Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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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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Meet Author Christy Brunke

In the winter of 2015, I met Christy Brunke at the Writer to Writer Conference in Hershey, PA.  I was smitten by her smile, enthusiasm, and sincerity. We were both finalists in the Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest. I thought, “Lord, I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if she won.” The Lord was gracious! We both won book publishing contracts that year–along with our soon-to-be-friend Linda Brooks Davis! 

CJ:  When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who first supported you in this dream? 

CB: When I was born, my parents named me Christy after Catherine Marshall’s bestselling novel. You might say Marshall and her famous heroine were my first inspirations. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading, especially inspirational fiction.  

As a little girl, I was always dreaming up stories. I remember going into a patch of woods near our house and pretending I was the queen of a small kingdom. When my brother Jeremy was born, I was disappointed he couldn’t walk or talk. My solution? Create an imaginary friend named “Eremy.” In sixth grade, I won a short story contest and was rewarded with a Butterball turkey. From then on, I dreamed of writing novels, memoirs, and children’s books.

My mom, another avid reader, was the first to suggest I write novels. But I probably inherited by creativity from my dad. A former singer and songwriter, he helped me plot Snow Out of Season.

CJ: What did you do before you became a writer?  

CB: Penning Snow Out of Season was an incredible experience, but, before that, the Lord led me on other adventures. I completed a bachelor of arts in English and moved to China to study Mandarin and teach at a university. When I returned to the States, I attended seminary and taught drama and music.  

Then God called me to Chicago to work at a multi-site church where I fell in love with a zany youth pastor. After we got married, a story grew in my heart, one I felt compelled to share. Now was the time to pursue that long-delayed dream.  

snow-out-of-sesasonCJ: Tell us a little bit about your debut novel Snow Out of Season.

CB: Two pregnant women separated by time . . . Are they more connected than they know? 

Shannon Henry is just starting to put her life back together after the death of her infant daughter when she discovers she’s pregnant again. When her doctor presents her with the choice of either raising a child with Down syndrome or terminating the pregnancy, Shannon is torn. 

Leslie Gardner is a high-school senior in 1979 who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but discovers she is pregnant. If she has the child, her chances of a dancing career and college are over …

CJ: What inspired you to write this particular book? 

KB: As a teen and young adult, I longed for a God-scripted love story. I devoured books like Elisabeth Elliot’s Quest for Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity. Realizing my Creator knew me better than anyone, and knew every man as well, I asked Him to choose my husband.  And He did.  

Mark complements me perfectly and has been an incredible blessing to me and many others. But when his mom was pregnant with him, her circumstances would have led many women to have an abortion. I started wondering what my life would have been like if she’d made a different choice. 

So began Snow Out of Season, the dual stories of two women of two generations who struggle with the same questions. Is the child each carries worthy of life? What will it cost to keep the child? What will happen if each decides not to? 

CJ: How have your readers responded?

CB: Fiction lovers, book reviewers, and other novelists have blessed me with their reactions to Snow Out of Season. 

  • The Library Journal called it “. . . an astonishing tale with a gratifying ending . . . completely engrossing.” 
  • Award-winning author Brandy Vallance said Snow Out of Season is . . . a beautifully poignant and much-needed story.”  
  • Bestselling author Sandra Byrd said, “The story caught me with characters so real I feel I might see them on the street, and it held me with breathtakingly clever storytelling.” 

Amazon readers have encouraged me greatly with their 5-star reviews, including: 

  • “Best book I have read in years.” 
  • “Great New Author!” 
  • “Couldn’t put it down!” 
  • “I cried!”
  • “Fantastic  – A Must Read!!!”

CJ: What writing projects are you currently working on? 

CB: During this season of my life, I’m focusing on book events, blogging weekly, and writing articles for online newspapers. In 2017, I hope to begin writing my next book. Between novels, creative nonfiction, and children’s picture books, I have over a dozen ideas. 

On my website, I plan to share teasers for my best tales and ask readers to help me decide. Subscribe to my blog at ChristyBrunke.com, so you can tell me which one you’d like to read next!

christy-brunkes-author-photo

MORE ABOUT CHRISTY: Three months after her second daughter was born, she entered her manuscript in the Operation First Novel contest. In January 2015, Jerry Jenkins announced her story was a winner. In November, the Library Journal named Snow Out of Season the Christian Fiction Debut of the Month. By January, it topped Amazon bestseller lists. Christy Lives in Maryland with her husband, Mark, and their two adorable daughters. When she’s not at church or with her family, you can often find her blogging, writing articles, or dreaming up her next story.

Click HERE and scroll down to order all three winners of the last Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest: The Calling of Ella McFarland by Linda Brooks Davis, Double Header by Clarice G.  James, and Snow Out of Season by Christy Brunke.


