About Heather James

Heather James is the author of Unholy Hunger and Hands of Darkness, the first two books in the Lure of the Serpent Series. Heather is also a practicing lawyer in California and columnist. Her columns focus on the humorous aspects of marriage and parenthood. Heather is married and works at home, raising two young sons.

On the Ledge of Giving Up, But Still Waiting

Mount Moses, Sinai I find that one of the most reassuring verses in the Bible is in 1 Kings 19:11-12. “11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

There are times when God tells us He wants us to do something. For Elijah in the above verse, it was the immediate command to go and stand out on the mountain because God was coming. This was after God asked Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel, and even after Elijah gave the prophets of Baal a comeuppance, proved their god was a nothing, and had them executed.

Elijah fled for his life and was hiding in a cave. To come out and expose himself on the side of the mountain surely wasn’t on the top of his to-do list, but he did it.

And then what?

A strong wind, rocks falling and breaking around him, an earthquake, and then, of course, a fire. As if the prior few days of running for his life weren’t enough, Elijah had to face the fear of the world trying to swallow him whole, burning him with fire on his way down, to boot.

And then . . .   still-small-voice

It was that still small voice.

The verse makes it clear that although the Lord called Elijah out to stand on that ledge, threatened to be devoured by the elements and circumstances surrounding him, Elijah remained and waited because the Lord wasn’t found in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire. No, just that still small voice.

You may be a writer who feels that God has called you out, asked you to put yourself out there and stand on the mountain ledge. Soon the rejections come, the critics, or the lack of sales. But God isn’t there in those messes and monstrosities, is He? And you’re still standing there, right? Waiting.

cliff-edge Maybe a week, a month, even a year goes by and you’re still there on that ledge, waiting for God to show up, just like He said He would. And you do it because deep down inside, in the parts of you that don’t move even if your hands are shaking like a leaf, you know that God called you out for a reason and by goodness, you know, you just know, it wasn’t to be blasted by the elements, the rejections, the critics, and then hear nothing.

No, it’s for that still small voice.

Unlike Elijah, we don’t have the privilege of seeing God float by us, atop Mount Horeb. What we do have is the gift of others, giving us those little boosts, those tender nudges, those reassurances that we’re doing something good and wonderful and meaningful, even if it only resonates with one fan at a time.

We don’t always get the answers and specifics we crave, but if we’re faithful to follow the path we should be on, I’m confident that God will always follow behind the fire, letting us hear that still small voice in the encouragement of others.

What has encouraged you when it’s difficult hearing God’s voice?

Cry. Another Bookstore Bites the Dust.

bookshop closedThe last local bookstore in my town is closing. This will only leave us with a Barnes & Noble, but what you should know is that more people shopped at the other store, the local store that’s closing. That’s the scary (or scarier) part.

To put it into perspective, I had a book signing last winter at both places. The smaller, family-owned bookstore had about triple the amount of traffic and I sold and signed almost a hundred books. At Barnes & Noble, someone walked into the joint maybe every ten to fifteen minutes, sometimes for a coffee, and I only signed and sold four books.

I’ve heard all the sobbing and woe over the book industry for years now, but I didn’t ever think it’d make my hometown bookstore close up for good. I suppose the Barnes & Noble will be next, too. And then, in a county that’s home to over 850,000 people, we’ll have no bookstores for new material.

Yet, I’m an offender.

I read almost all my books on my Kindle. Or, the Kindle app on my phone.

Did I contribute to the closing down of my town’s last family-owned bookstore? Yes.

Am I sorry? As an author, absolutely. I lost a sure-fire spot to conduct future book signings. It was an easy in, my hometown advantage.

Am I sorry as a consumer? Tougher question. Like I’ve said, I’m an offender when it comes to the death of print because I adore my e-reader.

I hate to see the world in which I operate and play in get messy . . .  a world where an author who prefers e-books strongly laments the perpetual closing of bookstores.

