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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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.


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Breakfast at Epiphany’s 

Congenial conversation—what a pleasure! The right word at the right time—beautiful! ~ Proverbs 15:23 (MSG)

The breakfast conversations between my husband and me often sound like this.

ME, cheerful as always in the morning: “Do you want banana-pecan pancakes or your usual oatmeal?”

DAVID, laughing: “I take it a banana’s gone bad?”

ME, hiding the brown banana: “Maybe. I can throw it away or make you the pancakes—your choice.”

DAVID, making a snap decision: “Pancakes.”

ME, smiling sweetly: “Wise man.”

[THE PANCAKES ARE ON THE TABLE AND GRACE HAS BEEN SAID.]

ME, resting my chin in my hand: “Do you know how to bail someone out of jail?”

DAVID, looking at his stack of pancakes: “Does this have anything to do with my getting pancakes on a Tuesday?”

ME, befuddled: “What? No. Dee’s son Zach got arrested for drug possession. I don’t know how to post bail.”

DAVID, even more befuddled: “Why do you need to know? He’s Dee’s son.”

ME, sighing loudly: “Yeah, but I want to know how to do it first.”

DAVID, scrunching up his face: “What are you talking about?”

ME, holding my hands up to emphasize my point: “She doesn’t know how to begin to find out about bail. And she’s just not the type of person who’d leave her son in jail for any length of time.”

DAVID, taking a bite of pancake: “Okay …”

ME, narrowing my eyes at him: “What’s that supposed to mean? Would you leave one of our kids is jail?”

DAVID, thinking: “Depends on the charge—and the kid.”

ME, ignoring his wise remark: “Oh, and another thing, I’ve changed my mind on the white cabinets for the kitchen.”

DAVID, turning to look in the kitchen: Our kitchen?”

ME, giving him a duh look: “Who else’s kitchen would I be talking about?”

DAVID, trying hard to get a grip: “Oh, I don’t know, maybe Dee’s.”

ME, waving his comment away like a pesky mosquito: “Anyway, I wanted all white, but now I decided maybe a light grayish-brown wood would look nice with the stainless steel appliances.”

DAVID, again looking in the kitchen: “What stainless steel appliances?”

ME, dreaming about how it will look: “The ones we’ll be getting with the new cabinets.”

DAVID, rolling his eyes: “And how do you plan to pay for all this?”

ME, rolling my eyes back at him: “I already told you. Out of my $7,000 a-week-for-life winnings from Publishers Clearing House.”

DAVID, nodding: “Good to know you’ve got a solid plan in place.”

ME, pushing my dream aside to get back to reality: “Now, about Zach. How do you think Sergeant O’Neil knew he had drugs in his car?”

DAVID, one eyebrow raised: “Who’s Sergeant O’Neil?”

ME, surprised he doesn’t remember: “She’s the cop who works with Kyle.”

DAVID, both eyebrows raised: “Who’s Kyle?”

ME, wondering what he was doing when he wasn’t listening to me: “You know, Charlie’s friend, Sarah’s husband? Remember, I told you about Sarah being Juliette’s best friend?”

DAVID, sighing loudly: “You did? Juliette? Sheesh, I can’t keep track of all the people you know.”

ME, crossing my arms: “They’re not people I know, silly, they’re people I’ve made up.”

DAVID, kneading his face with his hand: “Are any of the things you talk about real?”

ME, astonished he would even ask: “Duh, yeah. You’re eating pancakes, aren’t you?”

DAVID, poking the stack with his fork: “Am I? Then I think I’ve earned some sausage to go with them.”

ME, taking a long slow sip of my coffee: “I’ll get right on that. As soon as my new kitchen is in.”

And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.Overwhelming grace keep you! ~ 1Timothy 6:20-21 (MSG)

 


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Linda Brooks Davis: An Inspiration

Ella McFarlandFor all you wannabe writers out there who think your AUTHOR date of expiration has come and gone, Linda Brooks Davis is the inspiration you need to see that your dream is not dead, just waiting on God’s timing.

ME:  Linda, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

LINDA: In high school I learned there was a spot inside me, somewhere around the heart, that came to life when I wrote. Later, at a local college, a quirky English professor asked me if I’d ever considered creative writing for a career. I was astounded. 

Expose my inner self to the world? Horrors!

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I discovered letter writing brought that spot to life. I wrote copious letters home. I remember hurrying back to the dorm between classes to start a letter or add to one, imagining my loved ones’ faces as they read and laughed and cried—experiencing college vicariously. (Think “The Waltons.”) Believe it or not, my mother saved every single letter. When she died in 1995, I discovered reams of them. I’ve organized them as a history for my offspring.

After college, life got in the way, and my writing pen remained in a drawer.

