To become a follower to Darlene's blog, click on the "follow" tab at the very bottom of the screen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Writer's Mind: Descriptive writing

The same sentence in my current wip (writer's shorthand for "work in progress," in other words, our current writing project) earned rave reviews from my critique partners.

"The predawn sky was clear, the moon sliding behind the pines surrounding the house. "

I'm not sure why that sentence caught their attention; it seems fairly prosaic to me. But I have been told by others that I am a strong descriptive writer. So now my challenge is to capture the process of how my mind comes up with strong images.

Some ideas:

Read. I notice well-done description in books that I read. The right description can set mood. My favorites for this skill are James Lee Burke and Nancy Pickard. I read for story, but every now and then a sentence or paragraph grabs my attention and I pause and consider. Like any other craft, we can learn from the masters.

Practice. For a time I drove my family crazy jotting down descriptions of different places we visited. At the restaurant--ball field--doctor's office--bring it to life with your words. Use all five senses. How would you describe the total experience to someone who has never been there? What small details would let the reader know this is a small family restaraunt or an upscale boutique? Without coming out and saying so, of course.

Similes and metaphors. In the process of learning how to "show not tell," I discovered the beauty of similes and metaphors. For a time I tended to pepper my writing with too many, but the practice made me a stronger writer. In my current wip, I said "She couldn’t imagine living away from the ocean, the crashing waves, the pine and spruce that crowded the shore like God’s army" and "Trying to stop a boy from playing red coats and patriots was like trying to stop the snow—impossible. " Ideally, the description will go beyond describing physical attributes and illustrate an internal truth. My heroine feels safe in her home because the trees remind her of God's presence; she is tired of the constant snow.

There are a few opening statements. Anyone interested in part two?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Cost of Believing

The suggested scripture in my devotional Bible today contained a verse that made me go back and read it again. Then again. Yes, it does say that.

Have you ever heard that when the Bible says "therefore" you should go back and read what it's "there for?"

Look at the "therefore" in this verse.

"'I believed; therefore,' I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.'" (Psalm 116:10, NIV)

Afflicted because he believed. Wow.

Even better, the psalmist continues "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?" (v.12). He saw no contradiction between belief, affliction, and God's goodness. They were all part of the same package.

A Christian theology of suffering, packed into 2 short verses from the Psalms.

Yesterday, our pastor preached about overcoming fear (based on the time Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8). Among other things, he pointed out that (a) Jesus was with them in the boat. As a believer, I should take confidence, knowing that God is with me wherever I go. and (b) God has either planned or permitted every storm.

In the afflictions of the past year, God has demonstrated His goodness to me over and over. With the psalmist, I ask, "how can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?"

I can't. It's as simple as that. What can I give Him? Everything I have, everything I am. Lord, make it so

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More spring sights

Lately it seems like I live in the country, not in a heavily populated metropolitan area.

I have grown used to seeing cottontails everywhere from the patch of lawn behind Good Times to the bushes in front of the office. Prairie dogs successfully moved their "town" from one side of the street to the other--unsure if they dashed across or carefully burrowed their way underneath. One year I even saw teeny-tiny babies, probably out of the hole for the first time. Adorable!

Lately we've even received emails at work about "what to do if you see a coyote." Well, I've seen coyotes or foxes at various times--from the safety of my car.

But what I saw last week beats all.

Rounding a corner on my way home, I looked, blinked once, and looked again. Those weren't horses (I do occasionally pass horses in the field) or cows. Slender legs. Short, slightly rounded ears. A perky nose at the end of a snout. Short tails turned up with white showing. Five or six head, with a single antlered male keeping watching over his herd. Deer. In the middle of the city.

In Job (this week's through-the-Bible listening), God challenged Job with this question:"Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?"

God is still the almighty God of nature (my daily drink of the majestic Rockies reminds me of that)--but Job didn't live in a city.

Maybe some day this spring I'll spot that fawn.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Snow

I've been feeling a strange sensation this week: happiness. I'm singing and smiling almost nonstop. Last night's snowfall hasn't dampened my spirits (even if my knees and fingers complain).

In fact, I can see how God protected me through this recovery winter. We've had snow a few times. But we haven't had snow through February and March--normally the snowiest of the year. I haven't had to worry about slipping and reinjuring my knee. God is good!