I’ve also yet to witness how this transition away from honest-to-goodness bookstores to the world of e-readers and internet sales affects my bottom line. As far as I know, most of my sales are coming from Amazon anyway, so I won’t begin to poo-poo them for taking over the book-selling world.

If what’s happening in my county is happening all over, does that mean the death of book signings all together? Maybe it does. But it is certainly not the death of interacting with your favorite author.

With the advent of Facebook fan pages, Skype for book clubs, Twitter, and YouTube, there are more ways than one to “meet” an author. Besides, if fans are e-book readers like me, they probably don’t want you to sign their device. (In fact, they might punch you for that.)

So, is it all for the better, the worse, or is it a different kind of the same? I’ve heard mixed reactions. Some authors admit that if not for the reach of Amazon, they wouldn’t have sold any books. Other authors feel they get lost in all the zeros and ones of Amazon digital code, as well as the influx of self-published books, side-by-side their own in the search query. Whereas, in a store, they’d be easier to spot in their niche.

In the end, it’s hard to say that consumers are upset with these changes. They direct the market after all, and the direction they’ve chosen is that bookstores aren’t a necessity for their literary enjoyment.

But as an author who’s feeling the death of bookstore marketing events. . . we’ll see.

What about you? What would your world be like if your town lost all its bookstores?

For Me, With Me, Instead of Me

Footprints in the sand on beach near San José del Cabo, Mexico at sunriseI’m sure most of us know the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, as well as its accompanying images. I think the piece strikes people for the same reason: It’s good to know we’re not alone.

However, that one-set-of-prints is not the full picture. At least not the way it plays out in my head. Sometimes, I imagine it’s multiple sets going in different directions within a dark and pot-holed parking lot. The kind where you worry someone is watching you, waiting to pounce. And even when it’s only one set, when God is carrying you through, it isn’t always on some idyllic beach. It’s on a scuffed batch of linoleum at the local Walmart, through the spilled Kool-Aid.

There are times when God is for us. I imagine this footprint scenario looking like one set of prints is a bit behind the other, trying to keep pace, but not really. I used to think God’s prints are the ones out front, and I’m the lollygagger behind. Yet, the longer I walk this walk, the more I side with the conclusion that it’s the opposite. For us means in support of. It means that He’s letting us go on ahead, cheering us on and holding back like that crazy mom who hides behind the oak tree on the first day of Kindergarten. We need these moments to build our faith. Having God carry us won’t build muscle, will it?

Then consider the times God is with us. This puts two sets of prints side by side. I like it when God is with me. I feel strong and sure and kept. Like a big girl who can legitimately say “Dad” instead of “Daddy,” and Pops couldn’t care less because even he knows it’s true. I believe these are the good times. The great times. The times when we’re almost not stupid and prone to create our own apocalyptic downfalls.

stock-footage-friendly-business-people-walking-away-across-grassy-field-in-the-country

And then, of course, when God goes instead of us. One set of prints, His, when it’s time to fall back onto something that never fails. I guess if you’re a wee bit on the nostalgic side, the footprints on that gently lapping coastline paint the perfect picture. It used to for me. But I’ve had some scuffs over the years, seen some things, been through some pits. So, when God has to pull me out, when He has to do the walking instead of me, I imagine Him fighting the fight that I cannot, busting up the joint, and no, there’s no beach. Not for some of the stuff God has to carry me away from. If an alley fight took place anywhere else than a stinking alley, then even West Side Story would have been filmed in Malibu.

Yet, however you want to picture it, the prints will always indicate He’s there. For you. With you. Instead of you.

I think this video explains it best. Take the time to give it a look.  http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=GD6PNNNX

Artist Sharpening Artist Series, Part II, Lecrae

Boasting, by Lecrae

LecraeRehab

Listen to the music here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ec7ofMOqVM

When I first heard the above song on the radio, it got me. I welled up and blamed it on my hormones the first time, but then it happened again. And, again.

I realized I couldn’t keep blaming it all on my hormones, or else my husband would wise up and figure out I use “hormones” as an excuse not to do the laundry and vacuuming, on occasion. I can’t have that now, because those chores suck to the 10th degree and what not.

