Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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Hey, Wanna Trade?

Many of the people in the lives of us fiction writers would make excellent characters in our stories. The thing is, inserting real people into our novels can be tricky.

First, they might recognize themselves and not like how we see them. Second, there’s the whole invasion of privacy issue. Third, alienating our whole families and all our friends isn’t too good for book sales.

DON’T WORRY, I HAVE A SOLUTION — CHARACTER TRADING CARDS!

Character Trading Cards would work like Baseball Trading Cards. Each card would include the character’s photo, a carefully chosen alias, physical and personality traits, and accomplishments or lack thereof. If one author had a character another author needed, they’d make a trade. My readers wouldn’t know your characters and your readers wouldn’t know mine. Pretty smart, huh?

baseball card DRUSILLAFor example, I may need a bombastic, Bible Belt-preacher, one who throws amens and halleluiahs around as much as he does drops of sweat. However, what I have is a PhD pastor, cautious and well-read (never fiction), a shepherd who doesn’t yell but watches over his flock with an eagle eye. I trade you my conservative Evangelical FOR your wild Pentecostal, and no one suspects a thing.

And for group trading, authors can hold meet-ups or conference calls. The negotiating might go something like this …

CLARICE: “I’m lookin’ to trade a loud-talker with a bone to pick for a close-talker, bad breath optional.”

JEREMIAH: “I don’t have a close-talker, but I have a soft-talker who gossips.”

DAVID: “Hey, I’ll take your soft-talker in exchange for my non-stop talker/traffic  cone enthusiast.”

JEREMIAH: “I can do that.”

CLARICE: “Anyone have a fast-talker with hammer toes?”

DAVID: “No, but I’ve got one who mumbles and has bloodshot eyes.”

CLARICE: “I’ve been looking for a mumbler. I can always put sunglasses on him. “baseball card NORBERT (1)

DAVID: “Changing the subject, I’ve got an accountant on special this week.”

CLARICE: “What’s so special about an accountant?”

JEREMIAH: “I’ll trade you one apprentice carpenter for that accountant.”

DAVID: “Not this accountant, you won’t. My guy has social skills and a sense of humor.”

JEREMIAH: “A bean counter with a sense of humor? If you tell me he has a tan, I’ll know you’re lyin’. Tell you what, I’ll throw in a proctologist and a hockey player.”

CLARICE: “I can beat that. I’ll up you one church elder and make that hockey player Canadian.”

DAVID:  “Deal!”

MORE POSSIBLE TRADES

Would you take one spoiled brat with delusions of entitlement FOR one former military man with his WWII uniform festooned with medals? … Maybe I could swap you one retired teacher, still re-gifting a closet full of cheap, apple-themed gifts from her former students, FOR one thoughtful person with a creative mind and a generous heart.

I’ll give you my lovers of people FOR all your haters (who, by the way, would come to an early demise in my stories). … I could trade you three women who’ve never had children but know everything about raising them FOR one mother who puts reading to her kids ahead of folding laundry. … And, how about I take one of your family felons FOR one of my ancestral heroes?

baseball card GLADYSWanna trade one naïve woman who finds the good in everyone FOR a big fat judgmental complainer? (Yeah, I know I could probably use myself here, but God’s working on me, and I don’t want to interrupt him.)

Finally, I’d be glad to shed three believers looking for biblical loopholes and cheap grace FOR one humble follower of Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

 


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bad-hair-dayLet your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ~ Colossians 4:6 ESV

A while back, I got some interesting reactions to my Facebook post, which read, “First, why don’t women check the back of their hair before going to church? Second, could my noticing this trend be the start of my new ministry?”

Although it was meant to bring a chuckle, it got me to thinking. When is it appropriate to point out a faux pas or oddity? In ninety seconds flat, I thought I had a sound two-prong theory.

1) It IS acceptable to say something if you believe the person is NOT aware of the situation.

2) It is NOT acceptable to speak up if you believe the person IS aware.

Sounds simple, huh? Upon further review, I discovered simple isn’t always easy.

Let’s take the case of the woman with the church-hair in the front and bed-head in the back. I don’t think she knows, so I should tell her, right? Not so fast.  Ask yourself a few questions. Does her hair-do complement her wrinkled wardrobe? A style of her own, maybe? Or, is her half-hearted comb-out the end result of getting a passel of kids to church on time? Think before you stop her in the foyer and hand her a comb.

I’ve come up with some additional Church Courtesy Guidelines to help in these awkward situations.

