Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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Writers: Have You Annoyed Anyone Lately?

A writer’s characters cannot all be perfect, because if they were it would be quite annoying.

We need to create conflict to keep our stories and our characters real and interesting. Conflict doesn’t happen when everyone is nice to each other all the time. Boredom happens. Conflict creates drama and tension. Boredom creates naps. And then you get nightmares starring Mike Lindell from My Pillow.

When I first began to look more closely at my stories, I saw that many of my main characters were nice, maybe a little too nice. Perhaps, because I find a lot of annoying people in my real life, I subconsciously didn’t want them to show up in my books. Powerless to change them in real life, maybe “editing” their  personalities made me feel powerful in fiction.

Upon further study of my work, I realized I did indeed have one very annoying person in my novels. It was the protagonist. This discovery excited me. I felt vindicated.

Annoying FloHowever, I noticed something else. Since my novels are written from a first person point-of-view, often my protagonists are a lot, well, like me.

Ergo, I am annoying. Often, I want to slap my protagonist (ergo, me) for being so stubborn, so angry, so impatient,  so prideful, so petty, so slow to get it (ergo, me).

Like right now. How annoying is it to use the word “ergo” three times in one paragraph?  Sheesh.

I’m asking my readers, “What do you find annoying in an author or a story?” Let me know . . . please . . . so I will stop doing it.

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The Not So Glamorous Writer’s Life

Please welcome my guest blogger, Jennifer Slattery, a  writer and speaker who has addressed church and women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers’ groups  across the nation. Jennifer admits to living a not so glamorous writer’s life …

Remember when you went to your first formal? Finding the perfect dress–the one with lots of sparkles and a waistband that nearly cut you in two. Then there was the zipper–as long as you exhaled while sucking in your gut, it fit perfectly. And besides, it was on sale.

But try sitting down in the thing.

And the shoes. For me, that first formal dance was the first time I wore heels, and it showed. Walking across the parking lot, with all its potholes, bumps, and depressions was interesting to say the least. Of course, it didn’t help that the shoes were half a size too small, or two wide, or whatever, and either strangled all circulation from your toes or fell off your feet every time you took a step.

Then you get older, wiser, and invest in a comfy yet stylish pair of flats. At least, that’s been my MO. Except sometime this summer, I threw away my favorite black pair, fully intending to replace. But then August hit, and with it conferences I needed to prepare for, and I forgot all about my shopping plans.

Some of you understand this completely. Others of you, the shoppers among us, consider me insane. For the latter of you, you’ll be shaking your head momentarily, thinking, “I told you so. Well, I would’ve told you so had you asked.”

Mid-August rolls around, and I begin packing for what I knew would be a whirlwind trip–a conference where I’d be speaking and teaching three classes, followed by a book signing, with a day and a half home before heading to an author event followed by another conference.

Whew! I’m tired just remembering it!

So there I was, planning what to wear and … no black flats, and no time for shopping. Luckily (ha!) our daughter owns a really cute pair of pumps, so I tossed them in my suitcase, closed it up, and was good to go.

Eh …

Saturday rolled around, the last day of the conference and the day of my book signing. By this point, I was also down to one outfit–the one needing those black pumps. So on they went.

And I quickly remembered how long it’d been since I’d worn heels. And that my daughter’s feet are wider then mine. So here I am, trying to look all professional while wobbling around, about ready to topple over, in my daughter’s much too high heels. To make things worse, every third step one of my shoes actually slipped off, nearly sending me flat on my face.

All the while I was trying to act all bookishly professional–and everyone I encounter, including the bookstore owner hosting me, is doing their best not to laugh out loud.

Grown woman, acting like a teenager in her first pair of heels. Oy.

I wish I could say wardrobe malfunctions during book signings are rare events, but …

I was on another trip, this time in Des Moines. Once again, it was a whirlwind weekend with back-to-back speaking engagements followed by a signing. By my last event, I was down to my last outfit–the one I was wearing. The others were not so neatly packed in my suitcase in the trunk. Add to this the fact that it was freezing out–not sure capris and strappy sandals were a great idea.

With goosebumps exploding across my arms and my lips turning a deep shade of blue despite heavily applied lipgloss, I decided to buy some coffee.