So, no, it wasn’t the hormones. It was the truth behind the lyrics.

“If this life has anything to gain at all
I count it lost if I can’t hear you, feel you,
’cause I need you. Can’t walk this earth alone.”

Sometimes I ask myself why I strive to gain the things in this world. The question applies whether it’s with my work, my writing, or whatever else I put in my sights. Is it a gain for me and only me? And if so, at what cost? If I let my faith trickle out to garner that success, even if it’s only a slow trickle, what will the win feel like when I’m left empty inside?

empty-inside3

“So in times that are good, in times that are bad,
For any times that I’ve had it all I will be glad.
And I will boast in the cross. I boast in my pains.
I will boast in the sunshine, boast in his reign.
What’s my life if it’s not praising you.
Another dollar in my bank account of vain pursuit.”

I often ask myself, what’s more important? The money and posturing that may go along with doing things the world’s way, or just keeping who I am in check.

“Tomorrow’s never promised, but it is we swear.
Think we holding our own, just a fist full of air.
God has never been obligated to give us life.
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.”

Our lives, our families, and even our talents and desires have been given to us as gifts. It’s easy enough to squander the impact of that premise as we come to feel it, but I fear we often completely forget the entire premise as well. Especially when we strive to have our way with what’s been given to us.

your-unique-gifts-and-talents_t

“So now every morning I open your word and see the Son rise.
I hope in nothin, boast in nothin, only in your suffering.
I live to show your glory, dying to tell your story.”

This is pretty much all that’s needed. Doesn’t seem so hard. Thanks for putting a sweet beat to it, too, Lecrae.

Hooptedoodle and You

You know the thing about writing styles, right? How they’re like our beloveds’ beauty in the beholderfaces. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that other pomp and parade. The skinny guy loves the fat chick, but no one knows why, except them. And that’s all that matters. The same goes for writing styles. Some styles click for readers and others repulse them.

And while styles range from aristocratic splendor to colloquialisms at the john, I’ve learned that the only authentic way to find out who I am as a writer was to first discover who I wasn’t.

Consider the following nugget of prose:

“The sun rose like a uniformed officer in full salute, beckoning me to face the day with equal vigor.”

Yes, many authors are entitled to write like this, and do a splendid job at it. I commend them. It’s not me, though. I tried to make it me, but failed. I’d probably write it like this: “Ah, cripes. The sun’s up. Shoot it or me. You decide.”

Not to mention that if one of my characters was privy to someone regaling in the sun in the same manner as in the first scenario, they’d push said regaler to the ground and rob them of loose change to buy a pumpkin spice latte. Not looking back at the sun, no, not even once. walkingawayfromthesun

My style, of course, doesn’t resonate with everyone, and for that, hoorah. Because if it did, then there’d be a whole lot more people doing a whole lot more shoving and robbing for pocket change. And, that’s just bad business for us as a society, don’t you think?

(I kid. Reserve the hate mail for when I talk politics or let my kids run wild at the mall.)

It’s important to dip your toes into the styles of others. Not to emulate, per se, but to see what hits home with you and what simply slaps you ugly.

You never know, the constant searching might help you find your anthem, as I’ve found mine. You see, when people criticize me for having too minimalistic of a style, I can now tell them to take their hooptedoodle out for a nice steak dinner and smooch it.

That’s right. Hooptedoodle. Courtesy of the one and only Steinbeck.

“Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy’s writing it, give him a chance to do a little hooptedoodle. Spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up in the story. So if the guy that’s writing it wants hooptedoodle, he ought to put it right at first. Then I can skip it if I want to, or maybe go back to it after I know how the story come out.”

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck  sweet thursday

Artist Sharpening Artist Series: Part One

The City Harmonic, My God

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Doppwe7qd1I

(Please watch the video here when you get a chance.)

