Jodie
You read that right. I learned a writing lesson from Weird Al.

I hate to write synopses. I hate it. The first time I had to write one, I looked at my husband and said, "They want me to condense a hundred thousand words into five hundred. There's no way." (That was before I learned about the elevator pitch, which has to be about forty or so words.) My first synopsis was a breeze to write largely because I did it wrong.

Sweet.

As is usual for me, my iPod spoke to me a couple of weeks ago. We were driving home from North Carolina (Yes, again. Third time in three months.), and my favorite random feature was spinning everything from the Lettermen to TobyMac to Brooks and Dunn to Howie Day at me. My husband, who likes order in his world, hates to listen to the iPod with me.

Anyway, random songs were firing at me when a forgotten Weird Al song began to play. Lest you think there are a million Weird Al songs on my iPod, I can reassure you there are only four. I can't help it. And one of them is downright theological, but that's another post.

I started to skip it, but then I started listening. It was "The Saga Begins." For those of you who don't know, he took the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie" and told the story of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. (Classic line: "My, my this here Anakin guy may be Vader someday later, now he's just a small fry.")

What did the good Professor Yankovic teach me? Summary. Synopsis. How to take a two hour and thirteen minute movie and tell the entire story in five minutes. And how to do it in your own voice. The entire movie is right there laid out in music and lyrics from opening to closing credits. You hear that song, you know everything that happened. To boot, you can never deny that the person behind it was Weird Al. It's his style, his voice.

That is what a good synopsis should do. It should take your 100,000 (or less) words and put it to 250. It should tell the whole story. And it should do it in some semblance of your voice.

The next time you think that's impossible, go and watch The Phantom Menace then go google up Weird Al. Let me know if he missed anything.

JB
Jodie
As I said last week, when I sat down to read Eva Marie Everson's Things Left Unspoken, it grabbed me in an emotional place. It took me home. In some ways, I wonder if that's not the best thing someone can say about a book. It took me home.

I'm glad I didn't write this review a week ago. A week ago I didn't fully understand the depth in this novel. It has stewed in me since I finished it and, just this morning, I began to see the layers. It was almost like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls (the ones that nest inside one another) was set in front of me and revealed one by one. By the time I pulled the last doll out, I sort of stood back in awe of Eva Marie Everson. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to take a book title and make it mean so many things. She weaves the theme through every part of the book like a master craftsman, and she does it in such a way that you don't always recognize it until after you think about it. (That's a good thing, by the way...)

I initially thought this novel was a book about secrets, about those "things left unspoken" in families and communities. Jo-Lynn Hunter sets about to restore her family home, only to find the old farmhouse holds secrets about itself, about her family, and about the town in which she grew up. The things she learns cause her to question the people she loves most, cause her--in some instances--to question the foundations of what she's always known. I have to be honest here... I tensed up right along with Jo-Lynn. My heart broke with hers as the house gave up its secrets.

After I put the book down, more little Matryoshka dolls popped up. There are also "things left unspoken" in our relationships. These things are not always secrets. Sometimes they are simply emotions or thoughts we do not voice. And the words we do not speak can creep in between us and our loved ones, can rip a relationship apart. Sometimes the tear is hard and quick. Sometimes the damage is stealthy and slow. Eva Marie Everson weaves for us several love stories in the book: young love, married love, lasting love, fleeting love, passionate love, forever love... And two of those relationships suffer due to "things left unspoken." One is unraveling. One is riven forever.

And then there are the things we do not even speak to ourselves. Jo-Lynn's Aunt Stella, I believe, buries some unspoken things along with her secret and--except for one near-tragic incident--does not let herself voice the emotions and words even to her own spirit.

Speaking of Stella, there's another thing to love about this book. The characters are wonderful. There are plenty of them, but each is distinct and relateable. They are real. They are so real that I was frustrated at one point; I wanted a grandfather hug from Valentine Bach. Even the old house is written in such a way as to be a character in itself. You can tell this is a story close to Eva Marie's heart.

I'm a girl who hates cliches. (That's come up in a previous review.) As I read, I grew more and more afraid that Things Left Unspoken was going to wrap up at least one of the storylines with a big fat bow of a cliche'. YAY, Eva Marie! It never did. Each plot of the book came to a satisfying, real-life conclusion. No, the desires of most hearts were not fully granted, but the answers God gave were perfect nonetheless. Isn't that just like life?