Did I mention I was wearing white capris? You know where this is going, don’t you? I experienced a momentary rush of warmth, followed by a rush of panic.

A writer’s life. Isn’t it glamorous?

Do you have any wardrobe fails to share? It would make me feel better. Seriously. 😉

More About Jennifer Slattery: Jennifer is the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog found at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. Connect with her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/slatteryjennifer/).

Jennifer’s Latest Release: Dancing in the Rain

On the verge of college graduation, Loni Parker seeks employment as a music teacher, but no one will hire her since she’s blind. Or so she thinks. To take her mind off her troubles, her roommate invites her to spring retreat at Camp Hope in the gorgeous North Carolina mountains.

Unbeknownst to Loni, Michael Ackerman, the director, is an ex-con responsible for the accident that caused her blindness. When Loni warms up to camp and wants to return as a summer counselor, Michael opposes the idea, which only makes Loni want to prove herself all the more. Still, her need for independence and dream of teaching win out, taking her far away from her beloved Camp Hope … and a certain director.

Camp director Michael Ackerman recognizes Lonie instantly and wants to avoid her at all costs. Yet, despite the guilt pushing him from her, a growing attraction draws him to the determined woman. She sees more with her heart than the average person does with his eyes. But her presence also dredges up a long-buried anger toward his alcoholic father that he’d just as soon keep hidden. When circumstances spin out of control, Michael is forced to face a past that may destroy his present.

Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CSH8F97

 


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Helping My Husband Find His Ministry

Our Unique Gifts & TalentsWe have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach, if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~ Ro 12:6-8 (NIV)

I’d been praying about using my spiritual gifts in a more effective way, but I wanted to be sure I had them right. The pastor’s sermon on Romans 12 was the confirmation I needed.

Though the gifts are present in several Scripture passages, I’ll stick to the seven gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leading, and Showing Mercy.

My primary gift is Encouragement; my secondary gift is Service.

In years past, I may have coveted other gifts like Prophecy or Leadership. But 33 years of walking with Christ has shown me two things: I’m no prophet and to be a leader you need followers. I have none—and I don’t think God counts Twitter.twitter-follow-achiever

Now that I had my gifts in order, as any good helpmate would do [good may not be the correct word, but meddling doesn’t sound as nice], I decided to help my mate find his.

My husband is not  joiner, nor is he as social as I am. He’s pretty much a homebody; therefore you can see why he would need my wisdom in this area.

After church, over breakfast, I brought up the sermon. “So what do you think your gifts are?”

“Not sure,” he said, as he took a sip of his coffee.

I announced, “Mine are Encouragement and Service.”

He put his coffee down. “Sounds right.”

banner-prophetic-declarationsI pushed on. “Well, do you ever feel like you have a Prophetic Word for people—besides me, I mean?” I confess I knew the answer all ready.

“Nope.” He took a forkful of scrambled eggs.

“Okay, what about Service? You’re always doing things for me like shopping, running errands, laundry, and helping me with my computer stuff.  Service could be your spiritual gift.”

He swallowed his bite and washed it down with juice. “Could be.”

“Wait. Let’s look at Teaching. You know how you’re good at explaining things to me– like on my blog or website or around the house– maybe you could teach others? You’re smarter than anyone I know.”

“Not so sure about that.” He bit into a sausage and said, “Hmm. Jimmy Dean?”

“Hey, perhaps we have the same gifts. You’re always telling me to do things that I don’t think I can do. Maybe you’re an Encourager.”

“Could be.” He wiped his mouth. “Can you please pass the jam?”

“Don’t panic, we’re not in a jam. We still have Giving, Leading, and Showing Mercy left. We’re not rich, but you give to many different causes, right? I’m always getting sidetracked, so I  certainly look to you to lead us. And we both know you have a lot of mercy.”

“Why do you say that?”  He got up and refilled our mugs.

“For starters, you’re patient with me when I’m sick. Me, with you, not so much.”

“Let’s not worry about all this right now,” he said. “God will reveal my gifts in His time.”

“I know, but this is important! We need to know what your gifts are so you can plug into a ministry.”

