We all have holiday problems, but that’s okay– it probably won’t kill us too badly

The new book (coming in February of 2018!) has a chapter titled thusly:

When Thanksgiving Includes a Table for Ninety-Eight

Because the holidays are supposed to be this joyous time of fun and laughter and cocoa and loving family togetherness, all gathered around the table. All ninety-eight of us.

But reality proves otherwise, year after year after year. Those joyous times are actually full of crazy relatives, hyperactive children who have been ingesting pure sugar (or possibly cocaine) since rising at 5:30am, and an angry woman in the kitchen, pretending she’s glad she’s making all this extra food again.

For example.

The other day I was in my kitchen, whipping together a batch of cornbread with a wee bit too much ferocity and WAY TOO MUCH resentment. I cracked eggs like they were responsible for my bad attitude and I griped out loud about all the cooking required this time of year.

I can barely keep up with the regular meals around this house, so when we start throwing in extra potlucks and dessert tables and transporting hot dishes across the county to church, I sort of lose it.

It’s not lost on me that– once again– I’ve covered this at length in a book I have written. I believe the Lord just thinks it’s just hilarious that I get to write a book and then must return to that book to relearn the same lesson. Sometimes hundreds of times.

But ANYWAY, the point of the holidays shouldn’t be about the food or the eggs or the drives or the hassle. A holiday should be one more chance to love others, one more chance to glorify God in our daily lives.

But this can be really, really hard when the ninety-eight people around the dining table are driving you crazy in ninety-eight different ways. (***Not that I know this from personal experience because the people who share the holiday table with me are shining lights of perfection, normalcy, and delight at all times.***)

Here, let’s go back to the chapter about this in I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars:

For this, we grit our teeth and choose to be flexible. We choose to accept differences and be content with the fact that our family members are who they are. We aren’t going to change them. They aren’t looking for our approval; they’re looking for pumpkin pie and a football game. They don’t care how many hours we spent on the decorations or the turkey; they just want a safe place to put the baby down while they talk to other adults. They might need a comfortable chair for their old bones, or a big glass of water for their back pills.

See? What are we so worried about? It’s all fine. There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed with a little flexibility and kindness, right? Among Christians, everyone gets a place. Everyone gets a seat. Weirdo or not.

I’m trying to relax a little and enjoy these loved ones. I’m trying to extend a seat with grace and patience and genuine affection, and I’ve got to be honest– it’s not super easy. And I know I also grate on the nerves of the others around the table like salt in an open wound sometimes. WE ALL GET TO BE A LITTLE CRAZY, OKAY?


I need to remember this— when Jesus said to love others, he didn’t mean in some far off, mystical place. He means right now, right here, in this very time. These very people. The love and the grace start with the smallest things, deep in my heart. They don’t start with turkey or ham or gravy.

They start with the Holy Spirit taking my willing heart and turning me into someone who is loving and kind, despite myself.

Ninety-eight different ways.


True story: I recently had a tantrum that involved throwing my phone.

This map was useless. Just trust me.

Recently our family found ourselves navigating around the city of Los Angeles.

As you might imagine, things got ugly.

We’d been in California for a few days by that point, long enough to get lost about twenty zillion times, long enough to realize the traffic was sort of ridiculous, and long enough to realize we were never sure if we were in a safe neighborhood or if we were about to be ax murdered.

We really, really didn’t want to get ax murdered on our family vacation.

I took this picture at Universal Studios, where there was an honest-to-goodness fake murderer in the background!

So Eric and I took to using both of our phones to navigate. He uses Google maps and I use Apple maps, and between the two of us we usually could figure out what to do. YOU WOULD THINK that two adults using two GPS sets of directions would arrive promptly at their desired destination, but no.

Finally we gave up on our original destination because the neighborhood was just too sketchy. Usually we’re a little braver than this, but it had been a long day and our nerves (okay, my nerves) were shot. I didn’t have the emotional energy to walk through a tent city of homeless people to get to the Mexican market, and I’m ashamed to admit that. But it’s the simple truth.

After giving up on the Mexican market, we headed to The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Formerly a bank, it’s now a grand and glorious place chock full of books. It should have been the funnest time ever, but I was pretty sure our rental car was going to get towed or stolen or something while we perused the books. As soon as we walked in the security guy demanded our bags, which was kind of unsettling.

The Last Bookstore has all kinds of bookish delights like this one.