I read Things Left Unspoken the first time with a reader's eye, for pleasure. I think I want to go back and read it again with a writer's eye to catch the way the theme and the plots are put together, where the knots and threads intersect. That's the kind of tapestry I want to weave.

JB

Jodie
Got ya, didn't I? This would be another one of those instances (see "I Won't Back Down") when a secular song totally gives me a word from God.

I love songs like that. It's like a little bit of God in an unexpected place. A reminder that He really and truly is everywhere.

And, seriously... Take a listen to Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me" and tell me that pretty much every word (except for that part about the phone ringning. I don't believe I've ever received an actual phone called from the actual Almighty) could be sung to the God who loves me.
I couldn't get the song out of my head after church yesterday, because we were discussing the feeding of the five thousand in John 6. (Your'e wondering how my brain could possibly connect Jesus feeds 5,000 and Ashlee Simpson. I know. You can say it.) I learned something new. John makes note that the little boy brought barley loaves to Jesus. At the time, barley was the bread of the poor, so much so that it had a certain stigma about it: You must be dirt if you're eating barley bread.

The bread is distributed and twelve baskets of leftovers are picked up. Ah, but here is where Jesus gets interesting. He says to the disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."

Hmm... barley bread is poor, cheap, and generally despised. And Jesus wants none of it wasted.

What about the poor, cheap, and despised pieces of me? What about my sins? What about my pit-dwelling, slime-covered bottom-of-the-rain-barrel moments? What about the uglies I want to shove under the rug, nail the rug to the floor, and sit a vicious, rabid wolf on top of so nobody finds them? Could Jesus really want those pieces of me?

Yes, he does. He says, "Let nothing be wasted." In my very own life, I've already watched him do that in a way that has brought me to tears no fewer than two dozen times. I have seen him take the slimiest, most disgusting moment of my life and use it for his glory. Hear me... It. Was. Not. Wasted. I should have been stoned for it. I deserve a thousand punishments. But Jesus didn't waste the poor, pathetic pieces.

What a God! What a God who not only forgives us, but who takes the nasty pieces and actually uses them. No life is wasted. No experience is wasted. No one has ever done anything so bad that God cannot forgive it and use it for his glory.

Did you get that? NO ONE.

And so, yes, I do believe Ashlee Simpson said it quite well: "I hear you and the darkness is a clear view, 'cause you've come to rescue me."

JB
Jodie
Sometimes, God won't let me read a book. I'll pick it up, read a few pages, sigh, and set it down. Nothing is wrong with the book; it's simply not the time. (It took me nearly three years to read The God Chasers by Tommy Tenney. Once I read it, it blew my mind and I knew I'd have never been in the right place for that if I'd read it when I bought it.)

I bought Eva Marie Everson's Things Left Unspoken in May. Instantly picked it up to read it and set it down. Tried a few weeks later... and set it down. Not a thing wrong with the book. In fact, I wanted to read it. Something in me simply wouldn't let me.

About ten days ago, I picked it up and devoured it. The more I read, the deeper I got, and when I finally closed the book and looked up, I knew why God didn't let me read it earlier. It wasn't time.

This is a two-part book review because this post is not the actual book review. This post is what the book evoked in me.

Home

Ironically, I started the book here in our temporary military home in Georgia (just a handful of hours from where the book is set)and I finished it on a trip back home where I grew up. That's pretty fitting, since this was my first trip home since the funeral, my first trip back to the house where I essentially grew up... and the house where my grandmother no longer cooks huge Southern dinners on a Tuesday or walks up the creaky floorboard hall. My brother is there now, with his wife and, soon, their baby. It is a home, and it will always be my home, but in an odd way, it is no longer my home. It's weird, they haven't changed a thing in the house, and yet everything has changed.

Things Left Unspoken opens at the funeral of Jo Lynn's beloved great-uncle. How Godincidental that I'd pick the book up within two weeks of my own beloved relative's funeral, the one who shaped my own sense of home so much?