2014-10-20 -300-150Determined to solve this mystery, I mentally reviewed what we’d learned so far.  Suddenly it struck me. I looked at my husband and said, “Uh, oh. I think God just gave me a revelation.”

He finished clearing the dishes and sat down. “And what might that be?”

“I think He told me that your ministry is ME!”

My husband smiled and patted my hand.

I think he knew that already.


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Without Small Beginnings, There Would Be No Big Ends

Like most writers, whether pre-published, newly published, or multi-published, we often wish we were further along our career path —no matter how far down that path we are. “After all, growth is natural,” we say.

Let’s admit it. We don’t really want growth to be natural; we wanted it to be rapid and explosive.

We begin a story and can’t wait to type “The End.” When the end arrives, we agonize over our book proposal and one-sheet. (Whether anyone actually reads them, we don’t know.)

We can’t be happy until we find an agent. When we do, we can’t be happy until we find a publisher. Then, “Hooray! We have a publisher!” We sign a two-book contract then spend weeks, sometimes months, editing our manuscript according to our publisher’s preferences, all the while scrambling for a new storyline for the second book.

When our debut novel arrives, we enter contests, hoping to add “award-winning” and “best selling” in front of our names. Then we’re off to book signings, conferences, and speaking events to sell, sell, sell! And I haven’t even touched on social media. [Sigh.]

While I’m not saying any of this is bad, I am wondering if the “one day at a time” axiom has morphed into “I can’t wait until tomorrow?” In our mad race to cross an imaginary finish line, do we appreciate the strides we’ve made to date? Have we forgotten to enjoy the present? Do we have any guarantees the future will be better?

In Zechariah 4:10, we are encouraged: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line [pen?] in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (NLT)

Without small beginnings, there would be no big ends. Small beginnings are more personal; they usually involve working closely with others. During these formative years, we hone our craft and develop good habits. We also have more time to read, learning much from those who’ve gone on before us.

I remember when angst grabbed hold of me as soon as I decided I wanted to write for publication. I fretted over query letters, elevator statements, and pitches to agents and editors—as if I were in charge of the outcome.

I thought back on the small beginnings I had so enjoyed: 1) Creating and presenting humorous “roasts” for my friends and family. 2) Writing and editing a monthly church newsletter. 3) Creating website copy for my employers. In all these cases, the feedback was immediate and more intimate, and the experiences encouraged me to keep writing.

What are your small beginnings? Are you rejoicing with the Lord over them?

Do you finally have the time to write after raising your children? Has an article you wrote been accepted for publication? Does someone other than your mother love your writing? Have you employed the plot twist that came to you in the middle of a sleepless night? Have you created an outline for your non-fiction book? Have you figured out how to apply the three-act structure to the first draft of your novel? (If so, write to me privately and tell me how.)

God’s word says, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I [Jesus] say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42 NASB). So, whenever I find myself absorbed in self and steeped in my projects alone, I break the pattern by focusing on someone else. Encouraging other writers excites me, humbles me, and brings me joy.

Getting rid of negative internal dialogue helps, too:  I wish I was as prolific as he is … If only I had a different agent … What if my publishing house closes? … I wish I had her sales … If only I had his platform …What if I get a bad review?

Listen up, Clarice! Whining is selfish, comparison is ungrateful, and fear is doubt.  

Eventually, I learned to listen more closely for God when I wrote, mainly because I had no idea what to write. When my novel Double Header debuted in 2015, a reader told me, “I feel like you wrote that story just to help me and my family.” When Party of One came out last year, others wrote basically the same thing. Just this past week, someone said, “I love your blogs. They’re so funny and uplifting.” I knew God was using me. Whether my books minister to one or thousands is in his hands. He is the ultimate marketing genius.

Zechariah 4:6 (NASB) declares, “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit.” God has a personal and perfect plan for each of us. If you’re using your writing gift to the best of your ability for God’s glory, he’ll get you where you’re supposed to be on time. You can’t rush the Holy Spirit.

Let’s all enjoy the moment we have right now. It’s all good ’cause it’s all God.


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Bungee Jumping to Conclusions

bungee jumber

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.” ~ Php 4:6 (TLB)

 

I leap before I look, speak before I think, and bungee jump to conclusions. If you don’t believe me, then you probably don’t know me.  Anyway, here’s what I’m talking about.