A cashier recommended a local place to eat, which was really just a lot of lunch counters in one big space. Since no one in our family ever wants to eat the same thing for dinner, this seemed like a genius idea. We set out from The Last Bookstore and began walking the few blocks to Grand Central Market.

And I’ll spare you the details of the trauma, but I couldn’t eat my dinner after I paid $16 for it. It was cross contaminated with heaven knows how many kinds of wheat, and also it looked like some sort of horrible, monstrous stew cooked by the devil. Even Eric looked at it with suspicion, and he’ll eat almost anything.

As we left the market I tried to give the perfectly good meal to a homeless man–I mean, I was afraid of it but it really was good food– but he refused it. He told me he doesn’t eat shrimp because of the bacteria. (I am not making this up.)

I was a little taken back, but just walked away and set the food on the top of a garbage container. My mood had fallen to a dangerous level by that point.

Our car hadn’t been stolen, which was good because by then all of us were pretty much desperate to get back to our rented apartment.

The door to our wonderful apartment we found through Airbnb.

On the way back, our dual-direction system failed us, and Eric’s phone started giving us completely different directions. Since he could see the map on his phone, Eric chose to follow his directions instead of mine, which is when I yelled, “Fine, you just figure it out!” and then threw my phone to the floor.

Like a child.

Or, more accurately, like a forty-year old redhead with a temper that flares under stress.

My phone didn’t care. Siri continued to patiently direct us home from the floorboards of a rented Kia. It would have been funny if I hadn’t been twelve shades of furious.

The children sat silent in the backseat, not sure what to do with a phone-throwing, starving, nervous wreck of a mother.

Why do I tell you this story? I mean, other than the obvious reason that stories involving tantrums are pretty much always funny… later.

It’s because there’s a tendency to only present our best selves on social media, which I’ve blogged about before. But also, I read a great article today on how Christians today have a wide array of authors, pastors, and speakers to follow, and often those leaders are only seen from a distance. It’s not healthy. Real life and real problems can be hidden behind a facade.

Another display at the Last Bookstore.

As a writer, I walk a dangerous line. I love to talk about what God is teaching me and how the Bible connects to our daily life. But I don’t want to get too pretentious about it. My real life friends know I’m not perfect, what with my whining and swearing and griping. But it’s easy to gloss over those less-than desirable personal traits as I write, due in part to the fact that if I typed out all my actual thoughts you would be confused and very, very afraid.

Whether I’m comfortable with it or not, writing is a form of leadership. I have a responsibility to offer up the truth about myself, and sometimes that involves my fear of poverty-stricken areas, self-pity over dinner, and throwing my phone while I have a fit.

And all of us have the responsibility to seek to become more and more like Christ each day. Not more like the authors we read. Not more like our pastors. Not even more like Corrie TenBoom or George Elliot or the Apostle Paul. We fail ourselves and others when we put Christ aside to follow another human.

Because humans sometimes throw phones and pitch little fits in the Kia, mmmmkay?

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22, NLT).



Why I’ve let go of my dreams for a tiny house

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll be acquainted with my love of tiny houses. I can’t explain it, I understand it’s totally unreasonable, and yet I love them anyway.


why I've let go of my dreams of a tiny house

But sometime this last winter I finally let go of that dream because:

  1. Eric and the kids thought I was insane.
  2. The reality of a composting toilet for four people finally sank in.
  3. A private bedroom is good for married couples, and sharing a tiny house with teenagers makes that nearly impossible.

I finally acknowledged the tiny house wasn’t going to work, but then I just moved my sights slightly higher– three small bedrooms and a real bathroom. I just needed to find one close enough to the kids’ school.

My friends rightly pointed out that we’d moved out of a 900 square foot house a few years ago. I was going crazy in that place– what on earth would make me want to go back to another cramped house?

I understand my desire to downsize makes no sense. We truly did move out of a small house three years ago, and I couldn’t wait to escape that place. The day we moved out was an endless Happy Dance.

I couldn’t quite explain it, even to myself. I busied myself with some projects in our new home, and that squelched the desire for a time. But then, burning somewhere deep (possibly next to my spleen) was the constant and burning desire to downsize. I wanted less house and more available money. I wanted to be able to give wildly and generously, and to travel far and wide.

This is the closest explanation I can find– you know how some couples decide they’re done having children after their second baby? They give away the baby clothes, sell the crib, and get some surgical intervention. And then, beyond all reason, five years later they find themselves ready for a new baby. They get the vasectomy reversed or start filling out adoption paperwork.