I sat the book down when I finished and thought about my hometown the way it was when I was a kid. When the four corners of Main and Church Street were Mr. Millard's barber shop, Mr. JD's butcher shop/grocery store/gas station, the massive old brick schoolhouse, and the old wood-floored general store. Back then, going to town meant loading up the car or pickup and driving a good half-hour to the nearest grocery store.

When I was home last week I took note of the fact that the four corners are now an two empty lots, the "new" post office, and a small grill/hardware store. And with the new bridge, Wal-Mart is only fifteen minutes away. Still small town, but oh so different.

There's the old church on the river and it's massive, tree-shaded grounds, which was founded in 1758 and built in 1855. Graves in that church yard range from the 1700s right on up to my grandmother's. It's newer, "daughter" church is "downtown" on Church Street and is the church my grandmother attended. Another Godincidence? The second-to-last thing I ever did with my grandmother, the last time I saw her, was ride out to the old church and visit my granddaddy's grave. We had not done that in years.

When I was very small, we lived in an asbestos-sided green house in the middle of a field on one side of town. When I was in high school, after several moves, we lived in a brick house on Main Street on the other side of town. My grandmother's house? Smack in the middle of the two.

As Jo Lynn walked the streets of Cottonwood, GA and remembered things as they used to be, I mentally walked through the streets of my hometown and did the same. I saw what is there now, and I saw what will never be there again. And I needed that, much in the same way I needed to see my brother and his wife settling into the home where my grandmother will never be again.

God knew what I'd need and when I'd need it. He knew I'd need the reflection. He knew I'd need to walk some steps parallel to Jo Lynn's and remember. He knew I'd need to remember things that, right now, hurt to remember because they are gone forever.

He knew my soul needed to take a walk around the town that was my grandmother's town... and to remember.

JB
Jodie
When I was in college, I wrote for the school's magazine. I found a copy when I was at my grandmother's digging through my old stuff last weekend, and this was part of one of the editorials I wrote:

"I want to be a lady. I don't want to be known as a woman. And I don't want to be a weak lady, clinging to a man or fainting at the least sign of trouble. I want to be Scarlett O'Hara sans the manipulativeness, Audrey Hepburn with more sass, Ginger Rogers without Fred Astaire's name attached. I want to be Katherine Hepburn: beautiful and charming on the outside and as tough as Bogart at his toughest on the inside.

"I want to be beautiful, yet brilliant. Soft, yet strong. A wolf: sleek, graceful, and gorgeous but a fighter, a determined go-getter, a force to be reckoned with when someone threatens me or my loved ones.

"I want to be a lady. A tried, true, tested Southern lady. Fiercely independent with a streak of dependence. A person who loves a man because she wants to, not because she has to. A steel magnolia. A lady."

Now... wasn't that fun? :-)

JB
Jodie
Well, yesterday I made the seven-and-a-half-hour drive from North Carolina back to Georgia. This makes three trips in three months. The first was vacation to visit my family, the second was when my grandmother died, and this one was to see my brother graduate from the fire academy. (Everybody say, "Way to go, Matt!" So proud of him!) I have to say it... I love my family absolutely to pieces and enjoy the time I get to spend with them, but I'm really getting tired of the drive. Usually I love it. Three times in three months? Not so much.

Anyway, for the drive, I've decided that the iPod is the greatest thing ever. For Christmas, my husband bought me a car stereo that hooks up to my iPod and lets me control the music through the radio. Nice. Now I'm all iPod, all the time when it comes to those trips. Yesterday, I put the thing on random and let it go where it would.

And it played lots and lots of Third Day, of course, since I think (next to maybe Paul McCartney) I have more Third Day songs than anything else on there. I said all of that to say that I got to hear their song "Wire" for the first time in a long time. (I've been listening to "Revelation" and "Live Revelations" lately.)

If you've never heard "Wire," it's a great song. (It sort of reminds me of DC Talk's "What If I Stumble.") It's a fine line we walk every day. You can be a singer, an artist, a teacher, a parent, a friend, or a writer. We have to talk a wire. We live in the world, but we are not of the world, and it can get confusing. Where's the line? What do we do? How do we speak of God in a way that reaches others without driving them away? How do we handle it when we make a mistake?

What if we stumble?

