college freshmen). I dropped out because I wanted children…and I wanted to stay home with them. So I worked full-time while my husband finished seminary, and we had our first child soon after he graduated.

Over the next years of raising babies and beginning the homeschool journey, I didn’t regret giving up school to stay home with the kids. (Okay, most of the time I didn’t regret it, though potty training, toddler tantrums, and spelling lessons nearly drove me crazy at times.) But I missed studying literary works and writing those essays everyone else in class hated, so I took a correspondence course on writing for children. Soon after completing the course, I wrote my first novels (both short and pretty bad), one a children’s mystery and the other a Christian romance.

It wasn’t until after my youngest graduated from diapers that I attended my first writers’ conference. I took a class on how to write how-to articles, went home, wrote an article, and sold it a month later. Since then, I’ve had published forty or so articles, short stories, and devotionals (and had nearly that many rejected).

A few years ago, I began my Levi Prince fantasy series about thirteen-year-old homeschooler Levi Prince. Later, I wrote the first book in my On the Brink YA suspense series about three homeschooled girls beginning college.

For more than a decade I’ve had the privilege of raising and teaching my kids while learning and working in the field I love. Just this past year, I had the joy of seeing my oldest child achieve publication for two of his own articles.

All in all, I’m glad to be a PhD dropout.