It’s a desire deep inside that drives them, with no logic involved. They remember the sleepless nights and how difficult two year olds are! They haven’t lost their minds, but something deeper compels them.

And that’s how it was with me and downsizing. I hear the stories of people in Haiti and India. I realize many people are living in huts with metal roofs while monsoons rage in 100 degree heat. How can I continue living with two bathrooms and central air? Am I supposed to go on landscaping my yard in this planned community while a missionary school in India can barely afford to pay their teachers?

I finally asked Eric and the kids to pray about it with me. They weren’t totally on board, so I could see how this was possibly a new version of the tiny house ordeal. I was quite sure that after some prayer at least Eric would come around, because of course God was on my side. This desire fit in with the biblical ideals of sharing with those in need, so God and I held the holy cards.

I even had real life stories to back it up. My friend Amelia Rhodes did the same thing last year– sold a comfortable family home because of a simple desire to downsize. (You can read their story here.) And I recently read Amber C. Haines’ book Wild in the Hollow, and her family downsized into an apartment (with four little boys!) so they could be closer to their church community.

I’m not the only crazy one, is all I’m saying.

After three weeks of praying, the answer hit me hard and clear one morning. No. The answer isn’t moving to a smaller house. The answer is to stay right here, even with central air and two bathrooms.

I don’t understand why, exactly. I think it probably has something to do with being the aroma of Christ right here in this very neighborhood, where the children zip circles on their bikes and the families walk their children in strollers. It might have something to do with being involved in the schools, full of kids who need love and Christ. It could be that we’re called to be salt and light to this community, full of scrappy, independent (occasionally cranky) citizens.

I told Eric this a few days ago, and this was his response. “I feel like we prayed and felt led to be here. I don’t feel like that’s changed.” And the man is right. We didn’t land here without a lot of prayer.

It’s pretty clear that God plants his children all over the world. Some of us get the planned communities and central air and others of us get the monsoons and the huts. I don’t understand why. I don’t know why God doesn’t concentrate us, like an army, in the areas that need the most help. But he doesn’t ask me to have all the answers; I only need to be faithful in my own place and calling. I need to give as generously as we’re able right here, even with the larger mortgage and tax bill.

We can still be faithful right here. Although I have started negotiations for a tiny house in the backyard, because wouldn’t that be adorable?! It could be the Poopsie Hut! The Mom Cave! I could paint the walls sky blue and hide from children and writing deadlines.

I wouldn’t even need a composting toilet. Perfect.



To Detroit and back, just like a grown up.

I did several very exciting things this weekend. Let me list the minutia for you:

  1. Drove to Detroit all by myself. Did not get lost. (Siri may be responsible for this.)
  2. Fell asleep for an hour in my minivan. The experience was kind of sketchy– I was an hour early to check in to the hotel, but my head hurt from this sinus thing that won’t go away, so I decided to close my eyes in the back seat while I was parked in the hotel lot. “Closing my eyes” turned into a deep sleep that stole an hour of my life. I woke up disoriented and groggy and a little uncomfortable that I can sleep in a minivan without a pillow or blanket or anything. What am I, a hippy? Weird.
  3. Checked into the hotel all by myself.
  4. Stayed in the hotel all by myself. Never in my life have I spent a night in a hotel without one or many family members/friends/random strangers assigned to the room. I had two beds, a bathroom, a TV, and a couch all to myself. It was delicious and lonely. I hated and loved it. 
  5. Ate breakfast with famous people. Well, famous might not be quite the word. I ate breakfast with the other speakers at the conference I was attending, and they all speak around the world and have approximately 1,293 books published. Topics of discussion included travel to Africa to teach the Bible, and also men shaving their armpits before getting into a hot tub. I’ll just leave you with your questions. Really, you don’t want to know.
  6. Attended a conference with 1,200 attendees. Was interviewed at this conference in front of those same 1,200 attendees.
  7. Did not pass out during interview, thanks to the wonderful crowd and the amazing support of the other conference presenters.
  8. Drove back home in the rain, after having dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. Did not get lost or fall asleep at the wheel after an exhausting day.