On Tuesday I spoke on writing devotionals at our local Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild meeting. 25 women plus children attended. How grand to see old friends. How wonderful to see new writers learning their craft.

A young man of ten shared a story with me. How exciting to encourage him to continue writing. Children of writers have an advantage...they learn by osmosis what we struggle through. (Both Jaran and Jolene are gifted writers. Do I use the present tense for Jolene? You know what I mean.) Oh, and the boy's name was Jordan. Like my granddaughter. Like a precious boy, now a teen, that I taught in Sunday school for years.

Oh, and this week I also learned that my rental application in Oklahoma has been approved.

In Colorado, even the snow speaks of spring, of the moisture needed to bring vegetation back to life.

2009 will be a time of new life for me. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jolene Speaks

I am working my way through Jolene's things and came across a journal of her poems and essays. Please accept these mid-week offerings as a celebration of Jolene's life, not as an expression of grief.

The first group of poems comes from a journal titled "For the Birds." The cover features a colored pencil drawing of pink bird sitting atop an orange tabby cat's head. Vickie Baker, author of Reflections of Joy and my faithful writing companion for years before her death, gave it to Jolene at Christmas 2000. She taped a carnation in the front of the journal, a flower that had a special meaning for her. (We'll revisit that when we get to her God's Carnation story.) She made good use of the journal in expressing her thoughts. The following is her first poem after the Christmas season (I'll save those for next December).

Open on the canvas his works of art that he so brilliantly strokes.
He's painting a picture of you and me until our life ends.
Brilliantly strokes do shine working to paint
brilliant sun and sky to you and me.
On canvas he shall never cease.
By Jolene Franklin

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

One Writer's Mind

I am listening to my readers and yes--I will blog about writing, adding an additional post on Tuesdays. To start with, I am going to give you a glimpse into what makes a writer tick. What do I think about, when I am trying to craft a new story or article or whatever?

Last week I learned about the Silver Lining contest sponsored by Cup of Comfort (who has published several of my devotionals) and Redbook. The description of the contest states, "When the going gets tough, we often look to others whose tenacious spirits have enabled them to weather similar storms and whose living examples inspire us to persevere and to find a ray of hope behind even the darkest clouds."

I think you will agree that the last twelve months of my life qualify as dark clouds. So I want to accept the challenge. But this is a kind of writing I struggle with. How can I express the hope and faith that have carried me through--in a unique, engaging way? What "silver lining" symbolizes that hope?

I told a friend I would not even attempt the contest if I couldn't answer those questions. But I think I have a glimmer of an answer.

The silver lining that I pointed to over and over again last year was the impending birth of my first grandchild and the opportunity to see her and rejoice in new life.

Ah, you might say. But I thought your visit was cancelled. Another "dark cloud."

Therein lies my story. If I can capture the paradox between the presumed silver lining and the reality--then I think I may have a story worthy of the contest.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One Big Happy Family

What can I say about the folks at my church? They are simply awesome.

I asked one lady to join me for dinner on Tuesday night. She, in turn, invited several others. I ended up reminiscing with seven wonderful women. Talking about Jolene and Mom, about childhood and forgiveness, about moving on. Thank you for joining me.

I wore a red flowered blouse to church yesterday for the sole reason it was all I had left to wear. I received half a dozen compliments on how good I looked. (Thank you, again!) I like red, it's such a cheerful color, but I think it was more than outward appearance. I threw myself into the worship, into singing and smiling and lifting up the Lord. And I like to think that came through.

Jolene's poem appeared Friday by mistake (I thought I had scheduled it for posting at a later date.) I have taken to working through Jolene's things while I'm watching television at night. I am discovering notebooks, journals, scraps of paper, full of her writing. I will be sharing it with you once a week for now. My hope is that you will get to know my precious girl through her own words.

I can sing and smile. Read Jolene's poems without crying. A big thanks to my extended church family for standing by me each step of the way.

Note: I am speaking about Writing Devotionals at Words for the Journey Christian Writers Guild, Rocky Mountain Chapter, tomorrow morning at 9:30. Hoping to see some of you there!