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So Very Thankful: Remission Accomplished

so-very-thankfulHands down, this year’s major to-be-thankful-for item is my husband David’s remission from cancer. His diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia early in January was a jumpstart to a year of extreme faith.

I remember the first prayer we prayed: “Lord, cancer does not define us! Our faith in you does. Help us to remember that as you carry us through this journey.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Our hope is in God, our future is with God—whether here on earth or in Heaven.

We shook off our pre-planned 2016 agendas and headed to Boston, thankful we lived in close proximity to some of the best hospitals in the world. We are grateful for the expertise and experience of the caring medical teams who still treat David. We were blessed with help from family and friends—most especially the perfectly-matched stem cells from David’s sister, Darleen.

peace-lloyd-jonesWe didn’t fret or fear.We prayed and trusted God—not necessarily for David’s healing, but for God’s perfect will for our lives. We’re not naive. We know bad things happen to all people—whether they have faith in God or not. It’s hard to understand sometimes.

But Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) puts it this way: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LordAs the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

We had no idea how this would turn out, yet we lived in the midst of a peace that goes way beyond our mere mortal comprehension. When you know God in a personal way, He does that sort of thing for you.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the midst of cancer, grief, marital strife, emotional turmoil, physical pain, failure, job loss, financial stress, or loneliness. He’s within a prayer’s reach–and it doesn’t have to be a fancy prayer either. Just open your heart to him; you’ll see.

We are so very thankful for our family and friends–for your prayers, moral support, kind words, warm hearts, open arms, and for taking the time to listen.

remission-accomplishedDavid still has a couple more months of a semi-quarantined lifestyle. He’ll start the re-immunization process after the first of the year. Until we see you again, we’ll continue to celebrate a remission accomplished!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

 


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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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Posies, Puppies, & Posterior

I’m back—but then you knew I couldn’t stay away long. I’ve got a lot to say. Mainly, THANK YOU to everyone who’s prayed, sent cards, emailed, texted, called, and dropped off meals while my husband, David, continues on the high and low roads to recovery.

posies puppy and posterior

Three of the many cards we received. *Cheek not David’s.

I love all those . . .

  • Who kept in touch since you first heard the Acute Myeloid Leukemia diagnosis and said, “Let me know if I can do anything.”
  • Who sent just the right card—or multiple cards!
  • Who sent daily Scripture verses.
  • Who only know us through Facebook, yet offered to pray.
  • Who wrote and spelled every word right (well, most of you but you all get a pass this time). 🙂
  • Who happened upon my blog, read it, and commented.
  • Who cooked and/or baked or bought something delicious for us. (Downside for you: I will blame you for my weight gain.)

Because I have a weird sense of humor (and need material for my next book), I even love those who said stuff like this . . .

  • “You look tired. And I’m going to tell you every time you do.” [That was you, Deb.]
  • “I’ve heard of AML. I think my aunt died from that.”
  • “Did the doctors tell him the treatment could damage his vital organs?”
  • “How do you feel about your husband having cancer?”

Seriously, these friends are the ones who feel close enough to speak what’s on their minds and in their hearts. One of them crocheted my husband a prayer shawl and a matching hat in a week. Another prays with her granddaughter that David won’t get a fever. One offered to keep me company on one of my many trips into Boston. One made sure we had pie on π Day. Another offered to lend David one of her wigs—chin strap included! All of them have kept me laughing!

When someone is battling illness, it’s hard not to let it define you. Early on, that was my first prayer with David. “This is cancer, it’s not us. We are Christians. We have faith. We know what the ultimate future holds. We are not afraid.” We’ve had to repeat that statement a few times, but only because we are also human.

While the hardest part for me is seeing my husband sick, for those who know David, the hardest part for him is not being around (or able) to help me. His love language is service—particularly service to me. I am blessed!

We’re trying to live as normally as possible, but it’s hard to do.  First, because we’re not that normal to begin with. Second, we have a visitors’ ban in place. We haven’t seen children and grandkids since Christmas! As soon as David’s blood counts level out, that will change!

Since David felt so bad when I had to cancel my book launch celebration originally scheduled for January 31, he encouraged me to go ahead and have the celebration anyway. So, on Sunday, April 10–which happens to be the day before the Red Sox opener at Fenway–we will celebrate Double Header, my first published novel. God has good timing, I think.

I would love to see you there. If you have a copy already, bring it to be autographed. If you have one that’s autographed, come anyway to celebrate with me and enjoy some ballpark-style refreshments!

So I know how much food to have on hand, please register on EventBrite at http://tinyurl.com/zbntf2b.

image001

Every card reflects the richness of family and friends.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)