So, to summarize, God ran me through the list of things I wrote about in my book, Plug My Ears. I was invited to the 1-Day Bible Conference by Our Daily Bread Ministries, and I left my comfort zone. I went in my weakness, my fear, and my distinct understanding that only God himself could qualify me to be included in such an event. I was anxious and on edge for weeks before the event, not at all sure why I was even included. I don’t have a mega ministry or a degree from a prestigious school. I don’t speak to crowds around the world or even small groups in Kalamazoo.

I had nothing to offer this crowd except my willingness to obey God and then talk about it in front of aaaaaallllllllllll the people.

Ohmyword. So many people.

But I sat up there on the stage when it was my turn and I brought everything I had, which was basically nothing but my weirdness and my love for Jesus. I told stories about my small group and how I want to be a dirty hippy who lives in a tiny house.

The crowd, which was mostly African American and over the age of 50, both thought I was nuts and funny. I know this because my brother and sister-in-law were planted in one of the rows, listening to the crowd while no one knew we were related.

After our segment, Sheila Bailey and I were directed to the back where we met with people and signed books. This was mildly hilarious because Sheila B is like a rock star to this particular crowd, she herself being African American and over 50. I had about four people who wanted me to sign one of my books (and three people who brought me books to sign that I hadn’t written– moments of true embarrassment for everyone), while a line formed for Sheila that was about twenty people deep for a half hour.

I decided to chat with the ladies waiting to meet Sheila, and we had amazing conversations. We talked about Detroit and the neighborhoods that are slowly coming back to life, and how they need more small groups sharing life to flourish. We talked about being a female corrections officer in a male prison. We talked about our families and ministries and churches.

It was beautiful. And none of it required an advanced degree from seminary or 1,293 book contracts.

Why do I always make things so complicated? Why do I look for weird proof that I can go and love people, and they can love in return?

I left the church relieved that I’d survived. But I also left filled up, blessed by all the prayers and kinds words and shared stories.

And today I write this from my couch, back in my comfort zone and cookie pants. My encouragement to you is this– if God is calling you to it, go ahead and join him. Don’t second guess his reasons or your qualifications. Just go and meet the people. Share the stories. Join the fun.

Don’t make it more complicated than God himself is making it.

And let me know how it all works out!

When your plans take a sharp left turn, right off a cliff

Somewhere in mid-December, Eric and I had the next five or so months all planned out.

Aren’t we just adorable? Isn’t it cute how we make plans and then assume these things will happen?

Of course it all hit the toilet. All our plans disintegrated into a pile of squashy glop. It all started when Eric couldn’t avoid a tire that was lurking on the entrance ramp to the freeway. He smashed into it, and what should have been a busted bumper and a week in the shop turned into a totaled car and five weeks until a check was issued.

So then we bought a car from a friend, but that took the money we’d set aside for braces, but then we learned we have more dental insurance to cover the braces than we thought, but then sickness overtook us and what was left of our financial plans was swallowed up with sick days, and I’m sure your eyes are glazed over now with these silly details.

Even my eyes are glazed over. Let me get to my point.

The Clemence family is gingerly sitting right in the middle of what we shall call “Waiting for God’s Plan, Since Our Plan Is In the Toilet.” We aren’t sure what’s next on the agenda. It’s like we’re at the bus stop, with literally nothing to do until the bus pulls up and takes us to our next destination.

And you know what? It’s not so bad. Operating without a plan isn’t nearly as upsetting as I thought it would be. Waiting patiently for God just takes a reminder or two or three hundred every day, where I point out to myself that I don’t make the world spin so maybe I should just calm down and sit on the bench and watch the world go by.

If your plans have also recently taken a dive off the cliff, I welcome you right here on this bus stop bench. We can sit together and keep each other company. There’s plenty of room and lots to talk about while we wait. God’s next bus is due any minute now…

waiting for God


The Biltmore House: Wow. Mrs. Biltmore: Super-Wow!

2014-07-27 15.21.25

A few weeks ago we made a little side trip to the Biltmore Estate when we were in North Carolina. Because Eric is the one who 1) plans all details of our vacations and 2) has an actual understanding of geography, I announced blithely, “Hey, since we’re going to be so close, let’s go to the Biltmore while we’re in the South!”

And Eric, because he loves me and loves any excuse to go anywhere for any reason, said, “Sure. I’ll add it in to the plans.”

