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Romance

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The story of Christmas for a lot of us is summed up by the image of the creche. Three wise men holding gifts, a loving mother holding her newborn, as animals peacefully sit nearby.

However, the entire story reads more like one of the first really good thrillers. The three wise men, also known as the Magi, were in search of a child who was predicted to be a new kind of ruler that would save the world. That’s a pretty bold statement and generally saved for a series of thrillers so a writer can really develop the plot over time.

A character, who was destined to only be the bad guy for the first in the series, King Herod, thought of himself as the current ruler of the world. He had heard the same rumor about his replacement and plotted against the whole idea. He asked the Magi where the child was to be born so he could also worship the new Messiah. He didn’t mean a word of it. He was busy plotting murder.

Already there’s a little magic, some betrayal and mystery.

Meanwhile, Joseph and a pregnant Mary are traveling by donkey to Bethlehem where no one is really willing to help them out. The good guys don’t have the big army or the fancy caravan. They are the obvious underdogs and we are really pulling for them.

So far, this is a great thriller with a few twists and turns.

This is where the creche scene gets played out. Jesus is born in the barn, among the animals. The Magi, who have followed the star, fulfill the prophecy and find the child. Another dream tells them to not return to Herod and to take another route home.

Herod finds out that he was double-crossed and orders that every male child under two years old be murdered in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Meanwhile, an angel has already appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to hightail it out of Bethlehem and don’t come back until the coast is clear.

I’m not sure James Patterson could have come up with so many twists and turns wrapped up in a supernatural phenomenon and a grand conspiracy done in by a betrayal. All good stuff and could keep any reader on the edge of their seat wondering if the good guys were going to win. What will the next books in the series bring?

In this story, there is a triumph of the human spirit over the usual practices of the day that were more often brutal, and generally lacked even the idea of compassion. Revenge was far more popular than the idea of forgiveness.

The story of Christmas even ends with the ultimate plot twist. The world as it had always been was changed forever by a gift given in the most humble circumstances meant to benefit anyone who chose to receive it. Even the greatest ruler of the day could do nothing to get in the way.

Against all of those odds, love won out and a new day had begun. The original gift that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas everyone.

 

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It goes without saying that chaos has an element of ‘thrill’ to it. Normally, though, the thrill is thought of as more like heart-pounding, enduring, can’t wait for this to be over, kind of a thrill. Chaos, by its definition, means out of my control, and who wants that?

Sure, thriller writers like me go out of our way to create that on paper, and readers go with me for the ride to feel out of control, as the story spins to a satisfying and sometimes chaotic conclusion. But that’s all fiction, and you close the book and you can go back to your life. Ah, calm, peace.

Put some chaos into my daily routine, though, and that adds so much, what-if, inside of the journey that I might not like or worse, might make me look stupid or vulnerable. What if I can’t fix it right away, or at all?

Later I can get a lot of mileage out of the story when telling my friends and coworkers. However, the whole time I’m getting a laugh or two or even a nice gasp from my audience, there’s also a prayer going around in my head. Please don’t ever let that happen again.

Or that used to be the case.

Ever since I found an element of faith and even better, have let that faith grow into the corners of my life, including my writing, my life has grown bigger and better. I’ve learned that it’s not my job to know how things will turn out, just have enough willingness to keep doing what’s right in front of me. In other words, stay present right where I am.

Recently, I noticed that it was getting way too easy for me to work long hours without anyone noticing I was missing in action. That’s a remnant of my old self. Surely, if I just work harder, longer this will eventually add up to something for the better. Actually, I wore myself out until I finally made a little room for God to do the heavy lifting. The less I did, the more things started to happen.

I know, that’s the opposite of a lot of rah-rah business books on success. But, I’m doing my best to walk a spiritual path, which means balance, and a recognition I don’t know everything, can’t do everything and it will still all be alright.

But, what to do about this old habit of working to fill the hours?

I adopted a pointer from the local shelter who is just under a year old and deaf and named her, Lois. Lately, I find myself running around in my backyard, laughing as she tries to fake me out. Or sweeping up dirt in the middle of the kitchen floor that was dragged in when she went to retrieve a bone. When I want to get her attention so she’ll quit barking at a fly, I have to get up and wave my arm in front of her face. It’s all a little chaotic. Thank goodness.

For me, Lois is a new and constant reminder that I’m not in charge and that’s okay. Letting go and being in the moment takes a willingness to let life be messy. The rewards have been great adventures with all the loved ones right around me.