A lot is said when Christians slip and fall. Everybody trips, and the more publicly it happens, the more it is talked about. Sadly, the world (and even some Christians) prefer to "watch [someone] fall" instead of catching them. It's almost like it makes us feel better, it makes us feel a little proud that we weren't the ones who landed in the mud. We judge our muck by someone else's. "Hey, look! They fell in that red Georgia clay that will never wash off of them. They're stained forever. At least mine's only pond scum. It'll come right off. If I ever decide to take a bath, that is..."

It's time for us to make the choice to reach out. Our friends, our family members, our spiritual leaders--and yes, even we--will fall to varying degrees. The thing to do is not to stand back and watch the spectacular crash, then talk about how horrible they are and how much better we are. The thing to do is to reach out and catch the falling one, not let them smack the ground without a hand to lift them up.

I sure hope someone will do the same for me and you...

JB
Jodie
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. --Psalm 139: 16b

On Hatteras Island, North Carolina, there is a half-mile stretch of golden sand beach that looks pretty much like any other half-mile stretch of golden sand beach on the planet. There are shells there and some driftwood. Halfway up the dunes, just past where the last house is built, there is the recently unearthed hull of a wooden boat. Just after sunrise in mid-fall, you might find a fisherman or two out there, but more often than not you’re all by yourself. If I didn’t know God is everywhere all of the time, I might easily be convinced that He lives right there on that beach.

That stretch of beach is where the poem “Footprints” comes to life for me. When I walk on that beach early in the morning, I can practically feel Jesus walking right beside me. (Speaking of that, He and I have a date in eternity, to walk barefoot beside the crystal sea together. So when you get to Heaven and you don’t see me right off, you know where I am.) Sometimes, when I am walking high up on the beach far out of reach of the tide, one rogue wave will race up the beach and run right over my toes. It makes me laugh, because I always imagine that it is God playing His own little game with me. (Stop thinking I’m crazy… if you think God is beyond that kind of fun with His children, then you have to ask yourself if you really know Him.) There is just something about that place. It’s not better than any other place, it’s just that there, I tend to stop, to be just a little bit more still, to listen just a little bit better.

When we got our orders to Fort Drum a few years ago and my life felt like a whirlwind of confusion and missed turns and my husband was about to leave us behind to go up there to wait for who knew how long for housing for all of us, I stood on that beach, and God washed peace over me like I have never known before. He was simply there with me.

I stood on that beach about six weeks after my husband left for Iraq, stared out across the water, and waited for God to make me feel better the way He always makes me feel better when I’m standing right there. He didn’t. Instead, He made me surrender. He made me put my husband in His hands. Then He gave me peace. But that is another story.

One day, I was listening to Ten Shekel Shirt’s “Ocean” when God did that thing where He whacks me upside my hard head and puts me on my knees (maybe not literally with the whacking on the head part, but definitely with the on my knees part). He said to me, “I made that for you.”

Huh?

“I made that for you.”

“You made what for me.”

“That beach. I made it for you.” (Of course, you know that this conversation is actually the fanciful version of a wordless revelation, right? Okay. Just checking.)

“God, with all due respect, there is no way you made a stretch of sand where other people have built their houses, where countless boats have landed through the ages, where sea turtles and birds have laid eggs… there is no way you made it just for me.”

“I didn’t say ‘just’ for you; I said ‘for’ you.”

“Clarify.”

“When my mind imagined that place… when my finger drew the line of that shorefront and divided the water from the land and told the sea ‘this far and no further,’ I saw everything that would happen on that beach every second from the day of its birth to the end of time, and I saw you. I knew exactly where you would place your feet as you walked. I knew exactly which waves would bathe your feet and I saw you smile when they did. I knew you would come out here hurting and wondering and would stand silently staring out across the ocean waiting for me. And I knew that you would find peace. I knew that you would be quiet here and let me give you answers. I knew what this place would do to your soul and spirit. And while I made it for sea turtles and birds and boats and even other people… you were on my mind when I made it, and I made it with you in mind.”

Wow.

God’s mind amazes me. I wonder how He keeps it all straight? So many things to fit together so perfectly, each thing affecting the next thing, each person touching the next and changing the entire game. Like massive dominoes, one action causes a million reactions. And God can trace them all and keep track of them all. No wonder David said, “Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! 
God, I'll never comprehend them! 
I couldn't even begin to count them—any more than I could count the sand of the sea.” (Ps. 139: 17-18a, MSG).