2014-07-27 14.17.08I spent two solid days in a freezing cold hotel for the conference while Eric and the kids cavorted around Charlotte. They were sweating while I was freezing, but Sunday was our day to enjoy North Carolina all at the same temperature. We jumped into the van, and an hour into the drive I started to get antsy. It turns out that Asheville isn’t actually that close to Charlotte. Good grief. So I whined a little like a child, but eventually we got there and it was totally worth it.

I’ve seen the Biltmore on TV more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to visit for ages. This was a long-held dream come to life, and I nearly whirled through the roped off hallways. I can’t remember all the details because I was too busy ogling the glory, but I think they have 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. They had a rotisserie kitchen, a pastry kitchen, the regular kitchen, walk in coolers, and at least three pantries each the size of my entire kitchen. Serious money, folks.

After we left the main house and spent $65 for hot dogs and ice cream for 4 people (I kid you not), we drove a few miles (still on the estate) to the farm area and museum.

I quickly moved from awed to inspired. The Vanderbilts had more money than they knew what to do with, and George’s brothers ran the family empire while he just puttered around, traveling and engaging in professional level hobbies. He wanted to turn his estate into a working, self-sufficient farm so he built little houses and his farmhands lived near the farms and barns.

2014-07-27 16.10.21

And Edith Vanderbilt, the woman who entertained the highest levels of American society at her dining room table that could seat 35 guests, would often go to sit on the front stoops of these houses to hang out with the farmers’ wives.

Yes. Read that again.

She frequently left that huge, glorious house to go hang out with the farmers’ wives. She ate the cakes they baked for her. She brought them her daughter’s clothes when Cornelia outgrew them. She made sure they had a horse-drawn wagon to get the farm kids to school, she brought baskets of goodies to the mothers of newborns, and she started an after-work school program so the farmers could get good educations. She started a school for African-American servants so they could get certificates and higher placements in good houses.

But she did it at a level of one-to-one contact. She didn’t just send the wagon down to the poor area of the estate with the leftovers. She sat with them on their front porch steps. 

This story is reminding me of something…a person who left a truly amazing life to come to the commoners. Someone who made sure the commoners had what they needed, but did it while living among them. Can you think of anyone like that?

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT)

Welcome to My Home. Please Wait While I Finish Incinerating Dinner.

Let’s start with a picture, shall we? It’ll summarize the situation succinctly for us.

Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.
Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.

That, gentle reader, is supposed to be hot dogs on our grill last night. Every Wednesday night we host a small group at our house, which involves eating dinner together, shooting the breeze, and also studying the Bible.

The new churchly-correct term for this is joining in community.

Whatever. As long as someone shows up and feeds me chips and lets me hold a baby, I don’t care what we call it. And I did indeed get to eat chips and hold two babies, but before that I set fire to dinner.

Flames, people. Incineration.

You may remember last year when I melted the siding on our house. Same situation. I put the burgers on the grill, shut the cover, and went in the house for a plate. I came back out, smelled the charcoal that was supposed to be dinner, saw the flames leaping out the back and the smoke rolling out the front. I ran to the grill, possibly using an unChristlike word, and shut off the gas.

I was afeared to look.

But I had to look, because as this was occurring the small group members were pulling up to our house. Susannah and Nic made it in the door first, and when Susannah saw the carnage she said, very sweetly, “Nic and I could go get a pizza…”

In hindsight, we totally should have gone with the pizza. But I pulled the burned food off the grill and started with new burgers, because I’d had the foresight to buy two packages that afternoon. Dinner was late but it didn’t really matter because when you have three children under the age of 18 months in your small group, time is a relatively loose concept.

The food eventually made it to the table, we talked and ate and, truth be told, never actually got around to studying the Bible. We had to make plans for the next round of study, you see.

Here is my point: small groups are wonderful. Even if you burn the dinner, even if someone spends the evening chasing a toddler around the house and keeping the cat food out of her mouth, even if you have to buy paper plates because you can’t stand to wash all the dishes, small groups are wonderful. You should be in one. You should host one.

Church is well and good, but sharing in the lives of others happens in a different and beautiful way in a small group. Relaxed meals in t-shirts and flip flops open doors to conversations we might not have in high heels in the church building’s foyer. We really get a chance to talk. To share. To help. Just think of it– Jesus’ ministry was based on a small group format. Thirteen men, wandering around the countryside together. They shared life and weathered the storm together.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t vacuumed your carpet or the shoe closet smells like a 9 year old’s feet. It doesn’t matter if you burn the dinner or spend an hour nursing a baby. Just give it a try. Invest in the lives of others with what paltry resources you have, and you might be shocked at the blessings you reap in return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see to the grill. I fear there may be a layer of grease that will cause another fire, and I don’t think we ought to tempt fate a second time this summer.