I admire singers and musicians. They can sing and I cannot. They can play instruments and I just stare at stringed things and suffer the fear of the unknown. Many of us here are storytellers, are we not? And songwriters, well, they just tell shorter stories. It makes us sort of brethren. Except they wear skinny jeans and shake their tushes, while we stay in our pajamas as long as possible and watch our ankles swell.

Skinny jeans, check!

Skinny jeans and tush-shaking all rolled into one.

Lately, I’ve discovered I need these Christian tush-shakers while I work things out in my head because more and more often, I find myself up against walls in my writing.

Take the song My God by The City Harmonic, for example. I really got into this song when I was at the gym one day, riding one of those accursed stationary bikes. Maybe it was because I had to suffer through a really hard bike seat, maybe because it’s a really good song, or maybe it was because I really needed it that day, but whatever it was, the song struck me in a multitude of ways.

I lift my eyes up,
in these days of trouble.
Will my help come from You?
And if I stumble,
will You pick me up?
What else could a father do?
Well, You know just where I’m going.
You made the open road.
So take my hand, Lord, and lead me home.”

Yes, God, I would like to ask You that: Will You pick me up if I stumble, if I fall, if I just generally suck at this writing thing? Oh yes, what else would a father do?

Oh, my God.
Oh, my God.
I lift my heart up,
whether it’s whole or broken,
good God I know You’re gonna work it out.
So on my heart beats
to a beat that I put my hope in
the love of my God pouring out.”

God, I have to be honest here. I’m already coming to the table broken, and writing . . . well, sometimes it feels like it requires things of me that I don’t think I have left. Oh, but, okay . . . I see . . .You’re gonna work it out.

Yeah
Oh, my God.
Oh, my God.
I will sing, sing, sing and You will be my song.
Yeah.

But, people’s ears hurt when I try that, so I think I’m going to write, write, write and You will be my page.

I’m gonna [write] it like it’s everything to me,
I’m gonna [write] it like the deep calling out to deep
I’m gonna [write] it like it’s all I’ve got
‘Cause all that I want is to [write] for the love of God.

I’m gonna [write] it like it’s everything to me,
I’m gonna [write] it like the deep calling out to deep.
I’m gonna [write] it like it’s all I’ve got
‘Cause all that I want is to [write, write, write].”

iPod shuffle: the poor man's iDevice.

iPod shuffle. It may be the poor man’s iDevice, but it packs a bunch of awesomeness on it for me.

And then there’s a clash of cymbals and the beat hastens. My iPod shuffle is cranked so loud that I don’t notice I’m singing. I don’t notice the RPMs on my exercise bike are over 100 or that everyone around is staring at me, but by goodness, I’m singing, singing, singing about writing, writing, writing. And the world is good and meaningful and suddenly I have strength.

All from one little song.

And then I wonder, can I make someone feel the same thing from my words? Hmm, it doesn’t really matter, does it? All that matters is we’re doing it for the love of God.

Thank you, The City Harmonic. You’ve sharpened me. I hope I can return the favor one day.

Ten Steps to Writing While Raising Young Children

I put this in a ten-step program format because I’m a momma on the edge and I need some intervention. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m at the tail end of summer vacation, the kids having been home now–asking for stuff and what-not–for way too long. Or, maybe it’s because I’m getting closer to a deadline and I’m not as far as I’d like to be in the process. Who knows? I surely don’t. So, rather than losing my cool with my kids because they keep interrupting me, or putting myself in a self-imposed time out (let me tell you, ONE of us is going to take a nap today and I’m rooting for myself), I decided to sit down and be realistic about how to accomplish writing goals.

Step One: Get use to disappointment. I don’t really need to belabor this point, do I? No? Okay. Moving on.

Step Two: Learn to survive on twenty-percent less sleep. Look, even if you can skip this part, I’d like you to try it now and then because it’ll make me feel better when I accidentally fall asleep on the couch right after Dora utters her first, “Hola!”

Step Three: If you have to give your children chicken nuggets or hot dogs repeatedly for dinner, make sure you let them know you’re doing it because you’re cool and you want to make them happy, not because you forgot to go to the grocery store. Again.