What’s on Your Face? Feel free to point out milk mustaches, chin drippings, and spinach in teeth — but not tea stains or tartar. Yes to boogers, but no to moles.

When It Comes to Kids: When children are noisy in church, don’t turn around and give their parents an evil eye. We can learn from their joyful noises!

comb-over

Comb-overs: Seriously, a comb-over doesn’t happen by accident. It involves the skill of a weaver, firm-hold hair spray, and an extra half hour.  Look away and keep silent.

Hairpieces: Say nothing unless the hair piece is flipped up in the back or on backwards. I’ll let your relationship determine what you say and where you say it.

in my pew

Conversation: Do not verbally correct a statement made by someone, especially if you’re not part of the conversation. If someone mispronounces a word or uses incorrect grammar, just snicker and correct them mentally.

Pew Etiquette: When someone is sitting in your usual pew, let them figure it out for themselves. Tip: It’ll go quicker if you hover over them and glare.

Accidental Accessories: Yes to saying something about the glob of food on front of their blouse and the toilet paper stuck to their shoe or tucked in the waistband of their pants. However, you might want to hold off mentioning a wedgie.

Singing Voices: Sometimes voices are off key and loud. Leave these people alone—me included. God’s perfect hearing has a motive filter.

pats fan_300_225_90 (1)

Clothing Issues: Although not a huge deal, it might be helpful to mention the ripped seam in a congregant’s slacks, their inside-out sweater, mismatched footwear, or hem coming undone. But, unless you’re in leadership, say nothing about sports team jerseys and hats. You could get booed or beat up.

Make-up: This can be tricky. What you may think is too much make-up may not be too much for them. Unless the lipstick is on her teeth and magnetic eyelashes stuck to her braces, I’d ignore it.

However, if your comments are sincere, a person may be grateful. As proof, I give you this conversation with my ten-year-old grandson, Max:

Max, greeting me with a chin-nod: “Hi. So, what’s with all the make-up?”

Me, searching for my compact mirror: “I always wear make-up.”

Max, chuckling: “Yeah, but this time you’ve got way more on one eye than the other.”

Me, frazzled: “Why thank you, sweetie, for pointing that out. I love you too.”

On the Other Hand: Maybe I should take advantage of every chance I get to keep my mouth shut … and maybe my eyes.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

~ 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV

 


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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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Lego My Ego

letto-egoI have a list of a thousand things–all good things–I want to do before I die. Sometimes I think I have to cram them all into one month.

When my activities start to overlap, things get pushed around: my priorities out of order, my finances out of line, my emotions out of control, and my back, well, just out.

I have a ready list of excuses too.

  • If I don’t do this, no one else will.
  • They’re counting on me.
  • It’s all part of marketing my book.
  • But I want to.
  • I’m not getting any younger. [Tell me, is anyone?]

Recently, when my serenity was crowded out by busyness, I had a hard time hearing God’s voice. And I needed to. [Duh.] So I prayed for the Lord to speak loud enough for me to hear over the din of my daily activities. He gave me this personalized paraphrase of 1 Kings 19:11-14 instead.

Go stand over there and be quiet. Don’t check your email or Facebook and stay away from Pinterest. Wait for God to speak.

A reader posted a 5-star Amazon review and bolstered my hopes before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the Amazon review; after the review, a great idea for another writers’ event, but God wasn’t in the event; and after the great idea, positive comments on a blog, but God wasn’t in the comments or the blog; and after the positive comments, a gentle and quiet whisper.

When Clarice heard the quiet voice, she muffled her face with her great lap blanket, went to the mouth of her writing cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Clarice, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Clarice said it again, “I’ve been writing my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of God have turned toward the secular market, destroyed your places of Christian publication, and murdered the written word. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”

egoOh, the ego of it all! When I feel like I’m not able to give up some of my activities, writing or otherwise, because there is no one who can possibly replace me, that’s when I know I’m in trouble. OVERBLOWN EGO TROUBLE.

To make it right, I need to let go of my ego and refresh my soul.  So now I’m waiting– really waiting– to hear the Lord’s gentle whisper.

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. ~ 1 Peter 2:11-12 (MSG)


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I Have Questions. Where is King Solomon?

QuestionsWhen the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem . . . she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. ~ 1Kings 10:1-3 (NIV)

The US is a complicated place, and the people who live here even more so. I have a few questions. If there’s a King Solomon out there, give me a call.

Do you have questions too?