Overreaction One:

One day, a year or so into our marriage, my husband David and I stopped at Home Depot. David needed some fasteners for one of his projects. I decided to wait in the car.

Now, at this point in our relationship, I already knew David wasn’t fast. (My nickname for him is Pokey-man.) But, I reasoned, the parking lot’s half-empty, the store aisles are clearly marked, and he knows exactly what he needs. He’ll be out in a flash, albeit a slow flash.

After ten minutes, I looked at my watch. What could be taking him so long?

Another five minutes passed. Maybe they’re short-handed at the registers?

Three more minutes went by. What’s the hold-up?

My brain froze. Hold-up? Like a robbery? What if …?

 A few more cars pulled in; people hopped out. Should I warn them to stay back or to get down?

Before I could shout out to them, I heard a siren. Yes! Someone called 9-1-1 about the 211 in progress. Home Depot Police

I whipped my head left and right and twisted back and forth in my seat, waiting for the law to arrive.

When an ambulance pulled into the parking lot, I was semi-relieved. Phew, it’s not a robbery. Maybe someone in the store had a heart attack? … David? … No, it couldn’t be him. His cholesterol is 40 points lower than mine.

More time ticked by. Maybe I’m the one having a heart attack? I began to hyperventilate. 

Before I could say “baby aspirin,” David sauntered out of the store, holding a bag the size of his shirt pocket.

“What on earth took you so long? You scared me half to death!”

He stared at me with a blank look. (He does that a lot.) “Um, I had a hard time finding the right screw length.”

From that day forward he’s made those harrowing trips to Home Depot alone.

Overreaction Two:

A friend invited me to a choral performance at her church. We arrived early enough to get good seats—third row, center aisle. Since it was one of their most popular events of the year, the room filled up fast.

Although the audience remained seated for the first few numbers, the conductor invited us to participate. Depending on the song, we were alternately asked to stand or sit.

As the show progressed, I noticed something odd: The gentleman seated to my right seemed to be getting closer to me. I checked to be sure I was  lined up with the chair in front of me. Then, more than once, I repositioned myself in my chair, claiming non-verbally, “This is my seat, buster!”

After another song and another few inches of him getting closer, I turned to my friend on the left. “I’m think I’m sitting next to a pervert.”

She leaned over to me, “What did you say?”

Before I could repeat myself, the conductor asked us to stand for the finale. When it was over, I turned to sit, sneaking a peek at the weirdo to my right.

chairs off set

As I did so, I noticed my chair was not lined up with the row behind mine. I scanned the auditorium. The placement of the chairs in each row was OFF-SET.

My Epiphany: I had one cheek on my chair and the other cheek on his the whole time.

[Sigh.]

Overreaction Three:

After a long year of treatment and hospitalization for Acute Myleloid Leukemia, my husband’s visits with his oncologist were always a bit unnerving. The clinical trial he’d been enrolled in was just that, a trial. So we never knew exactly what to expect.

After months of weekly, then bi-weekly, follow-up appointments, the doctor announced at the end of one visit, “We’re going to send you away for three months.”

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.I sat there stunned and confused. In the half minute before the doctor could say another word, my mind took off in all different directions.

Where are they sending him? Is it close? Will I be able to find my way? Is this like some lab rat experiment? Can he have visitors? Conjugal or otherwise? I don’t remember reading about this in the clinical trial manual. Shoot. If only I’d read the clinical trial manual.

The doctor continued, “By that I mean, go home. Relax. I don’t need to see you back here for three months.”

Well, why didn’t he just say that in the first place?