P.S. One comment mentioned an interest in blogs about writing. As you probably can guess, writing is one of my passions, and I would love to share some of the agony, joys, and tips I have garnered along the way. Anyone else out there interested? Please comment to say so, and I might add a day's blog devoted just to writing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jolene Speaks

Oh God I love thee.
I have praised you since the day I was born.
Rejoice, rejoice, God Almighty reigns.
You are my King. I will always rejoice
in your almighty person.
Oh thy God how you plan my life
and created who I am at the beginning of life.
I worship thee God day and night.
I worship thee God day and night.
Praise you from dawn to dust.
I will sing a great song to thee.
I will praise Thy name for all his good deads.
Praise, praise to the Lamb.
The times I worship because of what he did.
I worship thee Oh God forevermore.
By Jolene Franklin

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What next?

I have been blogging for almost a year ... but now that I am choosing to move on from my grief, what on earth should be the focus of my blog?

Maybe I should take my cue from Asaph in Psalm 77. His words in v. 2 echo my feelings last weekend: "When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted." (italics mine)

He decided, in v. 10-12, "'To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.' ... I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds."

Now, that's a worthy focus. Looking for God's hand in all the minutiae of my life, both big and small. I glance out my window, wishing I could see the "peaks" promised by my street (Peakview).

I had decided against going to Colorado Christian Writers Conference. I still can't afford to go. But ... last night gazing into the mountains as I drove west on Arapahoe Road, my heart hungered for one last trip into their grandeur before I move back to flatland. And few settings are better than YMCA of the Rockies. Pray that I'll have wisdom about whether or not to go.

I moved to Colorado sight unseen nineteen years ago, and fell in love instantly. For the first time since I left my native Maine, I felt I was at home. The mountains do for my spirit what the ocean does; they both remind of the creator God and lead me in worship. I have lived with daily glimpses of snow-capped peaks. I will miss my friends, and I will miss the home of my heart, when I go to Oklahoma. But God is good, and I believe the years behind will eventually pale in comparison to what God has in store for me in the future.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.

News flash: I have received my copies of my second mystery, A String of Murders. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy, feel free to contact me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dancing With Grief Plus One Year

Jolene would have been 25 today. Maybe I’ll buy a cake in remembrance.

Like sitting shiva, another Jewish mourning custom that resonates with me is that of saying Kaddish. Not Kaddish itself...a prayer for the dead...but the length. A full year after death. Something about a year brings some closure, finality, a readiness to move on.

All day Friday people kept trying to jolly me along. I finally told one friend, “I want to wallow in grief today.”

Well, not really. What I did want was permission to remember, to cry, to grieve. Many days I push the tears away and focus on something else. But over the weekend, I wanted to hold Jolene and my loss close to my heart. At last, when it was time to get ready for work, I broke down. Sobs spilled out. Talia (my cat) kept wandering around my legs, echoing my cries with her own.

I met with a writers group on Friday night—a safe place where I could cry and be comforted. Instead I was caught up in passionate debate about the writer’s craft, and story. I’m doing the same thing tomorrow, when a group of friends from church will gather with me after work.

Yesterday our pastor preached about Job, “The Man Who Was Good for Nothing.” He addressed the question of why bad things happen to some people and not to others.

I told him I felt like he had consulted the calendar, noted the anniversary, and planned his sermon with me in mind. He hadn’t, of course. But the Holy Spirit had.

One of the points he made was that God rewarded Job after tragedy struck, and we could expect the same. It left me with a sense of anticipation, as had the words of one of the praise songs. I will leave everything behind, I will follow you for all of my life. I am leaving Denver and going to Oklahoma to begin a new chapter of my life. God has clearly led our steps. I don’t know what God has in mind, but I believe it will be good.

Jolene will always be part of me, but it is time to leave Kaddish behind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm writing my Thursday blog early. These days I stay busy packing. I've made it through the kitchen and dining areas. Today I tackled the boxes underneath our "deacon's bench."

One of the boxes was stuffed with Jolene's artwork. What can I say about the cascade of emotions, seeing her talent for design, her eye for color, her affirmations of faith, her childlike enjoyment of cartoons ...

I thought I would get through the box relatively unscathed until I reached the last piece of paper jammed in the back, the top of the too-tall sheet curled to fit into the space.

A mother looks tenderly at a girl, their silhouettes cut from a Lifeway shopping bag and glued onto a larger piece of paper.

Titled simply "Emahay 2006" in my handwriting. The sole example of my artwork in the bag. A simple gift to the daughter that I loved.