I can save the more perilous twists and turns for Wallis Jones and The Circle, and even then, Wallis is looking for a way to do the right thing and still keep everyone safe. More adventures to follow.

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The List new front cover

Let me set all of this up for you by saying for about a decade my goal was to try and stand still in life. I was newly divorced with a small child, had to sell the house, find a job, any job, and my biggest goal was not to lose anything else. I had no idea how to accomplish that goal, and no spiritual foundation to stand on, no experience gathering support. My fear grew and grew, keeping me up at night, wondering how I could accomplish just a normal, middle class life.

It was a painful, lonely experience, surrounded by people, while doing my best to be a good mother, write thrillers, and look after elderly parents. I lived in a constant state of feeling overwhelmed and saw it as a permanent state, not temporary.

Then, I started to seek out spiritual answers and as my faith grew, my self esteem started to build exactly like bricks in a house – one piece at a time. I learned how to ask questions from appropriate sources, stop doing so much and to let go of having to know the outcome before I’d set out.

That last one was a favorite. I was so concerned that my ignorance of where things would end up could cause harm to myself or others that, like I said, I wanted to stand still. But life doesn’t really work that way.

Life is always changing and we never, ever know where things will end up. This is where a spiritual foundation of faith became crucial. The more I came to believe in a loving God, the more I was willing to trust and take positive actions without an idea of outcome. I started to see choices right in front of me.

I still knew where I wanted to go but I was willing to believe there were other possibilities and, even more important, to enjoy the journey.

Taking action has been a shocker on a soul level, working all the way out. That old instinct still kicks in every time I start out on something new, and at times is very painful. It’s an echo of old feelings that I hear, deep, down inside from a time that no longer exists.

Feelings are so powerful that I used to think they were real indicators of something going wrong. Faith tells me, they’re false, keep going, see where all of this leads, and so, I set out to buy a house, write another book, take on new speaking engagements, try dating, and write thrillers that bring an element of God into them. In other words, be myself, all the time with no hope of perfection, which is the good news.

Those elements are the backbone to the Wallis Jones series because I wanted to tell a good thriller, packed with twists and turns for Wallis and her family, and have her search for her faith, wondering if that would really bring any kind of peace to a chaotic life. Every time Wallis hangs in there and leaves room for God she gets to see Him in action in her life, and something deep within changes. Hope is replaced with belief.

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  • The List new front coverI thought that writing thrillers was somehow unrelated to the average life, like mine. Not true. Every time I hear from readers what they’re getting out of The List or The Keeper, I see what I was working on deep inside, even if there are dead bodies and a nice conspiracy.

    Wallis Jones, the woman at the center of the series, has a lot in common with most of us. She believes she can make things work for herself by working hard, being honest, using her common sense. You know the list.

    She believes it and sees the proof and judges others by it, till it stops working for her and she can’t make things go back to the way they used to be. Imagine having to tweak your entire operating system from the inside out – in the middle of a conspiracy that’s bigger than you are – and want more than anything for everyone you love to be okay, and happy.

    That’s the thrill of love, and other things. The solution is simple and difficult to pull off, all at the same time, because it’s counter-intuitive to the doer’s guide to life. Just allow things to be the way they are and make choices based on what you want on that day.

    It has been suggested to me more than once, (okay, for years), to just ‘allow’. That’s the end of the sentence, as if that were a complete thought. People would come up with that suggestion totally independent of each other.

    I had no idea what it meant.

    The words were completely foreign to me. I was used to having an action plan with a goal and without that I had no idea what it mean to just ‘allow’. Allow what?

    I asked that question every time hoping for an answer with a little substance that would give me some direction. All I got, every time, was a smile and a repeat of those two words – just allow. I felt frustrated but the words stayed with me.

    Over time, I started to catch glimpses of what those words might mean and the absolute power they held to transform my life. Something would happen just as I was feeling the old grind of resentment about something. I didn’t get invited to a party, or the credit for a project at work went to someone else. Small stuff but over time builds up like plaque until everything gets filtered through a thought of, ‘what about me’?

    But, a new thought would step in between and I’d hear, just allow, and feel myself relax into it. I hated that old feeling that I knew was selfish and petty, and I knew somehow it was blocking me from seeing something big. Frankly, I was worn out from all the doing.