Step Four: Learn to cut out superfluous and/or extra obligations. We’re kissing Steps Five, Six, and Seven good-bye. Boom. Done. That was easy.

Step Eight: Cry. This works especially well in my household, where I’m the only female on the premises. Rather than ask again, for the gazillionth time, to let me write for an hour, sometimes it simply suffices to squirt some tears. People run. Heck, they flee. Oh, and then there’s that whole crying is cleansing business. Whatever works, right?

Step Nine: Let me be very, very clear on this step. Pinterest is NOT your friend. It doesn’t love you. It won’t make the beds, do the laundry, or even write one word toward your goal. Pinterest is the devil, if the devil is over-achieving, craft-obsessed, baking frenzied, tool-belt wearing Supermoms. (OK, fine, I’m just jealous because I suck at all things crafty. Last week, the glue gun ended up in my hair. Details aren’t important. Let’s just say, the crying was real on that occasion.)

Step Ten: Make a habit of visiting homes of other moms, especially other moms who write. Boo-yah! You haven’t cleaned your windows since 2007, either! Is that jelly on your ceiling? I feel better already.

Shocking You Softly

I was once that kid on the playground telling my little friends every bleeped out word in the universe. To be fair, however, I didn’t really know what I was doing. This is elementary school we’re talking about, and my parents were naïve, or remiss at best, not thinking I was cataloging everything.

I’m sharing this because I find myself in a constant tug-of-war of what I can and cannot say in Christian publishing. To be clear, I am not an advocate of swear words. I am a reformed potty-mouth, and I intend to keep my writing free of curse words. To me, that is one of the many beauties of Christian publishing—untainted prose.

However, I can’t stop thinking that Christian publishing is in some sort of shifting paradigm, where two radically different generations are trying to see the whites of each other’s eyes.

Case in point: A beloved friend and fellow Christian author once urged me to take my work into mainstream publishing because the essence of my voice might upset some. She was speaking directly to my inclusion of certain words such as “sucks” and “stupid.”

I didn’t see the big deal at first. Now, however, I’ve been thoroughly acquainted with the big deal. It even locked me in the closet, took away my dinner, and told me to shape up if I ever wanted to see the light of day again. (Kidding. The edit wasn’t that painful.)

I’m not saying I wish to convert everyone to accept or speak my language, but the truth of the matter is I’m a born and bred Southern California girl, raised on MTV and the gag effect of adverbs. Totally.

I get that my style is too much for some, and that’s OK. One writer can’t please everyone. I’ll definitely have my niche, and I’ll walk away with the coziness of being honest to myself and with what I’m conveying to others.

As an example of the real Heather, consider this snippet of dialogue between my husband and me:

Husband: “Don’t you just love the sunset? All the colors coming together like a symphony God is orchestrating, telling us to enjoy ourselves and gaze at something beautiful.”

Me: “Eh. My back hurts. Are we done here? I feel like tacos. You feel like tacos?”

So yeah, if sunsets bore me, you can probably guess how painful it is to pretend me talk fancy.

I once tried writing an entire book the way I thought others would expect me to write. It sucked. And, it was stupid.

Even if it makes people cringe, I can only write the way I know how. That’s a good enough starting point for me. What else would you expect from a Southern California girl who gives up sunsets for tacos?

Have you had to modify your writing to make it work in Christian publishing? Do you regret it, or are you happy that you will be able to reach your audience more effectively?

I Will Prevail! (And Other Things I Tell Myself in the Shower.)

One admonition I can’t seem to scrub from my brain is my mother’s bit about wearing the right underwear in case I’m in a car accident. Maybe your mother used the word, “clean,” when giving underwear life lessons, but mine specified “right.” Her reasoning was if I had on a pair of lacy deals or something even more scandalous, the attending physician in the ER might think I’m loose.

Yeah. That’s going to be a flash of thought for me, I suppose, when the doc is trying to volt me with paddles, and is tweezing shards of glass from my forehead. “Whoa, this chick might not live through the night, but, oh well. She’s got on frilly underwear, and you know what that makes her.”