“Now, friends, read these next words carefully. Slow down and don’t go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him. Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master’s arrival has come and gone. Don’t fall for any line like that.” ~ 2Thess 2:1-3 (MSG)


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Twelve Words for a Word Searcher’s Vocabulary #9

Frivolous talk provokes a derisive smile; wise speech evokes nothing but respect.~ Proverbs 14:3 (MSG)
When I can’t sleep at night, I get up and read a couple of chapters of whatever book I’m enjoying. After that, I try to bore myself to sleep by doing a few word search puzzles. This usually does the trick–until I come across words I don’t know. Here’s a list of them. Do you know their meaning? 
  1. ARAGO – a) an inner ear condition; b) a colorless odorless inert gaseous element; c) a conflict, especially between literary characters; d) a lunar impact crater on the moon
  2. BOMBAX – a) a throat condition; b) a large genus of trees, having digitate leaves and showy white or scarlet flowers; c) a public disturbance; d) a solvent used to remove rust
  3. JITNEY – a) attestation of a fact; b) thick sauce of Indian origin used as a condiment; c) a small hut built in the jungle; d) an unlicensed taxicab
  4. MASQUE – a) a building used for worship by Muslims; b) a substance with a penetrating persistent odor obtained from a sac beneath the abdominal skin of the male musk deer; c) a short, allegorical drama; d) when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the evening
  5. MYSID – a) resembling a crustacean; b) showing a disdainful attitude; c) a large European thrush; d) unobservant
  6. NAPHTHA – a) a type of sleep apnea; b) a volatile, liquid hydrocarbon mixture; c) the lay of a fabric; d) the crest of a hill
  7. SHALLOON – a) a fool; b) a Welsh castle; c) a type of wool; d) a large brawl
  8. SILLY MID-ON – a) a position in the game of cricket; b) part of a Shakespearean costume; c) British slang for a mid-life crisis; d) a type of sailboat
  9. TIGERELLA – a) a female tiger cub; b) a bi-colored tomato; c) an African children’s game; d) a  style of weaving
  10. OBTRUSE – a) lacking sharpness or quickness in intellect; b) obsolete; c) blunt ended; d) type of engineer’s ruler
  11. TASSE – a) an implied answer; b) a dangling ornamentc) an overlapping plate in a knight’s suit of armor; d) to disturb or annoy
  12. VASSAL – a) a vase made from Venetian glass; b) a person under the protection of a feudal lord; c) go back and forth between two opinions; d) a concave article

 

Have you chosen the correct definition? Can you use the words in a sentence? Scroll down to see how you did.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. ~ Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)

 

Here are the correct answers.

  1. d) Arago: d) a lunar impact crater on the moon
  2. b) Bombax: b) a large genus of trees, having digitate leaves and showy white or scarlet flowers
  3. d) Jitney: d) an unlicensed taxicab
  4. c) Masque: c) a short, allegorical drama
  5. a) Mysid: a) resembling a crustacean
  6. b) Naphtha: b) a volatile, liquid hydrocarbon mixture
  7. c) Shalloon: c) a type of wool
  8. a) Silly mid-on: a) a position in the game of cricket
  9. b) Tigerella: b) a bi-colored tomato
  10. b) Obtruse: b) obsolete
  11. c) Tasse: c) an overlapping plate in a suit of armor
  12. b) Vassal: b) a person under the protection of the feudal lord

Jumping for joy over your score?

10-12 May I call you in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep?

07-09 When you speak, do people roll their eyes?

04-06 So you, too, were a lazy student.

00-03  Did I wake you?


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My Sources of Good Material

Not resting–people watching.

Collecting good material is all part of the writing process. Here are a few of the ways I gather mine.

First, I’m always on the lookout for new words (new to me, that is) to use in my writing someday. Yesterday I added “flumped” and “clots” to my list just because they made me smile.

I also collect phrases–mostly from listening to my quick-witted husband. I keep a small spiral pad with me at all times. When he speaks, I take notes. (It’s not really stealing if it’s common property; we are ONE after all.)

Unfortunately, he does not provide this service on demand. He  says, “I have no idea when something useful will float to the surface of the muck and mire. You have to take what you get.”  Watching his mind work is pure genius . . .  and a little bit scary.

I also eavesdrop on conversations–in restaurants, at church, while shopping, at meetings. Some might accuse me of being nosy; without hesitation, I admit I’m guilty.

People-watching is kin to eavesdropping, but you can do that from afar.  My husband calls it “rubbernecking;” I call it research. Many of my characters have been dressed in the get-ups I’ve seen while walking through a public place.

Then there are my co-workers, friends and family. In my latest book, Party of One,  some of my friends and family may recognize a few of their own quirks and characteristics. (I do hope they will forgive me.)

And I’m certain they will recognize mine.