TJ’s Ride by J.R. Hamilton (Book Review #280)

I am proud to be the publisher of TJ’s Ride by J.R. Hamilton, reviewed here by Jeyran Main. Read the review, buy the book, support indie publishing.
ebook: http://www.amazon.com/TJs-Ride-TJ-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IHG09V4
Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/TJs-Ride-TJ-1-Hamilton/dp/0692678514

Review Tales by Jeyran Main

TJ’s Ride is book one of ‘The TJ Series.’ This action adventure novel is about Petty Officer Thomas Hamlin (TJ). He works for the Navy and is brought back to Corpus Christi after being away for almost two years, in Vietnam. TJ is then blackmailed by Captain Joseph. He sends TJ to fight against some drug traffickers forcing TJ to go undercover as a bouncer, just to get down with the drug rings and to expose them.

I found the story to be full of action and to possess an intense amount of substance. The most enjoyable part of the work was the main character and how humanized he has been described. The story resembled strong and smart Hollywood movie characters such as James Bourne or James Bond. However, he had a realistic form to it, and that is what made this book special.

The literature was superbly blended with…

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Dance!

IMG_8325I went to a local fair in Loveland on Saturday. It featured local brews, live music and food. My daughter was dancing as part of the SlapStep Studios group, so my husband, son, and I went to watch her. Becky’s husband, Justin, and their daughter, my oh-so-wonderful granddaughter Maddy, were there also.

After Becky’s dance part was over, we hung around, trying to decide what to do, where to go. I took Maddy out of her stroller and in an instant she was running toward the front of the fair where the stage was. Live music was going on, and she needed to be a part of it.

I followed, not just to keep her safe but because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than trailing after this little girl who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “slow down.” Or maybe she knows, but she certainly never heeds it.

As soon as she got up front, she began dancing and clapping. Her “dancing” is kind of a mix of galloping and skipping, and she uses every bit of space she is given. Every now and then, she’d grab my hand and the two of us would gallop and skip to the live covers of Luke Bryant, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard.

At one point, she walked over to a woman sitting in the front row. She held out her hand. She pointed to the “dance floor.” She held out her hand again. The woman took her hand and the two of them danced.

What a wonderful thing it is to dance with such abandon. Maddy didn’t care that she wasn’t dancing in a way that traditionalists would call dancing. No one else cared either. She didn’t care who was watching, although everyone was. For Maddy, there was nothing more than the music and the movement, and the huge, overwhelming desire to have people share in her joy.

I want to live with that kind of abandon. I want you to live with that kind of abandon.

There will be times when you fall. Don’t let it stop you. Get back up, wipe the tears away, maybe even get annoyed when your daddy tries to clean your scraped up knee because he’s slowing you down when all you want to do is DANCE.

Live with abandon. Drink fully. Laugh often. Dance. Invite others to share in your joy. Fall down. Get back up. And keep dancing.

Lessons Learned From the Bike: Time, Practice and Potholes

I was finishing a ride on the Highline Canal Trail. I was riding on the sidewalk on the highway overpass, because there is no room to ride safely in the street. I saw a pedestrian coming toward me, and, rather than stopping, I hugged the right side of the sidewalk, allowing the pedestrian to keep to her right.

What I didn’t see was the manhole cover with a huge pothole. I hit it going full speed (granted, my full speed is only about 13 mph). It jolted every bolt and joint on both my body and my bike. It unseated me and my feet flew off the pedals (I don’t clip in). Within seconds, my feet found their placing, I regained my seat, and Blue2 and I rode merrily on.

I haven’t been riding long, but I realized that a couple of years ago, this would have been a very painful accident. I would not just have been unseated, I would have crashed miserably, either going over the handlebars or not being able to regain balance.

Life is like that. I have learned that sometimes you can’t assume that what looks like a leaf is actually a leaf. Sometimes it’s a rock. Sometimes the puddle is deeper than you think. And you never see beforehand the nail that lodges in your tire.

But with enough time, with enough practice, huge potholes don’t have to end in a crash. Nothing but time and practice will give you the skill and balance you need to keep seated and keep moving on.

Put in the time. Don’t let the potholes make you crash. No matter what it is in your life. Writing. Music. Family. Friends. God. Put in the time. Keep moving on.

Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

Makin’ It Strong: He Said/She Said

As an editor, I’ve seen some bad writing, some good writing, some great writing. I’ve seen a few grammar mistakes that mar otherwise good manuscripts, and I’ve seen writing made weaker by taking the easy way out. I will be addressing some of these “easy” writing tricks that sap the strength out of your writing.


original-758275-1We’ve all been there. You’re engrossed in a book, come across a passage with a great deal of dialogue and suddenly you can’t figure out who’s talking. You maybe go up to the last time you saw, “he said,” and then work your way back down. Nothing takes you out of the story faster.

As writers, we want our readers to lose themselves in the story, not the dialogue.

Some writers avoid this trap by using the he said/she said attribution, known as a dialogue tag, every single time. That gets tiresome for the reader as well as the writer. So some writers fall into the seductive trap of either adding adverbs (he said warily, she said sarcastically) or using a substitute word called a “said-bookism.” These can be subtle (he explained, she replied) or a glaring distraction (he chuckled, she peeped). Why is it a distraction? Try it right now. Say something while chuckling or peeping at the same time. It’s not natural. It’s not how real people talk. And if you try that in real life, people will start avoiding you.

The beauty of the word “said” is that it provides a signpost so people don’t get lost, but it blends seamlessly into the background of the story. It’s a word we don’t pay attention to; our eyes skim over it, subconsciously noting the signpost but staying within the world of the story. Isn’t that what we as writers want for our readers?

That doesn’t mean the writer should never use an adverb tag. A well-placed adverb is like a pinch of salt. Too much ruins the dish. But the right amount adds flavor and makes the dish memorable. At times, a subtle said-bookism may be a better choice than an adverb, e.g., she whispered vs. she said softly. Remember, as a writer, you want your readers to come away remembering your story, your characters, your dialogue—in other words, the heart of your book—rather than someone chuckling, peeping, exclaiming, shrieking, growling, hissing and chortling.

Said-bookisms and adverb tags are unnecessary to strong writing. A reader should not have to be told that a biting remark is sarcastic. And in fact, why are we “telling” at all? Show don’t tell. If the reader can’t tell from the situation, then you haven’t done your job as a writer. As Rob Hart with LitReactor wrote, “Dialogue tags are a crutch. They’re a distraction from what you should really be doing: Conveying things through actions, word choice and mannerisms” (https://litreactor.com/columns/on-dialogue-tags-why-anything-besides-said-and-asked-is-lazy-writing — read the article; you’ll enjoy it).

By the way, not everyone agrees with this. There is an entire movement called “Said Is Dead,” which offers scores of words to use instead of the dreaded said. We’ve all done it at times. It seems more literary. But to paraphrase William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, keep it simple, stupid.

So what do you need to do? Read over your current piece of writing. Read it out loud. Read it the way you wrote it, with every bellow, chuckle, and growl added in. Does it sound like dialogue sounds in real life? Probably not. Take out the adverbs and said-bookisms. Use he said/she said as signposts in longer pieces of dialogue. How does it read now? Does it sound more natural? If you find places where you feel you have to have an adverb, consider rewriting the dialogue or the narrative beats surrounding the dialogue to show rather than tell.

Revise your writing. Make it strong.

Ashes in a Baggie

mom

Death is a strange thing. Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. Instead, it’s her first birthday since her death last August. Almost a year ago. In about five weeks, I will have experienced all the “firsts” — the first holidays, the first Mother’s Day, the first birthday.

My sister, two brothers and I took some of her ashes to the gravesite tonight. It’s the first time I’ve been there. And that’s when I realized how strange death is.

This woman lived 88 years. She had four children, numerous grandchildren and even more great grandchildren. She lived through the death of both parents and two husbands. She married, divorced, gave birth, attended school plays, had sex, danced, drank more than she should have, said that giving up smoking was the hardest thing she had ever done, rode a motorcycle with a lover. Her favorite picture of her mother was at her and my father’s wedding and her favorite memory of her was in a smart red suit.

She told me, on the last night of her life, some of her feelings about her life. A lot of them had to do with her mother. Maybe we are defined by our mothers in ways we can’t explain, ways we sometimes hate. But it’s who we are, and who they are.

And tonight I held the container that held her ashes. All of her 88 years, all of her memories, all of her life, loves, hates, fears, joys, laughter and tears contained in a baggie surrounded by a nice leather container.

Yes, really. That’s all that life boils down to. Ashes in a baggie.

Please tell me, I want to cry out, that there is something beyond. Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

At the grave, my brother dug a small hole (yes, illegal). Each of us there — my brothers, my sister, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my husband, my son and me — took turns putting a handful of ashes into the ground. As I left, I felt the residue of ash on my hands, making my skin strangely soft.