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)


Where Do I Buy MuuMuus for Tweens? I Need One In Every Color.

I write to you from my daughter’s bedroom, where my eyeballs can personally see and count approximately 1,000 pieces of clothing.

auds-closetThree of these items fit.

At first I was suspicious of this suddenly useless wardrobe, because “this doesn’t fit” used to be code for “Mom, I hate this article of clothing and this is my polite way of informing you that I shan’t wear it again.” 

I made the child prove it. She wasn’t kidding; she’s really grown out of all of it. The bathing suit, the sparkly skirt, the plaid Bermuda shorts– things I swear we just bought a few months ago.

So. Off to the store we went. Her little brother was on the floor ready to remove an eyeball with his bare fingers by the time we left the fourth store, with nothing. No. Thing. We did not purchase the thing or the things.

We had to go back and try again another day, this time without the little brother. The days of simple shopping are done, and here’s why:

  1. Nothing on her 11 yr. old body is a standard size anymore. She has grown up arms and feet, the elbows of a 52-year-old man (just kidding, sweetie. Your elbows are perfect), the shoulders of a little girl, and the legs of a kid who’s been swimming all summer long. She’s taller than her grandma but shorter than I am; she’s too big to be a little girl and too small to be a full teenager. No clothing fits all the parts.
  2. She has very particular fashion preferences.
  3. None of her fashion preferences match mine. She stares at me in the dressing room with a dead look in her eye, clearly wondering “Where are my aunts when I need them?”
  4. In general, clothing manufacturers have confused our daughters for hookers and many items of clothing are specifically designed for dual wear– the street corner by night and the classroom by day. I am not amused.

Obviously it’s time to convince the girls to buy muumuus. Who wouldn’t love a muumuu? Take a minute and Google them if you aren’t familiar. I’ll wait.

Loose, baggy, easy. Long arms? No problem. Thick waist? Can’t even see it. Long legs? We’ll just add more fabric to the bottom there. Full-chested? The gathers are forgiving.

Parents, this is only going to work if we band together. We need to buy them all at once, force the children into the muumuus and then pray to the heavens that they see the wisdom of our ways. Who’s with me?

And if you’re not with me, where do you buy your daughters’ clothing?



How to Name Characters in Your Novel

Do you know how hard it is to name characters in a novel?

name characters, bad guys

As if it wasn’t hard enough to name actual children, now I need to name characters, a whole crew of imaginary friends who live in my head. It only took me a month or two to pick out names for the main characters. I could pick out a name, roll it around in my mind, and then accept or reject it based only on my gut feelings.

Then I moved on to secondary characters, which got a little trickier. Some of you will find your names in the book simply because you have good names and it’s easier to steal what your parents gave you than to think it up myself. But have no fear; your characters mostly just mull around, propping up the main characters. No reason to sue me.

Writers are always watching. Behave yourself.

Some of you are going to find yourself in the book, under cleverly disguised names. This is the hazard of knowing a writer, and I just can’t help it. Behave yourself and everything should turn out okay, but know I’m watching… (Insert sound of 300 people unfriending me on Facebook and leaving the church and uninviting me to the family reunion.)

But then, because this book is not written for six-year-old girls, we need a sprinkling of bad guys. And this became unexpectedly gut wrenching. The character development of the bad guys became dicey enough, because I don’t want any friends or family to feel like I secretly hate them and will express my disdain through the permanent, written word.

Trust me, if I’m mad at you, you’ll know long before you read the book.

Once I’d wrestled with the actual characters, I had to come up with names. First of all I have to use names that make sense for the audience, which will mostly be made up of people named Jennifer, Jessica, Sara, and Kris, because 90% of my friends have these four names. So the characters can’t be named Slate and Ember, no matter how cool that may be. The readers would be confused and wonder why I was naming full-grown characters after babies born yesterday. Babies born to people with highly developed imaginations, I might add.

Neither can the characters be named Gertrude or Mildred, Walter or Hubert. That would cause the reader to scratch her head and wonder why I’d used nursing home residents to fill the pages.