  1. When a company advertises its frozen chicken product as having “ingredients like all meat chicken,” what exactly do they mean by like?Strawberry-Roll-ups
  2. Why do we say “You’re only [pick any age] once” and “You’re not getting any younger” as if it’s a lost nugget of Solomon’s wisdom?
  3. Why were consumers caught unawares when it was disclosed that strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries?
  4. One day, a doctor can tell a woman smoking may harm the baby in her womb. The next day, another doctor can end that same baby’s life in that same womb. What kind of choice is that?
  5. Yes, bacon soap is real—but why?
  6. Speaking of soap, what happens to soap scum that doesn’t stick to your tile?
  7. Why does the news media blame drug addiction on everyone except the person who started taking the drugs? I know the problem is complicated, but shouldn’t we hold the addict accountable too?da14_bacon_soap_closeup
  8. Who decides what to do when an endangered animal eats another endangered species?
  9. That brings me to this: Why do sharks get more respect (and news coverage) than the seals they eat?
  10. Why can’t gruntled people get as much attention as their disgruntled counterparts? Sheesh. The word’s not even recognized by spell-check.
  11. Have you seen the ad for the Preparation H Totables which come in a “discreet, convenient travel size”? Pardon me, but isn’t all use of any Preparation H product meant to be discreet?PH
  12. If, for unknown reasons, either and/or both of our presidential nominees were unable to continue their race for office, how would a replacement candidate be chosen?  No, seriously, how?

 


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Finding Kissing Spots

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. ~ Psalm 85-10-11 (NIV)

Often, while walking behind my husband when he was seated on our couch, I’d stop and kiss his bald spot and say, “There’s a tiny kissing spot right there just for me.”

We both knew it hadn’t been tiny for quite a while. For some unknown reason it began expanding soon after we got married. I don’t have a scientific explanation, but I’m convinced it has something to do with climate change.

Anyway, when my husband was first diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in January, about the third thing I said was, “Hey! Do you think you’ll lose your hair?” I’m sensitive like that.

David responded matter-of-factly, “Probably.”

My face lit up. “You know what that means? I’ll have more kissing spots.”

David responded matter-of-factly, “Probably.”

I waited patiently. His hair didn’t fall out as fast as we assumed it would. Expecting it to happen after his second round of chemo, he had the nurse give him a buzz cut, but it remained fuzzy, then grew back. Then, two weeks after his third round of chemo —voila!—his head was as soft as pudding. (Well, not his whole head, just his scalp. Actually, I’ve never felt pudding, but you know what I mean.) Now I had a multitude of spots to choose from and I have kissed them all!

two heads sized

Can you say “good sport”? This is David in January then May.

I started to think about that term “kissing spot.” It was my positive way of looking at a negative situation. It reminded me of the joke, “While the optimist argued with the pessimist, the opportunist drank the water.” I wondered what other “kissing spots” I could find in the midst of this experience. I found a great example in my husband.

Every time . . .

  • a doctor or nurse practitioner reported test results—whether good or bad—he thanked them.
  • a person spent time with him, they left smiling.
  • a member of the housekeeping staff swept under his bad and emptied his trash, he told them how much he appreciated it.
  • a staff member changed her hair or wore something colorful, he complimented them.
  • a cafeteria worker brought him a meal, no matter how tasteless it looked to me, he acted excited and said, “Oh, yum!”
  • a group of med students rounded with the doctors, they left chuckling at one of his witty comments.
  • a nurse hooked him up to his rolling IV dance partner for a bag of platelets, packed red cells, or antibiotics, he thanked them.

    IV Stand

    David’s on and off dancing partner for the past 4 months.

He’d found their kissing spots. Now I needed to do the same.

In addition to his hospital room, I spent much of my time at the hotel, in shuttle buses, and trying to navigate my way from Dana-Farber to Brigham & Women’s. I saw a variety of people in various situations.

I thanked . . .

  • the young man walking by the hotel who lifted my heavy suitcases out of my car and put them onto the luggage cart.
  • the desk clerk who programmed my new cell phone’s GPS so I could find my way back to the hospital.
  • the two women who gave me a ride when I missed the last morning hospital shuttle.
  • the van and bus drivers who got me where I needed to go so I didn’t have to fight traffic.
  • every hospital volunteer or staff member who recognized the dumb look on my face and pointed me in the right direction–more than once.
  • the gifted hotel housekeeping staff whose kindness and consideration I will never  forget.
  • my son Chris, his wife Diana, my daughter Erin, and her husband Chris for helping me prepare my house for David’s homecoming.