"Emahay." (pronounced "eee-mah-hay") I love you.

"Emahayati" (pronounced "eee-mah-hay-ah-tee") I love you too.

Our own private love language, the two words that survived from Jolene's private childhood language.

I cried. I could cry all day. Friday is the anniversary of Jolene's death. I hope to write a thoughtful perspective on Monday.

But today I simply grieve. Jolene, if you can hear me, emahay.

The Lord's voice comes back. Emahayati.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Allow for Differences

I am speaking tonight on spiritual gifts. I'm always nervous before a workshop, but especially this one. What if they disagree with me? Although I try to teach from my understanding of the Bible, not a dictated church doctrine.

But I've given this presentation before, and haven't been stoned yet.

One of the cool things about the community of Christian writers is our diversity. We attend churches along the whole spectrum from very traditional to very charismatic. And yet , when we gather, our common love for the Lord and our passion to share the good news of salvation with a dying world override our petty differences.

The same thing is true of those who are grieving. My grief won't look like yours, and yours won't look like mine. We'll express our emotions differently. We'll have our individual time tables. But grief, whatever form it takes for us, allows us to reach out to comfort others with the comfort God has given to us.

When you think of me today, please send up a prayer. That God will empower me through His Spirit to present this important teaching.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Life Goes On

It's been a quiet week, and that's good. Quiet except for a 3:18 AM phone call on Tuesday from Jaran. Mom had fallen down and knocked her head open. CAT scan said there was no internal bleeding but ... I'm worried about her frequent falls. That makes four since Christmas.

I shared pictures of Jordan at choir last night. How cute! What a happy baby! I see her gorgeous smile and remember Jaran's happy baby pictures. (Unlike Jolene's always serious poses. Forget smiling. She wanted the toy the photographer was holding!) If Jordan is the same live wire, people person her father is, Jaran and Shelley are in for years of trying to keep up with her--and loving every minute of it. I can't wait to get back to Oklahoma to see her again. Seeing Jordan reminds me of my own precious babies. I ache to hold Jolene again, too, but that's not going to happen.

We are coming up on the one year anniversary and not a day passes that I don't think about her, about the loss. I may write about that several times over the next few blogs. God continues to bring opportunities to be with other people as the anniversary approaches. The only offer I've rejected is a night at the bar with people from work, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Somehow I don't think that would lift my spirits.

A reminder that I am speaking at Borders in Northglenn on Monday night.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Empty Nest

News flash: I will be speaking at the H.I.S. Writers ACFW chapter next Monday, March 9th. They meet at Borders at 104th & I-25. My topic: Empower your Writing Through Spiritual Gifts.

Mom has been in Oklahoma for a week, and she's struggling with the transition. Disorientation--waking up in the middle of the night with a sense of "where am I? what am I doing here?" Loneliness.

Loneliness is a factor for both of us. I am reaching out. For instance, when I walked into Applebee's for lunch today, I sought out another church family and joined their group. Yesterday, I went to a movie by myself. Slumdog Millionaire. Once you get past the tortune scene that dominates the first five minutes, it's a great movie. Still pretty violent in places, though. Warning.

Accepting help. A co-worker came by with her two girls and we packed up my entire kitchen in an hour! Can you imagine?! Well, we packed up (a) things to go to DAV and (b) things to save for Mom. The stuff I intend to keep is still on the shelves, waiting until the moving date approaches.

Fridays are bummers. Anyone else out there struggle with Fridays? How do you handle them? A year ago, I spent Fridays with Mom and Jolene. Now I'm alone, and I feel every second. Especially now that I've dropped to basic cable tv and don't even have Monk and Psych to look forward to anymore. Hey, it could be worse. At least their seasons just ended. Maybe I'll have expanded cable again by the time the next season starts in the summer.

This morning I sang with the choir. Among other things, our pastor mentioned that Jesus Christ has called us to service: to discover what He wants us to do and to get busy doing it. And sitting at the end of the first row felt right. Leading in music is something I have known God has called me to do since I was a little girl. It's time I got back to it. I think about Oklahoma, and taking my grandchildren to church, and then I think, but what about choir? Jaran and Shelley have a Christian home, they're just not involved with any local Christian community.

Getting back into the groove of having an empty nest--it's a pleasure. It's a struggle. It's work.