    I was finally willing to try a new thought because I was finally worn out. What if it was okay that I wasn’t invited? What if it was okay that no one at work ever knew what I did? Would it matter? Probably not, and I was willing to see because every time I had that thought, I felt myself relax. My shoulders dropped into place and my mind slowed down from the constant whirrrrrrr.

    I was leaving room for God. My translation – I was leaving room for possibility, choice, expansion, ease, joy, peace and wonder.

    I’m not giving anything away to say that Wallis is on the same journey to get to that new place again, and again because the way there is filled with adventure whether it’s an inspirational thriller series, or just you and me. Still thrilling.

    Coming soon – An updated look to the website and a new book, The Circle, out in April, 2015. Stay tuned.

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Katie, Martha, Louie

Family is what you make of it. In the beginning, as children, we take what we’re given and do the best we can. For some of us, it’s a continual blessing that grows richer and deeper with time. For others, we recover from the original family and, with some help, create a family out of the people in our lives. It’s all good.

However, for either one of those scenarios to work, we have to be willing to love and forgive on a continual basis. As it turns out, the biggest thriller any of us will ever know are the journeys we all take to be a part of something bigger than ourselves – a family.

This week I discovered that there’s a patch of family on my mother’s side living just 15 minutes away that I’ve never met before and I no very little about them, except for one important detail. My mother, Tina, rarely talked about her past at all, never told very many stories of what her childhood was like, for whatever reasons. I don’t really know. There was one exception and that was Ivan Toler, who she clearly loved and remembered fondly.

They grew up together in Georgia and he’s the one person I know of in the world that shared the best memories my mother had of those days. Today I get to meet him and sit quietly to just listen. No expectations of what the day may hold or what may be revealed. A new connection to family that comes with the best kind of loving invitation already secured by my mother.

Mom passed away in April of 2014 and I miss the phone calls with her because she was the one person in the world who would worry about me, even if there was no need to be concerned. She was also the one who cheered me on when I started the new thriller series, and said with confidence, “Oh, that will be easy for you.” I wasn’t so sure but Mom said it so easily and so quickly that I decided to just go with her view of things. People who love us can grace us with that kind of confidence from the inside, out.

They’re sharing the kind of love that doesn’t take anything away from anyone.

There’s more that can come with being part of a family, like old stories that sometimes run through our head and hurt our feelings and disrupt things like Thanksgiving dinners. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Look at it from a new angle by taking a good look at everyone gathered around your own Thanksgiving table. Chances are, no one else at that table even knows your old stories. For them it never happened and doesn’t exist because the past is gone. All they know about you starts with the day you met and moves forward. That’s their gift to you.

Don’t return the gift with the tags still on it by drudging up what no longer matters. Be in the moment and forgive the past by letting it stay right where it is. Then, try sitting quietly and listening to the stories as if you didn’t really know anyone in them, but knew you were really going to love them all. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. More adventures to follow.

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Photo by Nick Bianco

So far, internet dating has reminded me that people lie, a lot. Also, flamboyantly kissing a woman’s hand is not cool on that first coffee date but is apparently a trend. (It’s happened twice with two different men.) I’ve also learned that meeting someone for the first time for just coffee is a really good idea. And keeping my sense of humor is a necessity because I may get referred to as ‘fresh meat’ on one date and occasionally I won’t make someone else’s cut either.

I’ve been trying Match.com for about three weeks so far and it hasn’t been pretty. One man took the time to cynically explain to me how it all works and that lying is the norm – that’s why he does it – and other nuggets of wisdom like those who don’t have a picture are probably married, which was okay by him.

Thank goodness I’m packing a bit of faith in God or I’d give up right now. Dating is a rough sport. Thank goodness I also have friends who can laugh and then tell me to get back out there. I’m not sure I expect anything to really come of internet dating. I’m really trying to be willing and take some action. But it’d be nice if something positive happened even if it didn’t lead somewhere like a nice, long relationship or yes, even marriage at some point. So far, three coffee dates later I’m mostly left with the idea that this has been a lot like job hunting and not at all like the movies and maybe that’s a good thing to learn.

Just like a good job, I’m only looking for the one that I can fit in, be happy, be of service and have some fun. There may be a lot of false starts, horrible interviews or near misses but eventually I’ll catch on that I’m a lot like most everybody else and eventually, the right person will come along.

Until then, I’ll give Match.com the three months I said I would and I’ll go on about my life without making this a test of my self worth or whether or not God is present at all. That last one is not always easy but is a Truth that I keep learning, one day at a time. More adventures to follow.

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