Fast forward to 2004. My daughter called me at work with news: Our first grandchild would arrive—in triplicate form. Not only was the news astounding, but so was my reaction. People in offices on the first floor came up to see what all the racket on second floor was all about.

My daughter’s at-risk pregnancy, mainly in the hospital, was indeed something to write home about. Her physician urged her to abort one baby, painting a landscape of dire predictions, but she refused.

When the babies were born at 28 weeks at just over 2 pounds each—and survived and thrived—you can bet that spot around my heart that comes to life when I write shifted into overdrive.

That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I would leave a legacy of faith in writing. Pow!

ME: You mentioned your work place, what did you do before you became a writer?

LINDA: In 1968, I began a 40-year career working with individuals with special needs. I was a speech pathologist in public schools and in clinical settings. The last ten years were as an administrator of special programs. I retired in 2008.

When not writing, my husband and I dote on our six grandchildren.

ME: How did you get involved in writing for publication? 

LINDA:  Ready for another story? Remember my dream of leaving a legacy of faith in writing? That 2005 goal took me to the internet where I stumbled across an essay contest sponsored by the host of a local talk show. (One of the program sponsors was Jerry Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.) For fun, I wrote an essay entitled “Why I Should Attend the Writing for the Soul Conference.” I didn’t know what the conference was, but it sounded like a grand event. It was at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, after all.

I didn’t tell anyone I entered. Actually, I forgot all about it.

Weeks later, I received a call at work. I recognized the voice … the host of the radio show … calling me … I’m one of three finalists … and I’m to read my essay on air … in forty-five minutes.

What? I didn’t remember where I put the essay. Was it still on my computer? Could I even find it?  Yikes.

Whew! Found it. Printed it. And caught my breath. I read, and with the clock ticking down to the last seconds of the show, the announcement was finally made. The host had made his decision . . . What? I won?

That’s how it happened. My husband and I were treated to the Broadmoor and the conference and all that went with it. I was open-mouthed and uninformed and naive. But I soldiered on.

Ten years later came the Operation First Novel win and publication of THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND, a novel based in my family’s stories about hardship and faith and grit—a legacy of faith in writing.

God is so faithful, even to a ditzy woman like me who prayed for something and then was astounded when it happened. Will I ever learn?

My advice: Get the story down, no matter the form or quality. Keep learning. And don’t quit.

 

Linda-Brooks-DavisLinda Brooks Davis, first-place winner of the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel award, has lived in multiple states and outside the U.S, but she speaks Texan. 

Set in 1905 pre-statehood Oklahoma, THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND, an inspirational historical with a strong romantic thread, debuted on December 1, 2015.

When not writing, Linda enjoys teaching 4-year-olds at church, reading, and researching genealogy. She and her husband dote on six grandchildren.

 


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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!


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Through a Glass Darkly: The Quilter

As an author, here’s how I see things vs. how they really are. Sort of.

The way I imagined it . . .   

Jeff ConwayRecently, while walking through the Mall of New Hampshire, I noticed a man, probably in his mid-forties, with his hair rolled into a slick pompadour like Jeff Conaway as Kenickie in Grease. He wore a royal purple  satin jacket with knit collar and cuffs. Embroidered in gold on the back were the words “Perth Amboy Foreign Autos.”

A short, sandy-haired woman dressed in a flowered turtleneck and denim jumper held his arm and clogged along loudly beside him. She looked nothing like Stockard Channing as Rizzo.

While the happy couple admired the display of miniature hand-blown glass animals at a kiosk, I “found” them a family.

A trio of tittering pre-teens, windowshopping outside Claire’s, seemed perfect for the role of their daughters. I named them Sephira, Solara, and Sienna.

A 15-ish square-built boy, looking bored near the escalator, became their son. The crotch of his jeans was almost level with his kneecaps. Crippled by this ill-advised design, I dubbed him Yugo.Yugo

They’d traveled all the way up from Perth Amboy, New Jersey for the “Happy to be Scrappy” Ladies of the Lakes Quilters Triennial Quilt Show. It had been held over the weekend at Kingswood High School in Wolfeboro, where “Mrs. Kenickie” had taken first place.blue-ribbon

The family planned to return home directly after the judges’ decision in time to phone friends and family before the news got old. They would’ve, too, but for the nuisance of a dragging muffler on their 1992 Chrysler Town & Country mini van.

Rather than pay for an extra night at Motel 6, they hiked to the mall about a mile from the mechanic’s garage. Before they entered, their kids watched as their proud dad pinned the blue ribbon to their mom’s jumper.

The family whiled away the hours, not bothered by their car trouble, just pleased to be together to celebrate this milestone occasion.

The way it was . . .   