Whenever I hear naysayer anthems in any walk of life, I have this strange tendency to contemplate the difference between the undies my mom wishes I’d wear, and the undies I do wear. (Yes, sorry, my brain works that way.)

One naysayer anthem I’ve heard relates directly to my newest gig in becoming a published author and venturing into the land of woe and book sales.

What’s said: “Don’t expect much because you won’t get much.”

What I hear: “Wear your granny panties.”                     

Well, you know what? I don’t want to wear my granny panties. And you know what else? I don’t care what I should expect. And I don’t care if an ER doctor thinks I’m loose, and I don’t care if people think I’m chasing unrealistic dreams.

(OK, I actually do care if an ER doctor thinks I’m loose, so don’t quote me on that. I got lost in the moment.)

One thing I do care about is what moves me. I need a juicy little nugget of hope, dangling just out of my hungry grasp. Yes, I know the odds are not in my favor of being a best-selling author. Yet, I still tell myself it’s a matter of when, not if, because anything short of that . . . well, if I didn’t have that particular hope to chase each day, then I’d be lying on the floor pressing a Life Alert button just to see if anyone comes.

I might have failure after failure, never even getting as far as putting one tiny finger on the first stair to success, but I’m sorry, I won’t stop striving and dreaming for more until I’m dead.

(Oh, and when it is my time to go, I hope whether or not the doctor resuscitates me isn’t predicated on my underwear choice.)

What moves you? What are your dreams? What kind of undies do you wear? (Kidding!)

Writing is a Muscle, Flex it

    Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not Ernest Hemingway, allowed to take hours at a time sipping aperitifs and people watching in Paris before I muster the requisite inspiration to sit down and write something. My goodness, if I did that and my husband subsequently found out, he’d feverishly protest the abundance of chicken nugget nights that seem to bottleneck when I get close to a deadline.

On the first manuscript I completed, however, I remember only writing when I felt like it. It took me two years to finish. And when it was summarily dubbed “Good, but not quite there,” I responded in a few ways. First, there was the shaking of my fists in the air. Second, there was the stint of self-loathing. (Which as a writer, I feel I have a natural right to exhibit, prancing back and forth, moaning, as if I’m original in my pain.) And third, an issuance of a new battle cry: I will never waste that much time again.

Two years of my life back then was the difference between a head of my own black hair, and a bottle of L’oreal Black Midnight to cover the greys that had suddenly popped up. When I began working on my next manuscript, I forced myself to work every day, for a set amount of time, or a set amount of words.

In my day job as an attorney, I have no problem writing piles and piles of drivel . . . I mean, well thought, and well-argued points of law . . . in a quick, methodic manner. Shouldn’t I be applying the same work ethic to a manuscript? And when I did, I wrote 120,000 words in just over two months. Of course, I have to give some credit to the story being an easy tell, but I give more credit to the fact I determined to make it a work task rather than a pipe dream.

I wanted to develop a rhythm with my writing, a habit if you will, that would self-execute even when—get this—I didn’t feel like it. And sure, sometimes I had whole pages that looked as presentable and appetizing as the floor of a gas station bathroom, but that has happened on occasion when I was trying my best.

When you train a muscle to work, when you exercise it daily and watch it tone and tighten, there’s this mental assurance that the next big set of weights—the next writing task ahead—is within your range. Further, if you work those muscles hard enough, they’ll keep working for you, burning for you, long after you put the weights down. They’ll even keep you going on days when you don’t feel like working at all.

Bottom line is that writing doesn’t come and go in these magical, muse-driven spurts, as if some wayfaring pixie is sprinkling special dust and making you transcend. It’s a muscle begging its owner to use and improve upon it. Getting it to its optimum is going to take you gritting your teeth. You may even have to pop out a neck vein here and there.

And once that’s done, you can pull out the Hemingway routine during your next vacation or when you’re trying to be aloof for your friends. That’s always a fun gig.