It was my privilege to . . .

darn collecting 2

David’s sister, Darleen, beautiful inside and out.

  • spend quality time with David’s sister, Darleen, who donated her matching stem cells to her big brother.
  • pray with a woman who’d been told her husband was only a few days from Heaven.
  • get a smile from a little, bald girl when I told her her light–up pink sneakers were so cool.
  • listen as an immigrant father of two, a hotel guest, bragged about his children’s achievements since their move to the States.
  • tell a woman how well David was doing the day before she herself was due to have the same type of stem cell transplant.
  • spend hours with a patient who never whined or complained but exhibited a settled faith, patience, kindness, and peace through it all–my husband.

I learned something else. You won’t find kissing spots unless you’re looking for them. Don’t worry, they’re not hard to find. God puts them all around us.

kindness act.gif

 


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Soup, Pitiful Soup

After a full day in Boston visiting my husband at Brigham & Women’s hospital, followed by an hour and a half sleepy ride home, I stopped at my local grocery store to get something for supper. It’s hard to cook for one—especially when you’re tired, hungry, and decision-challenged.

Sweet Potato Soup with Quinoa & Coconut Milk by A Veggie Venture 2010-400

Soup, glorious soup!

As I entered the store, I had a soup flashback. A few months prior, I’d taken a chance on a concoction I’d never had before from the store’s soup and salad bar. It was quite tasty. I’d enjoyed it a few times since.

That night, driven by the memory of its flavor, my taste buds tingled and my stomach growled. Gripping the cart, I plowed through Produce and past Bakery, the thrill of the hunt spurring me on.

On the way, I questioned my fervor. At what point had soup become exciting to me? How long had this craving been simmering? Was it a by-product of age, maybe a post-post-menopausal thing? I still had all my teeth, so that couldn’t be it. Was I excited about all soup or just this particular soup?  (Research for another day, perhaps.)

Ooh, maybe it was a spiritual metaphor of some sort–but what sort?

Arriving at the soup bar, I skidded to a stop. A man about my age was checking things over, making it impossible for me to read the labels on the pots. I pushed my carriage closer. (I barely  bumped him, really.) “Oops, so sorry.”

He looked up. “No problem.”

When he lifted a full ladle to his nose, I recognized the soup and said under my breath, “That’s it! My soup!” I had to stop this interloper before he sniffed-up all the aroma with his sizable schnoz.

nose man

The nose knows.

I inched forward. “Take my word, it’s delicious.”

“Oh.” He reached for an empty pint container.

“Actually, that soup’s the very reason I’m here.” I held fast to my cart and didn’t budge, blocking his view of the quart containers. “They don’t make it often, and when they do, they don’t make enough.” I stared him down. “Like tonight.” Despite my subtlety, I hoped he got the hint and wouldn’t deplete the supply.

He half-filled his pint container, which made it easier for me to be pleasant. “Usually, I buy a full pint and eat half one day, then half the next, you know, never sure when they’ll have it again. Makes cooking for one easier. Have you tried their angus beef chili? That’s pretty good too.”

Despite our riveting, albeit one-sided, conversation, I needed him to hurry it up. I was so hungry, for the first time I could sympathize with Esau’s poor decision.

The man placed a top on his container. “My wife will enjoy it. Yeah, my wife likes soup. I’m bringing some home to my wife right now.” [Emphasis on wifehis.]

Now, I’d been single before, so I knew what he was thinking. And this wasn’t it.

I had a parallel retort in mind: “My husband would enjoy it. Yeah, my husband likes soup. I’d bring some home to my husband right now if my husband wasn’t in the hospital for a stem cell transplant!  How about that Mr. I’m-Married-So-Stop-Hitting-On-Me-Lady?”

But I didn’t say any of that. It would’ve resulted in pity soup–which shrivels the taste buds, constricts the throat, and hurts going down. Besides, eating pity soup would do nothing to expedite my husband’s discharge from the hospital.

Instead I smiled. “Hope your wife enjoys it.” (But not that much.)

By now many of you may be asking, “What kind of soup is it?” and “Where can I find this delightful ambrosia?”

My answer, of course, is, “No way. I’m not telling. NO SOUP FOR YOU!” (Sorry, I’m tired, it’s late, and that was way too easy.*)

soupnazi

“No soup for you!”

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.  He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” 

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. ~ Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)

*Sweet Potato, Quinoa, & Black Bean from Hannaford Supermarket. Enjoy!