I haven’t washed my hands, haven’t brushed them off. Like a teenage girl who won’t wash her cheek after a kiss from a celebrity, I want to keep my mom close. Don’t leave! I feel the ashes coating my palms, feel them sinking into my creases, perhaps becoming a part of me.

And even as the evening goes on, as I type these words, longing to memorialize her in some way that I can’t hope to accomplish, the ashes fade. And life goes on.

Motivation

Your Only Limit Is YouI admit it. I like reading motivational quotes. “Be so good they can’t ignore you” — Steve Martin. “To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will” — Sugar Ray Robinson. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Not only do I like reading them, I believe them. “Nothing worth having comes easy.” “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” “Your only limit is you.” Yeah, especially that one.

Before I talk about that limit, though, let me say what I am NOT talking about. I am NOT talking about my bike riding. Although, certainly, all these quotes apply to that as well. “Stay positive, work hard, and make it happen.” Yeah, that one. I can apply that to bike riding, to my big goals for this year.

But I’m talking about bike riding only peripherally. This post is about writing. What, you didn’t know I was a writer? Probably because I don’t talk about it nearly as much as I talk about my bike. I don’t post on Facebook about my daily word count, but I do post my daily miles.

The truth is, it’s not hard for me to get the motivation to ride my bike. I just do it. I don’t drag my butt out of bed and think, “I hate this, but I need to do it, so just get on the bike and then it will be over.” No. The alarm goes off, and in 10 to 15 glorious minutes, I am on the road, breathing in the fresh air, my eyes filling with the beauty of the morning sunlight filtering through the leaves and creating fantastic patterns on the road in front of me. And the thing I hate on those mornings? The knowledge that I can’t ride to my heart’s content, that my ride is limited by my need for a paycheck.

So why is writing not the same?

I want to say that it’s because writing is hard work. But so is riding a bike. Especially uphill. And yet, I insist on conquering those hills.

I want to say that it’s because I don’t enjoy it. And yet, I do. I enjoy the stories and characters I create. I enjoy playing with words and deciding which word or phrase fits best. I enjoy creating a sticky situation and then writing my way out. I enjoy the resolution.

So why is writing not the same?

Honestly? I don’t know.

A friend of mine said my two problems are distraction and frustration. Distraction leads to frustration, and the frustration with myself for not writing, not creating, not getting off my butt, leads to depression. I can get sucked down that black hole pretty quickly.

My distractions are sometimes trivial. “I’ll play a game first, then I’ll write.” Sometimes they’re more important. A friend who texts, “I need to talk.” But the point is, whether trivial or important, they don’t stop me from bike riding. I make time for bike riding. I plan it. I schedule when I can go. I look at the weather and pick the optimal time. It’s just not a question of whether I’ll go or not. (Yes, I do take rest days.)

The answer is the same for writing. Make time for it. Schedule it. Pick the optimal time. Make it where it’s not a question of whether I’ll write or not. Because I deserve that. The great thing is that bike riding creates a wonderful time to think about my writing, to plan the next section, to work through that sticky situation I put my main character in. (Oh, and depression? It can’t stand up against a good bike ride.)

So just do it. You always have time for the things you put first. Do something today that your future self will thank you for. Don’t stop until you’re proud.

 

Our Unlikely God

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to preach this at Oasis Community Church. I wanted to share it with the Stumbling Toward Grace readers. Thank you for another opportunity.

***

For those of you who don’t know, I’m in marketing at PATH Intl., which is the organization overseeing therapeutic horsemanship. Marketing for this kind of an organization can seem easy. After all, you mention “special needs” and people go “awwww.” You mention horses and people go “awwww.” So pretty easy job as far as PR goes. The problem is, not a lot of people know who we are, so we do marketing to make our organization better known. We want to get our message to the largest number of people possible, to the largest number of people who actually care what we do, and do it all for the least amount of money. So there’s always a weighing of the pros and cons of any marketing strategy. Yes, an ad in People Magazine reaches a great many people. However, not necessarily the people who care anything about our organization. So maybe Horse and Rider would be better for our audience and it reaches a great many people. However, it’s too expensive for our nonprofit organization. Just Horses is a small publication that only reaches the horse people in Idaho. But the ad would be cheap. Is it worth it though for something that reaches that few people?