Here. Let me prove my point:

As the sun sank further over the edge of the lake, Gertrude and Mildred waited, and waited, on the dock. Their legs hung over the edge, dangling over the water. Gertrude’s shorts were short enough that through the frayed edges of the hem she could see the tattoo she must have gotten last night. Must have been a wild night, since she couldn’t remember anything after Hubert handed her that last Solo cup at the bonfire. She vaguely remembered a ride on the motorcycle through the dark streets, hanging on to him for dear life as they tore up one hill and down the other…but none of that explained why she now had a wolf tattooed to her left thigh.

Mildred caught her staring at the artwork. “Could be worse, Gertie.” She moaned and dropped her head into her hands like she’d been doing all day, since they’d woken up in sleeping bags in Mildred’s childhood treehouse.

“Tell me how this could be worse, Mil.”

“At least you didn’t get a tramp stamp. There’s no shame in a wolf on your thigh.”

“Shut up, Mildred.” The skin under the wolf burned like she’d spent the night with a thousand fire ants. What had she done?

You see the problem, yes? If I choose to name characters the wrong thing, the whole story becomes stupid. Even stupider than that example up there.

I can’t go too old, I can’t go too modern, which leaves a nice big swath of names in the middle. Names that are already attached to people I know. So the dufus who gets hit by a car? What am I supposed to name him?

Doug? No, I went to high school with a Doug.
Matt? No, I know at least two Matts and one of them is teaching my kid.
Cain? No, already been used.
Satan? Too obvious, and already in play.

Please, help me out. No explanations are necessary, but in the comments below throw out some names you’d like to name characters. But, you know, if the explanation is interesting, we all might like to hear the story…

A good name is more desirable than great reaches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1)

We’ve Had Green Plastic Monkeys in Our Purses All Year Long–Let’s Celebrate!

I dearly wish I had some cake right now, because we need to celebrate. Did you know that it’s been a whole year since There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse was published?

A publication date is very similar to a due date when you’re pregnant. You spend a lot of energy getting ready for the big day. There are long emails from the editing team, meetings with the marketing department, and phone conversations that require you to put on your big girl panties and act like a professional for consecutive minutes.

It’s not unlike those weeks that lead up to the part of pregnancy where the baby has to come out–lots of long conversations with your spouse, lots of planning sessions, and–if you’re lucky–a big party where everyone celebrates by feeding you cake and buying you gifts.

I can’t speak for all pregnant women, but when I was enormously with-child, both times I fixed my eyes on that due date and focused with all my strength. I added two weeks because babies are notoriously late in our family, begged the doctor to make sure the kid was out by my extended calculations, and then strained to make it.

I was focused on the delivery because that seemed like a good spot to end all that hard work and discomfort. What I did not understand was that the ending was really just another beginning. One kind of work was traded for another kind–the kind where you get to stay up all night rocking a tiny human who does not understand the concept of “night.”

Giving birth isn’t the only example. Weddings punctuate the end of months of planning, but are really just a way to celebrate a new beginning. Graduations are a way to applaud years of hard work at school, but they’re also a nice way to say “Hey, why don’t you go ahead and get a job now and then keep at it for sixty years?”

The publication date for Green Plastic Monkey was just the same. I thought the work was over, but I was wrong. Wrong like an exhausted woman covered in spit-up at 3:30 in the morning. It was just the beginning of connecting with readers, of getting used to reviews, and of marketing the book.

Did you know that marketing a book feels slightly like beggary and slightly like egocentrism, all bundled up together in a tidy 200 page volume? It’s delightful. (Insert eye roll and massive headache between eyebrows.)

It has, however, been a wonderful year, and I have you readers to thank for that. Thanks for the kind words, for buying the book, and recommending it to your friends. Did you know that word of mouth sells more books than any fancy marketing plan ever can? Donald Maass, a writer and literary agent, reports that a book sells when a friend grabs you by the elbow, drags you across the bookstore aisle, and says, “You have to read this book! It’s so good!”

Many of you have done that for Green Plastic Monkey, and I cannot thank you enough. Thanks for spreading the words God gave me to write. You play a key role in this ministry, and I appreciate you more than I can say.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, here’s where you can order it:

  • Click here to buy it directly from DHP, the ministry that publishes it
  • Click here to buy it from Amazon
  • Click here to buy it from Family Christian Stores.

If you have read the book, I’d dearly love it if you’d take a second to review it on Amazon or GoodReads. Thanks again!

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10)

Green Plastic Monkey's First Birthday

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