JB
Jodie
Something strange happened in my house the other day. It's something I don't think has ever happened before. I've tried hard to think of another time when this event occurred, and nothing comes to mind.

This is monumental.

I bought a book and forgot to read it.

If you know me, you just fainted. I have a literal "to be read" pile in the drawer beside my bed. When I finish the book I'm reading, I dip into the drawer, pull out the next one, and move on. (I also have a Kindle, so I guess there is a "to be read" database for me also. Love the Kindle, by the way. I'm surprised by how much, but that's another discussion.)

Anyway, I bought Trish Perry's Too Good to Be True several months ago. I remember buying it, but somehow I never read it. Maybe it wasn't God's time yet? Who knows?

I read it this week.

Lately, I'm coming across a lot of books that keep me reading past my bedtime. This was one of them.

I can honestly say I've never read a book quite like this one. For the first chapter, the narrative style upended me just a little bit. But once I got used to it, I liked it. Trish Perry wrote this novel with such a voice that it feels like she's sitting in the room with you, telling you the story of her friends Ren and Tru. It was kind of cool, and the only way I can describe it is to say that she doesn't exactly tell the story, she narrates it. (That made sense to me, but it may not make sense to you until you read the book.) It made me feel cozy and warm and friendly to read her words, like curling up under a good blanket in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee.

Maybe it was that narrative style, but I felt like Tru and Ren were real people. To be honest, they are quite average. A teacher and a nurse dealing with day-to-day problems and real-life obstacles. They are ordinary, just like you or me. And yet I couldn't put their story down. I wanted to see what happened next, how they dealt with these everyday issues in their lives.

When I was halfway through the book, I wanted to hug Trish Perry. Why? Because she made a normal, everyday relationship into what felt like an epic love story. We tend to take our lives for granted, to get lost in the fantasy world of romance and heroines who are swept off their feet by dashing princes on white horses. But real love is even more beautiful (even if it's more complicated) than that. Epic love stories happen every minute between teachers and nurses, store clerks and waiters, mechanics and office managers, or (like me) teachers and soldiers. I love my husband to pieces and think he is the greatest man alive (I dare you to tell me different!), but suddenly, I appreciated our love story so much more. Life and love are not boring, and pretty much every single marriage has an epic love story behind it and in it.

So, many, many thanks to Trish Perry for helping me to remember that, and for giving us Ren and Tru and their story. I loved it!

Jodie
Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been thinking again about what constitutes success and failure and what it means to be a writer. This was on my mind earlier in the year too. With Book #2 swirling about in my head and Going in Circles squarely planted in the office of the agent who miraculously requested the whole manuscript, I've been thinking about this even more.

After all, I could get a no-go. In fact, if you know statistics, then you know the odds of a "yes" are fairly well stacked against me. That's not me being a pessimist. That's me being a realist. I'm actually quite the optimist. Most of the time.

I write for God. Well, let's be honest here... I try to write for God. Sometimes the big ol' ME gets in the way of the I AM.

I hate when that happens.

But what does it mean to write for God? Well, my new friend Ronie Kendig, said something on the ACFW loop the other day that clicked it all into place for me. She said it so beautifully, that I asked her if I could share it here:

He wanted me to learn to write...simply because HE derives pleasure out of seeing me use the gift He gave. That's it. Not because anyone else will be ministered to(although, I seriously hope so). Not because I'll sell a bazillion copies (please, God?). But because when I write, He wanted me to know that it's like He's sitting in a cozy chair by a fire, listening to the clicking keyboard and just... smiling. Or like when I bought my sons new bikes and thrilled at watching them ride the bikes I gave them. God's up there saying right now, "See? You see her typing and writing? She's using the gift I gave her!"

Wow! Wow, wow, wow! THAT is what it means to write for God! I had always envisioned writing for Him as writing for some unknown someone out there who would be blessed by Him speaking through me. But that would be writing for that unknown someone. Writing for God means, simply, writing for God.

Couple Ronie's incredible description with the idea of success? Well, that changes everything, doesn't it?

JB
Jodie
Saw where someone said this is what it feels like to write a novel. I think I agree, especially since I'm up at 1:00 in the morning with my novel...