John Travolta hairThe couple, Hank and Betty Dutra, hailed from Raymond, NH. Hank combed his hair this way because twenty-seven years ago Betty told him he kinda looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Hank bought the royal purple satin jacket (practically brand new) with the Perth Amboy logo for $5.00 at Goodwill because he’d never owned anything from Australia before. Betty hated it. He wore it today mainly because she’d made him come to the Mall.

Despite Hank’s jacket and hard-headedness, Betty wanted this day to feel special. That’s why she’d exchanged her comfy sweats for a proper jumper. After all, it was Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester, not Dollar Tree in Raymond.

Used to her everyday sneakers, she clung to Hank’s arm, unsteady in her dress clogs.clogs

As they passed by the kiosk filled with miniature hand-blown glass animals, Betty  whispered to Hank, “Who on earth would pay these prices?”

Hank answered, “Who knows? Maybe the kind of people who live in Hollis and Bedford and Exeter.”

They listened to a trio of girls cackling outside Claire’s and witnessed a teen boy’s jeans slip down to his knees.

Hank shook his head. “Aren’t you glad we have dogs?”

“Don’t forget the chickens,” Betty said. “They might cackle but at least they keep us in eggs.”

flex-seal-liquid_1000After a few hours of browsing, they bought some Flex Seal Liquid Rubber (as seen on TV) so they could repair the used truck bed liner they purchased for their 2016 double cab Ford 2500.

The blue ribbon on Betty’s jumper? It was there when they left the house. She’d taken first place in the “Happy to be Scrappy” Ladies of the Lakes Quilters Triennial Quilt Show held at Kingswood High School in Wolfeboro that weekend.

And Hank made sure everyone in the Mall of New Hampshire knew it.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)


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Why I Stalked a Shopper in Hannaford

old-womanwigIt’s near impossible for a writer to go out in public without imagining characters for their next novels.

Once, while waiting at a bank’s drive-up window, I wondered about my teller’s hair–which was really a bad wig. Why would she pick a style from the ’60s? Was she threatened by the aging process? Or had she spurned the whims of fashion?

The drawer slid open with my receipt. I reached over my half-opened, stuck-off-its track window to retrieve it. My arm wasn’t long enough. While I tried not to stare at the woman, character names for her ran through my head: Paula? Nancy? Frances? 

I soon realized I’d have to open my door and half-step out to get my hand inside the drawer. I had one foot in and one foot out. Unfortunately the car was in drive, and the foot that was in was not on the brake.

I grabbed the receipt and hopped alongside my rolling car to the end of building. It came to a stop after it withdrew the bank’s downspout.

 All because of that woman’s hair.

Recently, I was developing a female character. It was important for this character to be recognized by her perfume, which meant researching fragrances. I tested a multitude of brands in department stores. All I came away with was a bunch of stinky samples and a whopping headache.

None of them were right for my character. I needed to simplify my method. I would sniff it out in a more natural habitat.

It worked. I was standing at the deli counter in Hannaford when I smelled the perfect scent: Clementine and cactus flower, bergamot, Hawaiian tuberose, spring honeysuckle, frangipani, musk, exotic woods, and nectarine. [Research, people research!]

I looked around and tried to figure out which woman owned it. The one in the Nike jogging suit? The lady with the kerchief and polyester pants? The one in the beige top and funky straw hat who looked a lot like Minnie Driver?

Minnie DriverI wove my cart in and around them, sniffing as subtly as I could, pretending to check out cheese. I quickly eliminated the kerchiefed woman, who smelled more like salami than the salami she was buying. I tucked her away for another day.

I tailed the other two women until I reached a fork between two aisles. It called for a quick decision. I chose the Minnie lookalike. I tried to get as near to her as I could without drawing attention to myself. I dropped a few items in my cart to throw her off. Each time I got close, I sniffed, surer than ever I was on the right scent.

Even when she skipped aisles and pushed her cart faster, I kept up. I had to have the name of that perfume!

At one point, she gave me a weird look. I wasn’t sure if I’d blown my cover or if she’d looked in my cart. I’d been in the store for forty-five minutes and all I had to show for it was a jar of Gerber strained peas, a box of matches, and a toilet plunger.

Before she called security, I gave up the hunt. I retraced my steps and found the makings for dinner. Rather despondent, I checked out.  All my research had been for nought.

Pushing my cart through the lot, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Loading groceries into the car parked right next to mine was my perfumed lady!

I sprinted toward her, then slowed to a stroll, blocking her only way of escape. I said, “Excuse me, you may have noticed me in the grocery store?”

“Ye-es.” She quickened her pace and scanned the area.

Before I could finish my explanation, she gave up the name of her perfume and took off faster than I could say Tommy Bahama.

Nice woman. Haven’t seen her since.

TB Perfume

 

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. ~ 2 Corinthians 2:15 (MSG)