I can almost hear the marketing meeting that God had with the angels before the birth of Jesus.

God says, “It’s time to announce the birth of My Son.”

Angel #1 says, “We need to announce it to as many people as possible! What’s the biggest city on earth?”

Angel #2 says, “That would be Rome. World power.”

Angel #1 says, “Not only that, but their communication system is second to none. Roads to all the major cities and they control the trade routes of the seas.”

Angel #2 says, “We could do far worse. With announcing it at Rome, we can be well assured that the whole world will hear of the birth of this magnificent Son.”

But God smiles and says, “I’m thinking Bethlehem.”

Angel #1 says, “Bethlehem? But it’s so tiny, so insignificant. It won’t make much of a splash.”

Angel #2 says, “Lord, that’s just crazy!”

Angel #1 says, “That’s okay. We’re in PR. We can still spin this. Who are the parents?”

Angel #2 says, “A king would be good. Maybe just passing through Bethlehem.”

God smiles again. “No. Just a simple carpenter and his young wife. They’re pretty poor. Oh, but there will be kings.”

Angel #1 says, “Well, thank You for that! Now, we can publicize the royal family of these kings. What is their lineage? Does it come down from Kings David and Solomon?”

God says, “Not quite. They’re not Jewish. They’re Gentiles. From the East. Astrologers.”

Angel #2 says, “Wow, that’s going to be a tough one to pull off, God. I mean, how are we supposed to announce it to the whole world? Can we at least still sing your praises from the heavens?”

And God smiles even bigger. “Oh yes,” he says. “And wait until you see who I want you to sing for.”

 

Who do the Heavenly Host sing for? That’s right. Not the kings. Not the worldly powers. Not the rich people. Not the priests or the teachers of the Law. The King of the Universe, the Holy Anointed One, the Messiah, God’s own Son is heralded by the Heavenly Host to a bunch of shepherds.

The first part of Michael Card’s song “God’s Own Fool” expresses it perfectly:

Seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to man
He must have seemed out of His mind.

We serve an unlikely God, who delights in unlikeliness. We see that unlikeliness with the shepherds. How unlikely was it for God to use the shepherds?

Today, we tend to think positively of shepherds because Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd. We recite the 23rd Psalm at times of distress in order to comfort ourselves and others. We get warm and fuzzy feelings when we think of sheep, or especially lambs.

But the truth is, sheep are dirty. Their wool picks up loose sticks and leaves and dirt. They’re not clean creatures. They won’t clean themselves the way a cat will.

Because of that, shepherds weren’t admired in biblical times. They are called loathsome to the Egyptians in Genesis 46:34, and being a shepherd was considered punishment. Numbers 14:33 says, “And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.”

“The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people.” (Barclay, p. 17)

And yet, it is to these loathsome, unclean people that the angels announce the birth of the Messiah.

Have you ever had times where you felt it was unlikely that God would use you for anything? Maybe because of sin in your life, maybe because you see yourself as insignificant. We know enough theology to be able to parrot the words we hear so often, that God loves all of us and saves us in spite of our sin and our uncleanliness. But sometimes I think we believe that we’re just barely scraping by, that we’re getting into heaven by the skin of our teeth. That God is scouring over the record of our lives, looking for the one thing that will allow Him to send us on our way to Hell. And instead of being welcomed into Heaven with all the saints, He peers at us over the rim of His glasses and disapprovingly says, “Well, you found the loophole that says I should let you in, so fine. Go stand over there in the corner, but don’t you dare think of eating any of the cookies.” And so we hang our head low and scuttle off to the corner, hoping no one sees us and questions our presence in this place of shining whiteness, us with our dirty fingernails and snot-crusted nostrils. And sure, we got in because of that loophole, but there’s no way in Heaven or in Hell that God can use us. He saves that for pure people, for the missionaries and the ministers. Not for us.

If you believe that you are an unlikely person to be used by Him, that’s great! Because the truth is, we have been set apart by an unlikely God. He is the God who delights in using prostitutes and murderers. His story is told by common people, and He is served by anyone who loves Him. He uses everyone He has saved.

So take a look at yourself. Where is God using you? Where is He saying, “YOU are the perfect one to do this particular task”? No matter what the PR people say. The chorus of Michael Card’s song calls us to follow this Madman.

So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well.

Come be a fool as well. We serve an unlikely God. Be unlikely. Be what no one suspects. Love the people God brings in your path, even if other people raise their eyebrows and wag their fingers. Be unlikely.